Sin: the very word evokes something dirty or wrong. It is often used in religious circles; it can be used to refer to anything from a small misdeed to horrific acts of cruelty. Most of us know that sin is a bad thing, and we have a sneaking suspicion that we have been guilty of sin on occasion. And yet, what is sin? What makes sin so terrible? What can be done about it?
Sin is best defined transgression, rebellion, unrighteousness, or lawlessness (cf. James 2:9, 1 John 3:4; 5:17). Yet what does that mean? What is being transgressed? Against whom do we rebel?
God, at the Creation, made man and woman and established guidelines for their existence (Genesis 1:1-2:24). Ever since, God has established agreements (or covenants) with His people, establishing what was right for them to do and what was wrong for them to do (e.g. Exodus 20:1-17, Galatians 5:17-24).
Sin, therefore, is whenever we think or do things that do not represent God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures. Paul provides a sufficient list of such thoughts and behaviors in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Sin is not just about doing wrong things: it is just as sinful to not do that which is right (James 4:17). Failing to show love, mercy, compassion, kindness, goodness, and other godly qualities when one has the opportunity is just as wrong as committing grievous evils (cf. Luke 10:25-37)!
Thus sin is transgression as going beyond what God commanded (1 John 3:4); sin is rebellion, since we are choosing our own way and resisting the way God established for us (Jeremiah 10:23, Romans 10:21); sin is missing the mark, because we fall short of God and His glory (Romans 3:23). But what makes that so bad? As humans, we know we are not perfect. On account of this some these days would deny the entire concept of sin: to them, it is just a way that humans use to control the behaviors of others and keep them from doing the things they want to do.
While some may want to claim that this is true, we all know deep down that it is just not so. We know this when we ourselves have been wronged. How do we feel if we discover that we have been lied to, or cheated, or physically or sexually abused, or injured? Do we not feel that a wrong has been committed against us, and do we not suffer? Hence the “golden rule”: we should treat others as we would like for them to treat us (Luke 6:31)!
Sin does exist, and it is a terrible and wicked scourge on the earth. Sin is the reason that suffering, pain, and death are present in the world (Romans 5:12-18). Even innocents suffer because sin is present (Romans 8:18-24)! It is worth pointing out how no one who lives in distress and pain, having been victimized by the oppression of others, claims that sin does not exist. Evil exists; humans suffer from it; and yet humans continue to perpetuate it. Be not deceived: the line between good and evil goes through each and every one of us. We have all sinned. We are the problem with the world. We have transgressed. We have rebelled. We have broken faith. We have acted terribly toward others. We do not like dwelling upon our faults and failings, and yet they remain evident before God and our fellow man.
And yet the greatest tragedy of sin is that it separates us from God, the source of all that is good, the light and the life (Isaiah 59:1-2, James 1:17). If we live in sin and die before becoming obedient to God, it will cause us to be condemned to an eternity of hellfire (Romans 6:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!
People would like to imagine that they can solve their sin problem. Many think their good deeds will outweigh their evil deeds, and that will justify them before God. Unfortunately, things do not work that way! James makes it clear that transgression in one point means one is guilty of the whole law (James 2:9-10). It is not enough that one is not guilty of adultery or murder if one has stolen; it also does not matter if the one who stole is otherwise a good person who does lots of nice things for others. He is guilty of stealing; he has transgressed; he must pay the penalty. Such is why no one can be justified by works of the law, for we have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:20, 23).
Yet God loved us and did not want us to suffer eternal separation from Him! God did what we could not by providing a means of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation: the blood of Jesus His Son, shed on the cross for this very purpose (Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 9:11-15). We deserve condemnation, but through faith in Jesus we can receive forgiveness and reconciliation. How great a love God has for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8)! Let us make good on Jesus’ death by turning away from our sin and becoming His obedient servants today!
Ethan R. Longhenry