A Theology of Sin
by Greg Williamson (c) revised 2022

Sinful Introduction
Sin in the Bible: Language | OT | NT | The Fall | Original Sin | Imagery | 7 Deadly Sins | Overcoming Sin
Sinful Truths
Sinful Examples
Sinful Bible References
Sinful Conclusion
Appendix: Sinful Application
Sinful Sources

In essence, [sin is] the failure or refusal of human beings to live the life intended for them by God their creator. - Anonymous [ref]


A Miserable Sinner

In the midst of a sermon, a man jumped up. "Brethren!" he shouted. "I have been a miserable, contemptible sinner for years, and never knew it before tonight."

A man in the nearby pew announced, "Sit down, Brother. The rest of us knew it all the time." [ref]

"Sin is to be defined primarily in relation to God. It is disobedience, unbelief, ignorance, the positive assertion of usurped autonomy, and the wicked deviation from, or violation of, God's righteous will and law. The breach of a right relationship with God carries with it the disruption of a right relationship with others and the disintegration of the self. But this is derivative, for it is because of sin against God that there is sin against others and oneself (Ps. 51:4)." [ref]

Sin & Spiritual Formation

Sin is one of those concepts that, on first glance, would seem to need no explanation. What is more central to the Christian faith than the understanding that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Sin is, in short, the reason that we need a Savior to restore our relationship with our Creator. Like all powerful words, however, "sin" carries layers and subtleties of meaning that require further exploration. "Sin" commonly refers to willful acts of disobedience but can also refer to corporate and systemic moral transgressions, to a pervasive part of humanity's condition that leaves us estranged from God, and to a state of fallenness into which we are born. "Sin" can also refer broadly to the distortion of all of God's creation from what God intended it to be. Cornelius Plantinga notes that the word sin encompasses everything that violates God's shalom, the peaceful and just harmony that he intended for his creation. Christ followers, then, are to be shalom restorers.

To address sin for the purpose of spiritual formation, however, it is important to take a narrower vantage point. Sin in this context must be viewed, Plantinga tells us, as a "culpable and personal affront to a personal God." Dallas Willard notes that the frightening realization that we are responsible for our failure to meet God's standards leads us to build gospels of sin management. It is much easier to meet external behavioral requirements than it is to clean out the recesses of the human heart. Jesus repeatedly told his listeners, especially the Pharisees, that God is not as interested in rule following as he is in a humble and obedient heart.

The Bible tells us, though, that the heart is deceitful and difficult to know. Within the traditions of spiritual formation, it has long been known that sin begins in the heart. By the time it manifests itself in the form of disobedient behavior, sin has already sunk deep roots. Colomba Stewart noted that the desert fathers understood sin to consist primarily of deadly logismoi, or "thoughts," rather than behaviors. Their list of deadly logismoi evolved into the list that is today known as the seven deadly sins. Similarly, Oswald Chambers noted that the source of these sinful thoughts of the heart lies in the incurable suspicion we inherit through original sin: the suspicion that God is not good. In short, we sin out of self-protection. [ref]

Sin takes us farther than we want to go, costs more than we want to pay, and keeps us longer than we want to stay. - Anonymous [ref]


The Tragic Effects of Sin

The effects of sin are as coextensive as history, and listing them in detail is obviously impossible and unnecessary. Perhaps the best course is briefly to consider how sin mars the relationship (1) with God, (2) with one's neighbors, (3) with self, and (4) with the world.

Sin undoubtedly disturbs one's relationship with God. This is vividly portrayed in Adam's flight and excuses after the fall (Gen. 3:8–12) and also in his immediately coming under the judgment of God. He is expelled from the garden (Gen. 3:23), and death reigns from Adam onward (Rom. 5:14). True knowledge of God is lost (Rom. 1:25), and one substitutes one's own foolish imaginations (Eph. 4:18). Knowledge of God's will is also forfeited, at least as a practical knowledge. Thus begins the dreadful process so graphically portrayed by Paul in Rom. 1:24–32. Idolatry and wickedness of every kind overtake the race. Its best achievements always fall far short of perfection and are always doomed to futility, for it lives in a world in which the most important factor, the Creator, is either unknown or omitted. Without God there is neither meaning, goal, refuge, nor hope. The only hope is that, while God does not withhold the terrible effects of the fall, neither does He cease to be our God. In and with the condemnation He also intimates the promise (Gen. 3:15). But this promise in no way alters the terrible consequences of human alienation from God to which we are necessarily self-subjected as sinners.

One's Neighbors
The naive but profound observation in Gen. 3:7 indicates that the relation between people is disturbed as well as the relation between people and God. It is so in its most elementary and basic form as the relation between man and woman. To some degree this was disrupted in the very act of the fall, when Eve took an initiative that properly belonged to Adam and when Adam accepted this inversion. But with the fall the possibility of a happy and harmonious fulfillment of the sexual relation was lost, and the way was thus opened for all the dreadful possibilities of sexual perversion, mistreatment, and misery. Nor did the mischief stop there, for the family was quickly affected as well as marriage. The stories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, and Absalom and his half-brother all testify to the destructive effects of sin. The strife of families broadened out into the strife between families, into the inner tensions of tribes and nations, into the inner conflict of the whole human family in the forms of disastrous rivalries, quarrels, and even open wars between classes, nations, and races. The problems with which the modern world is so familiar and which are obviously beyond human solution -- divorce, disrupted homes, juvenile delinquency, trouble between labor and management, racial oppression and racial violence, ideological conflict, economic pressure, and international tension and cleavage -- are all the manifest outworking and consequence of human sin.

Nor are people exempt from sin in their inner psychological life. Even if they could achieve self-isolation, which is itself a perversion, they would not escape the effects of sin. For they are people in contradiction. They are people of shame, fear, guilt, illusion. They are people of generous impulse and mean fulfillment, of idealism and cynicism, of intermingled good and evil. They do not really know themselves, flee no less from self than from God, and try to make this unknown self the center of life in place of God. Even as we seek self-fulfillment, we destroy all possibility of it. We present the puzzling aspect of half-angel on the one side, half-demon on the other. We can find hell even in our greatest achievements. We can set out with the noblest aims and finish in the vilest gutter. Our minds are capable of the highest flights and the most monstrous perversions; our bodies are apt for the most superb attainments and yet also for the loathsome ravages of debauchery and disease. The effect of sin on a person is to make him or her a riddle, a paradox, a good thing perverted, a bundle of inconsistencies, a problem to self as well as to others, a creature that has missed its high and holy destiny, self-condemned, self-disrupted, and self-destroying.

The World
The relation of people to their world is also perverted by sin. This, too, is apparent at the outset, for the garden yields to a place of thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18), and the friendly beasts of Gen. 2 quickly become enemies to be resisted or hunted (cf. esp Gen. 9:2f.). In fact, the whole beautiful and kindly cosmos of God's creating becomes a hostile world whose dangers are to be warded off and whose riches are to be selfishly exploited, so that "the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now" (Rom. 8:22), awaiting the day of its deliverance (cf. Isa. 11:1–9; Rev. 22, the new heaven and the new earth). Beings who were created to exercise wise and beneficent dominion as the vicegerents of God, are now at odds with their environment. Space is a threat, and time an insoluble and apparently meaningless mystery. The harmony of the first days in Eden is only a fading memory. Within the divine limits earth is also a sufferer. The law of the jungle prevails among beasts. A note of sadness rings through the very music of the birds. The good earth is devastated, the waters are fouled, and the air of the heaven is polluted.

There has, of course, been good as well as evil. People have achieved some measure of working harmony with nature to create noble forests, fruitful fields, and beautiful gardens and to establish rapport with at least some animals and birds. But by and large the effect of the race on nature is one of the sorriest aspects of the human story, which the advance of civilization and technology has in no way mitigated. The pathos, indeed the tragedy of it all, is the more starkly revealed against the background of the wonderfully rich possibilities of the world if only humanity had taken the path of service instead of the path of sin. [ref]

In this life God does not expect us to be sinless, but he does expect us to sin less. - AC21DOJ



The Language of Sin
"The Bible uses many terms to denote sin. Some focus on its causes, others on its nature, and still others on its consequences, although these categories may not always be clear-cut." [ref]

In the final analysis, sin can be thought of as "'any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state.' Sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being." [ref] The essence of sin is a "failure to let God be God. It is placing something else, anything else, in the supreme place which is his. Thus, choosing oneself rather than God is not wrong because self is chosen, but because something other than God is chosen. Choosing any finite object over God is wrong, no matter how selfless such an act might be." [ref]


Old Testament: Pentateuch

Sin is action and attitude in opposition to God and his purposes. In the worldview represented in the Pentateuch, God is characterized by power, holiness and concern for the good for human beings. God's purposes are purposes of shalom; the Pentateuch, however, chronicles human actions contrary to God's intentions. Sin is the violation of God's will and righteousness. It is disloyalty, disobedience, the breaching of a harmonious and just relationship with God, others, self and nature.

Sin is first against God and not, as in the ancient Near East and as often understood in the modern world, against a set of social taboos. ...

[O]ne may observe sin in two dimensions. First and quite obvious, sin is disobedience to the express command of God (i.e., not to eat of the tree; not to make images). Those who sin defy set boundaries. Humans are made in the image of God but chafe at the boundaries this sets for them and want to be more than or "other than." They overreach ...

A second dimension of sinful behavior, even more fundamental than commandment breaking, consists in affronting a personal God ... [via] ingratitude, suspicion of God's capacity to deliver and basic distrust. Sin is indeed tied to law, but it is more closely tied with the lawgiver. Sinful actions at their core represent rebellion against God ... Sin is an offense against God's lordship. "Sin is the revolt of the human will against the divine will" (Koehler, 170). Unbelief is sometimes said to be the root of sin, but D. Doriani pointedly remarks that sin is a "relationship of opposition.… [Sin] has no program, no thesis; it only has an antithesis, an opposition" (Doriani, 738–39).

In the Pentateuch penalty and punishment are not the last words. There is a divinely appointed solution to the human predicament of sin. Following the calf-idol incident, [for example,] Moses becomes the intermediary asking that God relent and not take extreme measures of punishment (Ex 32:14). Intercession, like sacrifice later, bridges the distance brought on by sin. God's readiness to forgive is emphasized in the doxology of forgiveness (Ex 34:6–7; cf. Moberly 1983). God's provision of forgiveness through sacrifice is elaborated in Leviticus. Atonement arrests the consequences sin brings (Num 16:46). The outworking of the solution to the human predicament of sin is the subject of salvation history, which culminates in Jesus and his redemptive act of atonement. [ref]

Old Testament: Historical Books

An exploration of the biblical concept of sin needs to do justice to three interwoven strands: words, metaphors, narrative. The appearance of one or more terms from the rich vocabulary for "sin" is a clear indication of behavior that is contrary to God's will. Sin often is portrayed metaphorically through reference to common experiences. However, particularly in the Historical Books the primary portrayal of sinful behavior is through the narration of events. Unlike the prophets, the biblical storytellers generally are sparing in their explicit ethical and religious judgments. They prefer to show rather than tell, setting out scene by scene the disastrous effects of sin on individuals, tribes and nations. It is a challenging interpretive task to trace the complex web of influences, motivations and consequences of sinful behavior.

The OT takes sin with utmost seriousness, for the Lord is holy and righteous and calls both humanity and Israel to account. At every level, the consistent pattern is failure, mostly (though not always) through deliberate sinful actions. The normal result of sin is divine judgment, ultimately resulting in death for individuals and families and in exile for the nation. Yet because of God's mercy and long-suffering, there is a space between sin and judgment that opens up other possibilities. The Lord sends prophets to his people, summoning them to repentance, which alone can bring forgiveness and restoration, although the consequences of sin cannot be completely undone. Despite deepening and recurring sin, the Historical Books refuse to succumb to despair, indicating that Israel should continue to hope in God, who one day will finally deal with sin. [ref]

Old Testament: Prophets

One key dimension of the role of the prophet was to confront the people of Israel and the nations of the world with their sin, and so it is not surprising that the theme of sin dominates the prophetic corpus. This dominance can be demonstrated by the ubiquity and breadth of vocabulary and images related to sin in the Prophetic Books and the development of the theme of sin throughout the individual Prophetic Books. Sin is here defined as a violation in thought, word or deed against another party (divine, human, creation) that breaks a divinely ordered norm (Boda, 11).

The opening chapter of Isaiah reveals the propensity of the community to deal with their sin through attention to cultic activity (cf. Hos 8:11–13). This key chapter lays out the two fundamental agendas within the prophets for dealing with sin. Isaiah 1:2–20 showcases the prophet confronting the people with their sin (Is 1:2–15) and calling them to *repent from their evil behavior (Is 1:16–17) so that they may avoid divine punishment and enjoy God's blessing (Is 1:18–20). In contrast, Isaiah 1:21–31 reveals Yahweh's plan to purify the people by turning his hand against them (Is 1:25). The outcome in both cases is a purified people who walk in obedience to Yahweh, but the process by which this is accomplished is radically different. These two agendas can be discerned throughout the Prophetic Books, evidence of God's passionate pursuit of a holy community. However, the Prophetic Books also highlight the ultimate failure of these two agendas, as the penitential cries of the prophets largely fall on deaf (or deafened) ears, and even a community purified through discipline falls back into sin (Is 40–66; Zech 7–14; Mal).

Nevertheless, there is another agenda for dealing with sin in the Prophets, especially evident in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In these two books, tracing the prophetic word spoken into the community that experienced the annihilation of the kingdom of Judah, one can discern a similar development near the end of the two books (possibly also Is 59:20–21 in Isaiah and Zech 12:10–14 in the Book of the Twelve). Whereas the agendas of repentance and purification are clearly developed in both books, both provide a vision of renewal that shifts from human response to a divine gracious and transformative initiative. This vision of renewal looks to a unilateral gracious initiative of Yahweh to forgive his people and grant them an inner renewal that would enable them to avoid sin and walk faithfully before God and humanity (Jer 24:6–7; 31:33–34; 32:37–44; Ezek 11:19; 36:26–27; 37:14; 39:26). [ref]

There is something in man -- even regenerate man -- which objects to God and seeks to be independent of him. - F. F. Bruce [ref]


Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings
This part of the OT offers many valuable lessons regarding sin. To note but a few:

  • For the psalmist, the ultimate protection is God, in whom alone one finds salvation and deliverance (Ps 18:2; 71:3; 144:2) and steadfast love (Ps 59:17). The presence of the Lord is like an impenetrable stronghold (Ps 46:7, 11), which his people experienced historically (1 Kings 18–20; cf. Is 36–38). This mighty fortress, however, ceases to protect the people when they sin against their rock of refuge (Lam 2:5, 7).

  • Commentators have noted the environmental implications of [the] motif of creation's praise of God. When humanity damages the earth and its inhabitants, the earth's ability to praise is diminished. A polluted river cannot praise God with full voice. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19:1), but not as clearly when they are clouded with smog. In other words, the sin of environmental degradation is sin not only because it endangers or damages the lives of human beings but also because it diminishes creation's ability to praise its Creator. The psalmist writes of the day of judgment, "Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the LORD, for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth" (Ps 96:12–13a). For the fields, the sea, the forests and all the creatures that inhabit them, the fact that God is coming to judge the earth is very good news indeed. In that day sin, with its pollution and defilement, will be wiped away, and the creation will at last be able to be what it was created to be: a witness to God's glory, singing with full and clear voice in praise of its Creator.

  • [A]lthough Job is found innocent of wickedness and disloyalty to God in the concluding narrative and then is restored to his former prominence with the gift of new children, he is required to give a sin offering on behalf of his friends, who became his enemies in the course of the dialogues, in order for them to be forgiven for not "speaking correctly" about Yahweh (Job 42:8–10).

  • The psalms do not present David as one who can do no wrong, and they do not hide his shortcoming and sins. David is portrayed as being aware of his sins and his need to confess them. The psalmist often refers to "my sin" (Ps 32:5; 38:3, 18; 51:2, 3) and "my iniquity" (Ps 31:10; 32:5; 51:2) and acknowledges, "I have sinned" (Ps 41:4; 51:4), even when he has to confess to committing murder (Ps 51:14). The sins committed against God and his neighbors produce in David's heart a need for confession (Ps 32:5; 38:18), restoration (Ps 51:12; 60:1), healing (Ps 6:2; 41:4; 147:3) and forgiveness (Ps 25:18; 86:5; 103:3). David is confident in Yahweh's mercy and grace and knows that only God can repair their damaged relationship (Ps 23:6; 25:6; 28:2, 6; 30:8; 31:22; 40:11; 51:1; 55:1; 69:16; 86:6; 103:4; 140:6; 142:1; 143:1; 145:9). David realizes that character, not competence, is the main ingredient for a representative of Yahweh on the throne of Israel.

  • The Esther story is another episode of the ancient war between Israel and the Amalekites, and by every indication it looks like Israel will be destroyed. They have no king, no army, no prophet, no land, no temple, no priesthood and no sacrifices. They are but a small minority living at the mercy of a ruthless and powerful pagan monarchy. The reversal that dethrones Haman and empowers Mordecai shows that despite their sin and despite their location away from Jerusalem, God's promise to Israel made at the beginning of their nation still stood.

  • The Writings ... function as resources for a community living through tough times. How is it to survive? Continue to worship Yahweh, cast itself on Yahweh, own its sinfulness, and trust Yahweh (Psalms, Lamentations).

  • Throughout Proverbs the title fool is itself a term of reproach and disgrace, and thus the construction of the "fool" creates a paradigm for nonimitation throughout Proverbs, whereas the "wise person" presents a paradigm for emulation ... In addition to the "fool," the "sinner" is also particularly held up as a model not to be emulated, and the author is keenly aware that the visible success that the less Torah-observant enjoy could be a strong incentive to follow their example (Prov 23:17; 24:1–2, 19). The "sinner," who does not live in the "fear of the Lord," often even receives praise on account of his or her attainment of desirable goods, which can be very misleading to other honor-seeking people (Prov 28:4).

  • The imagery of imprisonment may portray sin and its consequences: a person's own sins play the role of an arresting officer ("His own iniquities will capture the wicked" [Prov 5:22]) or the binding ropes that immobilize the prisoner ("He will be held with the cords of his sin" [Prov 5:22]). Sinners can expect to find a fate associated with imprisonment in some fashion (Eccles 7:26). The imagery of imprisonment also describes a man deceived by a woman who exploits him for her own purposes. Such a woman plays the role of an arresting officer who seizes the man, her heart being the "snares and nets" that capture him, and her hands being the "chains" that keep him confined once he is captured (Eccles 7:26).

  • At a time when the cultic worship that they had known was no more, Lamentations gives the Jews a means in which to cry out to Yahweh for help and express hope that he would yet have compassion on them (Lam 3:21–26, 31–32). It encourages its readers to examine their ways, confess their sin and rebellion, and return to the Lord (Lam 3:40–42). In this way, it witnesses that worship should not be simply equated with praise and joy. There are times for God's people to approach him in a somber mood, singing songs in a minor key as they acknowledge their sin or face desperate economic or political situations. [ref]

It is one thing for sin to live in us; it is another for us to live in sin. - John Murray [ref]


New Testament: Jesus
From the perspective of Israel's religious leaders, a sinner was anyone who did not follow the Law as interpreted and applied by them. [ref] While "Pharisees might not necessarily object to the restoration and repentance of sinners ... they themselves ordinarily would be unwilling to undertake such a venture at risk of being morally and ceremonially contaminated, and they still would have reservations about the status of a reformed Jew with a history of wickedness." [ref]

The religious leaders opposed Jesus because he both ignored their rules and regulations and encouraged others to do likewise. While from their point of view this is what made someone a sinner, "[f]rom the standpoint of Jesus, a person was a sinner as long as he or she remained opposed to the will of God. Once a person accepted the offer of forgiveness and made a commitment of faith to follow Jesus, he or she became a disciple of Jesus. Jesus' offer of salvation to sinners apart from factional observance was a threat to the very foundation and way of life of sectarian Jews, yet it was at the heart of the gospel he came announcing." [ref]

"Jesus modeled before the people, who also could grumble against his openness to sinners, what the compassion of God looks like in action. Ultimately, the kingdom is a matter of mercy rather than the enforcement of conventionally approved boundaries. For Jesus, covenant loyalty is defined by response to his message of God's kingdom. As such, whenever and whoever responds appropriately will be assured of a place in God's kingdom in the final assize." [ref]

New Testament: Jesus' Sinlessness

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." - 1 Peter 2:22

The New Testament insists that Jesus was entirely free from sin (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). This means not only that he never disobeyed his Father but that he loved God's law and found wholehearted joy in keeping it. In fallen human beings, there is always some reluctance to obey God, and sometimes resentment amounting to hatred at the claims he makes on us (Rom. 8:7). But Jesus' moral nature was unfallen, as was Adam's prior to his sin, and in Jesus there was no prior inclination away from God for Satan to play on, as there is in us. Jesus loved his Father and his Father's will with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was ''tempted in every way, just as we are,'' though without sinning. This means that every type of temptation that we face -- temptations to wrongfully indulge natural desires of body and mind, to evade moral and spiritual issues, to cut moral corners and take easy ways out, to be less than fully loving and sympathetic and creatively kind to others, to become self-protective and self-pitying, and so on -- came upon him, but he yielded to none of them. Overwhelming opposition did not overwhelm him, and through the agony of Gethsemane and the cross he fought temptation and resisted sin to the point where his blood was shed. Christians must learn from him to do likewise (Heb. 12:3–13; Luke 14:25–33).

Jesus' sinlessness was necessary for our salvation. Had he not been ''a lamb without blemish or defect'' his blood would not have been ''precious'' (1 Pet. 1:19). He would have needed a savior himself, and his death would not have redeemed us. His active obedience (perfect lifelong conformity to God's law for mankind, and to his revealed will for the Messiah) qualified Jesus to become our Savior by dying for us on the cross. Jesus' passive obedience (enduring the penalty of God's broken law as our sinless substitute) crowned his active obedience to secure the pardon and acceptance of those who put their faith in him (Rom. 5:18–19; 2 Cor. 5:18–21; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 10:5–10). [ref]

New Testament: Paul

[Paul] makes very little use of the "guilt" terminology in the psychological sense, but it may fairly be said that many of the things he says about sin include the thought that sinners are guilty people. After all, to commit a sin is to be guilty of that sin. While it cannot be said that Paul has a morbid preoccupation with sin, it can be pointed out that he recognizes that the evil that people do is a barrier to fellowship with God and that unless some way is found of dealing with the problem of sin, all people as sinners face a time of moral accountability (Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10). But with this we must also say that Paul's prevailing attitude is not one of unrelieved gloom and pessimism. Rather, he continually rejoices that in Christ sin has been defeated so that the believer has nothing to fear in this world or the next.

Paul does not define sin, but clearly he does not see it as primarily an offense against other people; for him sin is primarily an offense against God (cf. Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 8:12). The disruption of a right relationship with God has its results in hindering right relationships with people, but it is the offense against God that is primary. [ref]

New Testament: Later Writings
"Sin and wickedness are concepts frequently mentioned in [the later] NT writings and in the works of the apostolic fathers ... Sin and wickedness are condemned as inappropriate and even law-breaking behavior in relation to one's fellow humans and God. Often sin and wickedness are contrasted with positive qualities, such as goodness and love. This dualism is in keeping with the hortatory moral and paraenetic nature of much of this writing. The results of sin and wickedness are the severing of human and divine relationships and consequent punishment, including final judgment and condemnation." [ref]

According to Jesus, it is the restoration of sinners through repentance, rather than the exclusion of sinners from communal life, that is God's intended purpose for sinners. - M. F. Bird [ref]


The Fall: The First Human Couple Sinned

"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." - Genesis 3:6

Paul, in Romans, affirms that all mankind is naturally under the guilt and power of sin, the reign of death, and the inescapable wrath of God (Rom. 3:9, 19; 5:17, 21; 1:18–19; cf. the whole section, Rom. 1:18–3:20). He traces this back to the sin of the one man whom, when speaking at Athens, he described as our common ancestor (Rom. 5:12–14; Acts 17:26; cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). This is authoritative apostolic interpretation of the history recorded in Genesis 3, where we find the account of the Fall, the original human lapse from God and godliness into sin and lostness. The main points in that history, as seen through the lens of Paul's interpretation, are as follows:

(a) God made the first man the representative for all his posterity, just as he was to make Jesus Christ the representative for all God's elect (Rom. 5:15–19; 8:29–30; 9:22–26). In each case the representative was to involve those whom he represented in the fruits of his personal action, whether for good or ill, just as a national leader involves his people in the consequences of his action when, for instance, he declares war. This divinely chosen arrangement, whereby Adam would determine the destiny of his descendants, has been called the covenant of works, though this is not a biblical phrase.

(b) God set the first man in a state of happiness and promised to continue this to him and his posterity after him if he showed fidelity by a course of perfect positive obedience and specifically by not eating from a tree described as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that the tree bore this name because the issue was whether Adam would let God tell him what was good and bad for him or would seek to decide that for himself, in disregard of what God had said. By eating from this tree Adam would, in effect, be claiming that he could know and decide what was good and evil for him without any reference to God.

(c) Adam, led by Eve, who was herself led by the serpent (Satan in disguise: 2 Cor. 11:3; 14; Rev. 12:9), defied God by eating the forbidden fruit. The results were that, first, the anti-God, self-aggrandizing mindset expressed in Adam's sin became part of him and of the moral nature that he passed on to his descendants (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:9–20). Second, Adam and Eve found themselves gripped by a sense of pollution and guilt that made them ashamed and fearful before God -- with good reason. Third, they were cursed with expectations of pain and death, and they were expelled from Eden. At the same time, however, God began to show them saving mercy; he made them skin garments to cover their nakedness, and he promised that the woman's seed would one day break the serpent's head. This foreshadowed Christ.

Though telling the story in a somewhat figurative style, Genesis asks us to read it as history; in Genesis, Adam is linked to the patriarchs and with them to the rest of mankind by genealogy (Gen. 5; Gen. 10; Gen. 11), which makes him as much a part of space-time history as were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All the book's main characters after Adam, except Joseph, are shown as sinners in one way or another, and the death of Joseph, like the death of almost everyone else in the story, is carefully recorded (Gen. 50:22–26); Paul's statement ''In Adam all die'' (1 Cor. 15:22) only makes explicit what Genesis already clearly implies.

It may fairly be claimed that the Fall narrative gives the only convincing explanation of the perversity of human nature that the world has ever seen. Pascal said that the doctrine of original sin seems an offense to reason, but once accepted it makes total sense of the entire human condition. He was right, and the same thing may and should be said of the Fall narrative itself. [ref]

A man can no more extract blessedness out of sin than he can suck health out of poison. - Thomas Watson [ref]


Original Sin: Depravity Infects Everyone

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." - Psalm 51:5

Scripture diagnoses sin as a universal deformity of human nature, found at every point in every person (1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:9–23; 7:18; 1 John 1:8–10). Both Testaments have names for it that display its ethical character as rebellion against God's rule, missing the mark God set us to aim at, transgressing God's law, disobeying God's directives, offending God's purity by defiling oneself, and incurring guilt before God the Judge. This moral deformity is dynamic: sin stands revealed as an energy of irrational, negative, and rebellious reaction to God's call and command, a spirit of fighting God in order to play God. The root of sin is pride and enmity against God, the spirit seen in Adam's first transgression; and sinful acts always have behind them thoughts, motives, and desires that one way or another express the willful opposition of the fallen heart to God's claims on our lives.

Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence. Scriptures that illustrate different aspects of sin include Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 12:30–37; Mark 7:20–23; Romans 1:18–3:20; 7:7–25; 8:5–8; 14:23 (Luther said that Paul wrote Romans to ''magnify sin''); Galatians 5:16–21; Ephesians 2:1–3; 4:17–19; Hebrews 3:12; James 2:10–11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17. Flesh in Paul usually means a human being driven by sinful desire; the NIV renders these instances of the word as ''sinful nature.'' The particular faults and vices (i.e., forms and expression of sin) that Scripture detects and denounces are too numerous to list here.

Original sin, meaning sin derived from our origin, is not a biblical phrase (Augustine coined it), but it is one that brings into fruitful focus the reality of sin in our spiritual system. The assertion of original sin means not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it (God made mankind upright, Eccles. 7:29), nor that sin is involved in the processes of reproduction and birth (the uncleanness connected with menstruation, semen, and childbirth in Leviticus 12 and 15 was typical and ceremonial only, not moral and real), but that (a) sinfulness marks everyone from birth, and is there in the form of a motivationally twisted heart, prior to any actual sins; (b) this inner sinfulness is the root and source of all actual sins; (c) it derives to us in a real though mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God. The assertion of original sin makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin.

The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God's eyes. We cannot earn God's favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.

Total depravity entails total inability, that is, the state of not having it in oneself to respond to God and his Word in a sincere and wholehearted way (John 6:44; Rom. 8:7–8). Paul calls this unresponsiveness of the fallen heart a state of death (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13), and the Westminster Confession says: ''Man by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto'' (IX. 3). [ref]

A little sin will add to your trouble, subtract from your energy, and multiply your difficulties. - Anonymous [ref]


The Imagery of Sin [ref]

The Bible is nearly as full of sin as it is of grace. Scripture records the sordid details of everything from petty embezzlement (Acts 5:1–11) to child sacrifice (Jer 7:31), from verbal abuse (2 Sam 16:5–14) to homicidal rape (Judg 19). The staggering variety of sin in the Bible reflects the totality of human depravity, confirming the verdict that "if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone" (Jn 8:7 NIV).

Sin is exemplified and personified already in the opening pages of the Bible. The fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3) is sin exemplified. Eating the forbidden fruit -- indicative as it is of such varied sins as grasping after deity, mistrust of divine providence, disobedience of the word of God and subsequent shaming and blaming -- is the paradigmatic sin. In the very next story, that of Cain and Abel, sin takes on palpable form as it is personified: God warns Cain, "If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door" (Gen 4:7 NIV). Sin is the stalker behind the door who casts a long, dark shadow over the rest of human history. Other translations picture sin as "couching" at the door like a predatory monster that through long habitude has become domesticated (cf. Rom 7:9). The subsequent history of Genesis is replete with evidence that the stalker has no shortage of victims; these include the entire human race -- of which God says that "every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Gen 6:5 NIV) -- the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) and the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). And these are only the opening chapters in the book of human sinfulness that constitutes a large part of the Bible.

The rich biblical vocabulary for sin has its origin in metaphor (as does a great deal of language). The most prominent terms in the OT all appear in Exodus 34:7: "wickedness, rebellion and sin" (NIV). [Imagery here includes] the idea of bending or twisting ... transgression, or breaking the law ... missing the mark or straying from the path. [NT imagery for sin includes] missing the mark in archery ... falling down or losing one's way ... walking away from the right path or overstepping a proper boundary ...

What is sin like? It is often described as a form of tyranny or bondage. ... Sin is like falling down or turning away from a good path. ... Sin is costly and unsightly. ... Sin is deadly. ...

Although the Bible is saturated with images that portray the pervasiveness of sin, it also offers a complete remedy for sin. In order to put sin to death once and for all, Jesus Christ became sin personified on the cross: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21 NIV). Jesus put Cain's stalker to death by paying the price for sin ...

[Jesus' victory over sin is captured in such images as his death and resurrection ... his blood ... and a covering.]

Sin and its synonyms appear in many other memorable phrases in the Bible. While these phrases are not images in the strictest sense of the word, their evocative nature has transformed them into symbolic emblems:

  • "the sin of the fathers" (e.g. Ex 20:5 NIV);
  • "your sin will find you out" (Num 32:23 NIV);
  • "the sins of my youth" (Job 13:26 NIV; Ps 25:7);
  • "if your right eye causes you to sin" (Mt 5:29 NIV);
  • "forgive us our debts" (Mt 6:12 NIV);
  • "the unpardonable sin" (Mk 3:29 KJV);
  • "your sins are forgiven!" (Lk 7:48 NIV);
  • "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29 NIV);
  • "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23 NIV);
  • "where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom 5:20 NIV);
  • "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor 15:3 NIV);
  • "enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb 11:25 KJV);
  • "if we claim to be without sin" (1 Jn 1:8 NIV);
  • "if we confess our sins" (1 Jn 1:9 NIV).
  • Most memorable of all, "he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:5–6 NIV).

[S]in is in fact defeated. Its presence and action in the Christian are only the death throes of a mortally wounded foe. - G. W. Bromiley [ref]


The Seven Deadly Sins

Evagrius's original list of eight evil thoughts (logismoi) -- thoughts with which demons tempt us -- became in John Cassian the eight principal faults -- universal human tendencies from which sins result. Gregory the Great modified Cassian's list and enumerated the "seven principal vices," placing pride in a category by itself as the root of all sins, adding envy, and merging spiritual lethargy (accidia) with sadness (tristitia) into the single vice of sloth. These became our present-day list of the "seven deadly sins": gluttony, lust, greed[/covetousness], envy, anger, sloth, and vainglory[/pride].

As Thomas makes clear in the Summa, these are capital or chief or cardinal sins, but they are not necessarily always deadly sins. Each is a cardinal sin in part because it is the parent of "daughter" sins, but a capital sin becomes mortal when it opposes the love and grace of God in the sinner's life.
The order in which these sins are discussed reflects the fact that they are interconnected. For example, Cassian groups the vices in pairs; they form alliances against us, such as gluttony and lust, which are often found together. Anger is often the bedfellow of envy. Evagrius called for careful observation, description, and analysis of the precise nature of our thoughts in order for this knowledge to work to our advantage as we work with or against them and strange spirits. Some passages in the Praktikos even contain insights that it has taken our contemporaries decades to rediscover and record in psychological literature.

The first two, gluttony and lust, involve the body and the soul; they are the carnal sins. They are the first to be conquered, and along with greed, they belong to the concupiscible part of our existence. Anger is the first on the irascible list, which also includes sloth (tristitia and accidia); envy might also be here. Finally, vainglory and pride belong to the third category of principal thoughts -- the rational (logikon). Some suggest the loss of tristitia as a distinctive is regrettable, as "despair" (different from laziness) is a common postmodern malady that undermines one's struggle against all others.

Specifically, in ascetic theology, gluttony is the first to be faced in the battle schema. Cassian compares our battle against these sins to Olympic and Pythian games with their qualifying heats; one who cannot conquer gluttony that has to do with the body will not be victorious in the contests against more insidious enemies that attack us in the spiritual arena.

Careful study of the "deadly sins" tradition is important in light of Thomas Oden's analysis showing that the roots of contemporary Christian psychology include Rogers, Jung, Freud, Maslow, Skinner, and Satir. Keeping in mind that roots determine fruits, concern over the neglect of centuries of Christian wisdom is apropos, particularly if the ascetic theologians and monastics cited in this article provide the church with a psychology that is not only specifically Christian in its orientation, but relevant to modern people if taken seriously. Quite often the classic analyses of the passions or deadly sins provide descriptions, etiology, and remedies that have since been borne out by the empirical observations of contemporary psychology. [ref]

Those who go against the grain of God's laws shouldn't complain when they get splinters. - Anonymous [ref]


Overcoming Sin

Christian faith teaches that sin cannot be overcome through human ingenuity or effort. The solution to the problem lies in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The penalty for sin is death, judgment, and hell, but the gospel is that God has chosen to pay this penalty himself in the sacrificial life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:16-17; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:21-26; 5:6-10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Col. 2:13-15).

Through his atoning sacrifice on Calvary, Christ set humankind free by taking the retribution of sin upon himself. He suffered the agony and shame that we deserve to suffer because of our sin. He thereby satisfied the just requirements of the law of God and at the same time turned away the wrath of God from fallen humankind. His sacrifice was both an expiation of our guilt and a propitiation of the wrath of God. It also signifies the justification of sinners in the sight of God in that Christ's righteousness is imputed to those who have faith. Likewise, it represents the sanctification of sinners by virtue of their being engrafted into the body of Christ through faith. The cross and resurrection of Christ also accomplish the redemption of sinners, because they have been brought back out of the slavery of sin into the new life of freedom.

Humankind is objectively delivered through the cross and resurrection victory of Christ over the powers of sin, death, and the devil; but this deliverance does not make contact with the sinner until the gift of the Holy Spirit in the awakening to faith. The outpouring of the Spirit completes the salvific activity of Christ. His atoning work is finished, but the fruits of his redemption need to be applied to the people of God by the Spirit if they are to be saved de facto as well as de jure. It is through regeneration by the Spirit, the imparting of faith and love, that the sinner is set free from bondage to sin and enabled to achieve victory over sin in everyday life.

Reformation theology insists that Christ saves us, not only from the power of sin, but also from its dire consequence -- eternal death. We are given both immortality and the remission of sins. Christians do not suffer further penalties for sins committed after baptism and conversion, for the punishment for sin has already been borne by Christ. Christians have been delivered from the guilt of sin, but they still suffer the interior pain of guilt or feelings of guilt insofar as they continue to sin while in the state of grace. The remedy lies, not in acts of penance prescribed by the church, but in the act of repentance by which we claim again the assurance of forgiveness promised in the gospel. The suffering that accompanies the sin of the Christian is to be understood not as a penalty for sin but as a sting that reminds us of our deliverance from sin and also as a spur that challenges us to persevere and overcome. [ref]

[T]he chief manifestations of sin are pride, sensuality, and fear. Other significant aspects of sin are self-pity, selfishness, jealousy, and greed. - D. G. Bloesch [ref]



There is a deep connection between our understanding of sin and our understanding of everyone and everything else.

The doctrine of SIN is both extremely important and much disputed. It is important because it affects and is also affected by many other areas of doctrine. Our view of the nature of God influences our understanding of SIN. If God is a very high, pure, and exacting being who expects all humans to be as he is, then the slightest deviation from his lofty standard is SIN and the human condition is very serious. If, on the other hand, God is himself rather imperfect, or if he is an indulgent, grandfatherly type of being and perhaps a bit senile so that he is unaware of much that is going on, then the human condition is not so serious. Thus, in a real sense, our doctrine of SIN will reflect our doctrine of God.

Our understanding of humanity also bears on our understanding of SIN. If intended to reflect the nature of God, a human is to be judged not by comparison with other humans, but by conformity to the divine standard. Any failure to meet that standard is SIN. If humans are free beings, that is, not simply determined by forces of nature, then they are responsible for their actions, and their shortcomings will be graded more severely than if some determining force controls or severely limits the capability of choosing and doing.

Our doctrine of salvation will be strongly influenced by our understanding of SIN. For if a human is basically good with intellectual and moral capabilities essentially intact, then any problems with respect to his or her standing before God will be relatively minor. Any difficulty may be merely a matter of ignorance, a lack of knowledge as to what to do or how to do it. In that event, education will solve the problem; a good model or example may be all that is needed. On the other hand, if humans are corrupt or rebellious, and thus either unable or unwilling to do what is right, a more radical transformation of the person will be needed. Thus, the more severe our conception of SIN, the more supernatural the salvation needed.

One's understanding of SIN is also important because it has a marked effect upon one's view of the nature and style of one's ministry. If humans are considered basically good and inclined to do what God desires and intends for them, the message and thrust of ministry will be positive and affirmative, encouraging persons to do their best, to continue in their present direction. If, on the other hand, persons are viewed as radically SINFUL, then they will be told to repent and be born again. In the former case, appeals to fairness, kindness, and generosity will be thought to be sufficient; in the latter case, anyone who has not been converted will be regarded as basically selfish and even dishonest.

Our approach to the problems of society will also be governed by our view of SIN. On the one hand, if we feel that humanity is basically good or, at worst, morally neutral, we will view the problems of society as stemming from an unwholesome environment. Alter the environment, and changes in individual humans and their behavior will follow. If, on the other hand, the problems of society are rooted in radically perverted human minds and wills, then the nature of those individuals will have to be altered, or they will continue to infect the whole. [ref]

Sin is both universal and pervasive.

No individual human being is free from SIN (except Christ; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), and no human behavior or action is free from the effects of SIN.

The universality of SIN is derived as a sober conclusion from examination of human life (Prov. 20:6, 9; Eccl. 7:20), including observation ascribed to God himself (Gen. 6:5; Ps. 14:2–3) and to Christ (Matt. 7:11). This human condition is regarded to begin with the birth of each individual (Ps. 51:5; cf. Gen. 8:21). Job 15:14 suggests that it is impossible for a person not to SIN. Paul and the author of 1 John regard the universality of SIN as a fundamental factor in the understanding of God's redemption of mankind in Christ (Rom. 3:23 [cf. Rom. 3:10–20]; 1 John 1:8–2:2).

The pervasive effects of SIN on human behavior make it such that even acts intended to be righteous are affected by SIN (Isa. 64:6). Even persons who keep all of God's commandments are no more than "unworthy servants" (Luke 17:10) because of the presence of SIN. Underlying this inability of humanity at its best to be free from SIN is the possibility of human self-deception (Jer. 17:9). [ref]

"In the biblical perspective, sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God." "For the great prophets of Israel, SIN is much more than the violation of a taboo or the transgression of an external ordinance. It signifies the rupture of a personal relationship with God, a betrayal of the trust he places in us. We become most aware of our SINFULNESS in the presence of the holy God (cf. Ps. 51:1-9; Isa. 6:5; Luke 5:8). SINFUL acts have their origin in a corrupt heart (Gen. 6:5; Isa. 29:13; Jer. 17:9). For Paul, SIN (hamartia) is not just a conscious transgression of the law but a debilitating ongoing state of enmity with God. In Paul's theology, SIN almost becomes personalized. It can be thought of as a malignant, personal power that holds humanity in its grasp." [ref]

The core of sin is unbelief, including hardness of heart.

In Reformed theology, the core of SIN is unbelief. This has firm biblical support: in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve trust the word of the serpent over the word of God; in the Gospels where Jesus Christ is rejected by the leaders of the Jews; in Acts 7, where Stephen is martyred at the hands of an unruly crowd; and in John 20:24-25, where Thomas arrogantly dismisses the resurrection of Jesus.

Hardness of heart, which is closely related to unbelief (Mark 16:14; Rom. 2:5), likewise belongs to the essence of SIN. It means refusing to repent and believe in the promises of God (Ps. 95:8; Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7). It connotes both stubborn unwillingness to open ourselves to the love of God (2 Chron. 36:13; Eph. 4:18) and its corollary -- insensitivity to the needs of our neighbor (Deut. 15:7; Eph. 4:19). [ref]

"Sin is both personal and social, individual and collective." "Ezekiel declared: 'Now this was the SIN of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy' (Ezek. 16:49). According to the prophets, it is not only a few individuals that are infected by SIN but the whole nation (Isa. 1:4). Among the collective forms of SIN that cast a blight over the world today are racism, nationalism, imperialism, ageism, and sexism." [ref]

"[S]in is inherent in the human condition." "We are not simply born into a SINFUL world, but we are born with a propensity toward SIN. As the psalmist says, 'Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies' (Ps. 58:3; cf. 51:5). Church tradition speaks of original SIN, but this is intended to convey not a biological taint or physical deformity but a spiritual infection that in some mysterious way is transmitted through reproduction. SIN does not originate from human nature, but it corrupts this nature." [ref]

Sin originated as the abuse of God-given freedom.

The origin of SIN is indeed a mystery and is tied in with the problem of evil. The story of Adam and Eve does not really give us a rationally satisfactory explanation of either SIN or evil (this was not its intention), but it does throw light on the universal human predicament. It tells us that prior to human SIN there was demonic SIN, which provided the occasion for human transgression. Orthodox theology, both Catholic and Protestant, speaks of a fall of the angels prior to the fall of humanity, and this is attributed to the misuse or abuse of the divine gift of freedom. It is the general consensus among orthodox theologians that moral evil (SIN) sets the stage for physical evil (natural disaster), but exactly how the one causes the other will probably always remain a subject of human speculation. [ref]

The Gospel is the full answer to sin.

[T]he glory of the gospel is that in unmasking the full reality of SIN it is also in Jesus Christ the full answer to SIN. It is the answer in three ways. First, the SINLESS One, even in and through the most monstrous SIN of all, takes the curse of SIN to Himself and thereby lifts it from others. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree' " (Gal. 3:13). Second, by taking to Himself our human SIN and the death that is its penalty, Christ destroys SIN in His own body. "Sending his own Son in the likeness of SINFUL flesh and for SIN, he condemned SIN in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Under the gracious rule of God, the death that is the penalty of SIN is also the death whereby SIN is itself judged and destroyed, so that there is liberation, not merely from SIN'S penalty, but also from its power. Third, by dying and rising again for SINNERS, Christ enables all who believe in Him to die and to rise again in and with Him, i.e., to die to SIN and to rise again to righteousness. In this way, in the power of the crucified and risen Christ and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians are already able to win provisional victories over SIN that are a first installment of the final victory of their eternal life with God. As Paul puts it in Rom. 6:7, "He who has died is freed from SIN." To be dead in and with Christ is to be liberated from SIN'S bondage; to be raised in and with Him is to be liberated for a life of righteousness. "SIN will have no dominion over you" (Rom. 6:14). What the law would not do because SIN still retained its usurped claim and power, Jesus Christ is able to do because He has invalidated SIN'S claim, broken its tyranny, and destroyed its power. [ref]

"The answer to sin is for those who repent and believe."

Repentance is more than a feeling of regret and a mere desire for amendment (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9ff.). It is an open and unreserved acknowledgment of unworthiness, helplessness, and need, an abandonment of self and all its works, a committal to God with no sense of merit, right, or claim. True repentance arises out of the conviction of SIN, which is the office of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8). Faith is the accompanying turning to God in absolute confidence and trust, the reliance only upon His unmerited mercy demonstrated and fulfilled in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Faith thus arises out of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in His witness to Jesus Christ in all the wonderful reality of His person and work (Jn. 3:5; 16:14). Repentance and faith are not in any sense works that earn forgiveness of SIN. Nor are they arbitrary conditions upon whose fulfillment God bases the granting of the forgiveness and liberation effected in His Son. Rather, they are the divinely effected means, the response, by which individuals identify themselves with Christ in His death and resurrection and thus are released from SIN and restored to righteousness. [ref]

Sin pays -- but it pays in remorse, regret and failure. - Billy Graham [ref]


Here we touch on but a few of the Bible's many examples of sin (where some form of "sin" is used).

Cain (Genesis 4:7)

Yahweh then challenged Cain by setting before him two alternatives. First, if Cain would do what was right, would he not be accepted? As far as Yahweh was concerned, Cain needed to demonstrate greater devotion in his future offerings. Second, Yahweh alerted him to the danger of not doing what was right, saying that if he did not do what was right, sin was crouching at his door. While "lie or crouch" (rabats) usually has a restful connotation (Gen. 29:21; Ps. 23:2), it also describes the lurking of a wild animal poised to pounce on its prey. "At the door" means that sin was so close that Cain had to deal with it; its desire was for him. "Desire" or "urge" (teshuqah) means strong attraction or drive such as a woman feels for a man (Gen. 3:16). Cain needed to master this sin that impelled him to express his bitter feelings by attacking another. In this warning Yahweh offered Cain the hope that he could control this impulse to commit sin, even though it was strong. Should Cain act wrongfully, it would be because he yielded to the desire of sin, not because God had rejected his offering. [ref]

Israel (Exodus 20:20)

The words, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning," express a vital theological distinction. No other passage in Scripture places being afraid of God and fearing God in such obvious juxtaposition. They come from the same Hebrew verb. The "fear of the Lord" or "fear of God" is an essential characteristic of a person in right relation with God. "Fear of the Lord" is sometimes translated "reverence" or "respect." It is certainly not the same as "being afraid." The midwives were the first to "fear the Lord" (Exod. 1:17, 21). Pharaoh's officials who protected their servants when warned about the hailstorm feared the word of the Lord (Exod. 9:20). "Capable men" were those who were trustworthy and "feared the Lord" (Exod. 18:21).

This "fear of the Lord" includes an element of ultimate awe as well as trust in the One who inspires the awe. At the crossing of the sea, trust in the Lord and "fear of the Lord" are parallel in the summary statement: "when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him" (Exod. 14:31). Being afraid at the mountain was a natural response. Only trust in the Lord could begin to transform being "afraid" into "fear of the Lord." The stated goal, that they would be kept from "sinning," reveals that being afraid is not enough of a motivation. Sin is endemic enough that one must also trust the Lord who gives commandments as part of the "fear of the Lord." [ref]

Moses (on behalf of Israel) (Deuteronomy 9:25-29)

Resuming the narrative, Moses rehearsed the reason for the urgency of his intercessory prayer: that the Lord might not destroy Israel and thus abrogate the covenant he had made with them (Deut 9:25–26). To do so would be a violation of the promise made to the patriarchal ancestors (Deut 9:27) and, moreover, would reflect badly on the Lord in the view of the Egyptians, Israel's erstwhile masters. The contest between Yahweh and the mighty gods and rulers of Egypt that had resulted in the glorious victory of the exodus deliverance (Deut 9:26b) would be forgotten because of the Lord's impotence in not being able to take them to the land of promise (Deut 9:28a). Even worse, Moses said, what appeared to be the love of God for his people in his act of exodus redemption would instead be seen as hatred, for the death of Israel in the desert would allow no other conclusion (Deut 9:28b). In short, the very nature of Israel as God's people, his inheritance whom he had redeemed by his own power and grace, demanded their ongoing existence and thus their forgiveness in the here and now (Deut 9:29). [ref]

David (Psalm 51:1-19)

Psalm 51 offers a keen analysis of the inner meaning of sin. By affirming "in sin did my mother conceive me" the psalmist emphasizes that from the first moment of his life he has been sinful. His whole personality needs "purging"; he is defiled, needing to be "trodden in the wash." False in his inward being, broken, unclean, foolish, guilty, weak, he is deeply aware that sin is aimed directly at God whatever wrong is done to others. It is judged by God, cuts one off from God's presence (Is 59:2), and silences praise.

Ritual sacrifices offer no solution. Only a broken, contrite heart can prepare for God's own cleansing, truth, and wisdom, the blotting out of iniquities, the gift of a clean heart, and a steadfast, holy, and obedient spirit. The only hope, the sole ground of appeal, lies in God's steadfast love and abundant mercy, nor will that plea be rejected. In spite of its rigorous view of sin, the OT also contains gracious assurance of forgiveness (Ps 103:8–14; Is 1:18; 55:6, 7). [ref]

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-32)

With the Pharisees in mind, Jesus says that all who are not with him (helping to gather the lost sheep of Israel; cf. Matt. 10:6) are against him (they scatter the sheep; cf. 10:16). The saying does not contradict Mark 9:40 ("For whoever is not against us is for us"), which was Jesus' response to his disciples concerning a man casting out demons in Jesus' name. In that case, it can be properly said that those who do mighty works in Jesus' name are not able afterwards to speak evil against him (Mark 9:39). In the situation referred to in Matthew the religious opponents of Jesus are guilty of blasphemy (Matt. 12:30–32). The exorcism of [Matt. 12:22] that cured a blind mute elicited from the Pharisees the charge that it had been done by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus now responds with the harshest words in the Gospels. To blaspheme against the Spirit is different from any other kind of sin -- it will not be forgiven. Even speaking against the Son of Man will be forgiven but not speaking against God's Holy Spirit.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the "unpardonable sin." Some have been haunted by the possibility that they have committed this sin and are therefore no longer able to be forgiven. Jesus is saying to his antagonists that to attribute to Satan that which has been accomplished by the power and Spirit of God is to demonstrate a moral vision so distorted that there is no longer any hope of recovery. It would be possible to speak against the Son of Man and be forgiven because at that time in Jesus' ministry there was a hiddenness about his person. Not so with the mighty works wrought by the Spirit. They were clear demonstrations that the kingdom (power and reign) of God was present in the world. Denial of this was not the result of ignorance but of a willful refusal to believe. Therefore it is unforgivable. The only sin that God is unable to forgive is the unwillingness to accept forgiveness. Thus the "unforgivable sin" is a state of moral insensitivity caused by continuous refusal to respond to the overtures of the Spirit of God. [ref]

Dead to sin, alive to God (Romans 6:11)

Christ is our example. By his death he ended once for all his relationship to sin. Now he lives forever in unbroken fellowship with God. "In the same way," wrote Paul, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). When Christ died for sin, he also died to sin. Now we are to take our place with him and regard sin as something to which we also have died. Paul was not suggesting that we imitate Christ. He was speaking of a reality that took place when we by faith were incorporated into Christ. Our responsibility is to take with all seriousness the fact that in Christ we have died to sin. Fitzmyer writes: "Ontologically united with Christ through faith and baptism, Christians must deepen their faith continually to become more and more psychologically aware of that union." We are to consider ourselves "dead to the appeal and power of sin" (Phillips) and alive to God through our union with Christ Jesus. The very idea of responding positively to sin's invitation should strike the believer as morbid. For the Christian to choose to sin is the spiritual equivalent of digging up a corpse for fellowship. A genuine death to sin means that the entire perspective of the believer has been radically altered. [ref]

There is no right way to do a wrong thing. - Anonymous [ref]



Sin (in NASB) occurs 430 times in 380 verses:


Genesis 4:7; 18:20; 20:9; 31:36; 39:9; 42:22; 50:17; Exodus 10:17; 16:1; 17:1; 20:20; 23:33; 29:14, 36; 30:10; 32:21, 30, 31, 32, 34; 34:7, 9; Leviticus 4:3, 8, 14, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35; 5:6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13; 6:17, 25, 26, 30; 7:7, 37; 8:2, 14; 9:2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 15, 22; 10:16, 17, 19; 12:6, 8; 14:13, 19, 22, 31; 15:15, 30; 16:3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 15, 25, 27; 19:17, 22; 20:20; 22:9; 23:19; 24:15; Numbers 6:11, 14, 16; 7:16, 22, 28, 34, 40, 46, 52, 58, 64, 70, 76, 82, 87; 8:8, 12, 21; 9:13; 12:11; 15:24, 25, 27; 16:26; 18:9, 22, 32; 19:9, 17; 27:3; 28:15, 22; 29:5, 11, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 38; 32:23; 33:11, 12; Deuteronomy 9:18, 27; 15:9; 19:15; 20:18; 21:22; 22:26; 23:21, 22; 24:4, 15, 16; 1 Samuel 2:17; 12:23; 14:34, 38; 15:23, 25; 19:4, 5; 20:1; 2 Samuel 12:13; 1 Kings 8:34, 35, 36, 46; 12:30; 13:34; 14:16; 15:26, 30, 34; 16:2, 13, 19, 26; 18:9; 21:22; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 12:16; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:6, 24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28; 17:21; 21:11, 16, 17; 23:15; 2 Chronicles 6:25, 26, 27, 36; 7:14; 25:4; 29:21, 23, 24; 33:19; Ezra 6:17; 8:35; Nehemiah 4:5; 6:13; 10:33; 13:26; Job 1:22; 2:10; 10:6, 14; 13:23; 14:16; 31:30; 34:37; Psalms 4:4; 32:1, 3, 5; 38:3, 18; 39:1; 40:6; 51:2, 3, 5; 59:3, 12; 78:17; 85:2; 109:7, 14; 119:11; Proverbs 5:22; 14:9, 34; 20:9; 21:4; 24:9; Ecclesiastes 5:6; Isaiah 3:9; 5:18; 6:7; 27:9; 30:1; 31:7; 53:12; Jeremiah 16:10, 18; 17:1, 3; 18:23; 31:34; 32:35; 36:3; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 3:20, 21; 18:24; 30:15, 16; 33:12, 14; 40:39; 42:13; 43:19, 21, 22, 25; 44:27, 29; 45:17, 19, 22, 23, 25; 46:20; Daniel 9:20, 24; Hosea 4:8; 8:11; 10:8; 12:8; 13:2, 12; Micah 1:13; 3:8; 6:7; Zechariah 13:1


Matthew 12:31; 18:21; Mark 3:29; John 1:29; 5:14; 8:7, 11, 21, 34, 46; 9:41; 15:22, 24; 16:8, 9; 19:11; Acts 7:60; Romans 3:9, 20; 4:8; 5:12, 13, 20, 21; 6:1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23; 7:7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 23, 25; 8:2, 3, 10; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 7:36; 8:12; 15:56; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 11:7, 29; Galatians 2:17; 3:22; Ephesians 4:26; 1 Timothy 5:20, 22; Hebrews 3:13; 4:15; 9:26, 28; 10:6, 8, 18; 11:25; 12:1, 4; 13:11; James 1:15; 2:9; 4:17; 1 Peter 2:20, 22, 24; 4:1; 2 Peter 2:14; 1 John 1:7, 8; 2:1; 3:4, 5, 8, 9; 5:16, 17

Sins (in NASB) occurs 193 times in 184 verses:


Leviticus 4:2, 3, 22, 27; 5:1, 15, 17; 6:2, 3, 4; 16:16, 21, 30, 34; 26:18, 21, 24, 28; Numbers 5:6, 7; 15:27, 28; 16:22; Joshua 24:19; 1 Samuel 2:25; 12:19; 1 Kings 8:31; 14:16, 22; 15:3, 30; 16:2, 13, 19, 26, 31; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28; 17:22; 24:3; 2 Chronicles 6:22; 28:13; Nehemiah 1:6; 9:2, 37; Job 13:23; Psalms 19:13; 25:7, 18; 51:9; 79:9; 90:8; 103:10; Proverbs 8:36; 14:21; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 1:18; 38:17; 40:2; 43:24, 25; 44:22; 58:1; 59:2, 12; Jeremiah 5:25; 14:10; 15:13; 30:14, 15; 50:20; Lamentations 3:39; 4:13, 22; Ezekiel 14:13; 16:51, 52; 18:4, 14, 20, 21; 21:24; 33:10, 16; Daniel 4:27; 9:16; Hosea 8:13; 9:9; Amos 5:12; Micah 1:5; 6:13; 7:19


Matthew 1:21; 3:6; 9:2, 5, 6; 18:15; 26:28; Mark 1:4, 5; 2:5, 7, 9, 10; 3:28; Luke 1:77; 3:3; 5:20, 21, 23, 24; 7:47, 48, 49; 11:4; 17:3, 4; 24:47; John 8:24; 9:34; 20:23; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 22:16; 26:18; Romans 3:25; 4:7; 11:27; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 15:3, 17; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:22, 24; 2 Timothy 3:6; Hebrews 1:3; 2:17; 5:1, 3; 7:27; 8:12; 9:7, 28; 10:2, 3, 4, 11, 12, 17, 26; James 5:15, 16, 20; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 4:8; 2 Peter 1:9; 1 John 1:9; 2:1, 2, 12; 3:5, 6; 4:10; 5:18; Revelation 1:5; 18:4, 5

Sinful (in NASB) occurs 11 times in 11 verses: Numbers 32:14; Deuteronomy 9:21; Isaiah 1:4; 31:7; Amos 9:8; Mark 8:38; Luke 5:8; 24:7; Romans 7:5, 13; 8:3

Sinned (in NASB) occurs 109 times in 105 verses:


Genesis 20:9; Exodus 9:27, 34; 10:16; 32:33; Leviticus 5:5, 7, 11, 16, 18; Numbers 12:11; 14:40; 16:38; 21:7; 22:34; 32:23; Deuteronomy 1:41; 9:16; Joshua 7:11, 20; Judges 10:10, 15; 11:27; 1 Samuel 7:6; 12:10; 15:24, 30; 19:4; 24:11; 26:21; 2 Samuel 12:13; 19:20; 24:10, 17; 1 Kings 8:33, 35, 47, 50; 15:30; 16:13, 19; 2 Kings 17:7; 1 Chronicles 21:8, 17; 2 Chronicles 6:24, 26, 37, 39; Nehemiah 1:6; 9:29; Job 1:5; 7:20; 8:4; 24:19; 33:27; 35:3, 6; Psalms 41:4; 51:4; 78:32; 106:6; Isaiah 42:24; 43:27; 64:5; Jeremiah 2:35; 3:25; 8:14; 14:7, 20; 33:8; 37:18; 40:3; 44:23; 50:7, 14; Lamentations 1:8; 5:7, 16; Ezekiel 28:16; 37:23; Daniel 9:5, 8, 11, 15; Hosea 4:7; 10:9; Micah 7:9; Zephaniah 1:17


Matthew 27:4; Luke 15:18, 21; John 9:2, 3; Romans 2:12; 3:23; 5:12, 14, 16; 1 Corinthians 7:28; 2 Corinthians 12:21; 13:2; Hebrews 3:17; 2 Peter 2:4; 1 John 1:10; 3:8.

Sinner (in NASB) occurs 20 times in 20 verses: Proverbs 11:31; 13:6, 22; Ecclesiastes 2:26; 7:26; 8:12; 9:2, 18; Luke 7:37, 39; 15:7, 10; 18:13; 19:7; John 9:16, 24, 25; Romans 3:7; James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:18

Sinners (in NASB) occurs 46 times in 44 verses: Genesis 13:13; 1 Samuel 15:18; Psalms 1:1, 5; 25:8; 26:9; 51:13; 104:35; Proverbs 1:10; 13:21; 23:17; Isaiah 1:28; 13:9; 33:14; Amos 9:10; Matthew 9:10, 11, 13; 11:19; 26:45; Mark 2:15, 16, 17; 14:41; Luke 5:30, 32; 6:32, 33, 34; 7:34; 13:2; 15:1, 2; John 9:31; Romans 5:8, 19; Galatians 2:15, 17; 1 Timothy 1:9, 15; Hebrews 7:26; 12:3; James 4:8; Jude 1:15

Sinning (in NASB) occurs 9 times in 9 verses: Genesis 20:6; 1 Samuel 14:33; Hosea 8:11; Habakkuk 2:10; 1 Corinthians 8:12; 15:34; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:11; Hebrews 10:26

Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power and the contempt of his love. - John Bunyan [ref]



We only need to read the daily newspapers or watch the evening news to catch a glimpse of the reality of sin in our world. Truly there is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). All levels of evil abound right under our noses. As Christians, we even contribute! Most of us will admit that we sin, but don't want to admit that we are sinners. Yet even the best of us find a way to protect ourselves at all costs. This clearly reveals that all of us suffer from that "radical addiction to our own self sufficiency."

Thankfully, we have a rescuer in Jesus, who has broken our bondage to sin and death. The grace that frees us from sin now becomes the grace that teaches us how to live in freedom (Titus 2:11–14). Yes, we can live free of sin's bondage! "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). Does that mean we won't sin? No, we'll always have battles, but through trust and confidence in Jesus, progress is assured!

Further, Jesus involves us in his redemptive plan, making us ambassadors of his reconciliation and freedom from sin. Through Jesus, we can become a people who look like our Savior in character and action. As his followers and representatives, we can actually affect the people, systems, and structures still in bondage to sin. [ref]

Sin is like seed -- to cover it is to cultivate it. - Anonymous [ref]



SIN (Disobedience, Evil, Rebellion)

Definition | Characteristics | Results | Counteracting

What is sin?

Bible Reading: Genesis 3:14–19
Key Bible Verse: To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.” (Genesis 3:17)

  • Sin is disobeying God. Adam and Eve learned by painful experience that because God is holy and hates sin, he must punish sinners. The rest of the book of Genesis recounts painful stories of lives ruined as a result of the fall. Disobedience is sin, and it breaks our fellowship with God. But, fortunately, when we disobey, God is willing to forgive us and to restore our relationship with him.

Bible Reading: Leviticus 4:1–12
Key Bible Verse: The LORD said to Moses, “Give the Israelites the following instructions for dealing with those who sin unintentionally by doing anything forbidden by the LORD’s commands.” (Leviticus 4:1–2)

  • Sin includes unintended wrongdoing. Have you ever done something wrong without realizing it until later? Although your sin was unintentional, it was still sin. One of the purposes of God’s commands was to make the Israelites aware of their unintentional sins so they would not repeat them and so they could be forgiven for them. Leviticus 4 and 5 mention some of these unintentional sins and the way the Israelites could be forgiven for them. As you read more of God’s laws, keep in mind that they were meant to teach and guide the people. Let them help you become more aware of sin in your life.

Bible Reading: Matthew 8:1–4
Key Bible Verse: Jesus touched him. “I want to,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. (Matthew 8:3)

  • Sin is a disease beyond human cure. Leprosy, like AIDS today, was a terrifying disease because there was no known cure. In Jesus’ day, the Greek word for leprosy was used for a variety of similar diseases, and some forms were contagious. If a person contracted the contagious type, a priest declared him a leper and banished him from his home and city. The leper was sent to live in a community with other lepers until he either got better or died. Yet when the leper begged Jesus to heal him, Jesus reached out and touched him, even though his skin was covered with the dread disease.
         Sin is also an incurable disease -- and we all have it. Only Christ’s healing touch can miraculously take away our sins and restore us to real living. But first, just like the leper, we must realize our inability to cure ourself and ask for Christ’s saving help.

Bible Reading: Mark 7:1–23
Key Bible Verse: Then he added, “It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” (Mark 7:20–23)

  • Sin has an inward as well as an outward aspect. Do we worry more about what is in our diet than what is in our heart and mind? As they interpreted the dietary laws (Leviticus 11), the Jews believed they could be clean before God because of what they refused to eat. But Jesus pointed out that sin actually begins in the attitudes and intentions of the inner person. Jesus did not degrade the law, but he paved the way for the change made clear in Acts 10:9–29 when God removed the cultural restrictions regarding food. We are not pure because of outward acts -- we become pure on the inside as Christ renews our mind and transforms us into his image.

Bible Reading: Romans 3:9–20
Key Bible Verse: Are we Jews better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. (Romans 3:9–10)

  • Sin is the universal separation of people from God. Paul uses these Old Testament references to show that humanity in general, in its present sinful condition, is unacceptable before God. Have you ever thought to yourself, Well, I’m not too bad. I’m a pretty good person? Look at these verses and see if any of them apply to you. Have you ever lied? Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings by your words or tone of voice? Are you bitter toward anyone? Do you become angry with those who strongly disagree with you? In thought, word, and deed, you, like everyone else in the world, stand guilty before God. We must remember who we are in his sight -- alienated sinners. Don’t deny that you are a sinner. Instead, allow your desperate need to point you toward Christ.
  • Sin is in our nature and must be faced by every person. The last time someone accused you of wrongdoing, what was your reaction? Denial, argument, and defensiveness? The Bible tells us the world stands silent and accountable before almighty God. No excuses or arguments are left. Have you reached the point with God where you are ready to hang up your defenses and await his decision? If you haven’t, stop now and admit your sin to him.

Definition | Characteristics | Results | Counteracting

How can we recognize sinful behavior?

Bible Reading: Genesis 3:1–24
Key Bible Verse: At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

  • Sinful behavior often begins as a delightful and fun action. Satan tried to make Eve think that sin is good, pleasant, and desirable. A knowledge of both good and evil seemed harmless to her. People usually choose wrong things because they have become convinced that those things are good, at least for themselves. Our sins do not always appear ugly to us, and the pleasant sins are the hardest to avoid. So prepare yourself for the attractive temptations that may come your way. We cannot always prevent temptation, but there is always a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). God’s Word and God’s people can help you stand against it.
  • Temptation to sinful behavior is rarely obvious at first. Notice what Eve did: She looked, she took, she ate, and she gave. The battle is often lost at the first look. Temptation often begins by simply seeing something you want. Are you struggling with temptation because you have not learned that looking is the first step toward sin? You would win over temptation more often if you followed Paul’s advice to run from those things that produce evil thoughts (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • Sin’s effects spread. After Eve sinned, she involved Adam in her wrongdoing. When we do something wrong, we often try to relieve our guilt by involving someone else. Like toxic waste spilled in a river, sin swiftly spreads. Recognize and confess your sin to God before you are tempted to pollute those around you.
  • Sin usually causes guilt. After sinning, Adam and Eve felt guilt and embarrassment over their nakedness. Their guilty feelings made them try to hide from God. A guilty conscience is a warning signal God placed inside you that goes off when you’ve done wrong. The worst step you could take is to eliminate the guilty feelings without eliminating the cause. That would be like using a painkiller but not treating the disease. Be glad those guilty feelings are there. They make you aware of your sin so you can ask God’s forgiveness and then correct your wrongdoing.
  • Sin creates a barrier between us and God. God desires to have fellowship with us, but we are afraid to have fellowship with him. Adam and Eve hid from God when they heard him approaching. God wanted to be with them, but because of their sin, they were afraid to show themselves. Sin had broken their close relationship with God, just as it has broken ours. But Jesus Christ, God’s Son, opens the way for us to renew our fellowship with him. God longs to be with us. He actively offers us his unconditional love. Our natural response is fear, because we feel we can’t live up to his standards. But understanding that he loves us, regardless of our faults, can help remove that dread.
  • Sinful behavior is almost always covered by excuses. When God asked Adam about his sin, Adam blamed Eve. Then Eve blamed the serpent. How easy it is to excuse our sins by blaming someone else or circumstances. But God knows the truth, and he holds each of us responsible for what we do (Genesis 3:14–19). Admit your wrong attitudes and actions and ask God for forgiveness. Don’t try to get away with sin by blaming someone else.

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 11:1–27
Key Bible Verse: When Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the LORD was very displeased with what David had done. (2 Samuel 11:26–27)

  • Sin often leads to more sin. In the episode with Bathsheba, David allowed himself to fall deeper and deeper into sin. (1) David abandoned his purpose by staying home from war (11:1). (2) He focused on his own desires (11:3). (3) When temptation came, he looked into it instead of turning away from it (11:4). (4) He sinned deliberately (11:4). (5) He tried to cover up his sin by deceiving others (11:6–15). (6) He committed murder to continue the cover-up (11:15–17). Eventually David’s sin was exposed (12:9) and punished (12:10–14). (7) The consequences of David’s sin were far-reaching, affecting many others (11:17; 12:11, 14–15).
  • Sinful behavior can and should be stopped before it starts. David could have chosen to stop and turn from evil at any stage along the way. But once sin gets started, it is difficult to stop (James 1:14–15). The deeper the mess, the less we want to admit having caused it. It’s much easier to stop sliding down a hill when you are near the top than when you are halfway down.

Definition | Characteristics | Results | Counteracting

What are the results of sin?

Bible Reading: Numbers 15:30–36
Key Bible Verse: Those who brazenly violate the LORD’s will, whether native Israelites or foreigners, blaspheme the LORD, and they must be cut off from the community. (Numbers 15:30)

  • Sin deserves punishment. God was willing to forgive those who made unintentional errors if they realized their mistakes quickly and corrected them. However, those who defiantly and deliberately sinned received a harsher judgment. Intentional sin grows out of an improper attitude toward God. A child who knowingly disobeys his parents challenges their authority and dares them to respond. Both the act and the attitude have to be dealt with.
  • Sin is punished with death. Stoning a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath seems like a severe punishment, and it was. This act was a deliberate sin, defying God’s law against working on the Sabbath. Perhaps the man was trying to get ahead of everyone else, in addition to breaking the Sabbath.

BIBLE READING: Genesis 20:1–18
Key Bible Verse: Abraham moved south to the Negev and settled for a while between Kadesh and Shur at a place called Gerar. Abraham told people there that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. So King Abimelech sent for her and had her brought to him at his palace. (Genesis 20:1–2)

  • Sinful actions can become sinful habits. Abraham had used this same trick before to protect himself (Genesis 12:11–13). Although Abraham is one of our heroes of faith, he did not learn his lesson well enough the first time. In fact, by giving in to the temptation again, he risked turning a sinful act into a sinful pattern of lying whenever he suspected his life was in danger.
         No matter how much we love God, certain temptations are especially difficult to resist. These are the vulnerable spots in our spiritual armor. As we struggle with these weaknesses, we can be encouraged to know that God is watching out for us just as he did for Abraham.

Bible Reading: Exodus 2:11–17
Key Bible Verse: After looking around to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. (Exodus 2:12)

  • Hidden sins have a way of becoming public. Moses tried to make sure no one was watching before he killed the Egyptian. But as it turned out, someone did see, and Moses had to flee the country. Sometimes we mistakenly think we can get away with doing wrong if no one sees or catches us. Sooner or later, however, doing wrong will catch up with us as it did with Moses. Even if we are not caught in this life, one day we will have to face God and his evaluation of our actions.

Bible Reading: Luke 12:1–12
Key Bible Verse: Those who speak against the Son of Man may be forgiven, but anyone who speaks blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. (Luke 12:10)

  • Lifelong rebelliousness blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. This has worried many sincere Christians, but it does not need to. The unforgivable sin means attributing to Satan the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes (see Matthew 12:24–32; Mark 3:22–29). Thus it is deliberate and ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work and even of God himself. A person who has committed this sin has shut himself or herself off from God so thoroughly that he or she is unaware of any sin at all. A person who fears having committed it shows, by his or her very concern, that he or she has not sinned in this way.

Bible Reading: Romans 6:15–23
Key Bible Verse: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

  • Without Christ, the results of sin are death. You are free to choose between two masters, but you are not free to manipulate the consequences of your choice. Each of the two masters pays with his own kind of currency. The currency of sin is death. That is all you can expect or hope for in life without God. Christ’s currency is eternal life -- new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God. What choice have you made?
  • With Christ, sins are forgiven and eternal life is given. Eternal life is a free gift from God. If it is a gift, then it is not something that we earn, nor something that must be paid back. Consider the foolishness of someone who receives a gift given out of love and then offers to pay for it. A gift cannot be purchased by the recipient. A more appropriate response to a loved one who offers a gift is graceful acceptance with gratitude. Our salvation is a gift from God, not something of our own doing (Ephesians 2:8–9). He saved us because of his kindness and pity, not because we were good enough to be saved (Titus 3:5). How much more we should accept with thanksgiving the gift that God has freely given to us.

Definition | Characteristics | Results | Counteracting

What should we do when we realize we are sinners?

Bible Reading: Psalm 139:1–24
Key Bible Verse: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23–24)

  • Be open with God regarding our sins. David asked God to search for sin and point it out, even to the level of testing his thoughts. This is exploratory surgery for sin. How are we to recognize sin unless God points it out? Then, when God shows us, we can repent and be forgiven. Make this verse your prayer. If you ask the Lord to search your heart and your thoughts and to reveal your sin, you will be continuing on God’s “path of everlasting life.”

Bible Reading: Matthew 5:43–48
Key Bible Verse: You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

  • Look to Jesus, who requires us to be perfect. How can we be perfect? (1) In character. In this life we cannot be flawless, but we can aspire to be as much like Christ as possible. (2) In holiness. Like the Pharisees, we are to separate ourself from the world’s sinful values. But unlike the Pharisees, we are to be devoted to God’s desires rather than our own and show his love and mercy to the world. (3) In maturity. We can’t achieve Christlike character and holy living all at once, but we must grow toward maturity and wholeness. Just as we expect different behavior from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behavior from us, depending on our stage of spiritual development. (4) In love. We can seek to love others as completely as God loves us.
         We can be perfect if our behavior is appropriate for our maturity level -- perfect, yet with much room to grow. Our tendency to sin must never deter us from striving to be more like Christ. Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature in every area, becoming like him. Those who strive to be like Jesus will one day be like him as a result of seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2–3).

Bible Reading: Matthew 27:45–56
Key Bible Verse: At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

  • Trust the truth that Jesus died for our sins. Jesus was not questioning God; he was quoting the first line of Psalm 22 -- a deep expression of the anguish he felt when he took on the sins of the world, which caused him to be separated from his Father. This was what Jesus dreaded as he prayed to God in the garden to take the cup from him (26:39). The physical agony was horrible, but even worse was the period of spiritual separation from God. Jesus suffered this double death so that we would never have to experience eternal separation from God.
  • Trust the truth that Jesus broke through the barrier separating people from God. The temple had three main parts -- the courts, the Holy Place (where only the priests could enter), and the Most Holy Place (where only the high priest could enter, and only once a year, to atone for the sins of the nation -- Leviticus 16:1–34). The curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn in two at Christ’s death, symbolizing that the barrier between God and humanity was removed. Now all people are free to approach God because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 9:1–14; 10:19–22).

Bible Reading: Luke 3:1–20
Key Bible Verse: John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. (Luke 3:3)

  • Repent in order to counteract sin. Repentance has two sides -- turning away from sins and turning toward God. To be truly repentant, we must do both. We can’t just say we believe and then live any way we choose (see 3:7–8); neither can we simply live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with God, because that cannot bring forgiveness from sin. Determine to rid your life of any sins God points out, and put your trust in him alone to guide you.

Bible Reading: John 1:29–34
Key Bible Verse: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

  • Remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process. Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38–42). Isaiah 53:7 prophesied that the Messiah, God’s servant, would be led to the slaughter like a lamb. To pay the penalty for sin, a life had to be given -- and God chose to provide the sacrifice himself. The sins of the world were removed when Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice. This is the way our sins are forgiven (1 Corinthians 5:7). “The sin of the world” means everyone’s sin, the sin of each individual. Jesus paid the price of your sin by his death. You can receive forgiveness by confessing your sin to him and asking for his forgiveness.

Bible Reading: John 19:28–37
Key Bible Verse: When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

  • Realize that Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s final remedy for sin. Until this time, a complicated system of sacrifices had atoned for sins. Sin separates people from God, and only through the sacrifice of an animal, a substitute, could people be forgiven and become clean before God. But people sin continually, so frequent sacrifices were required. Jesus, however, became the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. The word finished is the same as “paid in full.” Jesus came to finish God’s work of salvation (4:34; 17:4), to pay the full penalty for our sins. With his death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon himself. Now we can freely approach God because of what Jesus did for us. Those who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection can live eternally with God and escape the penalty that comes from sin.

Bible Reading: 1 John 1:5–10
Key Bible Verse: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. (1 John 1:9)

  • Confess our sins to God. Confession is supposed to free us to enjoy fellowship with Christ. It should ease our consciences and lighten our cares. But some Christians do not understand how it works. They feel so guilty that they confess the same sins over and over; then they wonder if they might have forgotten something. Other Christians believe that God forgives them when they confess, but that if they died with unconfessed sins, they would be forever lost. These Christians do not understand that God wants to forgive us. He allowed his beloved Son to die just so he could offer us pardon. When we come to Christ, he forgives all the sins we have committed or will ever commit. We don’t need to confess the sins of the past all over again, and we don’t need to fear that God will reject us if we don’t keep our slate perfectly clean. Of course we should continue to confess our sins, but not because failure to do so will make us lose our salvation. Our relationship with Christ is secure. Instead, we should confess so that we can enjoy maximum fellowship and joy with him.
  • Commit ourself not to continue in sin. We wouldn’t be genuinely confessing our sins to God if we planned to commit them again and just wanted temporary forgiveness. We should also pray for strength to defeat temptation the next time we face it.
  • Be assured that God’s forgiveness is guaranteed by Christ’s death. If God has forgiven us for our sins because of Christ’s death, why must we confess our sins? In admitting our sins and receiving Christ’s cleansing, we are: (1) agreeing with God that our sin truly was sin and that we are willing to turn from it, (2) ensuring that we don’t conceal our sins from him and consequently from ourself, and (3) recognizing our tendency to sin and relying on his power to overcome it.

Sin has always been an ugly word, but it has been made so in a new sense over the last half century. It has been made not only ugly but passé. People are no longer sinful. They are only immature or underprivileged or frightened or, more particularly, sick. - Phyllis McGinley [ref]


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Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
Christian Theology
The Complete Gathered Gold
Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs
Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
Dictionary of Everyday Theology and Culture
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch
Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets
Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings
The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
The Handbook of Bible Application
Holy Bible, New American Standard
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised
McHenry's Quips, Quotes, & Other Notes
The New American Commentary
The New International Commentary on the New Testament
Phillips' Treasury of Humorous Quotations
A Treasury of Humor
Understanding the Bible Commentary Series