“Is it a sin to [X]?”
Books may be written about the far more glamorous themes of discipleship–subjects like calling, spiritual gifts, and church planting and multiplication–but by sheer frequency, in the deepest and most authentic discipleship relationships of which I’m a part, what Christians want to know is whether something they are doing–or thinking about doing–is wrong.
When the question comes up, I like to refer people to Susanna Wesley’s definition of sin:
Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.
I learned this lesson not from reading Susanna Wesley but from watching and listening to Rev. Bill Rogers, the first man who discipled me, when I was 19 years old and Bill was pastoring Mt. Olive United Methodist Church in Sweetser, Indiana.
Bill and his gracious wife, Sandy, had invited a bunch of us over to his house on New Year’s Eve. We spent the evening playing various kinds of board games and generally having a good time.
Finally, someone suggested we play a card game–euchre. Not being from the Midwest, I had never heard of euchre before and was eager to learn. As we began, Bill stood up and cheerfully cleared the used plates and cups from the table and took them to the kitchen.
“What’s the matter, Bill?” I jeered playfully in an annoying 19-year old way. “Do you think playing cards is a sin?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Bill, thoughtfully. “All I know is that it is for me.”
Bill explained to me what Susanna Wesley explained above: We above anyone else will know what leads our hearts away from Christ. Something may have no effect on the hearts of others in this regard (or it may and they simply prefer not to admit it, even to themselves), but we need to follow the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12 in remembering that
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
In our purported fear of works righteousness we Christians tend to chafe at specific commands for conduct in the Christian life. It’s fascinating that we have the opposite insistence when it comes to sin. We like to define sin narrowly and specifically.
But in matters of discerning right conduct or wrong, as Susanna Wesley noted and Bill Rogers lived out so well, the same principle is at issue:
[W]hatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.