Sin is the tendency to set one's own will in opposition to God's and the general deficiency of our own moral character compared to God's. Following from that, a particular "external" sin is an action or inaction that does not conform to God's laws, with or without the foreknowledge that it is contrary to divine law. The human does not have to physically commit the act to be completely guilty of it Matthew 5:28 . Likewise, a person may have a "strong moral code" that is not in keeping with God's laws. Breaking such a code is not sin.
Humans commit sin because they are sinners as a state-of-being 1 Corinthians 15:22 . As an illustration, is a person a thief because they steal, or do they steal because they are a thief? Is a person a murderer because they kill, or do they kill because they are a murderer? God looks to the origin of sinful acts - the human soul, not the act alone.
- 1 Human View of Sin
- 2 Origin of Sin
- 3 Cause of Death
- 4 Sin Nature
- 5 Etymology
- 6 Implications
- 7 Popular Misconceptions
- 8 References
- 9 See Also
Human View of Sin
Humans have inherent knowledge of right and wrong that was obtained at the time Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, the human heart does not apply this knowledge as a means for self-correction and higher values. Rather humans use this capacity to judge the morality of others. Jesus Christ, being "full of grace and truth", called believers to offer grace rather than judgment to sinners. This was a strong deviation from the teachings of the religious leaders at that time.
Humans see themselves as generally good with the capacity to do evil things. However, God see humans as inherently evil with the capacity to do good things Matthew 7:11 . We "commit sin" when our actions violate God's prescribed laws. For example, Cain slew Abel but God did not in turn take Cain's life. After the Flood, God commissioned mankind to take the life of murderers. A "murderer" is itself a judicial term, because clearly Noah is not committing murder if he slays a murderer. By this measure, Cain was not guilty of murder because no law or judicial definition had been provided. "Sin" as physical acts are also delineated in the Scripture. Simply avoiding outward sinful acts however, does not change the fact that we are inherently evil.
- For the unbeliever, both the human heart that conceives the behavior and the soul that consummates it through physical acts displease God and causes eternal separation from Him Ezekiel 18:20 .
- For a believer, following the sinful nature and/or committing sinful acts breaks fellowship with God but cannot separate us from him Romans 8:34-39 .
In this regard, the "separation" is not a complete physical or spiritual separation in the strictest possible sense. This is because God oversees the entire creation and holds it together by the word of his power Hebrews 1:3 . This of course includes the underworld Sheol and ultimately the Lake of Fire Revelation 20:15 . As God's omnipresence upholds these places, his presence is there but he is not in fellowship with the residents. Clearly God can have active conversations with his greatest enemies Job 1:6-8 so in his sovereignty may choose to communicate with those in eternal prison 1 Peter 3:9 but those whom he interacts with may have no supposition that they have God's favor in any form.
Human laws or the codes of conduct of a society are not always in keeping with God-given morality, and we are not absolved from judgment on our actions because society views them as acceptable. The foreknowledge of right and wrong is something that all humans have, and life is itself a measure or test to see how we will use this knowledge. God provided specific laws to avoid all confusion. A person can "feel" guilty and be completely innocent. A person can "feel" innocent and be completely guilty. The law is the objective arbiter of guilt.
Origin of Sin
God is Holy, such that anything outside of God is broadly regarded as sin. The presence of God marks the boundary of sin just as light marks the boundary of darkness Matthew 10:27 John 1:5 2 Corinthians 6:14 . This simply defines the spiritual difference between holiness and sin, not a constraint on God's ability to deal with sin.
In this regard, "sin" is something that only angels and humans are capable of. Only a created being can rebel against God. Because God is sovereign, it is impossible for him to rebel. God cannot sin and God cannot lie. Not because he is unwilling to, but because his Holiness prevents it entirely. God cannot perform unrighteous acts, nor can he punish the righteous or reward the wicked. These flow from his being. Likewise God cannot break a promise. His word stands forever. By these things, we can trust God to be very consistent and can serve him in love.
On the other hand, other religions promote their deities as capricious, vindictive and hateful. They allow their "god" to be anything he wants to be. Anyone serving such a god must do so in fear.
The Bible says that sin "entered the world" by mankind Romans 5:12 such that sin pre-existed the disobedience of mankind. The Bible also makes a distinction in that Eve acted based on a deception but Adam deliberately sinned 1 Timothy 2:14 .
In the opening of Genesis 3, the serpent (Satan) deliberately deceives Eve into tasting the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. By this time, Satan had had also fallen from heaven. The Bible uses a specific word for his spiritual condition Ezekiel 28:15 of iniquity. This word is likened to stubbornness 1 Samuel 15:23 and to lawlessness Matthew 7:23 . In the first form, a refusal to follow God and in the second form, a deliberate deviation from God.
The Fall of Man is a catalyst for both the corruption of mankind and also curses that God pronounced on mankind and on the creation.
Cause of Death
The Bible tells us that the Fall of Man is the cause of Death in the world 1 Cor 15:22 1 Cor 15:21 Romans 5:12 , and that Death is the last enemy that will be destroyed 1 Cor 15:26 . So Death has a finite, purposeful existence in the Creation.
Death has a very specific definition in Scripture. For example, flowers fade and grass withers but they do not "die" James 1:11 Isaiah 40:7 . Likewise, insects, spiders and plants do not have the "ruwach" breath of life as do specific land-dwelling creatures Genesis 6:17 . The death of a creature with the "breathe of life" is Biblical Death. There was no death in the Creation until the Fall of Man.
This aspect is of particular interest to creationists, especially to Young Earth adherents, because it defines the cause-and-effect sequence of sin and death. If death pre-existed sin (e.g. an old-earth model) then there is no connection between sin and death. If however, sin is the cause of death, then sin and death have a relationship. If no relationship exists between sin and death, this undermines the Crucifixion and the purpose for the death of Christ. Death is the penalty for sin. If the two have no connection, then the Crucifixion is meaningless.
Jesus asserted in Matthew 7:11 that humans understand how to do good to others, even though our condition is evil. He said, "you, being evil". In the eyes of the Lord, the human condition is evil and sinful acts are a symptom of it.
Jesus specifically called out a cause-and-effect sequence Matthew 5:28 that to merely look upon a woman with lust is the equivalent of actually committing adultery. We also read that 1 John 3:15 to hate someone is the same as murder. In each case, God is calling us to understand that humans are sinners because of Adam. Sinner is a state of being and sinful acts are simply the consummation of what is already in our hearts. A man many not physically commit adultery with a woman, but looking at pornography is exactly the same thing as adultery. In either case, sin begins with the heart.
Many religious systems attempt to "externalize" sin and then wrap eternal rituals, prayers, rote repetitions, mantras and the like around the behavior to "absolve" the person of the "act". This is what leads people to believe that they are "basically good people" because they have not outwardly committed any of the acts that they see "bad people" do. The Christian believer is adjured to help an unbeliever understand that "sinner" applies to all humans regardless of whether the person has ever committed a sinful act.
A grand illustration of this is where we read that Luke 1:15 John the Baptist will be "filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb", such that John walked in the Spirit every moment of his life. Then in Galatians 5:16 we read that if we "walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh". Theologians have suggested that this means John the Baptist never externally committed a sinful act, but John the Baptist was the foremost preacher than all men need a Savior, because sin is a state-of-being rather than an accumulation of external acts.
Jesus Christ and the Sin Nature
Numerous verses speak to the sinless nature of Jesus Christ. This is possible because he was not born of Adam's seed, but of the Holy Ghost Matthew 1:18 . Being born into mankind through a virgin fulfills the promise God made to Eve Genesis 3:15 for a human Redeemer.
Another important aspect of Christ's bloodline is that his mother Mary was of the line of Nathan, son of David, where his stepfather Joseph was of the line of Solomon, son of David. The line of Solomon had been cut off from the throne of Israel, so only a son of Mary could be the rightful King of the Jews. Any other children of Joseph and Mary would be ineligible.
The English word sin derives from various Old English, German, and Old Norse words that connote guilt for an act that the perpetrator knows, or ought to have known, was wrong. This has led to an habitual misconception of what sin is, and what it means.
The Greek word translated sin in the New Testament is ἁμαρτία (hamartia), from which comes the medical term hamartoma meaning a tumor formed from malformed rather than truly malignant cells. Hamartia does not mean "crime" or "guilt" only; it means a failure or a fault of some kind. Its roots suggest that it actually means something akin to a missing of the mark at target practice.
More generally, hamartia means any deviation, no matter how slight, from a perfectly desirable design or outcome. Thus sin is any thought or act, however innocent in intention, that does not meet the Divine standard. This includes, but does not limit itself to, all negligent, reckless, knowing, and intentional misdeeds.
Evidence for Foreknowledge of right and wrong
That any human being might be expected to know ahead of time what is right and what is wrong, might seem incredible to any casual observer of human society. And yet the following points favor the notion of instinctual foreknowledge of violations of conscience:
- Any government promulgating a frankly murderous or otherwise oppressive policy toward any subset of its subjects must engage in propaganda to make that policy acceptable to the rest of its subjects. The obvious example is Germany during the Second World War. In fact, many other examples, historical and modern, illustrate this point.
- Significantly, no organized society has ever explicitly endorsed theft as a legitimate economic activity.
- Attempts to justify such offenses as adultery, fornication, covetousness, or lying almost invariably fail. More typically, one caught engaging in such activity will try to excuse it by pleading some sort of extenuating or mitigating circumstance, or innocent intent (see above)—or else he will boast of his "right" or even his privilege so to act.
- On a personal level, individuals typically justify their own wrongdoing with a "thousand shades of gray" but when something evil happens to them, it's suddenly "black and white". That humans understand injustice (and can quickly synthesize and describe it) when it is happening to them personally, is strong evidence that all humans intrinsically understand good and evil
- By far the most salient statement concerning human foreknowledge of right and wrong comes from Paul. He wrote:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:19-21 (KJV)
- Main Article: Fall of man
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (KJV)
The word rendered very does not mean "to an extreme degree" here. Rather, it means "truly." God is saying, then, that when He made everything in the earth, He made everything perfect.Then came the Fall of Man:
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Genesis 3:17 (KJV)
God had given Adam and Eve strict warning not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By not heeding that warning, Adam and Eve fell short. Thus sin came into the world. No longer, then, was the world "very good."
In that day, two things happened. First, Adam and Eve died a spiritual death - which is to say, they separated themselves from God. The reason is simple: God cannot tolerate sin in His Presence. And second, the world itself could no longer be "very good". By his sin, Adam sowed seeds of corruption, decay and decline, not merely for himself and Eve and their posterity but also for the entire world. We read later that Jesus Christ will eventually redeem the entire Creation to himself Romans 8:21-23 .
A Promise Kept or a Word Broken?
God told Adam and Eve that in the day they ate the fruit of the tree they would "surely die". That God did not kill them immediately has caused skeptics to declare that God simply does not follow through on his threats. They believe that they will be able to use this argument when they come before God, to somehow "litigate" God into letting them off-the-hook because he did not follow through on his threat to Adam and Eve. This observation, however is very superficial.
We read in the next verses that God slays animals and covers the couple with coats-of-skins. This is the first recorded physical death in the Bible, and it started the continuum of substitutionary atonement from that day forward. Until the time of the Fall, no death of a blood-borne animal (a creature with the breath-of-life) had died anywhere in the creation. The Bible tells us that the Fall is the cause of Death in the world, and that Death is the last enemy that will be destroyed. So Death has a finite, purposeful existence in the Creation.
A primary reason that God did not slay Adam and Eve but established substitutionary death, is that the architecture of the Creation required it. Death is the penalty for sin, and blood is the price. Revelation 13:8 asserts that Jesus Christ is the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world." We can know that God provided a substitutionary death for Adam and Eve because in the very next chapter (Genesis 4), we see Cain and Abel coming to the Lord with ritual sacrifice. Cain's sacrifice was rejected because it was the wrong sacrifice (grain and fruit). Abel's sacrifice (flesh and blood) was the correct one Hebrews 11:4 .
Condition of the worldAt first, the world was "very good". Now it is not. Indeed, prophecy says that it will never be restored to its original glory. We understand that the "whole creation groans and travails in pain until now" Romans 8:21-23 such that Jesus Christ redeemed the entire creation to himself. In the Book of Revelation Revelation 5:1-7 we see a transfer-of-title-deed ceremony in which Christ has redeemed the Creation and alone is worthy to accept the scroll, the title deed, and act upon it. From this position in time, the Earth and Cosmos will be partially restored to the post-Edenic / pre-Flood conditions for at least 1000 years. After this, God will destroy it:
. And then God will make a new world that He will never again allow anything to mar:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. IIPeter 3:10 (KJV)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. Revelation 21:1-5 (KJV)
Until that day, the earth and the cosmos are fallen, and will continue to decline. Some creationists believe that the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes that decline in a mathematical way, and therefore that sin is the essence and trigger of entropy. This is inaccurate however, because the Second Law Is mechanically necessary for the proper operation of the Creation (e.g. without it, we could have no heat transfer from the Sun). We read that Jesus Christ is the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" such that the "winding down" effect was a part of the architectural plan from the beginning. God never intended for this present-day heaven-and-earth to last forever. Prior to the Fall however, mankind had direct access to the Tree of Life and its restorative abilities. And consider this:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. Isaiah 65:17-25 (KJV)
In addition, when Abraham and Sarah visited both Pharaoh and Abimilech, they thought she was the fairest of any woman in the land, even in her nineties. This is evidence that God restored her youth so that the promise of Isaac could be fulfilled. When Christ healed the various people during his ministry on earth, every one of these instances was a case of "organic restoration", to fix or restore something that was otherwise irreversibly broken. God has the capacity and will to restore and/or reverse the effects of age as his sovereign will requires.
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Deuteronomy 29:5 (KJV)
Pre-Flood Corruption of the Flesh
The book of Genesis is a series of diaries (Morris, The Genesis Record, Baker Books) each one terminated by the phrase "these are the generations of". As such, the diaries break from Noah to Shem in the middle of chapter 6 Genesis 6:9 . In this transition, Shem notes the physical priority of the floodwaters. While mankind may be considered wicked and violent (Noah's report in the prior verses), how do animals sin or behave wickedly? Why would God kill the animals when they are not accountable for their moral decisions or lack thereof?
Shem relates that the physical application of the floodwaters would address "the corruption of the flesh".
Genesis 6:11-13 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
- Corruption literally means to ruin, pervert or spoil.
- Way literally means road, way or path, or a journey, like a pathway.
- Flesh means the literal, physical forms of the creatures. This helps to explain why the Flood had to be a physical, worldwide solution.
- Violence is also translated "injustice", "ruin" or "cruelty" so is more pervasive than just physical violence. It negatively affects the "way of life" for everyone. This is not how a loving God intended for his Creation to live Genesis 1:31 and it grieved him to see his Creation so grossly deviate from its "way" Genesis 6:6 Genesis 6:12 .
Corruption of the flesh is a physical issue that is arguably the root cause of the pervasive wickedness and violence. The "flesh" in this context is the physical organism and not its thoughts or motives. What is the "road" of flesh that can corrupt, and irreversibly, catastrophically enough to require a global flood? Some would argue that this is the animal's original genetic design. As modern man understands the one-way parent-to-child nature of genetic reproduction, corrupting the design of some would irreversibly carry down to descendants. The allusion to "corrupting his way" is a masculine reference. As we understand nuclear DNA (both parents) versus mitochondrial DNA (the mother only), this corruption coming from the male gametes is a significant reference.
A primary theme of God's spiritual enemies is to corrupt or destroy mankind and use deception John 8:44 , counterfeit II Corinthians 11:14 and violence I Peter 5:8 .John 10:10 . If we examine demonic tactics against mankind and God over a continuum of time, we see a pervasive theme of cutting man off from the Creator. In the pre-Flood time frame, two primary means exist for demons to accomplish this:
- Annihilate mankind so that the promise of a human Redeemer will be cut off for Adam and Eve, and all those who have believed on God prior to the annihilation.
- Cut off mankind from fellowship with God achieved through the sacrifice of clean animals.
How does "flesh" corrupt his way on the earth? The designed pathway for all living creatures is borne on instinctive desire and biochemical programming. If the Fallen Angels (Demons) Genesis 6:2 were able to manufacture the necessary biochemical assets necessary to procreate with human women and make a race of mutant giants Genesis 6:4 , why not perform similar biochemical corruption with animals, especially clean animals? The giants, being demon spawn, would have the same hatred for mankind as their fathers, with the physical capacity to eradicate mankind from the Earth. The lack of clean animals would ruin sacrificial atonement, keeping them from fellowship with their Creator. A clean animal, once corrupted, is "blemished" and no longer acceptable for sacrifice Exodus 12:5 .I Peter 1:19 .
Noah would not have to seek out animals for the Ark, but God would send them Genesis 6:20 . Only God would have visibility into the genetic quality and integrity of individual genomes, and which animals were the healthiest and uncorrupted of their kinds. Corrupted animals would therefore not come to the Ark because God would never send them.
By the time the Flood was complete, the demon architects of mankind's corruption were in chains in the abyss Jude 1:6 .
Another example of biochemical interaction between humans and the spirit world is when the Holy Ghost made Mary pregnant Luke 1:35 , supplying the necessary male gametes to affect the pregnancy. What was the genetic information in these gametes? We may presume it was the same information originally used to create Adam. In fact, Jesus Christ is called "the last Adam" I Corinthians 15:45 , and why Adam is said to be made in God's image Genesis 1:26 , or rather, in Christ's image Hebrews 1:3 .
The point being, God had intended from the foundation of the world Revelation 13:8 that Jesus Christ would physically enter history through leveraging biochemistry in just this way. The entire architecture of the Creation is centered upon this eventuality.
Concerning lawlessness, outlaws depend on the existence of laws in order to be effective. Only if law-abiding citizens participate in a lawful manner, can outlaws thrive among them. In short, outlaws depend upon the law-abiding in order to succeed. In this situation, God's enemies, in taking wives and genetically corrupting flesh, were not deviating from provisions in the architecture or the laws concerning it, but were leveraging its provisions to corrupt it as outlaws.
They were using God's own creation against Him, to ultimately defeat the goal of Christ's redemptive mission.
Condition of manAs has been seen, Adam effectively ruined the world by his disobedience. But he did more: he affected the condition of man himself. Paul describes it best:
Before God, every person is guilty, because everyone has fallen short. More than that, no one ever seeks after God without Divine help:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Romans 3:10-12
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: John 6:44 (KJV)
This is why Jesus Christ had to come to earth, because without the shedding of blood, no remission of sin is possible. And no blood would suffice, except Jesus' own.
Ironically, the Wikipedia entry on sin is the best illustration of the misapprehension, both in popular culture in the English-speaking world and in various religious traditions, about what sin is and what it means. It even discusses the question of whether an act needs to be an intentional misdeed in order to qualify as sin. In this regard, the author is confusing sin, which is a general concept, with wickedness, which connotes not merely missing the target but deliberately aiming wide of it as if out of spite.
Many religions include elaborate codes of conduct that represent attempts to present people with a target they can hit on their own power. In truth, no one can hit God's target. Salvation from sin is by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ, Who alone can say on anyone's behalf, "I paid his penalty in full, and I move that his deeds be stricken from the record."