taking the words of Jesus seriously

From time to time, I have been asked in the academic classrooms where I have taught to define what I mean by sin.  I always respond by saying, “Sin is what diminishes the humanity of another person and of the self.”

When I lie or cheat or commit adultery, I am diminishing the humanity of the other person and I am diminishing my own humanity.  Beyond that, I would have to say that in racism, sexism, and homophobia people are diminished so that all behaviors related to those “isms” is sin.  When people are involved in a work place that diminishes their humanity, that is sin.  And when there is political oppression that, too, is sin.

Anything that makes homo sapiens less human is contrary to the will of God.  Sin is more than just breaking some rules; it is more than just violating a verse of scripture here or there.  It is what hurts the humanity of another.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that to call your brother raca is the same as murdering that person.  When you understand that the meaning of that word is “fool” or”empty head”, you understand that Jesus is referring to the dehumanization of another person.

To categorize people as subhuman because of the cultural definitions that you have been socialized into accepting is to commit murder.  That’s what Jesus is saying.  That’s sin. Sin deadens us to the humanity and ecstasies of life, but the Spirit of God gives us renewal.

And that is where the preaching begins!

The Spirit of God gives us renewal! Sin deadens us but the Spirit renews us. A question regarding sin can never be fully answered without talking about the renewal accomplished by the Spirit of God within us. The Spirit is the good news, the means by which Sin does not have the last word.

To this day when I am questioned about what I mean by sin I answer the question as posed but I do not leave it there. I continue on to the great work of the Spirit of God inside each of us. Sin does not have the last word! The Spirit renews us and move us into a relationship with the resurrected Christ!

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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