We go around and observe the world, listening to others who are eager to be our teachers in the hope that they actually know something that we won't have to learn the hard way. We invent time to measure the distance between events. Physical processes are closely watched in order to ascertain the cause and sequence of various conditions, be they physical, chemical, biological, neurological, or even atomic. Data is compiled and regarded in an attempt to articulate and categorize the way things work, to figure out the rules. When we are satisfied that they are accurate and true we call them "laws" and work around them to fulfill whatever desire we have at hand. With these "laws" to guide us we now approach reality with more confidence and a greater sense of control.
We then go on to construct even more "laws" to determine social interactions and allowances in an attempt to keep ourselves tolerable to each other. This in turn leads to the concepts of "rights," "entitlements," and even "freedoms." These things become inextricably tied to our thought processes, thus forming our assumptions, paradigms, and world views. With these "laws" we go forth, this time not to conquer reality, but relationships.
In all this we often forget that social laws, mores, and even governments are not real objects, living entities with which we interact. There is no constitution saying what we can or cannot do. Etiquette doesn't walk around with a ruler seeking knuckles to rap. America isn't a man (or woman) with his own separate interests. These are abstract constructs created to help us visualize a greater force, names to encapsulate something otherwise intangible.
These are ideas. Principles. Rules of thumb. At best they are names and good advice; at worst they are illusions (or delusions).
I give all this as a preface to my main point:
Christianity has no rules.
Before you start stoning me, allow me to explain. There is an ongoing cliche that is especially popular in various circles of evangelicalism which states "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship." While I've always thought this sounded a little cheesy, it is fairly accurate. It is in reference to the fact that all of the Bible is written in a given context, that being God's relationship to humanity. Preachers often call the bible God's love letter to man.
Just look at it. The letter starts out explaining who the writer is in relation to the recipient (In the beginning...). The entire body of the discourse is used to establish the character of the author, describing his personality, desires, and hopes. It describes how the two have been separated, and then how the author has sought to bridge the division. Throughout all of it are the fervent pleas to choose him as the desire of our heart. The author frequently states his desire to be with us, his longing for our presence, and even begs our choice. All of Christianity revolves around this one goal; to know and be closer to God.
The funny thing about a relationship is that actions don't always have the same result. When you become friends with someone or start dating that special person, your actions are not suddenly hogtied and limited. You can still have conversations with all the people you spoke with before. You can pay attention to them or ignore them as you see fit. You can talk, flirt, see, or deride anyone and everyone you see fit. The only thing that stops you is if you care to consider their well being as well as your own. It's give and take.
The same thing is true of God. There aren't any laws dictating our actions (touch not; taste not; handle not;). Everything is allowed (All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not). You can do what you want, but not everything will bring you closer to God.
Sin is anything and everything that takes you further from God. The word sin comes from a Greek word meaning to miss the mark. In archery it referred to the various circles radiating out from the bulls-eye; the first circle was the first sin, the second circle the second sin, so on and so forth. This even shows in the Hebrew concept of death, which does not mean an end or annihilation, but separation. The wages of sin is death; the two are permanently linked.
Sin is one of those words which is both an action verb and a state-of-being verb. It is either the act of separation or the state of being separated. As such sin in our lives is not just an action; no act is categorically sinful. Sin is action in the wrong context. It is in how an action affects God and our relationship to him that it is determined whether or not to be sinful.
Speaking is not a sin; lying and deceiving pushes you from the truth, and therefore from God.
Sex is not a sin; however, the picture of God and the Church is important. As such the context of marriage is significant.
Killing is not a sin, with even the killing of another human being. Murder is, not just because it is horrible and hurtful to each other, but because man is made in God's image. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." An assault on the image is considered tantamount to an assault on the person (think back to when the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Iraq).
Christianity, as with any other relationship, has no rules; it has principles. Rules-of-thumb, if you would. We avoid certain things not necessarily because they are bad or hurtful to us, but because they are damaging to our relationship to God. Just like how most wives wouldn't appreciate their husbands going to a strip club, or how you wouldn't want to steal from your best friend. The point isn't to be moral, or to accomplish great good; the point is to be closer and more like God.
This seems a bit like semantics at first, but it has changed the way I view scripture and the different teachings. My studies have focused less on merely what the bible says, but why it was written. I find it fascinating how often God not only states what to do or not do, but also the reasoning behind these things. At times before it mostly seemed arbitrary; in the context of a relationship they make more sense. All the commandments are not to make you a better person (though they serve that purpose as well). They reveal the mind and heart of God, should you wish to know him.