Is it a sin to not get vaccinated?

An official in the Russian Orthodox church recently said that those who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus “are committing a sin they will have to repent for the rest of their lives.” According to this official, “The sin is thinking about yourself instead of thinking about other people.” Is it a sin to not be vaccinated against this current pandemic illness or against any other severe, widespread illness?

This question is not about vaccines, but about sin. To rightly understand what is sin it is essential to know who has the authority to declare something a sin. Things are not sinful because a church official declares them to be. No one- not a pastor, bishop, church, prelate or pope- have the authority to declare items as sin. Something is not sinful because a culture or society treats them as if they are sinful. Sin is only defined by the Word of God. Sin is violation of the commands of God. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” If the Bible says something is a sin, it is a sin. If the Bible does not give a direct declaration that something is a sin then great care needs to be exercised before condemn that thing as sin.

The Bible explicitly declares some things are sin. For example, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and “Thou shalt not steal.” The Bible gives many principles which are then applied to circumstances. “Love you neighbor as yourself” is a command but the application of it varies from situation to situation. In one case it is loving to take a neighbor a loaf of fresh baked bread. In another case it is not loving to take a gluten-intolerant neighbor a loaf of fresh baked bread. The Bible does not contain any direct command about vaccination, illness or pandemics. Therefore, the Christian must examine the principles of the Bible to see which ones apply to this situation and then carefully work through how those principles apply in his life.

In some cases it is a sin to refuse a vaccine because of specific Biblical commands. The Bible commands Christians to obey their governmental authorities. A person who can be vaccinated and lives in a country where their government requires them to be vaccinated but refuses to do so that person is sinning by breaking the command of Romans 13:1. In some cases it is a sin to be vaccinated. If a Christian cannot be vaccinated with a clear conscience then it will be a sin for them to be vaccinated because of the principles found in Romans 14:23.

The most common Christian argument for getting vaccinated is the argument from love. The Bible is clear. Christians must love one another. No right thinking Christian can deny this command. The argument then is that getting vaccinated is loving to your neighbors, therefore, every Christian must be vaccinated. To not get vaccinated is selfish.

The problem with this is that it assumes the answer. It begs the question of the lovingness of being vaccinated. In applying the command to love your neighbor, the thing that must be proved is how getting vaccinated is actually and always showing Christian love and how not getting vaccinated is always selfish. A full discussion on the connection of love to vaccines is outside the scope of this article. This is a question too complex for the overly simple answers that seem to dominate the discussion. Christians need to be careful to give grace to those who reach different conclusions on this topic.

Christians must recognize that what something can only be declared a sin after careful and proper application of Biblical principles to a specific circumstance. Some things will always be sin no matter the situation. However, many principles can be applied in different ways in different times and situations. Christians need to be careful about absolutizing their application of Biblical principles. Sin is that which clearly violates the Word of God, not that which violates my application of the Word.

What is the conscience?

Sometimes the turmoil of trying to decide between doing right or wrong is illustrated with a devil sitting on a person’s shoulder and an angel sitting on the other. Both whisper in the person’s ear in an effort to persuade him which choice to make. This illustration is an entirely fictional representation of the familiar pull between right and wrong. Everyone knows the battle between what you should do and what you want to do. That voice whispering in your ear telling you to do right is your conscience. The voice that tells you when you’ve done wrong is your conscience.

The Bible describes the conscience and tells how the person should respond to his conscience. The apostle Paul expressed his desire to have a clear conscience (Acts 24:18) and he warned of those who had their consciences cauterized by much sin (1 Timothy 4:2). The apostle Peter exhorted Christians to do good so they would have a good conscience. (1 Peter 3:16)

Modern science attributes the conscience to social structure. According to modern thinking conscience is a result of humans being are social creatures. We learn right and wrong from our society. We strive do what is accepted by our culture to maximize our ability to receive the evolutionary benefits of being part of a group. While still young we let external social standards become an internal judge by which we determine right from wrong.

The Bible disagrees. The conscience is not something created by the pressures and standards of culture. Scripture represents the conscience as a personal, internal reality that exists in all people. Romans 2:14 speaks of those who do not have a written copy of the law of God but who naturally do what is contained in the law. That this is true is evident by the cross-cultural nature of basic morals. Murder, deceit, theft and marital unfaithfulness are nearly universally condemned. Even in situations where a man may be praised for slaughtering his enemies, he will be condemned for killing his next door neighbor. A man may be honored because he has a large harem, yet he would suffer disapproval for sleeping with another man’s wife. Nearly all of the last six of the ten commandments find their counterparts in cultures across the world. A universal basic morality exists because of the conscience.

The most important Biblical passage describing the conscience is Romans 2. The conscience teaches all men the basics of right and wrong, condemns disobedience and defends obedience (Romans 2:15).The conscience is the little voice inside each heart that evaluates our actions. The conscience holds court on our thoughts, desires and behaviors. The conscience is the inborn understanding of God’s standards and our internal prosecutor which points out when we violate those standards.

The conscience is not created by society, but it can be shaped by our culture, upbringing and religion. The conscience can be taught, mis-taught, hardened and over-sensitized. Sin corrupts the conscience. (Titus 1:15) When ignored the conscience becomes desensitized and eventually insensible. The conscience can also be trained. When the Bible is rightly understood and rightly applied it teaches the conscience to reflect Biblical principles of right and wrong.

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?

Yes it does. The Bible forbids homosexual sex without equivocation or exception.. In the book of Leviticus is possibly the clearest condemnation of homosexuality. “If a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13)

Some protest that because this clear statement is found in the Old Testament it has no more application to today than the condemnation of shellfish. This kind of response can only come from one who has not seriously considered the teachinga of the Bible. Anyone who gives the Bible legitimate, unbiased study will recognize the Bible treats all forms of sexual immorality as always forbidden, while the dietary laws were temporary in effect. Further, the passage in Leviticus that forbids homosexuality also prohibits bestiality and incest. Few people today argue these are acceptable practices even though the Bible rarely mentions them outside the Old Testament law.

Those who still want to ignore the Old Testament commands find no refuge in the New Testament. Every time the epistles mention homosexual behavior they place it in a negative light. First Corinthians includes homosexuality in the list of works of unrighteousness which those who practice them cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. First Corinthians speaks of homosexuality euphemistically calling homosexuals “abusers of themselves with mankind.” Clearly, the New Testament does not consider homosexuality to be acceptable. The words of Romans 1 are even stronger. Homosexuality is the sign of God’s judgment on a people group. Those who reject God are given over to their own lusts. They work that which is not convenient and dishonor their own bodies. Women change the natural use into something against nature. Men burn with lust towards other men. Romans 1 calls homosexuality an unnatural act that disfigures and perverts the image of God in man. These two passages are more than sufficient to show that the New Testament clearly condemns homosexuality.

Some have argued that because Jesus did not condemn homosexuality then Christians today should not condemn homosexuality. First, consider the fact that the Jesus is God and the Bible is the Word of God. If the Bible condemns homosexuality then Jesus condemned homosexuality. Second, a strong case can be made that the New Testament commands against immorality are a summary of the Old Testament sexual prohibitions. When Jesus condemned fornication (Mark 7:21-23) He was doing more than condemning sex between two unmarried people. As a Jew Jesus understood the sexual laws recorded in the law of Moses. Fornication includes all the illicit sexual activity condemned in the law of Moses, which included homosexuality. Even further, if there was no condemnation of homosexuality recorded in the gospels the absence of a condemnation does not imply approval. Jesus did not condemn video piracy, but no one argues that He supports it. More seriously, Jesus never condemned slavery. Yet no one today seriously argues that Jesus was in favor of slavery.

Despite the efforts of those who teach otherwise the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality in all its forms. Despite the cultural demands that everyone support and celebrate homosexuality, the Biblical position is to condemn it. Homosexual sex is a perversion of God’s design for sex. It is a sign of the judgment of God on mankind. Homosexuality is a sin.