Is ‘a sin’ just ‘one of my failings’?

Have you noticed how, in modern times, individuals whose crimes have been publicly exposed tend to acknowledge their moral wrongdoings in modified language?

  • ‘I don’t know what I was thinking when I did it’
  • ‘It was a bit insensitive of me, I suppose’
  • ‘It was out of character for me’
  • ‘I made a mistake; it was a poor judgement on my part’
  • ‘I admit I could have done better; but none of us is perfect, are we?’

But the apostle James wrote plainly: ‘Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.’ (James 4:17). He was not referring to doing wrong but failing to do what is right. A warning regularly misquoted in my childhood to deter me from taking a cake from the pantry without permission was: ‘Be sure your sins will be found out.’ Moses phrased it differently to the tribes who had already been given their inheritance beyond Jordan but were not allowed to settle there until they had helped the rest of Israel to gain theirs: ‘But if you will not do so, behold you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out’ as hypocrites (Numbers 32:16-23).

* Sin in Bible terms

Among the words translated as ‘trespasses’ and ‘iniquities’ that convey the sense of ‘sideslips’ and ‘crookedness/wickedness’, the Hebrew and Greek words for ‘sin’ generally imply ‘falling short of the mark’. This was Paul’s damning verdict of the moral and spiritual failure of the entire human race: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). And God’s standard is high; he wants humans to relate to him and to each other wholeheartedly – that ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your souls and with all your mind and with all your strength;’ and ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:28-31).

* Jesus pronounced judgement against ‘sins of omission’

[] in his teachings

‘Woe to you, … hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin , and have neglected … justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others’ (Matthew 23:23). He depicted the final judgement as a shepherd separated the sheep from the goats.’ The latter will ‘depart, cursed, into … eternal fire. … For I was hungry, and you gave me no food’ … and ‘as you did not do it to one of the least of these (my brothers), you did not do it to me(Matthew 25:31-46).

[] through a miracle

He cursed a fig tree so that it died from its roots overnight, because he had expected to find ripened late fruit that had budded in the previous autumn, but ‘he found nothing but leaves – just as in spiritually barren Israel (see Mark 11:12-24).

[] illustrated in parables (especially in Matthew’s Gospel)

A ‘guest’ was evicted from a ‘wedding feast’ for failing to wear ‘a wedding garment’ (Matthew 22:9-14). Of the ‘ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom’ and escort him to his bride, ‘five of them were foolish, … they took no oil with them to replenish their lamps, and found ‘the door was shut’ on returning from ‘the dealers’ (Matthew 25:1-11). The servant with ‘one talent’ who ‘went…and hid his master’s money’ was castigated by him as ‘wicked and slothful and ended ‘cast…into outer darkness’ (Matthew 25:14-30). And the rich man whose neighbour ‘Lazarus’ ‘was laid…at his gate…’ as ‘a poor man…covered in sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table’ (like the dogs, Matthew Matthew 15:27), ‘died and … in Hades (was) in torment … (and) anguish’ (Luke 16:19-31).

* So, might the answer to our question in the title of this article be:

My ‘failings’ are damnable ‘sins’?

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