At the same time, we know that intent plays a large part in how we perceive sinful behavior, as Matthew 5 says pretty definitively:
21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell…27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Even the very thought of committing a sin, at first glance, shows the same degree of commitment and follow-through. Sin should not just be removed from action, but from thought. Every thought must conform to Christ, and not to the world. In fact, Jesus even tells us that it’s better to rip off a body part than sin, and while I would hesitate to take that LITERALLY, I think the hyperbole demonstrates perfectly the Christian need to avoid sin in both mind and body. The body’s actions tell us more about our minds than constant self-reflection ever will, and what we truly believe comes through in our actions. Proverbs 23 gives us some insight:
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
But his heart is not with you.
8 You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments.
Thoughts affect us a great deal and get us into all sorts of trouble! The inner thoughts define someone more than they know, even if they don’t know it, and finding that out takes some doing. When the Bible refers to the “heart”, it literally means the inner being of a person. What they truly are comes through in their actions, and changing your tune requires changing the whole. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 17:
17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
And what is not from faith is sin, as Romans 14:23 says. Faith requires a whole change, not just in part but in whole, and to do any less leads you back into sin via one rocky road or another. That goes for what you do, and what you don’t do (James:4:17) in your daily life. Walking in the Spirit means you do not partake of the lusts of the flesh (Galatians:5:16), and that’s exactly what Christianity teaches us to avoid.
So Christians know not to sin, that much remains apparent. But what about seeing and observing sin? We will see sin daily in both ourselves and others unless we live in a secluded shelter in the wilderness; living as a hermit certainly isn’t what God wants of His children, I’m sure. Here is where we often fail to make the difference between one side of the sin coin and the other, though! To perform sin, in whatever fashion, is wrong, but to recognize sin’s existence without dampening its truly awful qualities is just as problematic.
In churches across the world, you will very rarely see certain subjects and stories from the Biblical text preached or taught at a mass level. The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible contains some difficult content to understand and process, and that’s not just from a cultural level. In fact, the Good Book itself contains some rather disgusting behaviors, from drunken incest to rape to genocide for wrong purpose; all of that sits in there, yet we hardly recognize it at some point.
To understand the New Testament, you must understand both the severity of sin’s blight and why God institutes a high moral standard, a Law, in the first place. Furthermore, you must then see the results of human rebellion and sinfulness, even in the midst of God’s direct communication and promise. We find it highly unbelievable that people so close to God could continue to disobey, but that’s not a far cry from what we do. Without this human contrast between faith and sin, we could not really understand either clearly.
Because of this, I see no problem depicting sin from a purely detached standpoint like the Bible. It doesn’t go into horrendous detail of the various rapings and killings. It isn’t very graphic; parts of it read more like a history (appropriately) than anything out of the modern day. The Bible tells a lot of stories, but it isn’t into giving every detail of any specific event. On the other hand, it remains very clear about what constitutes right and wrong action, as well as the deserved consequences of such actions. That’s more true of Old Testament than New, but it certainly exists in both. We’ll use two examples here. First, Deuteronomy 22:
25 “But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.
If the message isn’t obvious enough, “Don’t rap people or be put to death” does not allow much room for interpretation. You see this in action in Genesis 34, which depicts the rather violent aftermath of rape in the ancient world, which can either go very well or very poorly. In this case, a lot of killing happened – but, again, not in any gratuitous detail or in unecessary story elements. The story exists for the purpose of telling the story; in other words, its intentions do not involve glorifying sin, merely depicting it or judging it.
To avoid sin, rather than confront it, describe it, and know it for what it is, makes for a very sheltered Christian. Without knowledge of what goes on in the world, it’s hard to help that same world. Christians should know that they remain with many of their faults through the rest of their lives, and that allows us to relate. To place ourselves on a pedestal or higher position makes that work impossible; if Jesus did this, could He ever hang out with prostitutes and criminals? I think not. 1 John says that we cannot avoid saying we have sin, but can ask for forgiveness:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.