There are a couple of misconceptions about sin that I often see in our culture today.
One is the very common idea that being a Christian is all about following a long list of rules. That you become a believer not by believing, but by obeying. And that the way to be made right with God is to never sin at all—or at least stay within some “good enough” threshold.
This idea causes problems, because:
That’s not how it works at all. The gospel (or “good news”; that’s what the word means) is that we don’t have to be “good enough.” In fact, nobody is “good enough” to go to heaven, because the standard is perfection, and only Jesus is perfect. However, He died on our behalf; He took the punishment so we don’t have to. Being a Christian, then, isn’t about never sinning; it’s about understanding that you are a sinner and therefore need the sacrifice Jesus paid for that sin.
It can cause non-believers to believe that they have no chance. If the requirement is perfection and you already realize you’re not perfect, then what can you do? So these people may give up hope, not realizing that full forgiveness is available to everyone. (See also See also Paul, the self-described worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), who became a Christian only after making a career out of murdering Christians.)
Not Bad at All
There is another fast-growing problem in our culture regarding sin. Instead of people thinking that they aren’t good enough, some people believe that they’re already good enough, and therefore don’t need saving.
You see it a lot with the “born this way” argument. The logic goes like this: I was born with certain predispositions. Whether through genetics, or something else beyond my control, I was made to desire or do certain things. And since God designed me that way, and God doesn’t make mistakes, then there’s nothing wrong with acting in accordance with those desires or predispositions. It’s not a sin at all, as long as I really want to do it. Have you ever heard an argument similar to that?
That logic breaks down pretty quickly, though, whether you’re a Christian or not.
From a purely secular standpoint, the problem is that you can be born with the predisposition to do a lot of different things. For example, there is a lot of evidence—thousands of studies, apparently—that say alcoholism is at least partially genetic. You could, therefore, say that many alcoholics are “born that way.” And that would mean there’s nothing wrong with those people giving in to their natural desires to be a practicing alcoholic.
Or, take pedophilia. There are many researchers today who will say that an attraction to young children is something that many child molesters are born with. So does that make it OK? (As a parent, I’ll save you from guessing: the answer is NO.)
For me, I’d say I was born with the predisposition to want to sleep with every beautiful woman I see; to drink and pursue anything that would offer me a momentary good time; and to always selfishly seek my own interests at the expense of others. And for a while in my past, I regularly acted on those things.
The point is, we’re all born with predispositions towards things that are sins. The Bible doesn’t disagree; it specifically says we are born sinful (Psalm 51:5). It says that we are, by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), meaning we do things that God has a right to be angry about. And it repeatedly says that all have sinned (Romans 5:12). You’d think that if people were “born perfect,” somebody would have managed to avoid sinning.
What We Really Need
The real danger of the “born this way” argument is that it denies we need a Savior. If everything we naturally want to do is right and good just because we want to do it, then there must be no such thing as sin. In fact, in that case the only possible way to sin would be to do something we don’t want to do. The only sin would be to go against our programming: to change or grow as a person.
To get to the good news, you have to go through the bad news. Yes, you are a sinner. Yes, you naturally want to do things that are wrong, or even naturally do wrong things that you don’t want to do (Romans 7:14-20). God didn’t make you into a sinner. Humanity became that way when we ran from God and the order that He offered. Your sins are your effort to be God and not trust His ways. But Jesus paid for those sins, too. And change and growth are possible (2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s not that change will save you; but if you’re saved, God can work to change the things that are holding you back from living life to the fullest (John 10:10).
My name is Jonathan Pokluda, and I was born a sinner. I still sin at times, and have a desire within me to sin in ways that would hurt my family, my friends, and myself. But I’ve been forgiven, I’ve been changed, and with the help of God’s Spirit, I no longer have to obey those desires. I’ve been re-born a different way. And it’s not my doing; it’s thanks to my Savior.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)