Topic of the Month - SIN
Sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18). Sin had its beginning with Lucifer, probably the most beautiful and powerful of the angels. Not content with his position, he desired to be higher than God, and that was his downfall, the beginning of sin (Isaiah 14:12-15). Renamed Satan, he brought sin to the human race in the Garden of Eden, where he tempted Adam and Eve with the same enticement, “you shall be like God.” Genesis 3 describes Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and against His command. Since that time, sin has been passed down through all the generations of mankind and we, Adam’s descendants, have inherited sin from him. Romans 5:12 tells us that through Adam sin entered the world, and so death was passed on to all men because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Through Adam, the inherent inclination to sin entered the human race, and human beings became sinners by nature. When Adam sinned, his inner nature was transformed by his sin of rebellion, bringing to him spiritual death and depravity which would be passed on to all who came after him. We are sinners not because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. This passed-on depravity is known as inherited sin. Just as we inherit physical characteristics from our parents, we inherit our sinful natures from Adam. King David lamented this condition of fallen human nature in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Another type of sin is known as imputed sin. Used in both financial and legal settings, the Greek word translated “imputed” means “to take something that belongs to someone and credit it to another’s account.” Before the Law of Moses was given, sin was not imputed to man, although men were still sinners because of inherited sin. After the Law was given, sins committed in violation of the Law were imputed (accounted) to them (Romans 5:13). Even before transgressions of the law were imputed to men, the ultimate penalty for sin (death) continued to reign (Romans 5:14). All humans, from Adam to Moses, were subject to death, not because of their sinful acts against the Mosaic Law (which they did not have), but because of their own inherited sinful nature. After Moses, humans were subject to death both because of inherited sin from Adam and imputed sin from violating the laws of God.
God used the principle of imputation to benefit mankind when He imputed the sin of believers to the account of Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for that sin—death—on the cross. Imputing our sin to Jesus, God treated Him as if He were a sinner, though He was not, and had Him die for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). It is important to understand that sin was imputed to Him, but He did not inherit it from Adam. He bore the penalty for sin, but He never became a sinner. His pure and perfect nature was untouched by sin. He was treated as though He were guilty of all the sins ever committed by the human race, even though He committed none. In exchange, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers and credited our accounts with His righteousness, just as He had credited our sins to Christ’s account (2 Corinthians 5:21).
A third type of sin is personal sin, that which is committed every day by every human being. Because we have inherited a sin nature from Adam, we commit individual, personal sins, everything from seemingly innocent untruths to murder. Those who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ must pay the penalty for these personal sins, as well as inherited and imputed sin. However, believers have been freed from the eternal penalty of sin—hell and spiritual death—but now we also have the power to resist sinning. Now we can choose whether or not to commit personal sins because we have the power to resist sin through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, sanctifying and convicting us of our sins when we do commit them (Romans 8:9-11). Once we confess our personal sins to God and ask forgiveness for them, we are restored to perfect fellowship and communion with Him. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We are all three times condemned due to inherited sin, imputed sin, and personal sin. The only just penalty for this sin is death (Romans 6:23), not just physical death but eternal death (Revelation 20:11-15). Thankfully, inherited sin, imputed sin, and personal sin have all been crucified on the cross of Jesus, and now by faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
The term “original sin” deals with Adam’s sin of disobedience in eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and its effects upon the rest of the human race. Original sin can be defined as “that sin and its guilt that we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.” The doctrine of original sin focuses particularly on its effects on our nature and our standing before God, even before we are old enough to commit conscious sin. There are three main views that deal with that effect.
Pelagianism: This view says that Adam’s sin had no effect upon the souls of his descendants other than his sinful example influencing those who followed after him to also sin. According to this view, man has the ability to stop sinning if he simply chooses to. This teaching runs contrary to a number of passages that indicate man is hopelessly enslaved by his sins (apart from God’s intervention) and that his good works are “dead” or worthless in meriting God’s favor (Ephesians 2:1-2; Matthew 15:18-19; Romans 7:23; Hebrews 6:1; 9:14).
Arminianism: Arminians believe Adam’s sin has resulted in the rest of mankind inheriting a propensity to sin, commonly referred to as having a “sin nature.” This sin nature causes us to sin in the same way that a cat’s nature causes it to meow—it comes naturally. According to this view, man cannot stop sinning on his own; that is why God gives a universal grace to all to enable us to stop. In Arminianism, this grace is called prevenient grace. According to this view, we are not held accountable for Adam’s sin, just our own. This teaching runs contrary to the fact that all bear the punishment for sin, even though all may not have sinned in a manner similar to Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12-18). Nor is the teaching of prevenient grace explicitly found in Scripture.
Calvinism: The Calvinistic doctrine states that Adam’s sin has resulted not only in our having a sin nature, but also in our incurring guilt before God for which we deserve punishment. Being conceived with original sin upon us (Psalm 51:5) results in our inheriting a sin nature so wicked that Jeremiah 17:9 describes the human heart as “deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Not only was Adam found guilty because he sinned, but his guilt and his punishment (death) belongs to us as well (Romans 5:12, 19). There are two views as to why Adam’s guilt should be seen by God as also belonging to us. The first view states that the human race was within Adam in seed form; thus when Adam sinned, we sinned in him. This is similar to the biblical teaching that Levi (a descendant of Abraham) paid tithes to Melchizedek in Abraham (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:4-9), even though Levi was not born until hundreds of years later. The other main view is that Adam served as our representative and so, when he sinned, we were found guilty as well.
The Calvinistic view sees one as unable to overcome his sin apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, a power possessed only when one turns in reliance upon Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin upon the cross. The Calvinistic view of original sin is most consistent with biblical teaching. However, how can God hold us accountable for a sin we did not personally commit? There is a plausible interpretation that we become responsible for original sin when we choose to accept, and act according to, our sinful nature. There comes a point in our lives when we become aware of our own sinfulness. At that point we should reject the sinful nature and repent of it. Instead, we all “approve” that sinful nature, in effect saying that it is good. In approving our sinfulness, we are expressing agreement with the actions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are therefore guilty of that sin without actually having committed it.
The age-old question of where and how sin began has been explored and debated by some of the greatest minds of history, yet no one can give a completely definitive or satisfying answer. Some, quoting Isaiah 45:7, seek to make God the author of sin: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (KJV). However, the KJV’s word evil, from the original Hebrew rah, is better translated as “calamity.” The context of this passage concerns God’s sovereignty over natural disasters. God is sovereign over all things (Exodus 4:11), but He is not the author of sin (1 John 1:5; cf. James 1:13). He hates sin (Proverbs 8:13). Moral evil originated with the creature, not the Creator.
John Calvin wrote, “The Lord had declared that ‘everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good’ [Genesis 1:31]. Whence, then comes this wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put His stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity—which is closer to us—rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God's predestination” [Institutes, 3:23:8]. In other words, sin was not part of the original creation, nor was it decreed by the Creator’s will.
The first man, Adam, sinned, and his transgression spiraled mankind into sin, but this was not sin’s origin. Ezekiel 28:13-15 speaks figuratively of Satan, who was originally created without flaw, as all things created by God were. Verse 15 gives us a hint as to the origin of sin: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” Isaiah 14:12-14 further indicates that Satan (Lucifer) sinned in his pride and his coveting of God’s throne. When he rebelled against God, Satan was ejected from heaven (Ezekiel 28:15-17; cf. 1 Timothy 3:6).
Which brings us to the question, how did evil manifest itself in a perfect creature? It may be good to mention that evil is not a created thing—it is not a creature and has no independent being. Also, evil has no standard as goodness does; it is a lack, a deficiency, a falling short of the standard of God’s perfect goodness. All sin, no matter how trivial it may seem, falls short of moral perfection. God is always consistent with His perfect nature (Deuteronomy 32:4). All sin, therefore, must come from the creature, and the desire for evil comes from within the creature (James 1:14-15). Sin was “found” in Lucifer because of a choice that angel made to seek something other than what God had chosen for him. Any time we seek “other” than God’s choice, we sin.
To say sin originated within God’s creatures does not mean God was surprised or caught unaware by it. Although God did not bring about sin, He certainly allowed it or it would not exist, since God is sovereign over all things. It’s true that He could have prevented sin, but that would have meant stripping His creation of its free will (Daniel 4:17; cf. Psalm 33:10-11). All His ways are good. In Him is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), and He is right now working all things for His good pleasure (Romans 8:28; cf. Isaiah 46:9-10).
The mystery of evil and why God has allowed its reality with all of the suffering it causes may never be fully known in this world, but Scripture assures that evil is temporary. Once the culmination of God’s redemptive plan is complete, Jesus Christ will have destroyed the devil’s work forever (1 John 3:8).
God created the universe in six days, but, originally, the universe had no sin—everything He made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Sin entered the cosmos due to an act of rebellion against God, not because God created sin.
We need to define “sin.” First John 3:4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Sin, therefore, is any violation of God’s holy law. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” According to this verse, sin is anything (words, thoughts, actions, and motivations) that falls short of God’s glory and perfection. All of us sin. Romans 3:23 also teaches that we must know the character of God before we can accurately define sin, because His glory is the standard by which we measure it (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). Without a perfect standard, there is no way to determine whether something is imperfect. Without the absolute standard of God’s glory, every word or action would be judged by the faulty, shifting standard of imperfect people. Every rule, law, and moral tenet would become a matter of opinion. And man’s opinion is as varied and changeable as the weather.
If a builder builds upon a foundation that is not square, he risks the integrity of the entire project. The building does not get better as it goes up; it gets weaker and more out of line. However, when the starting point is perfect, the rest of the structure will be sound. Moral foundations work the same way. Without God’s moral law, we have no way of knowing right from wrong. Sin is moving away from what is right. The further we get from God’s moral standard, the worse the sin becomes.
God created men and angels with a free will, and, if a being has a free will, there is at least the potential that he will choose badly. The potential for sin was a risk God took. He created human beings in His image, and, since He is free, humans were created free, too (Genesis 1:27). Free will involves the ability to choose, and, after God communicated the moral standard, He gave the man a true choice (Genesis 2:16). Adam chose disobedience. God did not tempt, coerce, or lure Adam into disobedience. James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” God allowed Adam the dignity of free choice and honored that choice with appropriate consequences (Romans 5:12).
God provided the opportunity to sin, but He did not create or instigate sin. Having the opportunity was good; without it, human beings would be little more than robots. God commands, pleads, and encourages us to follow Him (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 12:28; 1 Samuel 15:22). He promises blessings, fellowship, and protection when we obey (Jeremiah 7:23; Psalm 115:11; Luke 11:28). But He does not chain us. God did not put a fence around the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had freedom to choose obedience or disobedience. When they chose sin, they also chose the consequences that went with it (Genesis 3:16–24).
The same has been true for every human being since. The opportunity to sin is inherent in our freedom of choice. We can choose to seek God, which leads to righteous living (Jeremiah 29:13; 2 Timothy 2:19). Or we can choose to follow our own inclinations, which lead away from God (Proverbs 16:5). The Bible is clear that, whatever path we choose, consequences follow. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Some consequences are eternal. Matthew 25:46 says that those who do not follow Jesus “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
God judges people (Ecclesiastes 12:14) and nations (Micah 5:15) who use their free will to rebel against Him. God did not and does not create sin, nor does He delight in punishing those who choose to sin (Ezekiel 33:11). His desire is that all come to repentance and experience the blessing and joy of eternal life with Him (2 Peter 3:9).
The sin nature is that principle in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.
Proof of the sin nature abounds. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish; rather, we go to great lengths to teach children to tell the truth and put others first. Sinful behavior comes naturally. The evening news is filled with tragic examples of mankind acting badly. Wherever people are, there is trouble. Charles Spurgeon said, “As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.”
The Bible explains the reason for the trouble. Humanity is sinful, not just in theory or in practice but by nature. Sin is part of the very fiber of our being; the stain runs deep—it’s in the warp and woof of our souls. The Bible speaks of “sinful flesh” in Romans 8:3. It’s our “earthly nature” that produces the list of sins in Colossians 3:5. And Romans 6:6 speaks of “the body ruled by sin.” The flesh-and-blood existence we lead on this earth is shaped by our sinful, corrupt nature.
The sin nature is universal in humanity. All of us have a sinful nature, and it affects every part of us. This is the doctrine of total depravity, and it is biblical. All of us have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). Paul admits that “the trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14, NLT). Paul was in his “sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25). Solomon concurs: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, / no one who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The apostle John perhaps puts it most bluntly: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:7).
Even children have a sin nature. David rues the fact that he was born with the principle of sin already at work within him: “Surely I was sinful at birth, / sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Elsewhere, David states, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; / from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Psalm 58:3).
Where did the sin nature come from? Scripture says that God created humans good and without a sinful nature: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). However, Genesis 3 records the disobedience of Adam and Eve. By that one action, sin entered into their nature. They were immediately smitten with a sense of shame and unfitness, and they hid from God’s presence (Genesis 3:8). When they had children, Adam’s image and likeness was passed along to his offspring (Genesis 5:3). The sin nature manifested itself early in the genealogy: the very first child born to Adam and Eve, Cain, became the very first murderer (Genesis 4:8).
From generation to generation, the sin nature was passed down to all of humanity: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This verse also presents the unsettling truth that the sin nature leads inexorably to death (see also Romans 6:23a and Ephesians 2:1).
Other consequences of the sin nature are hostility toward God and ignorance of His truth. Paul says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8). Also, “the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
There is only one Person in the history of the world who did not have a sin nature: Jesus Christ. His virgin birth allowed Him to enter our world while bypassing the curse passed down from Adam. Jesus then lived a sinless life of absolute perfection. He was “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) who “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This allowed Jesus to be sacrificed on the cross as our perfect substitute, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). John Calvin puts it in perspective: “For certainly, Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.”
It is through Christ that we are born again. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6, ESV). When we are born of Adam, we inherit his sin nature; but when we are born again in Christ, we inherit a new nature: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We don’t lose our sin nature once we receive Christ. The Bible says that sin remains in us and that a struggle with that old nature will continue as long as we are in this world. Paul bemoaned his own personal struggle in Romans 7:15–20. But we have help in the battle—divine help. The Spirit of God takes up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of the sin nature within us. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). God’s ultimate plan for us is total sanctification when we see Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 John 3:2).
Through His finished work on the cross, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against sin and provided believers with victory over their sin nature: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). In His resurrection, Jesus offers life to everyone bound by corrupt flesh. Those who are born again now have this command: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
There are two basic ways we sin: either by omission or commission. Sins of omission are those in which we knew we should have done something good, but refused (James 4:17). A sin of commission is a sin we take action to commit, whether in thought, word, or deed. A sin of commission can be intentional or unintentional. Foreknowledge is not the issue. If you visit another country in which traffic drives in the left lane, and you drive in the right lane, you are still breaking the law whether you know it or not. The Old Testament Law prescribed special sacrifices for sins that were unintentional but were nevertheless sins (Numbers 15:22–24; cf. Hebrews 9:7).
Humanity’s first sin was a sin of commission. God forbade the eating of a certain fruit (Genesis 2:16–17). Adam and Eve knew God’s command and disobeyed anyway (Genesis 3:6). They took action to commit a sinful act. When King David committed adultery and then had Uriah killed to cover it up, both were sins of commission (2 Samuel 11). The Bible does not hide the often sordid details of the lives of people He loved and used anyway. Its pages are peppered with sins of commission by great leaders such as Abraham (Genesis 20:2), Moses (Exodus 2:11–12), David (2 Samuel 12:13), Solomon (Nehemiah 13:26), Peter (Matthew 26:74–75), and Paul (Galatians 1:13).
We are all guilty of sins of commission. We all commit intentional sin by acting in ways God has forbidden. We also commit unintentional sin in our ignorance of God’s standards (Acts 3:17; 1 Peter 1:14; Leviticus 4:13–14). Our sin nature keeps us from fellowship with God. We may be able to limit the number of sins we openly commit, but we cannot cleanse our hearts. Jesus said that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18–19).
That’s why we need Jesus. We cannot stop ourselves from sinning, and by sinning we eliminate any hope of connecting with a holy God. Only when we allow Christ’s death and resurrection to be our substitute can our sin be expunged (Colossians 2:14; Romans 6:6). Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus took upon Himself all our sins of commission and omission and paid the debt we owe God.
Psalm 51 is the prayer David wrote after he had been confronted with his own sin of commission. He had sinned greatly, and there would be consequences (2 Samuel 12:14–15). But he knew how to repent. And he had enough confidence in the mercy of God to cry out, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10–12). David models for us the right way to deal with our sins of commission. When we recognize our sin against God, we can turn to Him, acknowledge that sin, and ask for His cleansing. We can trust in the power of Jesus’ shed blood to wipe away our sin. God promises to restore us to fellowship and strengthen us to live in a way that pleases Him (Philippians 4:13).
The case of the “unpardonable sin/unforgivable sin” or “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is mentioned in Mark 3:22-30 and Matthew 12:22-32. The term “blasphemy” may be generally defined as “defiant irreverence.” We would apply the term to such sins as cursing God or willfully degrading things relating to Him. It is also attributing some evil to God, or denying Him some good that we should attribute to Him. This case of blasphemy, however, is a specific one called “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in Matthew 12:31. In this passage, the Pharisees, having witnessed irrefutable proof that Jesus was working miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, claimed instead that He was possessed by the demon Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). In Mark 3:30, Jesus is very specific about what exactly they did to commit “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”
This blasphemy then has to do with accusing Jesus Christ (in person, on earth) of being demon-possessed. There are other ways to blaspheme the Holy Spirit (such as lying to Him, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-10), but the accusation against Jesus was the blasphemy that was unpardonable. This specific unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be duplicated today.
The only unpardonable sin today is that of continued unbelief. There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The only condition in which someone would have no forgiveness is if he/she is not among the “whoever” that believes in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). To reject the only means of salvation is to condemn oneself to an eternity in hell because to reject the only pardon is, obviously, unpardonable.
Many people fear they have committed some sin that God cannot or will not forgive, and they feel there is no hope for them, no matter what they do. Satan would like nothing better than to keep us laboring under this misconception. The truth is that if a person has this fear, he/she needs only to come before God, confess that sin, repent of it, and accept God’s promise of forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This verse assures us that God is ready to forgive any sin—no matter how heinous—if we come to Him in repentance. If you are suffering under a load of guilt today, God is waiting with His arms open in love and compassion for you to come to Him. He will never disappoint or fail to pardon those who do.
What is the definition of sin?
What is original sin?
What is the origin of sin?
Did God really create sin?
What is the sin nature?
What is a sin of commission?
What is the unpardonable sin?