Back to Index
What Is Sin?
by Daryl E. Witmer
Historically, Christian orthodoxy has derived its definition of sin from the Bible. And the Bible has this to say about sin:
Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
James 4:17 “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
I John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Biblically, then, sin is most accurately defined as a) anything short of God’s perfection, b) trespass of the law of God, c) moral impurity before -and indebtedness to- a perfect, holy God, d) rebellion against God.
Sin is both an act and a condition. Sin is something that we do, but sinful is also the way that we are. To disobey the law of God in word, thought, or deed is certainly sin. But by our very nature, we are also in a state of sinfulness – from birth. In this sense sin may be considered a spiritual disease of the soul – a sort of moral cancer.
It may therefore actually be more insightful to observe that we commit sin as a result of being sinful than that we are sinful because of having committed certain sinful acts.
In The Problem of Evil, ©1999 Tyndale, Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey observe:
“The Christian view of sin may seem harsh, even degrading, to human dignity. That’s why in modern times, many influential thinkers have dismissed the idea of sin as repressive and unenlightened. They have proposed instead a utopian view that asserts that humans are intrinsically good and that under the right social conditions, their good nature will emerge. This utopian view has roots in the Enlightenment, when Western intellectuals rejected the biblical teaching of creation and replaced it with the theory that nature is our creator – that the human race arose out of the primordial slime and has lifted itself to the apex of evolution. The biblical doctrine of sin was cast aside as a holdover from what Enlightenment philosophers disdainfully called the Dark Ages, from which their own age had so triumphantly emerged. No longer would people live under the shadow of guilt and moral judgment; no longer would they be oppressed and hemmed in by moral rules imposed by an arbitrary and tyrannical deity.”
This twisted, modernized, pasteurized, New Age (old Eastern) doctrine of sin is well illustrated by three current, popular voices addressing the subject:
1) A Course in Miracles (Foundation for Inner Peace and Foundation for A Course in Miracles) defines sin as “belief in the reality of our separation from God…”
In other words, sin is merely wrong thinking. It’s not an objective moral trespass against the nature and will of God as the Bible says it is. It’s just wrong thinking. It’s believing that which is not true (illusory) – namely, that we are ever truly separated from God.
Yet that’s exactly what the Bible says is the case. Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.”
2) Neale Donald Walsch in Conversations with God (Book 3) quotes ‘God’ in one place as categorically denying the existence of any objective moral standard whatsoever. “Right and wrong,” says Walsch’s God, “are philosophical polarities in a human value system which have nothing to do with reality. Right and wrong are figments of your imagination. There is no such thing as right and wrong. In truth, there is no such thing as a sinner.”
3) Deepak Chopra in How to Know God, ©2000 Harmony Books, alleges that “God is in the evil as much as in the good.” He writes that “…the abused and the abuser …are locked in the same dance…”
To such voices as these speaks yet another voice – the voice of the God of the Bible, through the prophet Isaiah: “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes… Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight!” Isaiah 5:18, 20-21 NASB