The Changing View of Sin in America

by Victor Knowles

A new survey by Ellison Research in Phoenix finds 87 percent of U.S. adults believe in the existence of sin, which is defined as "something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective."

However, Americans tend to view sin "not as God views it, but as how we view it," said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison. "A lot of this is perspective."

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research, a company in Ventura, Calif., that tracks Christian trends, draws a similar conclusion: "People are quick to toe the line on traditional thinking" that there is sin "but interpret that reality in a very personal and self-congratulatory manner"-I have to do what's best for me; I am not as sinful as most.

Indeed, 65 percent of U.S. adults think they will go to heaven, but only .05 percent believe they will go to hell. Popular evangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Tex., never mentions sin in his TV sermons or best sellers such as Your Best Life Now.

Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif., calls this "moral therapy." "That's the drift of American preaching today in a lot of churches. People know what sin is; they just don't believe in it anymore. We mix up happiness and holiness, and God is no longer the reference point."

"If you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?"

Topping the list of what Americans view as sin are: adultery (81%), racism (74%), using hard drugs (65%), having an abortion (56%), and homosexuality (52%). But other sins no longer draw majority condemnation. They include: gossip (47%), swearing (46%), premarital sex (45%), smoking marijuana (41%) getting drunk (41%), gambling (30%), not attending church regularly (18%), and drinking alcohol (14%).

Biblically defined, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), all wrongdoing (1 John 5;17), the omission of known duty (James 4:17), and everything that does not come from faith (Rom 14:23). One of the Greek words for sin is hamarta: "to miss the mark." Jack Cottrell, professor of theology at Cincinnati Christian University, says, "This is not an innocent mistake, an accidental failure to hit the mark, as is usually the case in target shooting; it is rather a deliberate decision and willful failure for which one must bear the blame."

Oswald Chambers explained, "Sin is not weakness, it is not a disease; it is red-handed rebellion against God and the magnitude of that rebellion is expressed at Calvary." John Bunyan declared, "Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, and the contempt of His love."

Today's American church needs to read and heed the preaching of the late German preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance."

Christ died for our sins. The church must preach repentance and practice righteousness. Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn from wickedness"
(2 Tim. 2:19).

From the Knowlesletter

Victor Knowles is executive director of Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM), Joplin, Missouri.
The Knowlesletter is a monthly publication of this ministry.

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