I’ve talked a lot about homosexuality since it is a hot topic in our culture. However, it certainly isn’t the only sin in the Bible, nor even one of the most mentioned. So I decided to go through and review some of the “sin lists” in the new testament1. These lists all sound fairly similar, so I expected to come up with a dozen or so “sins” in a comprehensive list. I actually looked up the Greek words to try and really understand what Paul (or Jesus in the gospels) was talking about. It turns out that I had a list of about 75 different “sins”! However, this can be narrowed by grouping many of these into categories.
Before I get to the list, I want to talk about how we understand these lists. The impression I got from my conservative background is that sins are essentially a list of rules that we’re not supposed to break. However it’s interesting that Paul often gets to these lists after describing how we’re not saved by the law and that we can’t live God’s way in our own power. I don’t believe that Paul is turning around and then giving us lists of things were to try to do and not to do. Instead, I think he’s painting a general picture of what a life looks like when we’re following our natural desires as opposed to following the Spirit. For example, Paul in Galatians begins by saying “The acts of the flesh are obvious…”. I believe what Paul is doing is what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount about knowing a tree by its fruit. And in fact Paul introduces his list of good works by saying “the fruit of the Spirit is…”.
We discussed this some in my church recently. Unfortunately, it seems that conservative Christians often focus on sin and seem to think that not sinning, or sinning less, is the main point of Christianity. However focusing on sin and merely attempting to not sin becomes legalism. And since we are unable to actually live a righteous life in our own power, it ends up becoming as much or more about appearing to not sin than about actually not sinning. This is part of the reason why certain sins, such as homosexuality or foul language, become a big deal among conservatives, while they tend to overlook others such as pride and lack of love. Instead, as we walk closer to Jesus, he changes our hearts and we begin to be less interested in the “sins” and more interested in the good works. That said, God does use the Bible to teach us, so it’s worthwhile to take a look at these “works of the flesh”. So here’s the list I came up with, order roughly from most mentioned to least mentioned:
- Sexual Immorality (Sex outside of marriage, adultery, male homosexuality, and unrestrained, indulgent sexual behavior)
- Over-indulgence / lack of restraint / hedonism – “following one’s passions and desires to the point of having no shame or public decency”
- Evil (wickedness, malice, irreverence, depravity, unjust)
- Loveless (lack of care, concern, or respect of others; ungrateful, merciless, brutal, betraying)
- Pride (proud, arrogant, boastful, selfish)
- Slander (gossip, verbally abuse, false accusations, speaking bad of others)
- Obscene, crude language
- Envy / Jealousy
- Division (arguing, unwilling to make peace, quarreling, dissension, cliques)
- Lies (deceit, lying, perjury / false testimony)
- Anger (wrath, fury, rage, vengeance, bitterness)
- Drunkenness (partying)
- Disobedience (rebellion)
- Others (murder, impurity, theft, kidnapping, hypocrisy, sorcery)
1 The passages I looked at are Mark 7:21-22 / Matthew 15:19, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-10, Romans 1:29-31, 13:13, Ephesians 4:31, 5:3-5, Colossians 3:5-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, and 1 Peter 2:1, 4:3.