© 2014 John Casimir O'Keefe

What is Sin? (Excerpt from The Naked Jesus)

So, what is sin?

The collective narrative describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God’s Commands,[1] but what does this mean? What commands are we breaking, or transgressing, in order to be sinning? We have to ask ourselves, when the Naked Jesus was talking about breaking any of the commandments, was he speaking of the some 613 commandments[2] found in Judaism? Can we say that the Naked Jesus was talking about the Hebrew commands as he knew them when he spoke about sin? When the Naked Jesus tells people to go and sin no more, what is he talking about?

Really, what IS sin?

To understand sin, we must start with admitting the basic origin of sin is unclear. According to the institutional church, sin came into this world through the interaction of Adam and Eve[3] with a snake[4] in some mythical garden.[5] They call this interaction original sin or The Fall of Humanity.

Interestingly enough, the term original sin isn’t found anywhere in the collective narrative. In fact, Judaism has no concept of original sin and remember the Naked Jesus was a Jew. If we think about it, we have to ask which understanding would the Naked Jesus have held: original sin or not?

Keep in mind, Augustine (354-430) was the first theologian to teach that humanity was born into this world in a state of sin. Judaism believes and teaches that humanity enters the world free of sin, with a soul that is pure and innocent and untainted. So, it is natural to assume that the Naked Jesus never thought of original sin, so he had to be thinking of something else.

In Matthew’s writing in the collective narrative, the Naked Jesus tells us to “live generously and graciously towards one another, the way God lives towards you.”[6] Reading those words started me on this journey of processing my understanding of sin. Maybe, just maybe, sin is not that we transgress against the Divine, but – maybe, just maybe ­– it is that we transgress against each other.

In the context of living a generous and gracious life, sin (for lack of a better word at this time) is our transgressions against each other; it is found in the way we treat each other in our daily lives – it is our focus on the destination and not the journey. This is echoed when Matthew adds the story of the sheep and goats.[7] In this part of the collective narrative, the Naked Jesus shares that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the cold, care for those who are sick, and visit those in need of our touch, we are doing what the Divine desires of us. If we ignore the plight of others, we violate the Divine’s call for us to care for others. You see, we are called to hold humanity in trust. When we violate this call to care we are transgressing against our care for the hurting, the broken, and the marginalized and in turn you violate the person. In that, you sin. One could say that we sin against the Divine by proxy because we are all created in the image of the Divine. For the Naked Jesus, sin is not how you dress, who you love, how you look, or how we interact with the Divine – it is when we are abusive to others and ignore their needs, and place our needs over theirs.

It’s how we treat the poor, how we treat those in need, how we treat the hurting, how we treat the broken, and how we treat the excluded, which includes how we treat our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, it is the harmful words we use to bring others down. Sin is defined by how we treat, or ignore, those rejected by the institutional church and society. Sin is found in our ignoring and disregarding them; we are in fact abusing them. Sin is where we do not open our hearts, our wallets, our time, and our lives to those in need of our love. Sin is when we meet someone for the first time and wonder what can this person do for me? A generous and gracious life means that when we meet people for the first time, we ask ourselves what can I do for them?

(From the the book “Naked Jesus; A Journey Out of Christianity and Into Christ”)


[1] 1 John 3:4

[2] For a complete list of these laws, check out this site: http://tinyurl.com/nhbw333

[3] Genesis 3. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:12) he says “sin came into this world from one man” – but he never says who that man is – a Christological reading of Paul’s letter places Adam in the shadow of the “One Man.”

[4] The serpent is seen as “Satan” – but the collective narrative simply calls the serpent a serpent and never implies the serpent is anything else.

[5] The story of Adam and Eve is not a literal story. It is a mythical story trying to explain how the Divine created humanity that should not be taken word for word.

[6] Matthew 5:48

[7] Matthew 25:31-46

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