Making sin look normal
German women’s hockey captain Nike Lorenz wore a rainbow-colored band on her socks at Tokyo 2020 after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to let her support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender movement and sexual diversity.
The sexual revolution in the 1960s to the 1980s increased acceptance of sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage. Since then, mass media, birth control and legalization of abortion have fuelled premarital sex, cohabitation and extramarital sex. And our “permissive society” and the internet have normalized pornography. Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are now lawful in the Western world because of the rights of liberty and privacy.
That’s the pattern of this world – to make sin look normal. But the Bible urges Christians, “Do not conform to the pattern of this (sinful) world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2NIV).
The pattern of this world
According to David F Wells, “Worldliness is that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective, which displaces God and His truth from the world, and which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It thus gives great plausibility to what is morally wrong and, for that reason, makes what is wrong seem normal.”
And Kevin DeYoung adds, “Here’s the reality facing every Christian in the West: the money, power, and prestige of the mainstream media, big time sports, big business, big tech, and almost all the institutions of education and entertainment are invested in making sin look normal. Make no mistake: no matter how good your church, no matter how strong your family, no matter how gospel-centered your Christian school or homeschool, if your children and grandchildren are even remotely engaged with contemporary culture (and they are), they are being taught by a thousand memes and messages every week to pay homage to the rainbow flag.”
Normalization is a counselling tool where a situation is made normal by labeling it ‘normal’ or ‘commonplace’. For example, grief is a normal and healthy response to loss. And such grief can involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These feelings and emotions are normal and natural. They are predictable and expected.
What is happening in the western world is that sinful behavior has been normalized. It’s considered to be normal and natural for everyone. And people are shamed if they differ.
After addressing disagreements between believers, James says, “You (spiritually) adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the (sinful) world means enmity [hostility] against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the (sinful) world becomes an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4). They were jealous of what others had. This desire was idolatry, which is spiritual unfaithfulness to God. There was competition for their loyalty. Anybody who loves the sinful world cannot be a friend of God. Earlier they had been warned “to keep … from being polluted by the (sinful) world” (Jas. 1:27).
Many surveillance technologies pose serious slippery slope risks. Apple has new software that can scan users’ phones for evidence of sexual abuse. This is a dangerous precedent because it could easily be repurposed for surveillance and censorship. WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app, already uses content matching to identify dissident material. And facial recognition technology also poses a slippery slope to an Orwellian future.
The onslaught in our society of making sin look normal degrades our awareness of sin. God made us with a conscience, an inborn sense of right and wrong. But if our mind is continually exposed to the idea that there is no such thing as sin, our conscience will become ineffective. Because of this, many people have little sense of sin. The big danger is that they see no need of a Savior. Their consciences are described as being either “seared as with a hot iron” or “corrupted” (1 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:15). These two illustrations involve being burned and injured, or polluted and contaminated.
Dr Paul Brand was the pioneer of muscle tendon-transplant operations in leprosy patients. Because they feel no pain, they reap horrifying consequences. If you can’t feel pain, you have no awareness of injuries. Pain warns of danger. Numb, “anaesthetic” fingers and toes were continually liable to be injured by unnoticed trauma, burns and secondary infection.
Years ago the Australian Consumers’ Association had a campaign to make children aware of advertising. This involved asking the question, what are they trying to sell? And after assessing ridiculous claims made in the advertisement, the response was often, “You must be joking!”.
We need to be more aware of what society is trying to sell us today on what is normal behavior. With regard to sexual relationships the major message is that sexual immorality is normal and natural and to differ from this is abnormal. But this is opposite to what God says in the Bible:
– The consequences of rejecting God’s revelation in creation include sexual immorality (“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another”, Rom. 1:24) and homosexual practices (“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”, Rom. 1:26-27).
– Sexual immorality is one of the characteristics of the sinful nature (“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; … “, Gal. 5:19).
So the only “normal” part of sexual immorality is that it is a normal part of the sinful nature. Although it might be normal for unbelievers, it should not be normal for believers.
If sin is normal for you, then your conscience is seared and corrupted when it should be guilty. Because Jesus came to take sin away and to destroy it as a work of the devil (1 Jn. 3:5, 8), His death can change a guilty conscience to a clear one (Heb. 9:14). Trusting in Christ’s work of salvation sets us free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Then you will have a different opinion of sin, because sin is not a normal part of the Christian life.
Believers have a new nature
Because the Holy Spirit lives within them, Christians have a new (divine) spiritual nature, which is in conflict with the old sinful nature. The divine nature in the believer is incapable of sinning: “Everyone [believers] who remains in Him [Christ] does not sin; everyone who sins [unbelievers] has not seen Him or known Him … Everyone [believers] who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him [them]; he is [they are] not able to sin, because he has [they have] been born of God” (1 Jn. 3:6, 9CSB). The old nature can do nothing but sin; the new nature cannot sin. So sin is abnormal to the Christian life.
While believers sin, they live according to their fallen nature; and they are out of fellowship with the Lord. Whenever they allow the Holy Spirit to control their life, the divine nature is in the ascendancy. They cannot commit sin while controlled by the Spirit. Each Christian possesses a nature that can sin and a nature that cannot sin. It all revolves around their choice. In principle, the believer cannot sin with their divine nature. In practice, they can sin with their sin capacity.
When your Christian life is moving in the right direction, you are increasingly sensitized to sin and you are ashamed of your sin-dominated life before you became a Christian (Rom. 6:21). But when your Christian life is moving in the wrong direction, you are increasingly desensitized to sin. That’s when making sin look normal is dangerous. Sin might be “normal” in the sense that unbelievers do it, but that does not make it acceptable for believers.
How can Christians avoid conforming to the pattern of this (sinful) world, and be transformed by the renewing of our mind? By sharing our Christian lives with mentors and colleagues and being accountable to them. Who are your mentors? Who are your colleagues?
In order to influence the sinful world, the people of God have to be different from it. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly.
Let’s be alert to the pattern of this world to make sin look normal. Although sin, such as sexual immorality, might be normal for unbelievers, it is not acceptable for believers. Making sin look normal is dangerous because it destroys the need for a Savior.
Christians should be characterized by acts of the divine nature and not by sinful behavior which comes from the sinful nature.
The exegesis of 1 John 3:9 is based on Grant Richinson’s verse-by-verse commentary.
Wells D F, 1999, “Losing our virtue: Why the church must recover its moral vision”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Written, September 2021
Also see: Keeping a clear conscience