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What Is Sin? – Doctrine 203

Sin has marred the original creation, especially in humanity. But just what is it? What is its source? And what impact does it have on humanity? This article picks up where the previous article on humanity left off. It will look at sin and its impact on our world.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

What Is Sin?

There are two distinct ways that the word sin is used in the Bible although they are related. One refers to sinful activities. The other is the sinful nature that leads us into sinful activities.

The Sin Nature

The sinful nature is somewhat hard to describe. You might think of it as similar to an innate desire, like hunger and thirst, companionship, rest, or sex. It is something that is a part of every normal human. We are born with it, and we will die with it. Hunger leads to eating, thirst leads to drinking, and the desire for companionship leads us to seek out other people. In a similar fashion, the sinful nature leads me to act in a sinful fashion.

But the sinful nature is more than just a simple desire that can be easily fulfilled. This nature is selfish and self-centered. It will lead us to act in ways that put ourselves and our interests ahead of others. This does not always cause harm to other people, but it frequently does. The sinful nature says “me first”. Others, including God, will come in second place.

Sinful Actions

Sinful actions are what we do that are at odds with God’s desire for our lives. It may be that our sin is one of commission, acting contrary to God’s directive. Or it could be a sin of omission, failing to do what I should. But regardless of the type of sin, it is a matter of choosing to act according to my will rather than the will of God.

Our sin of commission is generally pretty obvious and is what we typically think of when we consider our sin. If I lie, gossip, steal, or an endless number of other infractions, I usually know that I have done wrong. But the sin of omission is much more subtle. How often do I fail to love my neighbor by helping them when I can? How often do I ignore God’s subtle nudging to do something good? And how often do I keep silent when I should speak out? We might justify ourselves by saying we did nothing wrong. But if we have failed to obey God, we have sinned.

Where Did Sin Come From

We have seen what sin is, both the sinful nature and the actions that derive from that nature. But how did we end up with a sinful nature?

Inherited from Our Ancestors

The third chapter of Genesis relates the story of humanity’s fall. The first two chapters of the Bible describe our creation, commissioning, and installation into God’s garden. Along with that came a test. One tree was placed in the garden within their reach. But they were commanded not to eat from it. Every other tree in the garden was theirs to eat from. But they chose to disobey God. They ate from that tree, their eyes were opened, they recognized their nakedness, hid from God, and found themselves exiled from the garden. Rather than walking with God, they fell into sin and were cast from his presence.

The doctrine of original sin holds that the nature that Adam and Eve, corrupted in the fall, has been passed down to all of their descendants. How that transmission of a sinful nature occurs is not clear. However, that we are born with a nature that inclines us toward sin is clear.

Our Own Desires

You may or may not accept this account as being literal history. But it does reflect the story of every competent individual who has ever lived past early childhood. Our own desire draws us away from God. It leads us to satisfy ourselves rather than be obedient to God. It sets me on the throne of my life.

James 1:14-15 tells us that the source of our sin is yielding to temptation. And that temptation originates in our own selfish desire. I can’t blame Adam and Eve, the Serpent, or any other individual or circumstance for my sin. The root cause of my sin lies in my desires. I sin, not because I am somehow forced to. But because I choose to. I am the source of my own sin.

What Are the Consequences of Sin

Sin always has negative consequences. Often times our sin has repercussions in this life. Either personal problems or problems between people. But sin also has eternal consequences, resulting in separation from God and facing his judgment.

Trouble in the Life

Many of the problems people face in life are caused by sin. Either their own sin or the sin of others. Sometimes the sin is obvious and the consequences are immediate. Other times the results are less obvious. When I submit to my own selfish desires it can cause health problems, financial issues, broken relationships, or legal problems.

My sin can also have a dramatic impact on other people. Drunken driving that results in the death of an innocent person is an extreme example of this. But there is little I do that does not have some impact on those around me. Especially my family and others who are close. Some of the suffering in this world is the result of natural events. But more is caused because of the actions of individuals and groups of people. Actions that come from satisfying selfish desires, regardless of the impact on other people.

Separation from God

But there is an even more devastating consequence of sin. My sin separates me from God (Isa. 59:2). There are two aspects to this separation. I live my life here apart from his presence. I was created in the image of God. But that image is marred by sin. I was created to be in a relationship with God. But my sin has come between us, preventing the intimate relationship I was made for. So I walk through this life cut off from the source of real life, lost and alone.

The other aspect of this separation is eternal. Paul tells us that the wages of sin are death (Rom. 6:23). And this death is eternal separation from God. That separation is described in various ways in the Scripture: the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15), utter darkness (Jude 1:13), and everlasting destruction (1 Thess. 1:8-9). But regardless of the form that separation takes, it is eternal. And there is nothing I can do about it.

Some Questions to Consider

  • What is the difference between “sin” and “sins”? And what is the relationship between the two?
  • What is the root cause of our sin?
  • What consequences have you experienced because of your sin? Because of the sin of others?
  • What can you do about your sin?

You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.

Looking Ahead

While you might blame our fallen state on Adam, the reality is that it is my own sin that causes my separation from God. God holds me responsible, not for Adam’s sin, but for my own. And there is nothing I can do to fix that separation. However, God does not leave us in this hopeless condition. The next two articles will describe what God has done to provide a way out of the hopeless condition we find ourselves in because of sin.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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