How can I know if something is a sin?



Question: "How can I know if something is a sin?"

Answer:
There are two issues involved in this question. (1) There are things that the Bible specifically mentions and declares to be sin. Examples of such lists include: Proverbs 6:16-19; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. There can be no doubt that these Scriptures present the activities as sinful, things God does not approve of. Murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc. – there is no doubt that the Bible presents such things as sins.

(2) The more difficult issue is in determining what is sinful in areas that the Bible does not directly address. When the Bible does not cover a certain subject, we have some general principles in His Word to guide us. (a) When there is no specific Scriptural reference, it is good to ask, not whether a certain thing is wrong, but rather if it is definitely good. The Bible says, for example, to "redeem the time" (Colossians 4:5). Our few days here on earth are so short and precious, in relation to eternity, that we ought never to waste time on selfish things, but to use it only on that "which is good, to the use of edifying" (Ephesians 4:29).

(b) A good test is to determine whether we can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use the particular activity for His own good purposes. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). If there is room for doubt as to whether it pleases God, then it is best to give it up. "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). (c) We need to remember that our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). This great truth should have a real bearing on what we do and where we go with our bodies.

(d) We must evaluate our actions not only in relation to God but also in relation to their effect on our family, our friends, and other people in general. Even if a particular thing may not hurt us personally, if it harmfully influences or affects someone else, it is wrong. "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak... We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 14:21; 15:1). (e) Remember, finally, that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and nothing else can be allowed to take priority over our conformity to His will. No habit or recreation, or ambition can be allowed to have an undue control over our lives -- only Christ has that authority. "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12). "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17).


Recommended Resource: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen.

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How can I know if something is a sin?