What Is Sin?
Any definition of the term “sin”, in all its various forms in Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew, depict it as something which is negative. No reference to sin in the Bible shows sin as something positive or desirable, therefore any definition of sin must take into account this larger framework. Some of the more common terms for “sin” are:
hamartia (offense against morals or laws)
adikia (opposition to righteousness)
paraptoma (to lose one’s way; fail)
One fact stands out. In all definitions, sin is an offense against God. Sin is further defined as “the doing of wrong, to injure, to go astray, to stumble, to disobey, to injure, to act unjustly, that which harms community; behavior that does not conform, evil intention.”
But if sin is an offense, who is offended? If one has overstepped the line, who drew the line? Who made the rule you must not step over it? One can offend God or man. Any attempt to define sin must include the concept of its harmfulness to a relationship, be it relationship with God or another human being. In either case, it involves a failure to measure up to an established standard.
There are 27 occurrences of sin as adikeo in the New Testament, referring to behavior that does not conform to a standard. Paul’s use of the basic concept of sin is seen more clearly in Romans than any other Pauline literature. In fact, Paul’s entire use of the word “sin” or “sins” in Romans is in every instance either hamartano, hamartema or harartia and is almost always the latter. Paul uses these three terms 48 times in Romans and only 12 times in any of his other Epistles. His letters were primarily written in response to certain specific sins in particular churches.
Paul writes concerning man’s condition and his need. In depicting the created state of man, Paul refers to him as possessing both an “inner” and an “external” constitution. Although Paul speaks of the “inner” and “outer” man, he insists upon the fundamental unity of the human personality. Paul does not write concerning the body as being self-corrupting. It has, however, become a vehicle capable of evil because of the entrance of sin into the world.
The Why Of Sin
Paul’s theology concerning sin includes the concept that men are created to enter into communication with God—and sin hinders this communication. There is little basic difference between how God views sin in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, for both stress the inherited depravity of all men and the resultant personal guilt. All humans sin (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus said we may cast the first brick at the accused only if we are without sin (John 8:7). The Old Testament concept of sin is the same. There is no man that does not sin (II Chronicles 6:36). We can be sure our sins will find us out (Numbers 32:23).
But can’t we just blame Adam and Eve for our sins? After all, they started it. The truth is, Adam and Eve only left us a bad example. Adam might have said “It’s all your fault, God. You made the woman, the snake and the tree!” Adam didn’t seek God concerning the forbidden fruit, and he listened to bad advice. But man had no sooner fallen than God was right down there in garden seeking to restore His relationship to both the man and the woman. Someone has well said, “The problem wasn’t the apple on the tree, but the pair on the ground.” The first sin was actually stealing, for God said they could not have fruit from this particular tree.
Paul fine tunes the doctrine of individual accountability to God introduced earlier by the writing prophets of the Old Testament. For Paul, sin has come into the world as a result of Adam’s transgression, clearly stating that through Adam, sin and death infected all mankind. All men inherit a corrupt or depraved nature and have an individual responsibility for expression of that depravity by which all men become guilty.
However, Paul makes it clear in Romans 7:24 that man is by nature in rebellion against God and unable to please Him. According to Paul, man is not a sinner because Adam was a sinner, but man is a sinner because each man sins willfully, as did Adam. Adam, as the federal head, only proves that “all have sinned” and that all humans will sin. One does not “inherit” Adam’s sin, but each person merely acts out his/her Adamic nature.
As bad as sin is, it is still sin which stands as the occasion for the manifestation of God’s grace in the person and expiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The contrast of God’s righteousness and man’s unrighteousness is bridged by Christ who took our punishment upon Himself (Romans 3:24). The question of why sin exists is in essence the same question concerning why God allows evil to exist. To assume that sin is bad and that God is good is to assume that a perfect God will neither want nor allow evil (sin) in His presence.
According to the theology of both testaments, Yahweh Himself is the yardstick for what is right and what is wrong. Since sin is the cause of estrangement from Him, sin must somehow be removed in order to please God and encourage the hope of fellowship with Him.
Shall we sin more and more to demonstrate the forgiving grace of God more and more? Let it not be so! (Rom 6:1). This verse sums up Paul’s entire thinking concerning God’s attitude toward sin. While allowing sin, God does nothing to encourage it. It would seem obvious that since God is good and sin is not, that God could not encourage what is bad.
Man seems hell-bent on an eternal search for loopholes in God’s contractual agreement. Since freedom from this horrible bondage is found only through Christ—and God has made this truth clear and His Son accessible—man is without excuse (Romans 2:1). The attractiveness of sin is limited to one’s life span. Sin is pleasurable, but short lived.
Paul writes that if I had not known what offends God, I could not be held responsible for the offense (Romans 7:7). Sin, therefore, is seen has having an attraction and a dominating power over every individual.
How Can One Be Freed From The Controlling Powers Of Sin?
Paul, before his conversion, would never have thought of himself as one who was unrighteous. His zealousness prior to the Damascus road experience seems to echo the words of Jesus in John 16:2: “…the time will come, that whoever kills you will think that he is doing God a favor.” “Before Paul was a persecutor, but, after the Damascus road—a persuader.. It would seem that, above all else, Paul’s Damascus road experience shaped his life more than any other single event. Three times in the Book of Acts he relives this experience. Were sin not a bondage, Pauline theology would not be so laced with his heavy emphasis on freedom through Christ.
Paul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, and beyond, caused him to see his former life “under the law” as bondage. The essence of Paul’s theology, which is found throughout the 89 chapters that he wrote in the New Testament letters, can be reduced to four simple facts:
a.. Humans are estranged from God through sin
b. The answer to this problem is a relationship with Jesus
c. This relationship is possible due to God’s gift of His Son
d. The believer accrues a responsibility to live a holy life.
Paul’s personal theology, if ever he thought of it as such, could be summed up in the phrase, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Prior to his conversion, he might have said, “For me to live is the Law.” The law, however, was powerless to save, serving only as a “schoolmaster,” for to know Christ is the ultimate goal of the law (Romans 10:4).
The weakness of the law is seen in the transitoriness of its mission—to bring sin out into the open. The age of the law was to be replaced by the age of the Spirit. Paul lives in and through this era.. This is what makes his Epistles so unique and is why we are still under Paul’s influence today.
Where Is Sin?
In all of Pauline literature, nothing is so evident as the fact that “all have sinned.” Sin, as an active force, cannot be escaped from nor neutralized by human effort. The entire world is under sin’s indictment. Sin’s power is absolutely universal and absolute.
It is only when one comes to know Christ that the full power of sin is disclosed. For Paul, the man that struggles against the power of God’s Spirit is imprisoned in the flesh (sarx), which as God’s enemy, produces sin and whose end is death. The powers of spirit and flesh fight against one another in human beings under the law (Romans 7:13-25).
For all that Paul writes concerning sin, his teaching on the subject is not systematic. He describes the victory of Jesus Christ over the powers of the law, sin and death, replaced by resurrection and life. Paul had found out firsthand that the path of the law does not lead to life but to death. Indeed, Paul saw as his biggest sin his own opposition to the way of the cross (I Corinthians 15:9).
Sin is in the world. It is in all unbelievers. The world itself has been tainted by the powers of sin and evil. Man chooses to subject himself to the power of sin from which they can be redeemed only through God’s act of reconciliation in Christ. Man is free to be under the power of sin or under the power of the Spirit. Sin is not in a particular place, but a force that is all around us, infecting us. The power which sin holds over fallen mankind is a controlling force to be reckoned with throughout the human race in every stage of the history of man.
Paul writes to several of his churches warning them to “not serve sin.” Serving sin is the same as yielding to sin. It is a willful act of servitude. Paul calls for men to be the servants of Christ instead. It’s only possible to walk in the Spirit if one chooses not to walk in the flesh.
Sin, therefore, is not so much in a location as it is an active force.
Jesus has shed His blood for the sins of the world—for men enslaved by the power of sin and subsequent alienation from God. To willfully sin presupposes a God-established line or boundary has been crossed. Sin is presented by Paul in every case as a rebellion against God and His laws. Paul tells us he was only aware of sin because of what the law of God stated.
Sin is understood as a transgression of the Law. Law presupposes a lawmaker. A fundamental Old and New Testament concept of right standing with God is that one must submit to God’s ordinances. Judas’ sin consisted of his abandoning the place (topos) of service in order to go his own way (hodos). While sin is in the world as a force to be reckoned with, sin is measured by God Himself—not by the written Law alone. The purpose of law was primarily to show sin to be transgression against God. The Law further serves to motivate a man to transgress, thus leading him to Christ as the One who breaks the power of sin (Romans 7:7-12).
But sin, as an active force in the world, is never depicted by Paul as something that man must do. Man sins by choice. Man voluntarily transgresses God’s laws not because of a lack of information concerning God’s law, but due to a wrong attitude toward God (Romans 3:19). The world under sin is sufficient proof for Paul of man’s refusal to be guided by the knowledge of God’s power (Romans 1:28). Sin is in the world because of wrong attitude and desires. Sin, then, is any attitude of indifference, unbelief, or disobedience to the will of God, regardless of how this attitude expresses itself in thought, word or deed. Sin always tends to be self-propagating, darkening the mind, and hardening the will against God (Romans 1:21).
When Is Sin?
A discussion of sin and its effects inevitably raises the question of when it actually occurs. In the case of Adam and Eve, the consequences of their actions were immediate. Guilt manifested itself. They hid. There followed a “forced” confession. They realized their sin was not hidden from God. The estrangement caused by disobedience had an immediate and long lasting impact on their lives.
The moment Adam partook of the fruit, he had violated God’s command. The same held true for Eve. But there appeared to be a reluctance to “own the problem.” Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. The introduction of universal, evil tendency in man began not when the forbidden fruit was eaten, nor when it was picked, but when the decision in Eve’s mind was to set aside God’s instruction and commit the offense.
It has often been stated in various ways that “the thought is father to the deed,” i.e., “Bad action follows bad doctrine.” Thus, sin involves not just the action but the thought that precedes it. Jesus spoke of immorality “in the heart” without having physical contact. Sin, for Paul, is also a matter of the kardia (heart). An impenitent heart stores up impending wrath (Romans 2:5). God, through His Spirit, curbs sin in the individual by giving all men a conscience. But is the conscience a protection against sin? Paul speaks of a “seared” conscience (I Timothy 4:2). One’s conscience cannot teach right from wrong, for it is imperfectly formed due to environment and other factors. One’s conscience cannot be trusted to ensure right choices. Sin occurs, but one’s conscience can be hardened or become callused so that the conviction through the Spirit does not always occur. And the fault is never God’s.
The Bible makes it very clear that personal sin will be judged by God according to the individual’s personal light. The Scriptures allow for the fact that the conscience is largely formulated by social heredity and community standards. For example, David’s premeditated plot to eliminate Uriah seems to be what displeased God the most, not just his immorality. And Solomon was not judged for his numerous wives, for his era allowed this. Solomon committed sin when he compromised and made the conscience decision at some point to allow idolatry in order to please his foreign wives.
The believer may ask, “Why is the power of sin not diminished as we progress in the Christian life?” The power of sin is not diminished, nor is the power to overcome temptation increased as we live the Christian life. The desire to not do that which displeases God should bring a greater determination to keep God’s laws and deepen our personal relationship with Him.
Paul states this most clearly in Romans 6, when he states that, in effect, one is only dead to sin to the degree that one considers himself dead to sin. Sin’s power is not diminished, but the attitude toward both the consequences of sin and the joy of obedience have increased. As we evolve and grow in Christ Jesus, we tend to make better choices. The power of individual sin is not so much broken as it is minimized as one’s walk with Christ matures.
The most damaging and immediate effect of sin is the estrangement which compromise brings. As we toy with sin, the power of sin toys with us. As we begin to view sin as a plaything, we become the playthings of sin—and become more and more subservient to the degree we ignore the mandates of God.
However sin may be defined, it is a breach of one’s trust in God. One sins when they fail to trust that His laws are for our good and that consequences occur for disobedience. This lack of trust is seen by Paul as an offense against God.. God is offended, or sinned against, when man makes the conscious decision to distrust His norms or standards and consequently he “misses the mark” which God has established.
Who Has Sinned?
In view of the previous discussion, we can conclude that while we all sin individually, there is a sense in which we all sin collectively. That “all have sinned” is made crystal clear by Paul when he states “there is none righteous: not one.” Sin, then, is no figment of the imagination. Sin, to become real, must happen. Since sin is an affront against God. Sin requires punishment. Such punishment is the reflex action of the holiness of God whereby He maintains His perfect holy character. In His response to sin, God’s holiness takes the form of justice which expresses itself in judgment.
Man is a free moral agent—but that does not explain the power and bondage of sin. God has freedom yet does not sin. God created man, however, with a freedom whose continuance depends on refraining from sin. Man, as a created being, possesses the ability not to sin. But this ability is not the essence of freedom from the power of sin. Neither is the ability to sin the essence of freedom. True freedom is constituted by man’s ability to choose the good and reject the evil based on the laws of God. Paul proves that the effect of human sin upon human freedom is defined as slavery and those who resist the power of God resist the laws of God (Romans 13:2). Man is now free to become as free as Adam was before he sinned. This is only possible through the overcoming power of the Spirit, as Paul indicates in Romans 15:13. Since man is free to sin against His Creator, God, in His goodness, must provide a way for man to be reconciled to his Creator.
God is not pleased when man abuses the power of choice. A freedom which does that which it should not do is a perversion of true freedom.. Although God has endowed man with freedom, God could not in justice allow man to suffer the bondage which sin inflicts; hence, the passion and death of Jesus Christ. How else can any biblically-based aspect of Pauline soteriology conclude but with the assurance of an eternal release from the power of sin? Man receives true freedom in Christ as a gift from God, unearned and undeserved, allowing him to enjoy release from his former bondage under the power of sin. Difficult as Pauline theology may appear to the unbeliever, those that know and love Him recognize our freedom in Christ is “the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
The precious Lamb of God has made a way for us to walk in newness of life. If you have not yet received Jesus as your Savior, it is this simple:
Admit you are a sinner. Ask Jesus to come into your heart and to forgive all your sins. You need not list them, for He knows you intimately.
Begin to read His Word, every day, beginning with the Gospel of John. Ask His Holy Spirit to come into your life and show you truth from God’s Word.
Find a Spirit-filled church and come under the mentorship of a godly pastor. Go to church every Sunday and become involved.
If you have accepted Jesus into your life, contact us today! We will rejoice with you and help to guide you into Christian fellowship!