Society is trained to follow rules and guidelines that it simply amazes me sometimes. One question I get a lot perfectly illustrates this: “Is (insert questionable action here) a sin?” Here’s my question — does it matter? Who really cares? Allow me to clarify. What difference is made in your life by knowing if a particular action is or isn’t a sin? How does that further your walk with Christ?

Before we answer those, let’s take a few steps back and make sure we’re on the same page. What is sin? Sin is falling short and missing the mark of what God intended in his original creation.

Sin separates us from God. Even just one sin; it doesn’t take a certain amount of sin for God would send you to Hell. His being is so perfect, so holy that one sin, however small we may deem it to be, is unacceptable and cannot be in his presence. (That’s why we have Jesus Christ, who took our sacrifice upon himself so that, if we accepted his grace and free gift of salvation, we don’t have to accept our own eternal punishment.)

We’ve all sinned. And we all will continue to sin. If we’re all in need of God’s grace, why does it matter what is a sin and what’s not a sin? Knowing what is and isn’t a sin won’t keep you from sinning. Even if you could consistently identify sin, you’ve already sinned enough (because remember, it only takes once, and I know you’ve told at least one lie) for you to spend eternity apart from God.

What is and isn’t a sin shouldn’t be our focus; that’s the same type of legalism that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for. Think about when they brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to him. They wanted to trap him into condemning the women, something he would have been perfectly justified in doing. But he didn’t. He answered them with love and compassion, saying that whichever one of them was perfect, that one could cast the first stone.

Legalism has never broke any chains, set any captives free, or given life to anything — quite the opposite. It’s legalism and religion that keep people bound in tradition and box checking Christianity (Said my prayers—check; read my word—check; been to church eight times this week—check) instead of truly having the heart of the Father. That heart showed compassion and love. Love is the only appropriate answer to legalism.

Saint Augustine said, “Love, and do what you will.” This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. What he’s saying is: if we love first and foremost, and everything comes after and out of that love, we can’t go wrong. Think about it — if you love your children, your spouse or your friends, why would you bring any harm to them? The same should be true in our relationships with God. If we love Him, anything we do should be pleasing to Him. If it’s not, our love for Christ is not in first place, where it should be.

The question in our minds should not be, “Is this a sin?” but rather, “Is this pleasing to God? Am I loving God with this action? Am I loving others with this action? Does this align with his original design and plan for mankind?” Answering those questions will give us better guidelines with which to live our lives instead of wandering around trying to delineate what’s sin and what’s not. And it will keep us from becoming Pharisees.

[Written by Stuart McDonald for For more from Stuart, check out his all NEW personal blog, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.]

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