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What is ‘Sin’?

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This is a brief but important article. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time might be surprised to learn that many people do not really know what ‘sin’ is! Yet, if we were able to look back with absolute truth and factuality we might remember that WE did not know what it was either, except for some vague recollection that sin is hated by God and is ‘wrong’.

At its most basic, sin’ is what separates us from God... but, that is only the end-result; it does not describe ‘sin’ itself. In the New Testament the word translated into English as ‘sin’, comes from the Greek, hamartia - something that offends God. The most-used meaning is to ‘miss the mark’. It also means to be mistaken (deliberately or not), to stray from the righteous path and the law of God, whether in action or thought. Therefore, this also leads to the meaning of ‘to be without a share’ (in God’s grace and acceptance, and not to win the prize).

Note that it does not matter if something is done deliberately or mistakenly, or even if we understand we have offended God. As the root of hamartia, the verb hamartanō, shows us that when we sin we are without honour.

In the Old Testament, ‘sin’ and ‘sin offering’ are often linked as the same Hebrew word, chatta’ath. It tells us that sin is a condition, and refers also to its guilt, thus leading on to the meaning of ‘punishment for sin’. It adds the Old Testament meaning of purification from ceremonial uncleanness. Thus, the Old Testament meanings go farther, by describing sin as something that offends God, and so must be punished. Also, the sinner must be cleansed of his sin so that he can start again in life (only in the saved). This is how serious sin is to human beings, though you would not think so when we see how all of us tend to sin without thinking about it!

The Beginning

The first instance of ‘sin’ (as the English word) is found in Genesis 4:7, though the earthly sin is shown earlier, when Eve, and then Adam, sinned. However, the very first sin can be traced back even earlier – to when Lucifer rebelled against God in the Heavens and was cast out by God. Lucifer then spitefully lied to Eve, and she sinned.

The reference to ‘sin’ in Genesis 4:7 is to Cain and the fact that his offering to God was rejected. God told him that “sin lieth at the door” when Cain did “not do well”. Bear in mind there are many references to the word ‘sin’ in scripture, but many more references to words that can be equated to ‘sin’. In this case, God was saying sin is like a dog crouching in the doorway ready to trip up someone who tries to enter. Or, as with some who deliberately do wrong, sin is like a guard dog, salivating to bite and tear-apart. We must, then, always beware, for sin is forever ready to attack or seduce us; the actual method by which we fall is not really relevant – Satan will choose whatever seems suitable in our individual lives. Some need a bite, others need seduction! Either way it is dishonourable and an offence to God.

What is This ‘Offence’?

It now remains for me to give examples of ‘sin’, this thing that separates human beings from God and Heaven, even when we make an ‘honest mistake’.

The main fact is that we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). It does not mean our parents were sinful to conceive us, or that conception is sin. It means that whenever an human being is conceived he is automatically sinful. There is no way to get rid of this root of sin, even in new-born babies. It is there and it rules our lives. From this deep root come the many sins we commit daily. As Christ said, a good tree with a sound root will produce good fruit (Luke 6:43). But, a bad root will produce bad fruit... our sins. Thus, what is needed is to get rid of the bad root, not just the everyday sins. We are told that all who do not produce good fruit will be cut down (Matthew 3:10).

‘Sin’ is ANYTHING hated or condemned by God. In scripture we see plenty of examples of what constitutes ‘sin’. If we do or think or say what God does not like, then it is sin! Note that to God every sin, even if we consider it to be small, is worthy of death and eternal punishment. Only the intervention by Christ on the cross will save us... and those who are saved have their names in the Book of Life, which lists all who are elected to salvation. It is a book with a fixed number of names – none can be added (or removed).

We are promised that if we walk in the light (live righteously), we have fellowship with all other believers and we are cleansed of our sin (1 John 1:7). Some claim they ‘deserve’ to enter Heaven. Not so! Nobody deserves to enter Heaven. Many think they have done no great sins, but this does not matter... the smallest of sins (in our eyes) are sufficient to condemn us (1 John 1:8).

What is sin? It is what offends God. Scripture advises us with many examples. Those who are not elect will sin all the time, and the sin deep inside them, which exists simply by being conceived, is what sends these people to hell, condemned. Those who are elect ALSO sin, but the deep seed of sin within that makes us guilty, is dealt with by the sacrifice of Christ. We are made free from the penalty and so will enter Heaven. (We must still repent of our daily sins).

To know what is sin, just read scripture! It is to do what is wrong against God’s word, and it is to THINK what is wrong. Anything against God’s word is sin. 

© January 2017

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
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