I’ll cut to the chase. Liberty without responsibility is license. License is sin. And sin is an ignored and forgotten component of American culture.
Question: Do you believe that “morality” in the United States has declined over the past 50 years? If so, why?
Detour. What is “sin?” Sin is a word that most people in this generation do not want to discuss or even think about. Heck, most churches don’t even discuss this anymore, never mind suggest we shouldn’t do it. Gosh, that would be mean spirited and in-Christian if Churches discussed sin.
Oh how far we have fallen.
Quick fact: In Christianity, if sin is not acknowledged there can be no grace. If you think yourself a “Christian” and ignore or dismiss the concept of “sin”, you need to question your salvation. Christianity requires the acknowledgement of sin, the heartfelt regret for that sin, and a request to God for the forgiveness of that sin. Then the grace of God will be freely given. Even saved people sin. It is the regret for that sin and request for forgiveness that distinguishes the Christian from others.
Ok, back to “what is sin?”
For there to be “sin”, there has to be a standard against which a sin is determined. Therefore, “sin” is falling short of meeting certain standards. There are two types of standards: Natural law, which is the belief system built into all of us that gives us a general sense of right and wrong. I’m not talking about “cultural” standards, no. This is more of a universal, inbred sense that all people have to some degree – some possessing the sense more than others. An example is the universal standard of not killing another person for no apparent reason. This form of sin is rather vague and undefined. It can be easily twisted and perverted by cultural “group think” because of its vagueness. Sensing this “natural law” sin is like tuning into a very weak radio station. Islamic cultural behavior is one example of cultural “group think” that masks and overwhelms adherence to natural law. There is often a lot of interference coming from stronger influences that will mask the weaker signal.
Then there are the more explicit standards established by God as expressed through the Bible. The Ten Commandments are the best known. But there are dozens of others stated and exemplified throughout Scripture that reflect God’s standards for us. Gender affiliation, marriage, faithfulness, loving kindness, honesty, humility, and dozens more are given to us.
The extent to which we ignore or violate these standards is “sin.” Of course there is an array of sexual perversions that warrant the sin label. But by no means do these comprise even most.
Some apparent sins aren’t necessarily so. For example, “anger” is often a sin. But there is such a thing as “righteous anger”. Even God has shown anger. But such “righteous” anger has two distinguishing characteristics: 1) It is temporary, and 2) It is for an excellent, or righteous, reason. What might be a righteous reason to be angry? If someone beat you up for no apparent reason or if you were given a speeding ticket for going 35 in a 40 mph zone. God’s righteous anger has occurred when some people willfully abuse Him and his commands.
Having the behavioral boundaries of “sin” give us absolute freedom within those self-imposed boundaries.
Now, to the problem. Over the past several decades a greater and greater percentage of the US population have been ignoring God’s primary means of communicating with us: The Bible: God’s written advice, commands, and standards for us. Consequently, more and more people have less and less understanding of the standards God has for us. The end result is we are losing – or have lost – any sense of “sin” because we have become ignorant or deniers of God’s standards. Sin? What’s that and who cares?
All we have left is the faint, tiny inner voice of natural law. And that natural law is virtually drowned out by the noise of the culture claiming “anything goes.” We had liberty when we had standards. Do we have more liberty now? No. Ignoring God’s standards removes personal responsibility which creates license. The concept of “sin” is virtually eliminated because there is little left of standards for sin to be noticed or declared.
Has this new found license created the ultimate freedom and liberty? No. It is the exact opposite. The result is moral anarchy. There is no predictability as to what is right or wrong anymore. What we used to believe was wrong, or “sin” is now promoted by the culture as ok; maybe superior according to some. And what we believed was right is now against the culture and increasingly against the law. Refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay, same sex couple comes to mind.
The sense of right and wrong is becoming increasingly whimsical, subject to popular fads and preferences.
Churches cannot assume people understand, never mind agree with, the concept of sin anymore. It is as dead a concept as cursive handwriting is to third graders.
I don’t know that anything short of another supernatural “great awakening” can bring us back to the Bible and God’s standards for right and wrong – and recognizing the very real concept of sin so that God may once again pour his grace out upon the sinner.