WHAT IS SIN? PART 1
By Rev. Ted Pike
25 Feb 14
Editor's Note: You can hear the audio of this Bible study under the same title at Truthtellers.org.
(Be sure to read What is Sin? Part 2 and What is Sin? Part 3)
It is essential to correctly understand how the Holy Scriptures define sin. False definitions of sin can both excuse sinful behavior and create neuroticism that every human mistake is a sin. The issue of what sin is and is not is of the greatest importance because our hope of going to heaven and not hell depends on becoming pleasing to God.
At the same time, even with the most accurate definition of sin, we can’t resist sin on our own. Only God’s grace enables us to resist temptation as we trust in Him. Without the atoning blood of Jesus and His unmerited grace, all our efforts to please God through our moral choices are in vain.
Scripture teaches through many precepts and examples that sin is rebellion against the known will of God. It is a free decision. It is not a state of being simply because we live in a human body. It is not a consequence of the actions of other people or of our ancestors. We each deserve hell as a result of our own free will decision to disobey God. That is the definition I will defend in this three-part article.
Sin exists only in rational beings, not animals, young children or the insane. James says sin follows temptation. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James 1:14) Then when his strong desires or "lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." This is a significant pattern of events.
Some people fear that just being tempted (feeling strong temptation) is sin. In reality, we are filled with many emotions and desires as human beings. God created them. To be human is to feel the pulse of our humanity, including sexual arousal, economic ambition, and creative fires. It is confusion to say these appetites in themselves are sin. James makes it clear that only when we decide to do what is outside of faith (we steal or commit sexual sin, etc.) does it become actual sin. Even abnormal desires, such as sexual arousal toward members of the same gender, are not sin in themselves. They become sin when they are indulged and acted upon. God is flexible in making provision for our humanity and the vacillations of our emotions.
James 4:17 is important: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Scripture is very clear that sin is a conscious choice. James says if we know what is right to do but choose not to do it, it is sin.
God has been faithful throughout Scripture and, to a large extent, through our consciences, to inform us of His standards of right and wrong. God's definitions of sin are intelligent, coherent, and logical, and they are made to be received by rational human beings.
We serve a reasonable God.
Paul Enlarges Our Definition of Sin
The Biblical basis for right and wrong for western civilization, and earlier for the Hebrews, is contained in the Ten Commandments. But Paul sets forth another definition of sin in Romans 14:22-23:
Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Paul is saying all sins aren’t graven in stone in the Ten Commandments. Rather, things that otherwise could be morally neutral can be sin if we do them in rebellion, pride, and lack of faith toward God. Earlier, Paul says some people only eat vegetables, and some people are omnivores. He says neither is right or wrong. In these gray areas of life, we must act according to the personal convictions of our conscience. Conversely, if we do even a "good" thing in unbelief, arrogance, and rivalry toward God, it becomes sin. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." This expands the Old Testament concept of sin exponentially. Pleasing God does not just consist of obeying commandments. We must first obey His greatest commandment:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thane heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deut. 6:4-5)
God requires above everything that we be in a loving, trusting relationship with our Creator. We must live at all times in faith and willingness toward Him. Does that mean that while in the middle of a math exam God requires us to also be thinking about Him? No, it means we live entirely in the context of trusting and obeying Jesus. This requires obeying God whenever a moral issue presents itself. Every morning when the Christian gets up he should thank God for the new day and seek His will and marching orders. He goes through the day attuned to the Holy Spirit’s voice of direction.
Sin occurs when we decide we do not want to live by faith in Him. Instead, we have another agenda of our own, not in His will. We know this alternative is wrong. It is not Biblical and not of faith. But it is so delicious! Covetous of it, we push away looking toward Jesus and do our own will. It does not matter what that competing option is. If we are consciously pushing God from our thoughts, attentions and loyalty, we are sinning. This is idolatry because we have set up another god beside the One Who has created us and we say to His rival, "You are my guide and leader, the object of my greatest loyalty." Even if this is our children, our career and earthly security, our reputation before men, such is abomination.
Thus far, I have laid strong emphasis upon our responsibility to make decisions toward God in order to avoid sin. These decisions include initial repentance and belief that Jesus is God and that when He died on the cross He took the punishment we deserve. We also are required to come toward Jesus for the rest of our lives, forsaking sin and walking and resting in the grace and mercy He provides.
Yes, some object, saying, “All our efforts to be good are in vain. Our righteousness is to God as filthy rags. The main duty of man is not making right decisions but allowing Jesus, the Sinbearer, to be righteous for us.”
It is true that Jesus empowered our salvation at Calvary and His Holy Spirit draws us to repentance. We are hopelessly lost without such empowerments, and yet Christ has ordained that we play a vital role in our own soul-making. It is not legalistic, or detracting from Christ’s glory, to assert that we must cooperate with Him for our moral choices. Salvation is of Christ, and we have nothing of which to boast. As Jesus said, we are unprofitable servants. Thus, Jesus does not despise our desire to do what is Biblical and right if such is done without pride, giving glory to our Savior. Our choices to obey, along with complete trust and hope in His mercies, are the steppingstones to ever greater spiritual maturity and power. Jesus does not want us to begin to trust in our own ability to follow reason and do what superficially seems right. We can never forsake the greater fact that it is He alone who gives us free will and the power to do right. As a result, any righteousness we have comes from Him. We must trust and obey Jesus, the only source of salvation, hoping in His mercies.