What is sin?


Sin is breaking of God's law. It is a transgression, an iniquity, an unrighteous act. Sin is a deviation from the will of God. It is a form of evildoing since it is in opposition to God's decrees and desires. It is not merely a deficiency. It is an open rebellion and disobedience to what God has declared is right. Sin can only be properly understood in relationship to God since God is the holy one (1 Peter 1:16) and all sin is unholy.

God's standard of moral perfection is what we are all obligated to obey and when we do not, we have sinned. God has revealed His moral character in the law as the standard of good and to violate that standard is sinful.

If God says "Do not lie" and you lie, then you have broken His law and sinned. When you sin, you offend God because it is His law that you have broken. Also, the reason God says to not lie, not cheat, etc., is because these laws reflect the moral purity of His nature. Therefore, the Law is a reflection of the character of God. It is wrong to lie because God cannot lie. It is wrong to steal because God cannot steal, etc. The moral law is not arbitrary. It is based on God's holiness.

"Evildoing is not only against humanity, society, others, or oneself, but against God. The concept of God, therefore, gives to the idea of sin its many-sided meaning. Other gods, conceived of as capricious and characterless, exercised unlimited power in unbridled behavior; they engendered no such sense of sin as did Israel’s one God, holy, righteous, and utterly good. This religious conception of wrongdoing with the terminology it created persists into the NT."1 (see note)

The law, then, is a standard of moral purity. The Old Testament contains the Law of God. It is a perfect standard because it is God's standard. When we fail to keep the law, we sin. When we sin, we offend God. This offense against God results in a judgment. Laws are laws because they have penalties. There is no law without a penalty. Therefore, breaking God's law brings judgment which is separation from God. "But your sins have made a separation between you and your God," (Isaiah 59:2). And, "the wages of sin is death..." (Rom. 6:23). So, to sin, to break God's law, results in judgment. The judgment is known as damnation which is the righteous judgment of God upon the sinner. If God did not judge the sinner, then He is not upholding His holiness; and he would be allowing sinners to go unpunished.

Taking it a step further, sin includes when we decide to be neutral in the face a matter begging for our intervention, as pointed out in James 4:17 -- "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them" (NIV). In addition, whatever we do, be it for good or bad, but which does not stem out of faith in God is sin. This is clearly portrayed in Romans -- "...and everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23b); and also Brother Paul further talks about this in his epistle to the Hebrews -- "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Heb 11:6)

Of course, Jesus came to take our place and die for our sins (1 Pet. 2:24). This means that Jesus bore our sin in His body on the cross and paid for them. He took the judgment upon himself. This further means that anyone who trusts in what Jesus did on the cross will have his sins removed; he will be saved from God's future judgment.

So, replying to the question "What is sin?" is best answered by saying that it is breaking God's law. All people have sinned. Therefore, all people are under God's judgment - except for those who've trusted in God's provision to escape that judgment.

Where are you? Are you in the place of God's judgment or of salvation in Christ?

Note 1. Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Also read: What is Christianity?