There are many questions that come up with the topic of sin? The denier asks, “Is there such a thing?” The self-justifier asks, “Who can judge it?” The religious one asks, “What is it?” The Bible is the word of God whether we believe it or not. Since it provides all of the answers to the essential spiritual questions we need answers to, let us look to the scriptures.
To define sin, we can look to the first human example of it in the garden of Eden (Gen 1-3). God provided a perfect place for Adam. There was an abundance of good and no evil. There was no death or suffering. There was no curse. Adam’s nature was not tainted. Adam was free to enjoy all God gave him, including the tree of life. There was only one thing God forbade - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some accuse God of setting Adam up for failure by introducing its means, but that is not what God did. He introduced a choice, because man was created to have a unique relationship with God, and God wanted it based on love, not force. Love can only be love when it is chosen. Although God has ultimate and unlimited authority over all creation, He chose to give man the power to choose to serve Him or not (Deut 30:15-20, Josh 24:14-15). Of course, our choices come with inevitable consequences, whether good or bad (Gal 6:7-8). Serving God or sinning is a choice we make. The choice to do right in the eyes of God is still available to us now, but it is made more difficult to fulfill by sin having entered into the world and specifically into our human nature. God gives us the blood of Jesus, the power of the Holy Ghost, His holy word, and the church to help us. Calvinism is a false doctrine because it moves the responsibility of choice from man to God. God already chose to create us, love us, and provide for us in every way we need. It is us who must choose. So, sin it its essence is not only specific acts, but a choice to do what we want instead of what God wants. It places man in charge instead of God. That is the essence of the serpent’s temptation to Eve. He questioned the word of God, the judgment of God, and the providence of God. He questioned what God had said to Adam, what the consequences of sin were, and whether God was keeping something back from Adam and Eve in order to control them. He said God knew they could make their own evaluations of good and evil without the guidance of God but was withholding that power from them. They could have it if the partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan is still using this exact line against man, and most are still falling for it despite the abundant evidence of its false promises. The essential question of life is, “Who is in charge, God or me?” The essential nature of sin is, “I’m in charge, not God”.
There were three elements to Eve’s temptation. She saw the forbidden fruit was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. God had already provided the first two things. The other fruits in the garden were also good for food and pleasant to the eyes (Gen 2:9). There was nothing sinful about those two aspects. The devil wants to make us believe that the grass is greener on the sinful side, but it is only a mirage with no lasting substance. God provides all good things to those that obey His word (Ps 68:19, Ps 84:11). He knows what we need and how to provide it (Mt 6). The question is not if He can of if He will, it is if we will have faith and obey Him? It is if we trust that He knows what it best for us and will do that. The three temptations Satan put to Jesus in the wilderness had the same three aspects as those the forbidden fruit had (Mt 4:1-11). The devil tempted Jesus to use His miraculous power to turn stones into bread after having fasted for 40 days. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The devil’s next attempt was to take the Lord to the pinnacle of the temple and tell Him to throw Himself off. Satan then quoted Psalm 91:11. Jesus again responded with scripture by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. Then Satan took Jesus to high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world. He offered them to Him if He would worship him. First of all, the kingdoms of the world have always been and are still under the authority of God (Ps 75:7, Dan 2:21). This will ultimately be displayed again at the end (Rev 11:15). Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had to learn this the hard way (Dan 4). While the devil has certain ability since he is a fallen angel (Eph 2:2, 2Pet 2:4, Rev 12), and since man has brought sin in to the world, he is not ultimately in charge. God is, and that God manifested Himself in the flesh (Jn 1:1-3 & 14, Jn 14:7-11, 2Cor 5:19, Col 2:9, 1Tim 3:16) and was the One the devil was talking to; although Jesus could only be tempted in His humanity, not His divinity (Jam 1:13). He was offering Him something that was not his to give, and that Jesus already had. That is the lie of sin. Satan offers us things he does not even have to give, and often God has that exact same thing to offer us but in a better way.
For example, when people think of temptation, it is common to think of sexual sin which is sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman. God created man and woman to reproduce (Gen 1:27), and He created sexual intercourse (Gen 2:22-25). The words male and female refer to the anatomical design of the two genders which was created for an obvious use. It is man that perverts the intended natural use in God’s design (Rom 1:26-27). Originally, clothes were not even necessary. God provided marriage as the natural place for sexual desire to be fulfilled and there is nothing sinful in that (Heb 13:4). It is man who has taken it outside of the parameters God gave and made it something sinful. God provided something meant to be a blessing, and man turned it into a curse. Some people who have been deeply involved in pornography and/or fornication have associated their sexual desire with sin and have a hard time with healthy sexual fulfillment later. The reason for the aggressive campaign to force society and even the church to not only accept but condone sodomy, other sexual perversions, and gender confusion is not because they are legitimate, but because they are not. Those whose conscience has not been seared know deep down that their behavior is sinful, and what they are really trying to do is escape the guilt. Why else is their suicide rate so high? While the church cannot condone such behavior, it should not condemn people either (1Cor 6:9-11). There is hope in God. There is compassion for those who struggle with these temptations, and God has grace to help us overcome all temptations. God does not require anyone to be sexually attracted to the opposite gender or to marry them, but He does not approve of this immorality (Gen 9:20-27, Gen 13:13, Gen 18:17-19:29, Lev 18:1-5, Lev 20:13, Deut 23:17, Deut 29:23, Deut 32:32, Jud ch. 19-21 particularly 19:22-28, 1Kings 14:22-24, 1Kings 15:11-12, 1Kings 22:43-46, 2Kings 22:1-23:27 particularly 23:7, Eze 16:44-59, Rom 1:18-32 particularly vs. 26-27 and vs. 31-32, 1Cor 6:9-11, and 1Tim 1:9-10). God often used what He did to the city of Sodom as an example of His judgment and wrath to those who would sin later (Is 1:9 with Rom 9:29, Is 1:10-20, Is 3:9, Is 13:19, Jer 23:14, Jer 49:17-18, Jer 50:40, Lam 4:6, Amos 4:11, Hab 2:15-16, Zeph 2:9, Mt 10:15, Mt 11:23-24, Mk 6:11, Lk 10:12, Lk 17:29, 2Pet 2:2, and Jude 5-19). God’s way is always the best and right way. Do we believe it?
Sin can be inward or outward. It can take place in the heart and/or in outward actions. The Lord dealt with this in what is called the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:21-48). One of the great problems with the religious culture in the days Jesus was on the earth as well as today is a failure to deal with the inner source of sin as well as its outward manifestations (Mt 23, especially verses 23-28). 2Corinthians 7:1 talks of cleansing the spirit and the flesh. It is a continuation of 2Corinthians 6 which talks about separation from sin to God. There were no chapters and verses in the original manuscripts of the Bible. Sin can be acts of commission or doing something wrong such as violating the ten commandments (Ex 20:1-17), but it can also be acts of omission or failing to do something we should (James 4:17).
Sin is more than just a specific act. It is a condition passed down to us from the first man Adam. It is the tendency in our nature to lean toward wrong. “The heart of man deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? (Jer 17:9-10)”. We were by nature the children of wrath (Eph 2:3). We had “the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Eph 4:18)”.
When God created Adam, he was in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). When Adam and Eve had Seth, he was in the image and likeness of Adam (Gen 5:3). So it has been every generation since (Ps 51:5, Ps 58:3, Rom 3:23, Rom 5).
All sin is sin. One sin is worthy of eternal judgment in hell (Rom 6:23). We should not excuse what we falsely define as “little” sins. However, some sins are worse than others. This is clearly shown by the fact that not all judgments against sin are equal:
1. Mt 11:20-24 – more tolerable for Tyre and Sodom
2. Lk 12:47-48 – many stripes, few stripes
3. Jn 19:11 – the greater sin (Judas vs. Pilate)
4. Heb 10:28-29 – how much sorer punishment
5. 1Jn 5:16-17 – sin unto death, sin not unto death
6. Rev 20:12 – according to their works
There are several Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that mean sin, but the original connotation is that of an archer missing his mark (Jud 20:16). These words are translated wickedness, wandering, error, rebellion, lawlessness, transgression, and trespass. Each has a slightly different connotation. Here are some scriptures with definitions of sin:
1. Prov 21:4 - A high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked is sin
2. Prov 24:9 - the thought of foolishness is sin
3. Jn 3:19-21 – men loved darkness
4. Rom 1:18-32 – the essence and progression of sin
5. Rom 14:23 - whatsoever is not of faith is sin
6. Jam 4:17 - Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
7. 1Jn 3:4 - Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression
of the law.
8. 1Jn 5:17 – all unrighteousness is sin
The way of the world is sin (1Jn 5:19). It has become so accustomed to sin that sometimes we forget that sin is an invader and is not part of the original order created by God. Nobody is exempt:
1. I Kings 8:46 - There is no man that sinneth not
2. Ecc 7:20 - There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not
3. Rom 3:9-23
4. I John 1:8 - If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us
What about those who never heard the gospel? Romans 2 says the Jews are accountable for sin through the law of Moses, and the Gentiles are accountable through conscience. So all are without excuse. Yet God gives everyone a chance to be saved (Jn 1:9, Jn 3:16, 2Tim 2:4, 2Pet 3:9). When everyone stands before God to be judged, He will be able to show them times they were given a chance to pursue Him to salvation.
What are the effects of sin? The effect of sin is death, but not just physical death. There is also spiritual death which is separation from our relationship with God (Is 59:1-2).
1. Gen 2:17, Eze 18:4 & 20, Rom 3:23 – death
2. Rev 2:11, Rev 20:6 & 14, Rev 21:8 – second death (Jn 5:24-29)
3. Is 59:2 – separation from God
4. God cannot commune with sin (1Cor 3:16-17, 2Cor 6:14-7:1). We either commune with
5. God or sin. We are either separated from sin or God.
6. Guilt and shame (Gen 3, 2Chr 26:20 - Uzziah)
7. God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice demand judgment
8. Hell and the lake of fire
God told Adam that in the day he sinned he would die (Gen 2:17). Yet Adam lived to be 930 years old (Gen 5:5). We do not know how long he lived in the garden before He was cast out, but it was less than 130 years (Gen 5:3). So, was God lying when He said Adam would die in the day he sinned? Although Adam did not physically die that day, his sin separated him from God. That is spiritual death. Then death began to work in his body as well. When someone is given flowers, they only stay pretty for a week or two. Then they turn brown, shrivel, and lose their petals and leaves. We say that they died, and we throw them out. The truth is that they died the moment they were disconnected from the plant they came from. That is what happens to us when we sin. God cannot fellowship with sin. He is holy. When we choose to sin, we cannot be in fellowship with God, so we are separated from Him. We may not be completely reprobate immediately upon sinning, but the process of spiritual death begins. It will continue to rob us of our full relationship with God unless we repent.
The only remedy for sin is a substitute sacrifice. There must be death and the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). Adam and Eve made a failed attempt to cover their own shame by sewing fig leaves together (Gen 3:7). As noted above, the leaves were dead when they pulled them off the tree, and their aprons would only last a short time. Their aprons became symbolic of man’s futile attempts to cover his sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Prov 28:13).” Job referred to the futility of their efforts (Job 31:33). When God asked Adam where he was, it was not because his hiding place was so good even God could not find him (Gen 3:8-1). It was because He was pointing out to Adam where his sin had taken him, and He was giving him an opportunity to repent. Although they admitted what they did, Adam and Eve made excuses and played the blame game. One key element of repentance is taking responsibility of our actions. People tend to do two other things – blame someone else for their actions or blame themselves for the actions of others. Neither of these leads to spiritual restoration. We may fool ourselves or other people, but we do not fool God. He knows the truth. Since we have all sinned, none of us can provide the sacrifice needed. God killed an animal and made coats of skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Gen 3:21), and people have been wearing clothes ever since. In the Old Testament, they would offer animal sacrifices for atonement. This provided shedding of blood and death, but animals could not permanently solve the problem (Heb 8-10). That is why God Himself came in the flesh and died for us (Acts 20:28, 2Cor 5:19). He took the punishment in our place. It was my crown of thorns, cat-o-nine tails, cross, nails, and spear that Jesus faced. I don’t deserve one drop of His precious blood, but He loved us that much (Rev 1:5). All He requires from us is faith, repentance, and obedience to the gospel (Deut 10:12, Mic 6:8, Acts 2:38). Acts 2:38 shows us that water baptism is for the remission (pardon, forgiveness, release) of sins. Remission only comes through the blood of Jesus Christ:
1. Lev 17:11 - atonement
2. Mt 26:28 – remission
3. Jn 6:53 – except ye drink
4. Rom 3:25 – propitiation
5. Rom 5:9 – justification
6. Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, Rev 5:9 - redemption
7. Heb 9:22 – remission
This shows us that the blood of Jesus washes us from sin through water baptism by immersion in His name (Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-6, Acts 22:16).
Psalm 51 is the poem David wrote to describe his repentance after he had sinned (2Sam 11-12). It is a great example of the approach God is looking for. Before Paul became an apostle, he was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7-9, Acts 22:4, Acts 26:11, 1Cor15:9, Gal 1:13). When the Lord confronted him as he was on the way to Damascus to do more of it, he asked the Lord two questions. He asked, “Who art thou, Lord?”, and “What wilt thou have me to do?” He thought he knew God and what He expected from him, but he realized he was wrong. He wanted to get to know God as He really is, and he wanted to know and do what God wanted him to. That is repentance. That is why Paul’s change was so sudden, complete, and permanent. People who do not approach repentance right continue to struggle. There must be sincerity, seriousness, and commitment with intent to follow through for life.
Some people repent, get baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost, but still deal with condemnation. There is a difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction is a sense of guilt about specific deeds done. This comes from God to lead us to repentance (2Cor 7:10). Condemnation is a general sense of guilt that seems to be inescapable. It is us attempting to punish ourselves. It does not lead to repentance or deliverance. It is a perpetuating of the spiritual condition. It steals righteousness, peace, and joy which are the kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us. That does not excuse from doing good works, but it tells us that the basis of salvation is nothing but His grace (Eph 2:8-10). We are not saved by good works, but unto them. A great example of the difference between conviction and condemnation is Peter and Judas. Both were apostles. They were both with the Lord for His earthy ministry. They were both at the last supper. They were both there in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. They were both in the palace of the high priest as Jesus was put through a mockery of a trial. Peter denied the Lord, and Judas betrayed Him in the same night just a short time apart. When Peter realized what he had done, he went out and wept bitterly (Mt 26:69-75). He was later restored to his apostleship. When Judas realized what he had done, he went out and hanged himself. Peter had conviction of his failure, confronted it with the help of the Lord (Jn 21), was restored, and became a great witness of Jesus Christ. Judas felt condemnation (Mt 27:3-5), and it caused him to destroy himself. The way to deal with sin initially is to obey Acts 2:38. After that, we should strive to avoid sin at all times. However, if we sin, all we need to do is repent (1Jn 1:8-2:2). Nobody is perfect, but a Christian cannot maintain a lifestyle of sin (1Jn 2:3-7). There must be a different lifestyle – one the keeps His commandments. That is how we “bring forth fruit unto repentance (Mt 3:8-12)”.