DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What is Sin?

Written by: on May 31, 2018

Kowloon Walled City

Inseparable from the history of Hong Kong was a former Chinese military fort turned densely populated settlement known as Kowloon Walled City.

Britain was given possession of Hong Kong Island in 1842 in the aftermath of First Opium War. In 1898, after the Second Opium War, Hong Kong signed a 99-year lease of the area surrounding Hong Kong Island (known as the New Territories). Yet, there was a provision in the lease for China to remain in control of the old fort, which was home to about 700 Chinese. Kowloon Walled City was a small Chinese territory surrounded by British land.

In the 1940s/1950s, thousands of refugees from the Chinese Civil War fled the Mainland and ended up in Kowloon Walled City. The walled city, surrounded by British territory, protected them from the Communists. Yet, this “no man’s land” was a place of utter lawlessness. No services were provided by either the British or the Chinese. By the 1960s, the Chinese triad gangs filled the void and began to run drugs, gambling, prostitution, and other criminal activities. Until its destruction in the 1990s, things which were illegal in Hong Kong (like child prostitution or serving dog meat at the local diner) could be found easily inside the walled city.  It was the original “Sin City.”

In 1966, a 20-year-old, single English woman first set foot inside Kowloon Walled City. To say that her new home was unsafe would be an understatement. Yet, she believed with all of her heart that God had called her to leave Britain in order to share the life-changing message of Jesus with those in Hong Kong who were suffering due to poverty, drug addiction, and spiritual darkness.

An account of her many years engaged in ministry in Kowloon Walled City are told in her book Chasing the Dragon. In this book, the reader is given a front row seat to the many miraculous acts of God which Pullinger experienced.

Yet, in the midst of stories of healing, deliverance, and radical salvation, was one interaction which stuck with me.  It was a conversation the Pullinger had with a Chinese prisoner.

“When I asked him, ‘What is sin?’ I thought he would say ‘Stealing, hitting old people or pushing dope.” Instead, he replied ‘That’s simple. Sin is walking your own road.’” (p. 214)

This one insight from a Chinese inmate speaks a valuable word to Christians in 21st Century America.

Sin Matters

First of all, as you read the Old Testament and the New Testament, sin is a really big deal. God’s Law as presented in the Old Testament was detailed and contained no loopholes. In the New Testament, we see a clear declaration by John the Baptist that Jesus’ purpose was to “…to take away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). Jesus took sin seriously, too. In Matthew 5:28 he redefined adultery to include lustful thoughts.

Yet in 21st Century America, Christians are accomplished at the skill of explaining away sin, or at least minimalizing it. No longer are Christians materialistic, they are “blessed.” If you mess up your first marriage, just get a divorce and try harder with your new spouse. You say that you want to train up your child in the Lord…but your children know that grades, sports, and a college scholarship are really your top priority. And for goodness sake, ignore anything in the Bible that refers to “sexual immorality” …that was written for a different age.

“Sin is walking your own road”

What a powerful statement. There is no loophole, no fine print, no historical context. This inmate’s definition of Sin sounds a lot like something that Jesus said…

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14

Yet, this definition of sin does more than make us reevaluate our inclination to minimalize the “don’ts” of the Bible. It also shines a light on our tendency to disobey God by doing “good things” instead of doing “God’s things.” Let me explain. I wonder how many men, women, and couples God called to go to Hong Kong in 1966 to work with drug addicts and prostitutes in the Walled City?

Just one?


Am I to believe that in 1966 God called thousands of men and women to serve in ministries in England, the U.S., and Canada. Yet, he only called a small handful to the poor of Hong Kong? Does that sound like a good plan to reach the world?

Or could it be that in 1966 God called thousands to leave the safety of their home countries in order to travel to the strongholds of Buddhism, Islam, Communism, Hinduism, and Animism around the globe? Yet, instead of obeying God and walking His road, they chose another. A safer road.

Reading Chasing the Dragon caused me to do more than revel in the amazing stories of God’s provision. It made me stop and ask “Am I walking my own road?”


For More on Kowloon Walled City






Here are photographs of KWC taken before it’s destruction




Jackie Pullinger in Kowloon Walled City



Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, Minneapolis: Chosen, 1980, 2001, 154.

About the Author

Stu Cocanougher

10 responses to “What is Sin?”

  1. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    I’ll visit Kowloon, but I’m not eating dog meat. Unless it’s offered in hospitality. 🙁

    You’ve hit on some pretty important things that we, as Christians, like to gloss over, Stu. Sin is not our favorite topic, and as you said, we use all kinds of euphemisms and justifications for what’s “not sin.” I’d like to add, though that we Westerners are pretty good at identifying personal sins but not so good at recognizing systemic, social sins. In this instance, the fact that both the Brits and the Chinese allowed Kowloon to continue in squalor and lawlessness points to a lack of care for those who lived there (many born there, with few choices available). Or the Brits who fostered the opium trade in the previous century. The reality is that I DO need to open my eyes to my own sin. But we would do well to recognize the structural, generational sins of the powers that be as well.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      My initial thoughts. As Christians we need to focus on personal AND institutional sin. That was my final point. We rightly focus on personal sin…I am the only one responsible for Stu Cocanougher sins. I also need to listen to the voice of God and obey Him. Whether God asks me to volunteer at local high school, run for political office, or go to Haiti as a missionary, I need to be willing to do whatever God asks me to do… to refuse to obey is sin.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    I did some research on how many Bible colleges have courses in missions and it’s getting to be fewer and fewer. Most men graduate and go on to trying to get a church here in the US. We have lost the urgency of the Great Commission as well as the idea that Christ said He would come when we got the gospel preached to the whole world. In the 19th century the Student Missionary Movement anticipated that they would reach Christ in their generation! Charles Spurgeon even preached on that. I agree with you, Stu; surely more than just a handful of people are being called. Why aren’t they obeying?

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      It reminds me of the song “Jesus Commands Us to Go” by Keith Green.


      Jesus commands us to go
      But we go the other way
      So he carries the burden alone
      While his children are busy at play
      Feeling so called to stay

      Oh, how God grieves and believes that the world can’t be saved
      Unless the ones he’s appointed obey
      His command and his stand for the world
      That he loved more than life
      Oh, he died, and he cries out tonight

      Jesus commands us to go
      It should be the exception if we stay
      It’s no wonder we’re moving so slow
      When his church refuses to obey
      Feeling so called to stay

      Oh, how God comes, as he starts the great judgment of fire
      So he can gain his greatest desire
      Cause he knows that the souls of the lost
      They can only be reached through us
      We’re his hands and his feet

      Jesus commands us to go
      It should be the exception if we stay
      It’s no wonder we’re moving so slow
      When God’s children refuse to obey
      Feeling so called to stay

  3. , says:

    Another inspiring story. A several years ago the number one musical group in South Korea was the Wonder Girls. They were the first big Kpop group. They were one of the top selling groups in Asia, and even toured the U.S. (opening for the Jonas Brothers at the height of their fame).

    Anyway, a few years ago, Sunye, the lead singer went on a mission trip with her church.

    She felt called to leave everything to become a missionary in Haiti. And she did.

    That would be like Beyonce leaving Destiny’s Child, not to go solo but to be a missionary. It was a shock to the entire South Korean music industry.

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Thanks, Stu- your blog made me think. Sin is walking your own road…I’ve never heard it described this way. A lack of accountability for one’s behavior with no moral boundaries. Reminds me of the passage in the bible that talks about nations turning from God…”they did what was right in their own eyes.” Judges 17:6. A simple, profound description of sin.

  5. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thanks for the post Stu,

    It is amazing and honorable that she was obedient to God’s orders. The scripture says God orders the steps of a good man Ps 37:23.

    The number of people sent to the mission field reminds me of God’s order to Gideon. He didn’t need that many to complete God’s mission.

    Thanks for your insight.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “Sin is walking your own road.”
    Such a simple definition, but definitely right on. To tie it together with the Haidt reading, I wonder if we could also add that sin is blindly clinging to the hive when called to move on. Your example of the Korean singer is a good example of that, but also the way we let our ideas of good/bad distract us from actively loving people where they live. Pullinger could have taken a less hands on approach, but it would have been so much less effective in opening hearts.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Stu I loved the point you made at the end of your post. I am sure many avoided certain countries out of fear and wanting to take a much more safer path in ministry. I am so grateful for those like Jackie who said yes to call and were obedient to go into the trenches and trust God in the process.

  8. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your post, Stu. A great question, how many did God call? Along with that question is the question, how many did God call but said no or said, maybe later when I’m ready or when it’s safer!? When it comes to the call of God, I’ve always felt that to obey is better than sacrifice. Enjoyed your post.

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