In his book Justification, N. T. Wright points out that in ancient Jewish thinking,
"'Transgression . . . is the actual breaking of the law, whereas 'sin' is any missing-of-the-mark, any failure to live as a genuine human being, whether or not the law is there to point it out." (p. 119)
The modern nation-states of our world, by their nature, focus on self-interest. Survival and prosperity are the highest priorities of nations, and the citizens of those nations expect their governments to pursue those ends.
Some nation-states are global transgressors, violating human rights and intentionally flaunting their perceived sovereignty to the detriment of other people groups. But all nation-states are subject to sin.
Because of the focus on self-interest, all nation-states will inevitably fall into sin. When the ultimate priority is self, whether as individual persons or as nations—sin will result. It misses the mark of God's intention.
But modern nation-states are organized that way, and that's just the way it is. Only one body of people in the history of the world has come into existence for the sake of the rest of the world rather than itself: The People of God. God's call to Abram in Genesis 12 sets the stage for that new people, and results in the creation of ancient Israel and, ultimately, the dispersed people we call followers of Jesus:
"Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’" (Genesis 12:1-3)
Followers of Jesus dispersed throughout all the nations of the world can love their respective countries without deifying them, because they are free to recognized the inherent sin in the construct of nation-states. More importantly, followers of Jesus can remember that they remain, primarily, citizens of another kind of people, a people destined to bless all the families of the earth. We are, as pointed out in the New Testament book of First Peter, ". . . a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (I Peter 2:9).
We are the only people on earth who exist not for our own sake, but for the sake of others.
I just finished editing my manuscript for a novel I have written called The Dead Cry Out. It's a supernatural mystery novel with some underlying theological questions. There is a murder or two, some ghosts, and a smattering of cussing. There's no sex, so is my novel "clean?" My publisher now has the manuscript, so I guess I'll find out soon enough.
I understand the avoidance of gratuitous sex, violence, and coarse language in a novel. On the other hand, if you are writing about a couple of thugs planning to kill someone, making one of them say "Phooey" or "Merciful heavens" might just kick the reader right out of the story. They would probably talk like dirty-mouthed tough guys, and the reader would expect that. It doesn't need to be gratuitous, but it should be somewhat realistic.
I've attempted to get some of my undisciplined characters to talk and act nicely, but they won't cooperate. They do tend to take on a life of their own, and you know this if you've done any writing of fiction.
Some websites and blogs that I've read suggest that "clean fiction" is specifically for Christians because Christians can't tolerate profanity, violence, or sex in their novels. I don't think that's right. Almost all Christians I know routinely read about gang rape that results in death, murder by impalement, sex with prostitutes, and some of the most graphic and violent executions imaginable. It's all there in the Bible, so I'm sure that I'm right about this.
Historically, Christians have often gotten in trouble for being lawbreakers. I'm not referring to those who proclaimed faith in Christ and then embezzled money or ran off with someone else's spouse. I'm talking about those who violated the laws of their nation by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.
The earliest Christians were persecuted based on allegations that they were cannibalistic (consuming body and blood of Christ), incestuous (evidenced by calling one another "brother" or "sister"), and subversive (proclaiming that there could possibly be another Lord of the world besides Caesar). That last crime of subversion was the only allegation that was true.
Christians who loved and cherished their countries have sometimes had to violate the laws of those nations. Free African-American Christians in the late 1700's in the US violated US law by rescuing newly-arriving slaves in Savanah, Georgia, and helping them escape to the North. Although their church (The First African Baptist Church--the oldest church of its type in the US, and built to hide rescued slaves in hidden underground rooms) was raided a number of times, the crimes were never revealed until many years after slavery became illegal. Had they been caught in their rescue attempt, they would have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We see more recent examples in how Christians reached out to rescue Jews from the claws of Hitler and his demonic Nazi regime. Those who were caught violating the law against aiding and abetting Jews were arrested and imprisoned and/or executed (think of Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as examples).
While these acts would be seen by the respective nations as illegal, the Christians committing those acts would have seen them as obedience to the true Lord of all. The present realities of the Kingdom of God demand an obedience that puts all other lords in their rightful places. It's a hard road for Christians to travel, but they've been traveling that road for a long time now. It's not only hard because of the consequences of that proclamation, but it's also hard because we can attempt to validate our own acts of lawlessness in the name of Jesus.
In the US, I could stand on the street corner all day and yell "Jesus is Lord!" and no one would really care as long as I didn't obstruct traffic or keep people from shopping. It's not illegal to do that here (thankfully). But the proclamation itself is a reminder to me that national leaders, governments, nation/states, and so on, are not Lord. Only Jesus is Lord. With a national US holiday coming up, it's important to remember that.
Does proclaiming Jesus as Lord mean that one is anti-country? I hope not, because a country is more than land surrounded by borders; it is a body of people, made in the image of God. However, if I proclaim that Caesar is Lord (identifying my own personal Caesar as a favored political leader or party), then I may run the risk of being anti-Jesus. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord, however, requires me to look past all the boundaries and walls and political values that separate human beings from one another, and recognize that God's love, made evident to us in the real, historic person of Jesus and continuously poured out by his Spirit, is for the world.
I believe that loving Jesus and serving him as Lord allows people to love their respective countries without worshipping them. The call to Abram in Genesis 12, that through his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed, is lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit when we proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.