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.

Are People Good?

Do we come into this world as basically good, clean slates who learn to do bad as we go along? Are most people really good at heart? Do they mean well most of the time? Or is everyone a sinner by nature? In other words, do people sin because they are sinners or are they sinners because they sin? This issue stirs up strong feelings but needs to be considered because it is central to a proper understanding of salvation.

The Bible is plain about the nature of man. We are all the children of wrath and the children of disobedience. Every person is naturally a sinner. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity.” (Psalm 51:5) “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) The Bible describes all people as rejectors of God. (Romans 3:11) Every person’s natural moral disposition is against righteousness, against God and against His commands.

The Bible describes every person as enemies of God and separated from Him. (Colossians 1:19) As long as the person is separated from God, nothing done by that person is truly good in the eyes of God. God says to those who are in rebellion against Him, “All (your) righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

This does not mean that no one does good things of their own free will or that people will always do the most wicked thing they could possibly do. This does not mean all beneficence and philanthropy is actually self-serving. Many people genuinely do good things for others. Most people refuse to do all the bad things they could do. Goodness and self-restraint are real. Goodness in humanity is evidence of God’s grace in the world.

God has given every person a conscience which teaches him to know right from wrong. Romans 2 says people naturally do the things written in the law of God. Their natural obedience to God’s law is evidence that God has written His law in the heart of every person. However, the human conscience is not proof of basic human goodness, but of basic human guilt. The conscience convicts every person of his guilt so that none can legitimately claim to be without sin. (Romans 2:14-15)

The claim that no one is born good is not a denial of individual ability to understand right from wrong, a denial that people will do right instead of wrong or a declaration that people will always do their worst. Instead, this truth teaches that each person does evil because evil resides within the heart of every person. The Bible teaches that every one is a sinner because they are naturally disposed to sin from birth. None are as bad as they could be, few are as bad as they want to be, but no one is perfect before God.

The universality of sin does not lessen the individual’s guilt. Instead, the universal scope of sin is an indication of the severity of the problem. Sin is so terrible it has infected the entire human race. Because all are infected with sin, “there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:3) However, the Bible offers hope and healing from sin. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

What can I do about regrets from my past?

Most Christians look back on their lives and feel regret or shame for things they have done. Those who were saved later in life often feel this guilt more significantly. They consider their life before salvation and wish the past could have been different. Broken relationships, hurts caused, missed opportunities or consequences that continue until this day fill hearts with sadness. The memories of the past hurt.

Many attempt to forget the past, but some things cannot be forgotten. What should Christians do when they look with regret and heartache at the sins of their past? The answer is not to avoid thinking about them, but to learn to think correctly about them.

Sin is a terrible thing, and its consequences are horrible. Sin plunged the world into thousands of years of suffering, disease, despair and death. Sin separates every person from God. Yet, God in His overwhelming grace, forgives every sin of every one who asks Him for salvation. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20) The greatness of God’s forgiveness is better seen in light of the terribleness of sin. For those who think sin is no big deal, the forgiveness of sin is not that big of a deal either. Those who feel the weight of their sin, are better able to feel the magnitude of God’s grace. The old hymn says the grace of God is “greater than all our sin.” No matter what terrible things have been done, God’s grace is greater. Let your past sin remind you of the present grace of God.

Though the memory of sin remains, and sometimes the earthly consequences remain, never forget your guilt is gone. The guilty feelings may remain, but God holds you guiltless. He has forgiven all your sin. The promise of God is, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) Why should we allow ourselves to constantly think about that which God promises to remember no more? Every sin you have ever committed is completely forgiven by God. When you remember the sins of your past, remember they have all been cast into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:9) Praise the Lord!

Be careful to not become mired in feelings of guilt because of your past sin. In “The Pilgrims Progress” John Bunyan told of a man who was weighed down by the guilt of his sin. For a little while he was mired down in a slough, the Slough of Despond. His guilt threatened to drown him in despair. Only the kind help of a faithful man of God brought him out of the swamp. Do not let the remembrance of sin drive you to despair. Let sins past remind you to worship your God for His overwhelming grace. Never forget that where sin abounds grace does much more abound.

As you feel the sorrow of your sin, take comfort. God promises you, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) God comforts those who have repented and sought His forgiveness. He comforts you with the promise your sins are washed away. All guilt is gone, forever.

What is the sin nature?

The doctrine of the sin nature is not very popular. Even many Christians balk at the idea that all people are by nature guilty before God. Those churches which believe in the sin nature do not often teach the concept. The sin nature is also referred to as original sin and, among theologians, imputed sin. What is it?

The sin nature is the part of the person that is corrupted by sin. The sin nature is more than people committing sinful acts. The sin nature is the idea that every person is spiritually damaged. The broken part of the being produces the performance of evil deeds. 

The idea of a sin nature is found in Scriptures in the contrast between the old man and the new man. The old man is that which is natural to man and is displeasing to God. The new man is that which is supernaturally created by God in the believer with the ability and desire to live for Him. Statements like, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19) teach that man possesses a sin nature. The truths, “There is none righteous” (Romans 3:10) and “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) express the universal nature of original sin. When Christians say every one is a sinner we mean that every one does things which violate the commands of God and we mean that corruption in the person moves him to break God’s laws. 

The sin nature is something more than the evil deeds done by a person. This truth is made evident in several key Biblical passages. In Ephesians 2 All the unsaved are called “the children of disobedience”. All who have not received the saving grace of God are “by nature the child of wrath.” Left to their natural state all humans are in disobedience to God and are under His wrath.

Psalm 51 says the person is tainted by sin from the very moment of conception. (Incidentally, this passage is one reason why Christians believe life begins at conception. A lump of tissue cannot be guilty of sin.) “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Sin is not just an action, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a word or a conscious choice of a mature individual. Sin is a state of being. Sin is something bound up in the nature of the person that produces sinful actions. 

The sin nature is not the physical part of the person. Body, blood, muscle, tissue and DNA are not sinful. Jesus was a flesh and blood person who possessed all the attributes of humanity. He had a normal human body yet was without sin. Likewise, Adam and Eve possessed physical bodies and were normal human beings before they sinned. Satan is the father of sin. He is an angel, a spiritual being who lacks any physical substance. The physical part of man is not the sin nature.

The sin nature resides in the spiritual part of the man. When describing the source of evil in a man, Jesus traces it to the heart. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil . . . evil things come from within and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23) Man’s problem is a spiritual one. Sin erupts from the corrupted heart to affect all parts of the person. The sin nature is in the heart of man and is the spiritual corruption of the individual.

Is Evil Necessary?

Certain religions and philosophies see evil and good as eternal forces that will always exist in the universe. Both are necessary for the right operation of the universe. Evil and good are opposites that require each other. If there were no evil, there could be no good. The yin and yang is a classic picture of this viewpoint.

A more modern version of this concept is the idea that evil is absence of good. Just like dark is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat so evil is the absence of good. Since there is light dark must also exist. Since good exists, there must also be evil. But must it?

Evil is not necessary. God existed for eternity before creating the universe. God existed without evil. God continues to exist without evil. God will exist through all the eternity to come without evil. Evil is not necessary to God, but what about to men?

When God created the universe everything was perfect. Satan had not rebelled and man had not sinned. How long things lasted before sin is unknown. The universe functioned just fine without sin.

Evil is not just the absence of good. Evil is the rejection of God. Sin originated in Satan when he determined to rebel against the rule of God. Sin came into the world when man doubted the goodness of God and chose to reject God’s commands in favor of a promise to be like God. Evil is always the rejection of good and rebellion against God.

Evil is not necessary. Evil is sand in the gears of creation. Evil is a destructive influence that hinders the proper working of all things. Evil and all the consequences of sin- death, pain and sorrow- are not necessary. They will not last. The present age is marred by evil but this age is short.

A time is coming when all evil be removed from the universe. All of wicked humanity, all the rebel angels and Satan himself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. The influence of evil upon the universe will be removed.

The universe that now exists is entirely corrupted by sin. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.” (Romans 8:22) God will destroy this universe. “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10) God will create a new universe which will be as perfect as the original creation. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the coming universe as eternally unstained by sin.

Evil is not necessary. Evil exists for a brief time, but the eternal universe which is coming will be forever free of sin and all its consequences.

Are some sins worse than others?

Jesus said that if a man lusts after a woman he has committed adultery with her in his heart. If a man is sinfully angry with another he faces condemnation similar to that of a murderer. The entire human race was plunged into sin and condemnation because Adam and Eve ate one piece of forbidden fruit. Does this mean that all sin the same? Is committing murder as bad in the eyes of God as telling a white lie?

Sin is always wrong. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount point to the severity of all sin. God in His holiness does not overlook a single sin, no matter how small or how justified it may seem to a person. No circumstance will ever exist where it is better to sin than not to sin. God hates all sin. Whether or not all sins are equal all are evil. The relationship of sin to other sin and the varying degrees of response to sin never justify committing sin.

The Bible speaks directly about the degrees of severity in sin. Sins can rightly be classified as greater or lesser. Jesus told Pontius Pilate that the priests who rejected Him and turned Him over to Pilate for execution had the greater sin. “Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” (John 19:11) Though Pilate gave the official command to crucify Jesus and the Roman soldiers carried out the command it was the Jewish priests whose sin was greatest.

Evidence for different severities of sin is seen in the differing levels of judgment upon sin. Jesus warned cities of Galilee of the greater judgment waiting for them because they rejected Him. (Luke 10:13-14) Hebrews says, “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28-29) Those who have greater knowledge of right and wrong are accounted as having committed a greater evil when they sin.

One word of caution must be given. Men often fail to measure the severity of sin according to God’s standard. God is not unjust because He regards sin differently than we do. We consider sin differently than God does because we have been infected by sin. Our ability to make a proper judgment about sin is compromised by our own sinfulness. God’s measurement of sin must be the one that controls all understanding about sin.

All sin is terrible. Some sins are more terrible than others. God alone determines what is sin, how serious is the sin and the consequences of sin.

Is it judging to call someone a sinner?

“Judge not that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1 is possibly America’s favorite verse. Almost every disapproving statement is greeted with rebuke as being judging. Declaring something is sinful is considered by some as the height of judgmental behavior. This is an important issue for Christians who are attempting to preach the gospel. The gospel message requires an understanding of personal guilt. How can anyone turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sin if he does not realize he is a sinner? Why would anyone turn to Jesus for salvation if he has done nothing deserving condemnation?

Yes, calling someone a sinner and identifying behavior as sinful is condemning. From a Christian perspective the declaration that something is a sin is the same as saying something is bad and should not be done. How does this apply to a person? Is the statement that someone is a sinner a declaration that the person is to be avoided? To be clear, saying someone is a sinner is a statement of condemnation. It is as pleasant as being told you have terminal cancer. It is a declaration that the person is not fit to stand before God and deserves eternal punishment. The statement that a person is a sinner is a statement of condemnation but it does not mean the sinner is to be avoided.

Sinful behavior must be rejected, but not sinful people. Christians have not been sufficiently clear on this distinction. Sinful people are not to be avoided, except in special circumstances. Calling someone a sinner is a socially loaded and theologically significant allegation. When a Christian declares a person is a sinner, he is doing so after having already come to grips with the reality of his own personal sinfulness. Like most others, the Christian realizes he has done bad things. However, the Christian’s recognition goes further. The Christian has recognized he deserves eternal punishment in hell because of his sin. The Christian has recognized the Son of God suffered a horrible death and endured the wrath of God because of his sin. When a Christian says you have sinned, he has already included himself in that assessment, confessed his guilt and grief and plead with God for forgiveness.

Though calling someone a sinner is a hard statement, it is not a declaration of hopeless condemnation. It is in fact much like being told you have cancer. The avowal that one is a sinner is a dire diagnosis of a disease that will end in suffering and death. Like many cancer diagnoses calling someone a sinner is the first step in treating the disease. All are sinners and if left untreated the disease will be eternally fatal. The diagnosis of guilt prepares the way to present the cure. As Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” Yes, calling someone a sinner is a hard statement that will agitate many. When it is said as it ought, it is not a statement of condemnation but one of compassion.

What can be done about racism?

Racial differences are surface differences of color and culture. Beneath the trivial external variations all men are created in the image of God. The American religious landscape is dotted with perverse teachings claiming certain ethnic groups are not created in God’s image. Some have said the curse of Canaan is why black people will be slaves or poor. Some have said that blacks are not actually descended from Adam but from another group that was created by not given a soul like Adam and Eve were. Similar stupidities have been spouted about Indians, Mexicans and Eskimos. No teaching of racial superiority or inferiority is found in the Bible. The Biblical reality is that every person who has ever lived is a descendant of Adam and Eve. As a result, every person of every color and culture bears the image of God. Every person on this planet carries within the unique mark of the semblance of the Divine. All men share a common origin, common heritage and common created representation of God. Racism is not only an attack on others, it is an attack on the image of God.

The problems between ethnic groups are not caused by the intrinsic differences between groups. The problems between the races are caused by the intrinsic similarities between all people. Men do not hate others because they are different. Men hate others because of the sin, pride, selfishness, jealousy and hatred that resides naturally in every human heart. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” Romans 3 describes all men, “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Destruction and misery are in their ways.” Racial violence and tensions are not because a few men are racists. The problems between races are just one expression of the universal selfishness and hatred that characterizes all mankind without Christ. As long as men are without Christ they will find an excuse to hate others. The solution is not found in taking down all nationalistic or tribal symbols. The solution is not fostering dialog between different groups. The solution The solution is replacing the commonality that divides with a commonality that unites. The solution is the transformation of the heart and relationships that can only be produced by Christ.

This transformation and unity is to be modeled withing the church. Jesus prayed that all His disciples would be one, even as He and the Father are one. The church is a community that is characterized by it’s cross cultural communion. In the church station, privilege and importance are not defined by familial heritage, personal income or political power. In the church “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free:” In the church all the redeemed are “all one in Christ.” The work of Christ on the cross has removed all national, language and culture barriers between people. In Christ, Christians are made members of a new people group. Christians are now a “holy nation, a peculiar people.” Surface diversities are nothing when compared to the essential unity between men. Racism will end when man’s sin nature is replaced by the new nature of Jesus.