Sin gets us into a right mess, doesn’t it? The messy situations we get ourselves into because of our sin abound. And trying to unpick messy situations that result from sin, when somebody is trying to repent and do what is right is also often difficult. What exactly do you unpick? What do you counsel? What do you try to put right?
A long time ago, when faced with a particular messy situation, one of my elders landed on a fairly solid principle. You don’t want to multiply sin. It can never be good to sin in a bid to fix sin. Whatever problem we may be faced with, however messy and difficult to untangle, the solution to it is not further sin.
As a general rule of thumb, it is solid. If the proposed solution to the problem before you is something the Bible tells us not to do, then it is no solution at all. We don’t want to increase sin and we don’t want to multiply sin. More sin to address sin is not the answer.
The difficulty comes when people get themselves into messes where something needs to be done, but any solution to make things right might, on some level, be consider sinful. Consider this example of somebody who professes faith, but then repented of the following sin, has had extra-marital relations with somebody who then fell pregnant. Should they marry that unbelieving person or not? The Bible is quite clear about believers marrying unbelievers (they shouldn’t do it), but it is also fairly clear about abandoning your children, not providing for them and how unbelievers will view that (you shouldn’t do that either). To marry or not marry (potentially) leads to something that the Bible says should not happen. But that is the mess we have found ourselves in.
If a couple have already been living together for a long time, without being married but with children before one converts, what then? To marry an unbeliever, the Bible says, isn’t right. But to abandon your family is no better. What if the unbelieving partner doesn’t want to marry, does that change anything? We don’t want to increase sin, but when all options because of prior sin appear to be less than ideal, what should we do? No doubt you can think of a host of other examples that make matters messy.
But I think the dictum still helps even with these things. Whilst we want to avoid sin when addressing sin, and we don’t want to multiply sin, we do want to minimise sin. So, if all the options are at least sub-optimal, and all choices lead to what in some scenarios might seem sinful, we want to push towards what will lead to the least sin. We want minimal sin, so to speak. What has the longer term, worse consequences given the situation? Which choice is likely to minimise sin further down the track? The aim is to land wherever there will be least sin.
And so, as a general rule, we don’t want to sin in order to fix sin. Where we are in such a mess that every immediate choice looks like something we ought not to do, we want to put right as much as is wrong (such as we are able) and to press toward what will lead to least sin in the end. We ultimately want to minimise sin, whatever that means in the circumstances.