Why does God classify some actions as wrong and others as right? Why is it wrong to commit sin?
Did God just arbitrarily decide that some actions would be classed as sin? Did He say to Himself: "We've got to have some things that are wrong, so I'll just choose some nice, tantalizing, exciting things and they can be sin. Then anyone who gets caught doing those things can be put to death"?
Is that how sin came to be sin? Is it only sin because God says so? And could it be that these things we call sin are actually good for us, but God somehow doesn't want us to have them?
It simply is not rational to believe that a God who created this earth with all its beauty and harmony, and with laws which have a clear cause-and-effect relationship, would institute spiritual laws merely as some type of mental exercise.
If sin is so bad as to warrant the death penalty, then the reason ought to be revealed in the Scriptures. There ought to be an obvious, cause-and-effect relationship between sin and death.
Notice what one of the most important "sin" scriptures teaches us. It states that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Wages are something we earn. In this passage wages are contrasted with God's gift, which is eternal life. One thing we earn, the other we are given. The effect — what we earn as our wages — is death. The cause is sin. No arbitrary penalty for sin is so much as hinted at in this scripture.
Take a look at another well-known passage — Galatians 6:7-8: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption...." Again, a simple cause-and-effect relationship! What you sow grows until it finally brings forth what you reap.
James, a leader in God's Work and brother of Jesus Christ, reveals this same relationship between sin and death. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:14-15).
In the same way that sin is an automatic result of dwelling on lust, death is the end product of sin. The one brings about the other. If you entertain lust long enough, it will well up in you to the point that you will not be able to keep yourself from sinning. Then death is the next step along the way — the automatic result of sin.
But why is death the result of sin? The answer to this question is actually the answer to why sin is so bad.
Despite all the confusion about what constitutes sin, the Bible gives this concise definition: "... Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4).
But what law is it sin to transgress? The Apostle Paul explains: "Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Rom. 7:7).
He is speaking of the Ten Commandments. These are the laws which define sin. "Only if there were no laws to break," he says, "would there be no sinning" (verse 8, The Living Bible).
To discover why sin is wrong — why it nets the death penalty — we need to find out why God gave these laws in the first place.
Let's look at a specific law of God: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." What's wrong with adultery? Why did God tell us not to get involved in illicit sex?
Swinging — or adultery by consent — is definitely the "in" thing today. Sociologists estimate that as many as 14 million Americans are involved in wife swapping.
Obviously those who are involved believe that this kind of relationship will not harm them. Young teen-agers who engage in premarital sex or married couples who swap partners apparently do so because they see nothing wrong with it.
But the Bible says don't do it! It says that the result will be death. Not merely a penalty arbitrarily imposed, but an automatic result.
Can God back up His law concerning adultery with logic? Or is He seeking to deny us pleasure?
"See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil," says God. "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deut. 30:15, 19).
God says His laws are for our own good. He says they result in life and every good thing. He warns that adultery will bring only curses — unhappiness, wretchedness, and ultimately death. He says that He isn't denying us something good. God is only trying to keep us from a way which will bring wrong results. As our Father, He doesn't want us to hurt ourselves. So He gave us laws for our protection.
In the book of Proverbs we find another father warning his son about potential dangers in the area of sex. Did he want to deny his son something good? Or was he concerned for his welfare?
"When wisdom entereth into thine heart," wrote Solomon, "and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee... to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life" (Prov. 2:10, 11, 16-19).
Solomon is talking about an experience that actually destroys a man spiritually. He says that those who commit this kind of sin bring about a change in their lives which prevents them from really living. Even though they are alive, it's as if they were dead.
Is this merely "spiritual" language? Is it just a religious type of idea — nebulous Bible semantics? Or is Solomon talking about something that is affecting the lives of adulterers right now?
Notice the 9th chapter of Proverbs: "Stolen waters are sweet," the adulteress assures her prey, "and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" (verse 17). Isn't this what we are hearing more and more today? It's tantalizing, exciting! It isn't going to hurt you.
But what is the eventual result of this and any other illicit sexual relationship? "But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell [the grave]" (verse 18).
When we put the weight of scriptural evidence together, it becomes plain that Solomon is not warning his son of some "religious" consequence to adultery. He is talking about something which happens to a man's mind when he sins (especially over a period of time). Continually practicing sin causes its participants to become spiritually dead.
The world talks about "living it up." They talk about "really living." Yet, strange as it may seem, most people don't know what living really is. The Apostle Paul talked about a woman who lives in wantonness. He said, "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she yet liveth" (I Tim. 5:6). How can a person be dead, and yet still alive?
Paul is talking about a way of life. It's one thing to exist — to merely live out your seventy-odd years — and it's another to really live.
Christ described this kind of life when He said: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). This kind of life isn't just an existence. It is actually beginning to sample the type of life that God wants us to experience eternally in His Kingdom.
The Bible talks about two opposite ways of life. It explains that "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life" (Rom. 8:6). At creation God revealed these two opposite ways of life to our first parents. They were represented by two trees — the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.
God had told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). But the serpent (Satan) told them that they would continue to live (Gen. 3:4), and implied they would actually experience a richer, fuller life. plants.
What is life? A scientist would tell you that "life" is a chemical process. But this process is going on in a snail. The slug is also alive. So are bacteria. So are
There is more to life than just a chemical process. It involves a quality of existence. When Adam and Eve ate of that forbidden fruit, they cut themselves off from the continuous abundant life that God intended.
The third chapter of Genesis explains it. "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.... So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (verses 22-24).
Adam no longer had access to God's Spirit at that time.
When Christ called a young man to follow Him, the young man replied that he wanted to go bury his father first. "And Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).
The man's father had not died. It was a custom in Israel to bury the dead the same day. The man would not have been with Christ on this occasion, but would have been making preparations for the burial had his father died.
He wanted to spend the remaining years with his father until his death. But Christ told him to leave that to the "dead." He referred to living human beings as dead men, spiritually speaking.
In Ephesians 2:1 the Apostle Paul writes: "And you hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins." John wrote: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (I John 3:14).
All through the Bible we read of people who are alive and yet dead! They are existing, but they aren't experiencing the quality of life that God intended. They are on a path of life which is slowly, but surely, killing them.
God reveals that the world is spiritually dead. It isn't really enjoying life — it is existing on temporary thrills and kicks, but it's not really living.
Why are people merely existing? Because they are cut off from the real source of life. They are transgressing living laws and reaping the automatic penalties.
Let's understand what occurs when a person breaks God's law.
God warns, "The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of fools shall destroy them" (Prov. 11:3).
Does perverseness — living contrary to God's law — destroy people because God inflicts a penalty, or is it an automatic, built-in result?
Listen to what the Apostle Paul has to say: "And the men also turned from natural relations with women and were set ablaze (burned out, consumed) with lust for one another, men committing shameful acts with men and suffering in their own bodies and personalities the inevitable consequences and penalty of their wrong doing and going astray which was [their] fitting retribution" (Rom. 1:27, The Amplified Bible).
Perversion brings an automatic penalty! It isn't wrong because God arbitrarily decreed that it is; it's wrong because it will hurt you! It will do irreparable damage to your ability to enjoy the fulfillment of right family life — the engendering and raising of children through a balanced father-mother relationship.
Speaking of those who are primarily motivated by their carnal minds, Paul wrote: "This I say therefore... that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph. 4:17-18).
These people, because of their perverted practices, have rendered themselves totally incapable of right emotions and feelings. They don't understand that this is no arbitrary code of morals — they don't know that it is a living law that you can't break without paying an awesome penalty. They have gone in a way of life, in a pattern of existence, which has gradually dulled their ability to enjoy right relationships.
Why is adultery a sin? Because it harms the human mind — the most finely tuned instrument that exists. It robs the individual of the ability to enjoy sex in the way God intended. Somehow, wholesome relationships in marriage become dull — a man's wife no longer really attracts him in the way that she used to.
Oh, it may not happen overnight — "swingers" may seem like they are having fun for a time. But when they embark on these illicit experiences they are little by little destroying their capacity to experience true joy in marriage. It's a path that leads only to frustration, heartache, and ultimately death.
Is sin enjoyable? You bet it is! That's why people engage in it. That's why temptation is so alluring. Adultery is physically and mentally pleasurable. And the kids who smoke pot are getting a kick out of it. The forbidden fruit tasted good to Adam and Eve.
No one denies the short-term enjoyment of sin. Hebrews 11:25 says Moses chose to suffer affliction with God's people rather "than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." But sin's short-term pleasures automatically bring a long-term penalty. Adam and Eve lived to see one of their own dearly beloved boys brutally murdered by the other. They finally witnessed the entire earth filled with violence, and they eventually died instead of enjoying the eternal life God had offered.
The Bible actually shows that those who insistently engage in sin are, spiritually speaking, already dead. It likens them to a corpse.
A corpse has no feeling. It's dead — dead as a doornail. It is insensitive. And those who damage their minds by continually breaking God's laws are no longer really living. Nothing satisfies. Life lacks fulfillment. The excitement and interest has somehow disappeared.
No one, not even God, needs to know that you have broken His law for the penalty to be exacted. God's law doesn't act like human laws — getting caught isn't the criterion. Breaking God's law will eventually break you.
God pursues a way of life which results in happiness. He wants to share that quality of life with humans, not merely now, but for all eternity.
What kind of life does He hold out to us? "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11).
God lives the abundant life. He offers an eternity of fulfillment and joy. But before He will give us that eternal life, He expects us to prove that we will live in the way that produces every right result.
If we refuse to sample that kind of life now — if we persist in continuing in the way that brings unhappiness, suffering and grief, not only to ourselves but to others as well — then a merciful God will have no alternative but to put us out of our misery.
It isn't that God wants to deprive us of the thrills in life. He only wants to protect us from that which is going to hurt us. His law isn't the reason that sin is wrong — it isn't wrong because God decided that there ought to be a penalty for some actions and a reward for others. The law merely defines sin, setting out in a codified manner that which is bad for us.
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" asks God. "... And not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezek. 18:23.)
Does God want to inflict the ultimate punishment upon people? Does He take pleasure in seeing that they are only half alive; and does He look forward to putting them out of their misery?
"Repent," says God, "and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed... for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth... wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye" (verses 30-32).
The broad majority of human beings are cut off from God and from the source of real life. They are analogous to dead men, daily destroying their capacity for really living as they continually break God's law and bring automatic penalties upon themselves.
But we can turn to God and ask Him to supernaturally remove those penalties for us, and to set our feet on the path of life. We can, if we just will, receive total forgiveness for our wretchedness in the past.
Sin can be overcome. We can begin to really live, to sample the life which will grow until it blossoms out into all the fullness and joy that God Himself experiences!
Read our free reprint articles "This is the Life — Real Abundant Living!" and "How to Be an OVERCOMER." Discover the truly abundant life that God intends us to live throughout all eternity!