How to Identify Sin

I tend to be a rule follower. In many ways, I identify more with the elder brother than the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). Because of that, it used to be easy for me to feel like I was a pretty good person. Sometimes, I could go weeks without really noticing any sin. Then, some obvious sin would surface, and I would feel like a failure. I would confess to God repeatedly, devise ways to keep myself from ever messing up again, and internally beat myself up until enough time passed that I forgot the guilt. Thankfully, God has been changing my perspective on the depth of my sin and my response to it.

Depth of Sin

Even though I occasionally felt like a failure, the truth is that I am actually a worse sinner than I can even comprehend.  The problem is that when we believe we aren’t all that sinful, it is difficult to recognize how wonderful the truth is that Jesus delivers us from sin.

Ephesians 4:18-19 says that in our sin, we grow callous and hard-hearted. That means sin doesn’t always FEEL like sin to us. However, the Bible tells us we all lived in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of our bodies and minds (Ephesians 2:3). 

If you struggle as I do to identify your sin, I challenge you start with what Jesus says is the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

The most important thing for us to do is to love God with all our faculties, with all our being, at all times. How well do you keep that commandment? If that is not enough to convict you, Romans 14:23 says that anything we do that does not proceed from faith is sin. Those verses always humble me when I tend toward self-righteousness and remind me of my need for forgiveness.

Response to Sin

I used to carry around the weight of my sin, but that was not how I was meant to respond. It is true that when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, it does feel weighty. Paul says it produces grief in us:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

Notice that Paul says the correct response to grief over sin is repentance. Repentance means changing directions – turning away from sin and turning toward Jesus. We are not meant to merely meditate on the greatness of our sin and feel guilty about it. The Gospel is not good news if it only convicts without offering a solution. The Gospel calls us not to embrace our guilt but to give it up and embrace Jesus. 

It is God’s grace that He shows us the greatness of our sin because it helps us see more clearly the greatness of our Savior. I love this illustration in the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. After Edmund betrays Aslan (the figure of Christ in the story), this scene takes place:

"You have a traitor there, Aslan," said the Witch. Everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had gotten past thinking about himself after all he'd been through and after the talk he'd had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan."
(C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)