Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sight. Put an end to such evil; learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. — Isaiah 1:16-17
What we sometimes take for sin is unbiblical.
A popular conception is that sin involves a list of iron-clad do’s and don’ts. Mechanically, legalistically adhering to them entitles you to a title either of saint or sinner. How that list is arrived at is subjective, according to who and to which church you ask. Sometimes elements on the list are derived from a subjective reading of the 2,500 year old purity code in Leviticus; you’re clean/unclean regarding where you fall in the areas of sexuality, gender, and diet.
Really, though, sin in the Bible is simple. It is ignoring God’s desire for righteousness, justice, and mercy. You can attend church and live a squeaky-clean pietistic life. If you harbor prejudice and foster divisiveness, though, all those brownie points mean nothing. That’s why Jesus said that it’s what is in the heart that matters (Matthew 12:24).
Sin is always understood, biblically, within the context of being in relationship with God and with the community. The Ten Commandments make this clear: the first half of them deal with honoring God and the second half deal with respecting the neighbor. Jesus also made this clear in his two commandments: Love God, love neighbor. Everything else–words and actions–flow from those. He left it to us to put obedience into action. He also undercut the desire to make up rules about who’s right/wrong, good/evil–much to the chagrin of fundamentalists everywhere.
Sin is a catalyst for something much bigger than hoping we have more good checkmarks than bad at the Pearly Gates. Rather, awareness of it turns our attention to living a life characterized by justice, mercy, and grace. If we’re mindful of our relationship with God, can we try to live any other way?