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What is Sin?

I have a subscription to an image database where I can find royalty free graphics to use here on this website. When I searched the word, sin, many PG-13 sexually provocative photos of women came up. That gave me a huge clue (which I already knew) that culture has shoehorned sin into a particular category. It’s sexy and desirable, even if it’s a little naughty. Obviously, I didn’t use any of those photos and went with the good ol’ once-bitten-apple, but that image search highlighted the reason I’m writing this article. The definition of sin needs yet another look.

We’re not the only generation to lose sight. Every generation has its excesses and justifications. While it’s true that there are universal categories that have always been identified as sin, through time people have found innumerable creative ways to rationalize and reason their way to redefining sin. And anyone who says their generation did no such thing is guilty on the spot of hubris – exaggerated self-confidence and pride.

The Bible speaks of sin in two ways, and they’re inseparable.

  • Sin is a power.
  • Sin is an action.

Sin is a power.

Since I was six years old, I have loved Star Wars. I’m not fanatical, but instead, I’m a casual fan, so I don’t get caught up in all the drama that happens on social media about which movies are the best. I enjoy every one of them. Over the years I’ve watched well-meaning people draw analogies between the Holy Spirit and the Force, and it always makes me cringe. But I’m about to make a less cringy (I think) comparison. In the Star Wars story, the Force permeates the entire galaxy, and people can learn to wield the Force for good or evil.

Similarly, sin is a power that permeates all of creation. However, unlike the Force, sin cannot be used for good. Sin is, by nature, evil, and there is no part of creation untouched by it.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
– Romans 5:12 (ESV)

Let’s take this a step further. Not only is sin a power, but sin is personified. What does that mean? Early in the Bible, the LORD spoke of sin in ways that seemed to give it personhood.

6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
– Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)

I want to be clear, sin is a power, not a person. However, that power becomes personified when we allow it to rule over us. What does that mean? When you allow sin to rule over you, you’re giving the power of sin hands, feet, and a mouth. Look at what Paul said in Romans 6.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
– Romans 6:12-13 (ESV)

Our members are our hands, feet, and mouth, and anything else on our bodies that can be used by sin for its purposes. So, quite literally, when we let sin rule over us, we are giving it a mind and body to accomplish its desires. You and I become sin personified when we do this. Don’t become a meat puppet for the power of sin!

Here’s one more clarification before I move on. Because of Adam, we’re all born beneath the power of sin (see Romans 5:12 again). We’re born captive to sin’s power because sin has spread to all men through Adam. The only way to overcome the oppressive power of sin is through Jesus Christ. Those who are born again receive a new heart, a new spirit, and the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27) which is the key to denying sin its passions. If you don’t belong to Christ, you have no choice in the matter of being ruled by sin because you have no capacity to choose otherwise.

Sin is an action.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
– Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)

This isn’t the only list of behaviors, but I like this one because of how Paul sets it in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The works of the flesh is a phrase that Paul often uses to talk about sinful behaviors. When we give the power of sin reign over our lives, the natural desires of our minds and bodies – hunger, sex, control, happiness, etc. – become expressed in sinful ways. For example, God has said that all sexual desire should be fulfilled within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman. When sin is in control, we tend to find sexual fulfillment on our own terms according to our desires, not God’s. The pursuit of happiness is another great example. God has actually told us how to find happiness. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11), the word blessed means happy. The Psalms are full of references to gladness in the LORD. Yet, when sin is in control, we search for happiness apart from the LORD. I hope that makes sense. The phrase works of the flesh describes what happens when we give ourselves to the power of sin.

Sins are actions that result from the influence of the power of sin. Since the power of sin is against the LORD (Galatians 5:17), anytime we disobey what He has commanded, we sin. The word sin is an archery term that means to miss the mark. The mark is God’s perfect standard – Jesus Christ – and sin is any thought, word, or deed that falls short of Him.

In light of that, everyone sins, believer and unbeliever, the only difference being 1) that believers have been forgiven in Christ Jesus, and 2) that believers are equipped to kill the power of sin every day by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Why does this matter?

All sin leads to death.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 6:23 (ESV)

The power of sin is why the world is broken. The power of sin is what has brought corruption into the world. It is the reason death comes to us all. These bodies wear out, they get sick, they suffer corruption, and eventually die. The power of sin is responsible for all corruption and death. Remember Romans 5:12, by one man came sin, and by sin came death. God did not create death. Death was and is a consequence of sin’s power.

As I compose this, there’s a funeral happening for a sixteen-year-old young man here in our community. I didn’t know him. He died from cancer. Grown people dying from cancer is hard enough. When a child or a teen does, it’s nearly unbearable. I’m under the impression that this young man was a believer. Assuming that’s true, here’s what has happened. His body died, but his spirit entered into the presence of Christ, where he will wait to return to earth with Christ, where his body that has died will be resurrected and reunited with his spirit. He will undergo a judgment of his works, but, despite the fact that he was still sinning when he died, he will not be judged for his sins. Why? Because by faith, he believed in Christ, his sins were forgiven, and whatever sins he had done and would do until his death were thrown back to the cross of Christ and judged there.

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Christ died the death that we deserved because of our sins.  He took our sins upon himself, died, and resurrected from death opening the new and living way for people to come to the Father. And no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ.

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
– Acts 4:12 (ESV)

The reason this matters is this: either Christ bore your sins at the cross, or you will bear them yourself at your judgment. There is no other way. The cross was God’s judgment against the sins of anyone who would believe in Christ. If you believe in Him, your sins have already been judged. If you do not, they will be judged when you stand before the LORD. And His judgment is eternal torment in the lake of fire.

15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
– Revelation 19:15 (ESV)

Why must it be this way? I don’t have a comprehensive answer to that because much of that answer lies in the divine wisdom of God that is beyond us. But God has given us at least one answer: He is going to remake all things.

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
– Revelation 20:1 (ESV)

If you would allow me to say this simply, the LORD will not allow sin to enter His new creation. In the new creation, there will be no death or corruption because there will be no sin. So I hope you hear what I’m saying. It is of the utmost importance that you put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation today because you don’t know if tomorrow will come. His sacrifice on the cross is the remedy for our malady. He took our punishment, He bore every sin that everyone who’d ever believe in Him would commit. That includes yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If you believe God will ultimately judge all sin, it makes no sense for you to wait any longer. Throw yourself upon God’s mercy at the cross. It was death for His Son, but it is grace and mercy for us.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
– Romans 10:9-11 (ESV)

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Last modified: January 10, 2024
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