Calling Sin By Its Right Name

Conscientious Christians frequently remind us that we are “to call sin by its right name.” 1 So I shall try to make an effort to “call sin by its right name” in this post.

First of all, it seems to me, we need to define sin. We all recognize the classic definition that “sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4) We need to consider which law is here meant, as only “the law” is mentioned. If we read further we discover that the beloved Apostle John ties law-keeping with love, saying that “we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14) He goes on to say that “this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” (1 John 3:23) It also agrees with the Christ’s classic summary of the Ten Commandments. (Mark 12:39-31) And this is in keeping with the Apostle Paul’s conclusion “love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

For me, the best definition of the Law of God that has been from eternity is the one given by a godly little woman in these words: “In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven.” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 20)

Therefore I conclude that anything out of harmony with the principle of self-renouncing love as demonstrated by Christ is sin.

Therefore it is sin to . . .

  • enjoy the bounties of life afforded by a well-paying profession while we neglect to relieve the sufferings of a poorer neighbor
  • view with disdain those not as educated or well-dressed as ourselves
  • cheat on our taxes, obligating others carry more of the burden that we were meant to carry
  • “pass by on the other side” while others are suffering from the 21st-Century equivalent of the leprosy of Bible times, more commonly known as AIDS
  • proclaim by action, if not in words, “You are a sinner and must give up your sins before we will love you or accept you!” when someone is fighting a losing battle with sin and yearning for love and acceptance
  • give more careful attention to the well-paying patients than to the welfare patients who create a lot of headache in paper work
  • neglect to love the unlovely
  • pretend love while in one’s heart despising the other
  • overeat, as it harms the body temple and shortens the time one may of service to one’s neighbor
  • overwork to earn more money to spend on self
  • destroy the good reputation of another
  • pay our employees as little as we can get away with
  • do as little work as we can get away with and still be paid
  • rejoice at the bad fortune of our enemy
  • be impatient with our children or our spouses
  • speak unkindly of another
  • brag about our superior abilities/possessions, etc.
  • be easily provoked
  • be arrogant
  • be discourteous
  • seek our own benefit at the expense of another
  • keep track of wrongs done to ourselves
  • doubt the sincerity of another’s profession of faith

. . . and one could go on and on and on . . . (compare 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 with the list above)

“But,” you may say, “you haven’t yet mentioned the really bad sins!” And I assume that you mean sexual sins – though I’m notl sure that God considers them worse than any of the sins listed above.

In order to call sexual sins by their right name, we must consider if we can understand what God’s original intention for the gift of sex was. I wonder if you agree with me that God invented sex for the purpose of providing an especially pleasurable bond between a man and a woman pledged to each other in life-long union with the intention of forming a family. Any sexual activity outside the parameters of demonstrating love to one’s marriage partner is, by this definition, sin. And Jesus made clear that God considers the thoughts of the heart as important as the acts of body. (Matt. 5:28)

Therefore it is sin to . . .

  • lust after a woman not one’s wife 
  • fantasize about another woman while making love to one’s wife
  • force sex upon one’s partner
  • tell sexually explicit jokes that denigrate God’s design of sex
  • engage in the second-hand fantasies of illicit sex on screen, in magazines or books (including the “romance” novels popular with women)
  • demand any kind of sexual act that makes one’s marriage partner uncomfortable
  • engage in sex in marriage without love
  • view pornography
  • engage in any kind of sex outside the bonds of marriage as defined above, including pre-marital sex and homosexual sex

. . . and there’s much more, I’m sure . . .

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. . . (John 8:7)

And even when we are righteously ready to begin casting rocks, let us consider Paul’s admonition, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Romans 2:1) Paul here validates the psychological truth that we most harshly judge in another the very sins of which we are guilty ourselves – though they may be in a different form.

James’s admonitions should give us further pause: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Have we insight into another’s heart to judge what s/he knows? James further warns that “there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:12)

Instead of judging our fellow travelers on life’s journey, let us witness to them of the One “altogether lovely,” the Lord of our life, so that they may be drawn to Him in whom only lies salvation. We can trust Him to lead them safely and deal patiently with their souls, giving them power to discard the sins that would keep them bound.

I can find no instance in the Bible in which Christ condemned the sins of prostitutes. And it’s not because He didn’t regard prostitution as sin or because there were not prostitutes in Palestine. I believe it was because they already knew they were sinners. It seems to me that all who came close to Jesus sensed the purity of His life and felt sinful in His presence. But they did not feel condemned. Instead, they sensed His love and the power over sin that He could give them. He said He did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might have life. (John 3:17)

Let us first ask Jesus to take the beam (Luke 6:41-42) out of our own eyes so that we may see more clearly what He wants us to do. Then we will know when it is appropriate to “call sin by its right name.”

I believe that when we, as Christians, reflect the life of Christ, sinners will be convicted of sin even without our words. We won’t need to condemn them. Instead we can offer them hope that they can live a new life in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17)

The promise is for you and me too – we can live lives suffused with the love of Christ when we allow Him to live His life in us. (Gal. 2:20)

  1. This post is lightly edited from its original publication on GLOW in 1999.


Calling Sin By Its Right Name — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you for this site! Lot’s of great food for thought and encouragement. I notice that nothing has been posted for a couple years….are you still around?

  2. Sin is defined in 1 John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of God’s law” God’s law is stated in Exodus 20:1. The law is love. Love God (1-4th) and love neighbor (5-10th)


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