Anyone who works with Christian youth or college students talks to a lot of students who are struggling with partying, drinking, and sexual sins of various kinds. Young Christians are regularly invited to parties or have friends that encourage them to do things that do not honor God.
Recently, in reflecting upon how we talk sin, I was struck by how common it is for people to talk abut some sins as “normal,” especially for age groups. Partying, drunkenness, sex, perhaps even a little drug use — these are all “normal” sins that teenagers and college students fall into. Several times I’ve heard parents and ministers refer to these sins as the “normal sins” that kids commit.
I have heard men––leaders of a church––excuse a college guy’s sexual sins by saying that a guy needs to “sow his wild oats” in college, or he’ll do it when he has a family. In other words, it is normal for a college guy to sin in certain ways. It’s better now than later.
In one sense, I understand why we refer to some sins as normal: these sins are common, that is, a lot of people struggle with these sins. But this cannot be the whole story, because once people labeled a sin as “normal,” they no longer seem to take the sin very seriously.
In one conversation I had with a parent, the parent referred to his child’s struggles with sin as “normal”. “I know all kids are going to get involved in that stuff,” he told me. He sounded comforted by the thought that his son’s sins were shared by other kids his age.
It is often said that strength comes in numbers. It seems that, with sin, comfort comes in numbers.
Why Is This So? Or: Two Uses Of “Normal”
The confusion is, I think, that “normal” can be used in two ways. On the one hand, we use it to refer to things that are common. On the other hand, we use it to refer to things that are okay, that is, things that we have nothing to worry about. We all have asked our doctors about an unusual pain or bump or wheeze or something. If, after our doctor checked it out, he turns to us and says, “Oh. That’s normal,” we are relieved. Nothing is wrong with us. The pain is normal.
Do you see the difference? The first way we use “normal” refers to the frequency of something. Strictly speaking, nothing is comforting about this type of normalcy. The second way we use “normal” refers to whether the thing should happen. This type of normalcy is comforting.
A Right Kind of Normal Sins…and the Wrong Kind
To return to our discussion of sin: when we talk about certain sins as if they were normal, we should mean that strictly in terms of the frequency of those sins. We should never call a sin “normal” in the same way that our doctor would call a pain “normal”. This confusion can give us a false sense of relief when it comes to sin. It can cause us to take the common sins as less serious than the uncommon sins. (Perhaps that is why some Christians are appalled to learn a guy is struggling with homosexuality, but those same Christians barely bat an eye if they learn that a guy is having sex with his girlfriend or addicted to pornography.)
And, yes, sin is universal among humans because of the Fall. It is common. But the Bible teaches that this universal sinfulness is not normal (in the second sense of the word). We weren’t meant to live this way, even if everyone lives this way at some point in their lives.
We should never let our language bewitch us! Sin is never okay. Sin should never be taken lightly.
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