What is Sin?
The Bible describes sin in a variety of ways. It is, for example, to miss the mark or fall short of one's moral duties. It is a characteristic failure of man. In Paul's words: "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). To sin is to do evil--i.e., to do that which causes pain and sorrow. Conduct of this sort was characteristic of those who rejected the message of Christ. The "loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
To sin is also to wander from the truth. Hence James say: "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death..." (James 5:19-20). Again, to sin is to commit wrong or injustice. "But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done..." (Colossians 3:25).
But however many ways it may be described, or whatever forms it may take, sin is in its most basic definition the violation of Divine law. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4).
The Source and Development of Sin
Jesus tells us that sin begins in the heart, the moral well-spring of man's being. He says: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). James, too, deals with the origin of sin. But he also outlines the course it runs to its termination. He writes: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth for death" (James 1:13-13).
The Effects of Sin
The injurious effects of sin are to be seen all about us. Yet there are those who prefer to ignore its evident ravages or even deny its reality. Even so, no amount of denial can make sin go away.
- The most heinous aspect of sin is that it dishonors God who commands: "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (I Peter 1:16). Paul brings out this fact with a question: "Through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" (Romans 2:23). Far from expressing doubt, the apostle well knows that a truthful answer must be affirmative. So, too, David acknowledges that he has offended God when he pleads: "Lord, be merciful unto me... for I have sinned against thee" (Psalm 41:4).
- Sin separates men from God and His favor. "But your iniquities," says Isaiah to Israel, "have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).
- Sin produces a guilty conscience, shame, and fear. This is seen, for example, when, after eating of the forbidden fruit, "Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God..." (Genesis 3:8). Ezra, confessing the sins of his people, laments: "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head..." (Ezra 9:6). So, too, we read that "David's heart smote him... And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done..." (II Samuel 24:10). And John reminds us that "if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" (I John 3:20).
- Sin produces death along with its companions, suffering and grief. Regarding the fruit of the forbidden tree, God warned Adam: "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Adam ignored God's warning and thereby brought death not only upon himself but upon the whole human race. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men..." (Romans 5:12).
NOTE: A man's sin, as in Adam's case, has consequences far beyond what he can imagine. The enormity of one's sin is magnified by the harm it does to others besides oneself. Just one sin brought universal death with all its misery.
- Sin evokes the righteous judgments of God. Not only death but all of the temporal punishments men suffer for their disobedience demonstrate God's displeasure with sin. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..." (Romans 1:18). Ezra acknowledges the penal judgment of sin when he says: "And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds... thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13). But the most awful of Divine judgments upon sin is eternal. Speaking of those who continue unrepentant in sin until death, Jesus says: "And these shall go away into everylasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).
Provision for the Pardon of Sins
Man is incapable of providing the means for saving himself from the consequences of sin. Since he has sinned against God, only God can provide the means of pardon. This He has graciously done in the gift of His Son, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sin" (Colossians 1:14). Paul elsewhere expands upon this theme. He remarks: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly... For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:6,10).
In view of the costly sacrifice Christ made for the pardon of our sins, the writer of Hebrews asks: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation...?" (Hebrews 2:3) There simply is, Peter makes clear, no other escape from sin's everlasting ruin besides God's provision in Christ. He says: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
The Conditions of Salvation from Sins
John the Baptist has described Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The does not mean, however, that salvation is unconditional or universal. It is conditioned upon "the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26; cf. Romans 1:5). Jesus called for this obedience of faith when He instructed His apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).
The obedience of faith is also expressed in repenting of one's sins. In Peter's words: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Further, obedience includes confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10).
When one complies with these terms he is pardoned of his past sins and begins a new life committed to faithfully serving God. Hence Paul says: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).
Life is filled with choices, and choices have consequences. But no choice is of greater consequence than one's decision about sin. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).