Is “Sin” Really A “Four-Letter Word”?

Sin. It is a word and concept no one likes to discuss. Sin carries connotations of wrongness, punishment, and unpleasantness. Even the word “sin” has become politically incorrect. It is a “four-letter word” in many circles.

Should sin be a taboo subject? If not, how would that affect parenting (or teaching) children?

A Bit of Background

This week I’ve been reading Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by the Puritan author Thomas Brooks. (John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress was another famous Puritan.) In this book, Brooks seeks to uncover “Satan’s devices to draw the soul to sin” and provide concrete steps, or remedies, to help the believer overcome and draw closer to the Lord.

It was a challenging read, but not because of the year it was written (mid-17th century). What made it challenging was the way the Holy Spirit used it to convict me over and over again of ways I’ve tried to dismiss, minimize, or justify sin in my own life.

For example, Device 2 identified by Brooks is the human tendancy to dress up sin as a virtue.

Brooks gives several examples:

  • Pride becomes “neatness and cleanliness.”
  • Covetousness (wanting things other people have) becomes “good business.”
  • Drunkenness becomes “good fellowship,” or, in today’s language, “social drinking.”
  • “Riotouness” (what calls behaving “in an unrestrained way”) becomes “liberality,” freedom, or one’s constitutional rights.
  • “Wantonness” (“one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling” according to is dismissed as “a trick of youth.” One might translate this last example into modern day sayings such as: “Boys will be boys.”

Let me quickly describe the “remedies” Brooks prescribes to combat this temptation.

First, sin is just as fithy in God’s eyes, no matter what a person may call it. There are many verses that speak to this, especially lists of sins which include “major” and “minor” sins on equal footing. For now, let’s look at Colossians 3:5-6:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (NIV)

“Nanny McPhee” (2005) Movie Screenshot

In the movie “Nanny McPhee,” the children dress a pig up in their best clothes to fool their nearly blind great aunt. While highly amusing for the children, this stunt remained highly disrespectful and did not assuage the consequences they sought to avoid. However good the pig looked with its blush, hat, and pearls, it was still a pig, not a child. In the same way, Brooks teaches that sin is still sin, no matter what one dresses it up to be.

Brooks emphasizes that the more people try to paint over sin as virtue, the more dangerous it becomes to a person’s soul. He urges the reader to see sin the way God will see it in the final judgment.

Image © vitanovski

Finally, Brooks urges the reader to seriously consider the high price Christ paid for the sin of humankind and not treat such a sacrifice lightly. Although not cited directly, Brooks devotional descriptions echo that of Philippians 2. The exalted Christ, God Almighty, greatly humbled by becoming man so He could die a cursed death, thus offering life to miserable sinners. Brooks quotes another in his conclusion saying, “Never let go out of your minds the thoughts of a crucified Christ.”

These pieces of advice work together to change our thinking about sin. It shows sin in its true filthiness and remind us of the extreme cost Christ paid for all sin, even those we try to camouflage with hats, makeup, and pearls.


After an indepth study of sin like Precious Remedies, you and I may be tempted to think Brooks has too much time on his hands and takes sin way too seriously.

Hang on, though. Before we reject such thinking out of hand, let’s see what the Bible says on the matter.

The Roman church struggled with sin. It’s not surprising. Rome was the captal of the Roman world. It’s amazing how similar that culture was to modern-day America. Freedom was celebrated (among the educated elite males). The people celebrated violence as entertainment. Many gods were honored and worshipped. Conquered nations could keep their religion, so long as they also worshipped the emperor and didn’t cause trouble. Marraige was just to continue the family name. There were no moral restrictions on sexual conduct (or other “vices” for that matter). Suetonius (circa A.D. 69) even records the wedding of Emperor Nero with the boy Sporus.

This leaves Christians then and now asking the same question:

What’s the big deal about sin?

What is it exactly?

Where are the loopholes?

I encourage you to take time to read or listen to an audio recording of the book of Romans with these questions in mind. (I like because I can read along while listening to my preferred translation. Doing both helps my mind not to wander as much.)

For now, let’s focus in on the passage that struck me this week.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

A Surefire Solution to Sin

The Bible is clear.

God made everything, so He makes the rules (Col. 1:16-18).

Sin separates us from God. Sin is falling short of God’s perfect standard. Anything less than perfect in God’s eyes is sin. The punishment for sin is death (Rom 3:23; 6:23).

We cannot earn our way to heaven like you’d earn a merrit badge. We cannot do enough good to balance out the bad (Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9).

The only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ. We must repent of (turn away from) our sins, and believe in Jesus. This means we believe He is who He said He is, that He lived a life without sin, died on the cross to take our punishment, and came back to life again (Jn 3:16; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 15:3-4).

When you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live with you (Jn 14:26; 16:7-15).

This is God’s promise to those who believe in Jesus:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

It’s Time to Look Deep

Whether you are a Christ-follower whose sins have been washed away or someone wanting to turn to Jesus for the first time, please pray with me from Psalm 51:1-12 (NIV).

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

For more about how parents (and teachers) can better help children’s ideas of sin, I highly recommend Parenting is Heart Work by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller. (No, that’s not a paid endorsement.)

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