“What is Sin to You May Not be Sin to Me.”
Have you ever heard or said such a statement? One could say this phrase defensively amid receiving attacks from others. Or, one might use it to honestly bring up the point of argument in discussion, because it is true that no humanly contrived definition of sin can be authoritative. This is not to concede, however, that sin has no authoritative and universal definition. Everyone has an innate and heightened sense of injustice when they have been wronged, when they have received the sin of another. If there is no “to each man his due,” then there is no sin; but because justice cries out within us when wronged, sin is there. And, if there is no justice, then there is no law, and if no law, then no agreement to civility, and if no civility, then no humanness…. Sin multiplies, atrocities go unchecked.
To objectively define sin among ourselves (interpersonally), humanity needs an objective text superior to humanity and ideally a being who is without sin to be a model or measure. For the objective and authoritative definition of sin, the Bible serves as our text. No other holy book so unashamedly or lucidly exposes sin as the source of mankind’s woes. And, no other book reveals the answer to it. To those who discredit the Bible as a mere human book, please see Why the Bible is True and Is the Bible Binding Upon Me, a Modern Reader? and the materials to which I refer in those articles. For a model being, Jesus Christ (both fully God and fully man) cannot be improved upon. For anyone who doubts the historicity of Jesus, please see works such as Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. If one wishes to compare and contrast Jesus to other deities and religions, please see Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias.
The Origin of It: [Genesis 3]
Eden, observably, was the place God designed for the self-determination of humanity’s inner nature. It was a genuine testing ground, not as in a sterile laboratory but for God’s genuine allowance of genuine choice by mankind. Adam and Eve, both literally and figuratively the “1st Man and 1st Lady,” were the federal representatives of mankind (as in determinant representative figureheads). Most readers of the account focus on the fruit the first pair picked, and due to this superficial preoccupation one cannot understand “what was the big deal.” Yet, Adam and Even chose. Their choice was influenced by “the Serpent” and determined the consequent fallen status of human nature for all their progeny. Adam was the determiner along with Eve. Again, the determination was whether man would continue under God’s ways and nature (“Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”) forever (Tree of Life) at the time God appoints (allows them to eat), or would mankind get impatient and untrusting and selfish by disobedience. Satan showed that the fruit indeed was powerful but alleged that God was in some way not good for making certain things off-limits to mankind or for making mankind wait, and also, that God’s warning of death was not really true but merely God’s way of keeping mankind “lesser than” God.
So, mankind (in Adam and Eve — ex. Heb 7:10) thought we could wield God’s plan in our own hands, but the unforseen and undisclosed result was a fallen nature and captivity under satanic rule (John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4). Man, never having tasted death, was willing to take the chance of no death (according to Satan’s word); and so, Adam used Eve as a guinea pig (though she was willing), and watched to see if Eve would die immediately or not. When she did not physically die right then, Adam (who was with her) listened to Eve’s persuasions and also ate the fruit (Gen. 3:17). If Adam, the accountable representative of Eve to God had not eaten, he could have denounced what Eve had done, but Adam had already committed to using Eve. So, in Adam’s mind, when Eve did not die immediately, he too believed Satan’s lie at Eve’s testimony, took and ate, and thus determined the nature of mankind as fallen… until… God made a promise in Genesis 3:15 that through Eve’s descendants and by the offspring of a human woman (virgin) as opposed to that of a man and woman, God would send a “Serpent Crusher” to defeat the destructive work of Satan and the choice of mankind. This plan was depicted by the sacrifice of a lamb (Gen. 4:4).
Simply put, if you don’t think it was fair for Adam and Eve to determine your fallen nature, God insituted a plan through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), for you to choose a redeemed and regenerate (re-born, John 3) nature which is reconciled to God through the atonement or “propitiation” of Christ’s suffering.
The Strict Definition(s) of It:
(as a complex of destructive actions and attitudes proceding from one’s corrupt inner man, especially in relationship to other persons and to God)
Sin is a fallen nature. God’s nature is the object of comparison and contrast. No one word can fully represent the fallen nature of mankind; rather, it must be understood as a combination of all of its according terms, and one must remember that this “complex of actions” proceedes or flows out from an essence itself, a nature… a fallen nature. It is an inherent lack and weakness, a lack of integrity at the core of each individual. God is thereby proven to be correct about everyone’s need of reconciliation to Himself, as well as correct about everyone’s corrupted nature & and its need of regeneration.
- hamartia (missing the mark) – to fall short; a tragic flaw
Jesus is the Measure of Perfection, being tempted in all things as we are yet without sin (Heb. 4:15, 12:1)
When you don’t meet your own expectations (“fall short”), let alone God’s, your feelings of remorse and guilt reveal that you have sinned. If one does not feel guilt, there was presumably a time when guilt was present–before the dulling of the conscience. Hence, childhood is often referred to as an age of innocence, when the conscience is most sensitive or when evil is not explored with intent.
All have missed the mark, or fallen short of God-likeness (a.k.a. glory, Rom. 3:23)
- hettema (fault; to default) “Diminishing what should have been given full measure” (1 Cor. 6:7)
If one has “shorted” another in any way
- parabasis (transgression) – breaking of the law; going beyond the limit; stepping over a line drawn by nature, by conscience or by God (Rom. 1&2, Exodus 20)
The breaking of even one of the Ten Commandments is a good example of what it means to “transgress” (1 John 3:4)
“To intentionally cross a line.” (Heb. 2:2)
- adikia (unrighteousness) – righteousness is about keeping self-obligations before God and others.
When one breaks or does not perform an obligation, a vow, a contract, or a promise, then unrighteousness has ocurred. And, what is more, our attempts to undo the wrong cannot cover or counteract the wrongdoing on the eternal level (Is. 64:6)
There is no one who is completely righteous (Rom. 3:10)
- agnoeema (error; ignorant omission) “Ignorance when one should have known” due to sufficient resources of natural order, law, or conscience or the principle of due diligence. (Heb. 9:7)
- asebeia (impiety)
To not hold God in highest esteem and pursuit (amid all things) in life is to give way to idolatry and covetousness. This is sin. However, to say that joys are forbidden is a reactionary and irrational extreme. Rather, to say that God is the great Giver of all good things and the Source of all joys, and therefore is to be rightfully worshipped, is accurate. (Exodus 20:3; Ps. 87:7; James 1:17)
- anomia; paranomia (lawlessness)
Throwing off “constraints,” both moral and civil, degrades the innate dignity of mankind and gives way to the animalistic and brutish, and to the consideration of mankind as merely another of the animal kingdom, following instinct, instead of what is lawful, noble and all things associated with “Light” and with “Life” as it was designed by the Creator. Life and Light are, after all more reasonable. (Titus 2:14)
- ponēria (depravity)
Think dark, twisted, perverse, unbalanced, excessive: all depraved action is the lack of God-like love for God and neighbor. All depravity in any expression is innate and inherent within a fallen sin nature. Though some do not express certain aspects of depravity, others will; but all expressions of it reveal the fallen nature within.
- parakoe = (to refuse to hear and heed God’s word) Example: 2 Cor. 10:6
- epithymia (evil desire)
What makes a desire evil is its offensiveness to God and its consequent harm or destructiveness to others and self. The desires of the body unchecked by God’s design and will are evil desires. The desires of the eye (beauty, what one can see) when unchecked by God’s design and will are evil desires. The desires which comes from pride, such as self-exaltation, ambition, etc. are against God’s nature, and so, are evil.
- paraptoma (wrong direction, stumble, astray, lost; away from God)
“We not only fall short (hamartia), but we also go in the wrong direction (paraptoma). We try but miss and go our own way. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).” – John MacArthur’s “The Body Dynamic” [see “Own Way” below]
“Falling when one should have stood.” This one is actually an unintentional slip. We are surprised when we realize we’ve sinned. (Example: Eph. 1:7)
The Depictions and Descriptions of It:
(as the source of sinful actions–a faulty nature)
- The Name: “Sin” (sin) = Clay; Thorn; Mire; (root: to be muddy or clayey) [Thus, ex. Ps. 103:14 The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names, pg. 177]
- [Humanly] incurable sickness/disease of the heart; not fully knowable, self-deceptive (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:18-19)
- Stony Heart vs. Living, Fleshy Heart — unfeeling, unrelational toward God, incapable of perfectly consistent, God-like love (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; Matt. 5:48)
- “Own way” as Opposed to God’s Way, Wayward, Straying, Lost — rebellious agains one’s Maker and laws of His creation (Is. 53:6)
- Works of the Flesh as opposed to Fruits of the Spirit – (Gal. 5)
Furthermore, the rich OT vocabulary of prostitution and other forms of idolatrous defilement adds distinctive color to biblical depictions of human sinfulness. Finally, the Scriptures offer divergent descriptions of the root or cause of sin: pride goes before the fall (Prov. 16:18); love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10); the evil tongue is the source of iniquity (James 3:6). [Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier and N. T. Wright, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London; Grand Rapids, MI.: SPCK; Baker Academic, 2005), 749.]
The Penalty of It:
- Physical death — A reminder that mortality comes as the result of death and decay, which in turn were not the original plan of God for humanity but was the path which humanity chose. (self-evident; Rom. 5:12)
- Spiritual death — Deadness (in regard to trespasses and sins) / cut off from God (Gen. 2:17; Eph. 2:1)
- Eternal Death — (“second death” due to the resurrected body’s endurance of it) Since it is about natures and not just actions, and since natures are immortal, then God would be lawfully just in eternal punatitve action. (Rev. 21:8)
“The soul that sins, it shall die [eternally]” (Ezekiel 18:20)
But, the true reason for eternal punishment is doing the unpardonable sin. [see below]
The Solution for It:
The solution cannot be the result of self-efforts, because we are naturally flawed inwardly. We, therefore, need:
- NEW LIFE — rebirth of nature, declared through its co-identified death with Jesus on the Cross and its co-identified resurrection with Christ from the tomb. (John 1:11 ff, 3; Acts 16:31; Rom. 5:1, 6, 2 Cor. 5:17ff)
- Life in the Spirit of Christ — overcoming the law of sin and death that still remains in our minds and the strength of our bodily desires [wanting and finding pleasure in what will kill us or harm our bodies.] (Rom. 8; Gal. 5)
The Only Unpardonable Sin:
There is only one unpardonable sin; and it is only comitted on the individual level.
- Rejection of God’s prescribed Way (Jesus Christ) for reconciliation to God and regeneration of one’s nature. (“Of sin, because they believe not on me.” John 16:9)
Truly, this is the greatest and the only sin which merits eternal punishment. Eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire fits this sin, because it is the same as rejecting God face-to-face, despite His self-sacrifice to prove his boundless love, abundant mercy, and trustworthiness. All other sins are forgiven and taken away by the blood of Christ, which is the blood of God. Hence, full forgiveness, grace greater than all our sin. (Heb. 10)
“THE TIMES OF IGNORANCE GOD OVERLOOKED, BUT NOW HE COMMANDS ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE TO REPENT” (Acts 17:30)
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. (Is. 1:18)
“EVERYONE WHO CALLS UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED” (Rom. 10:3)