On Sin Lists

The Bible gives us many lists of things to avoid like the plague:

Yes you read that right. No, I do not mean “shopping lists” or “to-do lists” or something like that. I will explain in a moment what exactly I mean, but let me preface this article by making the following observations. There are too many folks who claim to be Christians who will insist that we need not worry about rules and regulations.

They will tell us that the only thing that matters is ‘love’. We should not worry about various behaviours, they say, and we should not concentrate on what we should or should not do (irony intended!). ‘Just love everybody’ is their creed. Of course such an amorphous and undefined love helps no one, and can indeed cover a multitude of sins.

And that is just what these folks end up doing: they are effectively trying to make excuses for sin, They are trying to tell us that we are getting hung up on right and wrong and that we need to just go with the flow – the flow of love. These folks are into what is called “Progressive Christianity.” It might better be called “Fake Christianity.” See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/23/progressive-christianity/

The so-called emerging church movement has been a very big part of this. You can find another 40 articles on this worrying trend here: billmuehlenberg.com/category/the-church/the-emergent-church/

This is fake Christianity because everywhere in the New Testament we find many hundreds of imperatives. An imperative is a command, an order. We are commanded over and over again to do this and to do that. We are also constantly commanded time and time again not to do this and not to do that.

A nebulous Christianity without rules, but just a lotta emotive “love,” is completely foreign to Scripture. Biblical love is always a well-defined love, and a bounded love. It is bounded by right and wrong, truth and error. And part of all this includes what are known as “sin lists”. There are actually plenty of them to be found in the New Testament.

They make it perfectly clear that biblical love always involves doing what is right and eschewing what is evil. Real Christian love is as much about actions as attitudes. If you truly love God and others you will not sin against them by doing evil and withholding good.

So just what are all these sin lists, or vice lists? While not really found in the Old Testament, they were quite common in Greek and Roman literature. They were primary illustrative and not exhaustive lists. They are regularly found in the New Testament. Here are 18 of the main sin lists (and there would likely be some other shorter lists that could be included here):

Matthew 15:19
Mark 7:21-22
Romans 1:24-32
Romans 13:13
1 Corinthians 5:10-11
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
2 Corinthians 12:20
Galatians 5:19-21
Ephesians 4:19, 31
Ephesians 5:3-5
Colossians 3:5-9
1 Timothy 1:8-11
1 Timothy 6:3-5
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Titus 3:3
1 Peter 4:3-4
Revelation 21:8
Revelation 22:15

Let me run with just a few of the more obvious ones. A major list – perhaps the most pointed and powerful – is the one found in Romans 1:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

The Galatians 5 list is also very important:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

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Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications by Carson, D. A. (Author) Amazon logo

The 2 Timothy list seems to describe us to a T:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Although briefer, the Revelation 21 list is quite ominous:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Obviously, these lists fully demonstrate that those trying to run with the line that we should not worry about dos and don’ts are rejecting the clear teachings of Scripture. If the biblical writers – including Jesus himself – felt that rules of right and wrong did not matter, then they were lying to us when they gave us all these lists of right and wrong!

Yes, there are also lists of virtues to be found in the New Testament. I may need to pen an article on those as well. But to speak about the importance of right and wrong actions is NOT to overlook the importance of attitudes and motives and the heart. One can of course do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Biblical Christianity focuses on both. Our inner heart motivations and our outer external actions are both crucial. But the progressives, and those in the emerging church movement, seek to give us a decimated Christianity, where only some of its emphases are offered.

Yes, love matters, and yes our heart attitude is important. But so too are our actions, our deeds, our behaviours. Both aspects must be included. Otherwise we are insisting on flying a plane with only one wing. Otherwise we are giving a highly distorted and truncated view of biblical truth.

As D. A. Carson strongly said about this in his 2005 book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church:

So which shall we choose? Experience or truth? The left wing of an airplane, or the right? Love or integrity? Study or service? Evangelism or discipleship? The front wheels of a car, or the rear? Subjective knowledge or objective knowledge? Faith or obedience? Damn all false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let us reject such false antitheses and run with the fulness of Scripture. And that will mean – among other things – that while we readily run with a virtue list such as found in Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the Spirit), we also run with the sin list found immediately before it (vv. 19-21).

[1273 words]

5 Replies to “On Sin Lists”

  1. The Beatles said in their song: “All you need is love!”. This is like the message of the emerging church. The Beatles were using illegal and dangerous drugs. They were having promiscuous sex. After a concert they slept with women in the audience. It may have been 100’s in one night! They believed that you could love people without having any rules. Rules affect individuals, families and the whole of society. My mother said that if she went out in the late 1960’s she would not even lock the door! Now everyone locks their door when they go out. Many people have security systems with alarms and/or cameras and screens today. So the society has changed. The attitude to abortion has changed. I read a newspaper article some years ago saying that abortion was a necessary evil. It was not promoted as a good thing. Now there are women who say “Shout your abortion!”. Michelle Wolf makes abortion jokes and did a TV segment of a Salute to Abortion! I think these things are shocking. When I watched videos of these events I found it incredible and bizarre! I do not think that I even have the words to say how I felt about it. This was on TV. It was not occurring in a fringe part of society. This has happened because parts of our society have rejected Christian rules. A boy in the US was murdered for his sneakers. We live in a dangerous time. In the 1950’s most people went to church. Crime rates were low. When people reject Christianity they can become evil. But that is not the only thing that happens. They seem to become lost. They do not seem to know what they are doing.

  2. In the Revelation 21:8 list, this category alone is “quite ominous” indeed:

    “the faithless” (ESV) = “the unbelieving” (KJV, NIV 1984)

    It seems to me that so many of the other don’t-do items hinge on this one. No doubt reams of theology treatises could be (and have been) written on it.

  3. Helen Jenkins-Conway ah yes the gospel according to “saint” John Lennon. A lot of song out there about love the ones that aren’t romantic seem to always be some ethereal ill defined love that know no boundaries. Like the “love has no…” campaign.

    God has said thou shalt NOT and man looks at the list list and says thou shalt DO.

    They’re REAL fight is against God but since they can’t attack him directly they attack us. As long as we are around it reminds them that they are NOT God and thus are subject to him. They think if they kill all the messengers they not only kill the message but the one who sent it. They may soon get the (mostly) God free world they want but like everything else man does on his own it will end in blood and in fire! As the old saying goes be careful what you wish for you might just get it!

  4. Dear Bill, Thank you for the article. It appears that Megan Markle has just lost her second baby through miscarriage and with her usual theatricals and selfishness expects us to feel sorry for her. That is hard considering her well known views on abortion which she shouted from the rooftops. In her sinful, twisted selfish militant feminist logic it is alright to have a baby murdered in the womb if it is unwanted but if it is wanted it is alright to grieve for it and expect others to grieve with you. Sorry Megan it doesn’t work like that. My sympathy is solely for your baby not you because it never had a chance at life. I am praying that you will learn from this event and use your fame to speak up for other babies who have lost their God given gift of life through abortion which you have supported. You could have done that in your television interview but as usual you chose to dwell on yourself. I think Life site news who has commented on your miscarriage was very easy on you.

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