Definition of Sin

Sin may be understood to refer to an attitude and or action of human beings that misses the mark of what God expects of them. The base of sin is to be understood as being in the nature of the relationship between God and human beings. So in light of this understanding, sin is at attitude or action that is expressed against the person of God and his laws or rules that govern his relationship with human beings.

But such sinful attitudes or actions are not just accidents of one’s poor aim or efforts; they are the expressions of willful rebellion against God. Sin is an attitude and or action that is intended by a human being to exert his or her independence of God. It is an expression of a human being or an attitude or thought that declares that in his or her selfhood he or she is independent of God and is not accountable to God.

The origin of sin

When God created human beings, he placed the initial man, Adam, in the garden of Eden. It was furnished with everything that he would need to live there, including “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). God and Adam were engaged in a close intimate relationship. God gave Adam one clear command regarding these “trees”: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16). God then made a companion for Adam, a woman who is known as Eve. She noticed that this “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).

Although she was persuaded to do this by the lies of “the serpent” (the devil), (see Genesis 3:1–5), God punished both Eve and Adam for this act of willful disobedience or more fundamentally their refusal to trust him in which they seized for themselves “the knowledge of good and evil” that God obviously knew would be best provided by himself. God cast them out of the garden and imposed some other punishments upon them, including their separation from him and their eventual deaths. One of the most serious of these consequences was the inheritance of this sinful rebellious nature in all of Adam and Eve’s children, the entire human race, every human being who would ever be born of a man and woman was born to be a sinner. The relationship of trust and love that God had established with his created human beings was broken by Adam and Eve’s act of willful rebellious disobedience and lack of faith, but God didn’t stop loving them or any of their children.

God has identified sin

In various codes for religious conduct (“have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), one example), laws for social behavior (do not “murder” (Exodus 20:13) another human being, another example), and rules for personal relationships (“Love each other” (John 15:17), yet another example) God has made his expectations and will known to human beings whom he has created. Divine judgments against human beings who disregard his expectations and will have been witnessed and recorded by various human beings throughout history. Many reports of such judgments are included in the Bible. Ignorance of God’s detailed expectations and will cannot be an excuse for the selfish sinful attitudes and actions of human beings.

There are numerous laws and rules that God has decreed for the proper behavior of his created human beings. Many of these are cited in the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible. Some of the basic ones were given to Moses for implementation by the people of Israel in the familiar list of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1–17). There were many others that God set down to direct the people of this nation in their various rituals of sacrifice, worship, festivals, and personal and social relationships with each other and with other tribes of people that they would encounter in their lives. Jesus had a lot of comments regarding some of these laws in his teachings to the crowds of people who followed him during his years of ministry (see particularly his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7), and he was particularly critical of some of the Pharisees for their self-righteous interpretations and applications of these laws in their work with the Israelites of his day. One major example of his criticisms has to do with all of the various rules that the Pharisees had established for how much “work” was legally allowed for Israelites to perform on the Sabbath, or what forms of “work” were not allowed (see Matthew 12:1–14 for a couple of such incidents).

At one point in his discussions regarding these laws with the Pharisees, one of them asked Jesus this question: “which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied:‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36–40). These two commandments make an excellent summary of all of God’s laws and rules for the proper conduct of human beings. Since they were stated by Jesus himself, I’m not going to try to add to them.

The solution for sin

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disobeying his command and refusing to trust him, they and all of their descendants (the entire human race) became “sinners” who were separated from God. Because of their submission to the lies of the devil, they all became “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:16). They and us, you and me, could never become good enough, legally moral and pure enough, religiously orthodox enough, or socially loving enough in our attitudes and behavior to make ourselves acceptable or righteous in the presence of the Holy God. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes all the people that were alive at his time, those who lived prior to his day, and everyone that would live in later generations.

So it became necessary for God himself to redeem human beings from their “slavery to sin” and the devil. He does this through grace, which is the dynamic giving activity of himself, Jesus (his Son), and his Holy Spirit in accord with his character of love. God’s activity of grace becomes operational and transformational in those whom he calls, those who receive his grace by faith, those who believe that Jesus is Lord, and those who repent of their selfish attitudes and behavior that mark their rebellion of independence against God in their relationship with him.

This activity of God is basically explained to Nicodemus, a lawyer of the Pharisees, by Jesus in these familiar words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:16–21).

The treatment for sin in one’s life

No one is going to be completely and permanently free from sin in his or her life, even with the active presence of God’s grace within him or her, because Satan doesn’t give up his “slaves” without a fight, but the basic war has been won for the redeemed believer through his or her victory in Jesus over death and sin (see 1 Corinthians 15:56–57). Don’t try to fight Satan in your own power. Don’t try to be good or righteous or holy in accord with your own resolve. You can’t do it. Receive God’s grace when he calls and offers to enter into his dynamic relationship with you. Trust him in faith, and repent of every effort to try to live independently of God. Abide in Jesus Christ and allow him, the Spirit, and God to do their work in and through you, and you will receive God's forgiveness for your sins and experience what it means to no longer be a “slave to sin”.

For further help with this treatment, see my statements on “God’s work of redemption”, “What is Christian Faith?”, and “The Plan of Salvation (Revised)” on this website.

The above Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.