What is this thing called sin anyway?
by Erica Green
What is this thing called sin anyway?
Sometimes I think that when it comes to recognising what sin is, we are like frogs, slowly boiling away in a pot, not quite realising the extent of danger that we are really in. When we are on the inside it is very difficult to see things clearly for what they are. So let's ask a few questions and dig around the edges of the frog pot and see what we can find.
So what is this thing called sin?
If you were to ask this question to an audience of older Christians, I am sure that the following text would very quickly pop into the discussion and it would certainly have to be the KJV version. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4, KJV)
Generally speaking we would presume that we are talking about the Ten Commandments here. For a complete list of the big 10, you can look up Exodus 20 and here now I am going to slip out of the KJV and the "thou shalts" and into a summarised version from The New Living Translation of the bible.
- You must not have any other god but me.
- You must not make for yourself an idol
- You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honour your father and mother.
- You must not murder.
- You must not commit adultery.
- You must not steal.
- You must not testify falsely against your neighbour.
- You must not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.
So, on the surface of things I am not doing too badly today. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything, so far.
But just when you thought you were doing okay, you dig a bit deeper. The Ten Commandments are a bit like the "Idiot Guide" or the "Reader's Digest" condensed version, of what being without sin might look like. It covers only the minimum level of understanding and behaviour.
- "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV) There is number 7 for most of us at some stage. I presume that this applies to all genders.
- "Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." (1 John 3:15, NIV) There is number 6 gone. Don't try and tell me that at some stage as kids you did not hate your siblings.
- Keeping the law is not limited to the exact letter of the "Thou Shalt Not's" of behaviour, but rather it goes right behind behaviours, to the very core of our values and motivations. So when we scratch under the surface, perhaps I am not doing quite so well after all.
How does Jesus himself sum up the law?
- " ...'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 neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." " (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
- "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:43-44 NIV) If number 6 was not gone in the previous paragraph, then it certainly is now.
So the big overriding theme here, is love. The law is the epitome of love. So not only should we not hate our neighbours or enemies, but we are expected to act in a way that positively benefits them. It is not only about doing no harm, it is also about doing good.
If we then compare this with how the Bible defines the nature of Christ, we can join up a few more dots in our understanding.
- "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16, NIV)
- Therefore the law is an expression of who God is. An expression of His glory/character, which is Love.
- The law then defines God's way of life. What this world would look like if only love existed.
Where else do we see the revelation of the image of who God is?
- "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27, NIV)
- "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14, NIV)
So if we summarise up so far. What is this thing called sin?
- Anything that is outside the principles of the 10 commandments.
- Anything that is not in line with God's Character, which is love.
- Anything that is not the perfection that was intended for us from the beginning of creation.
- Anything that is not consistent with the example that Jesus gave us when he lived on earth.
How pervasive is sin, is it simply the bad things that we do?
What we do
- Sins are actions that are not aligned with the character of God, which is love. They can be sins of the mind (intellect or understanding), the soul (Will or motivation), the heart (Emotions or feelings) or the body. I am sure that we can all fill in our favourites under these categories.
- Generally we only think of the 'bad' things that we do as sinful, but even the "best" that we have to offer is nowhere near what God intended for us and by our definition, so far, is therefore sinful.
- "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)
- If we see sin as only something that we do, then we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the bad that we don't do and the good that we do, has some merit or value.
What we think
- Not only are our actions evidence of the extent to which we have slipped from God's image but so too are our thoughts.
- "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..." (Proverbs 23:7, KJV)
Who we are
- Thanks to original sin, we are born sinners. We are born with a mind, soul, heart and body that are degraded by the effect of many years of sin. Our tendencies and inclinations toward evil are not created by God, but by generations of man living removed from God's image. We are all sinners by birth and there is nothing that you or I can do to change that.
When boiled down to its very essence, sin is anything that is not consistent with God's Character (as expressed by the law of love) or with what He intended us to be when he made us. It is so pervasive that it invades :- Everything that we do (the best as well as our worst); What we think; and Who we are.
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