The Difference Between Knowing God and 'Not-Sinning'

A Blogpost by Steve Rieske

What’s Your Goal?
Not Sinning vs. Knowing God

Think for a minute about your approach to following Jesus. What’s your goal?

When a runner asks how she is doing as a runner, she looks to see if she is running faster. Her goal is to run faster and to win. If she decides to try to add another goal (say, complete her math homework while running), it will likely distract her from her primary goal.

For the politician, it is a little more complicated, and so he must be more careful in deciding his goals. If he decides that his primary goal is to be re-elected, he will govern differently than if his primary goal is to govern justly. In reality, both are goals he holds, but if re-election eclipses justice as his primary goal, all sorts of evil begin to become justifiable. The current election cycle is a painful lesson in this reality.

In my experience, there are two very different goals people have in their attempt to follow Jesus. In truth, we all should hold both goals, but it is important to know which one is most important. If "Not Sinning" is the point of our faith, we become the sort of religionists who were willing to crucify Jesus. But if "Knowing God" is primary, then we will begin to become like Christ.

 If "Not Sinning" is the point of our faith, we become the sort of religionists who were willing to crucify Jesus. But if "Knowing God" is primary, then we will begin to become like Christ.

Like the politician who is destroyed when he values re-election over governing justly, we must carefully watch to see that we are correctly evaluating our faith so that we do not become destroyed by placing a good value over the ultimate value. 

What is Failure?
Breaking a Rule vs. Refusing to Trust God

If my goal is “Not Sinning”, I can only logically conclude that if I fall into sin again, then I am failing. Many of us struggle with a habitual sin of one sort or another. When it reappears in our lives, we tend to feel shame and are forced to conclude that we are far from God and usually struggle with the feeling that His love for us has diminished.

But if my goal is Knowing God, then am forced to conclude that the real failure is when I am cold-hearted toward Him and am not interested in drawing near to Him. Remember when Peter walked out on the waves toward Christ? He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink. Jesus didn’t scold Peter for getting wet, He scolded him for looking away (“O, you of little faith!”). In the same, Jesus knows that if we keep our eyes on Him, we won’t sink into sin, but if place our eyes of the waves of temptation, we are guaranteed to sink every time!

How Do I View People?
Comparison & Judging vs. Seeing Them as His Creation

When we view people primarily through the Not Sinning lens, we tend to become judgmental.  Why aren’t they living up to the code? They are deficient, and because of this we are given permission to see them as worthy of derision and we reject them. In Matthew 5:21,22 teaches us that when we view others with contempt and scorn, we are committing a smaller form of murder.

Contempt does not just wither the soul of the one who is rejected, it withers the one who holds contempt as well.

When my goal is Knowing God, I begin to see people through His eyes. 
He made them.
He loves them.
He takes great joy in his own workmanship. 
I am invited by God to love everyone who comes into my path because He made them. He is their judge, not me. Matthew 5:23-26 invites me to forgive and to ask forgiveness and to carefully maintain every relationship as a sacred thing. When knowing God is my goal, I tend to long for everyone I see to know my Loving God as well! When you seek to know God, you will also long for others to know Him.

How Do I View Sin?
Fun but “Bad” vs. Tastes Good but Kills Me

When I view the world through the Not Sinning lens, I begin to believe that sin will be fun but will make me feel guilty later. Many Christian young men and women go off to college thinking this way. They know that they should stay on the “straight and narrow”, but the party scene looks so very fun. They believe that partying will bring them the life their heart requires, so they dive in and hope they can square up with God later. They do not see sin as dangerous, harmful, or cruel. It does not occur to them that sin will suck all the life out of them in the end. They just see the fun. They are like young man in Proverbs 7:

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.

All at once he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
— Proverbs 7:21-23


When I am seeking to Know God, sin still looks fun, but the negative costs are firmly in view. When I see a beautiful young woman, I still know that she is attractive. But I am also fully aware that to indulge my lust in any way will begin to rot my soul, will hurt my marriage, will devalue my children, and will utterly devalue the woman my lust desires to consume. Sin always destroys. When God is the desire of my heart, sin is just a threat to my intimacy with Him that has no place with me. It is like a poison that tastes good in the mouth but kills me when it is swallowed.

How Do I View Righteousness?
Successful Sin Management vs. The Best Life Possible

We know that we are living from the Not Sinning Lens when we hear ourselves utter the words “…as long as I don’t…” As long as I don’t steal or commit fraud, it’s okay if my heart is filled with greed. As long as I don’t use my sexuality outside of my marriage, it’s okay if I treat my spouse like a concubine to satisfy my needs. I can be controlling, manipulative, self-centered, or rude as long as I don’t commit a sin listed in the Bible. 

Knowing God means that I believe that Righteousness is the most satisfying and best life possible.

When I see Him, experience His love, and understand His heart, I begin to believe that the best possible life cannot be found in money, power, control, sexual immorality, prestige, or fame, but rather is found in loving Him, loving people, and in working to reconcile all things to Him. He is the path to real life.


Samuel Schmitt