The whole concept of sin is becoming less and less prominent in religious and theological conversations these days. But even when you can get people to talk about it, usually the focus lies on the horizontal dimensions of sin. By that I mean the dimensions and consequences of our sins against other people. As a pastor, when someone comes to me broken by or repenting of their sin, they usually are broken by the way their sin has affected other people, or they usually are repenting of the ways in which they have hurt other people.
While this horizontal dimension of sin is significant, it is also vital to realize that sin’s primary dimension is vertical, not horizontal. That’s another way of saying that all sin is primarily against God, and then secondarily against others. In his book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton makes this point well:
According to the Bible, it is their offensiveness to God that makes [sinful] attitudes and actions sins in the first place. Without that vertical (God-oriented) dimension, even sinful actions lose their moral context. Instead, they become translated into the therapeutic language of dysfunction – unhealthy behaviors that fail to merit God’s favor on us in our daily search for good parking spaces.
Significantly, our failure to acknowledge this vertical dimension of sin – whether we call it dysfunction, mistakenness, a bad habit, or anything else – is the first step away from the truth of the gospel. You need a therapist, not a savior, to help you with your dysfunction. You need a coach, not a crucified mediator between man and God, to improve your bad habits. Only by acknowledging that our sin is first and foremost against the holy and righteous creator of the universe will we come to see our need for the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, and reigning Son of God to live and die in our place.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions…Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:1, 4).