What is sin? Sin is the violation of the law of God. John the apostle wrote, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). “We may define sin as follows: Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature. Sin includes not only individual acts such as stealing or lying or committing murder, but also attitudes that are contrary to the attitudes God requires of us.”1
Sin is lawlessness or rejecting God’s will. A person sins by doing what the law prohibits or by disobeying God by omitting what it requires. In short, sin is disobedience. The literal translation is “missing the mark” or falling away from the standard. God’s law is the mark, and when we transgress against his standard, we have sinned. Since sin is disobedience, it can be said that the center of all sin is selfishness. When a person puts his will higher than God’s, it becomes hostile to God. The evil of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the acts, thoughts, or words are against another person. “Sin is not represented in the Bible as the absence of good or as an illusion that stems from our human limitations. Sin is portrayed as a real and positive evil. Sin is more than unwise, inexpedient, calamitous behavior that produces sorrow and distress. It is rebellion against God’s law– the standard of righteousness.”2
Adam, Sin, And You
How did sin enter the human race? Sin began for mankind in the Garden of Eden when Satan brought temptation to Adam and Eve, and they succumbed to his deceptions. Satan came to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent. Tempting Eve to question God, the serpent said, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Next, the serpent refuted God outright and said, “You will not surely die!” Eve listened and ate of the fruit and gave to her husband, and he too ate of the forbidden. In the day that Adam ate of the forbidden fruit he died; he died spiritually as a result of disobedience. He died not for the maliciousness of the act but for disobedience. At that time sin entered the human race (Gen 3:1-19). Paul the apostle explains, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Through Adam’s sin, now all of mankind has sinned and received the sentence of death. A person is not a sinner because he sins, he is a sinner because he was born into Adam through the human race. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
Jesus became the last Adam. Now those who are in Christ have righteousness reigning in their lives even more so than death once reigned under the first Adam. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45) . . . So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21). All men without Christ are dead spiritually, meaning, not alive to God. They are not dead in the sense of not being able to reject or rebel against God, but they live in spiritual death. Before you came to Jesus you were alive unto the world, self, and sin, but dead to God and alienated from His life (Eph 4:18).
Your condition was far worse than you can imagine. Without Christ you were without hope. The Bible tells us that man in this condition is incapable of understanding the things of God because he is without the Spirit of God. Paul explains further, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Paul writes to the Ephesians and reminds them that were dead in their transgressions and sins walking after the ways of the world and Satan. Then he declares the wonderful event that took place when God brought forth His life in those who believe.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:4-8).
It could be said that the entire human race identifies with two men. The first Adam and the last Adam. Those who are dead in their trespasses and sins are still in the first Adam. They live subject to sin and are in bondage to their sinful nature. The second group of people identify with the last Adam, who is Christ Jesus. They have been raised from their spiritual death and are alive unto Christ. However, those who are in Christ are free from the bondage of sin. Christians sin, but they are not under the reign of sin. Where sin once reigned in their bodies by the authority of the first Adam, that power has been destroyed through the sacrifice and death of Christ.
The world, sin, and the devil are closely related and may seem like the same; however, as Christians we must walk in victory in each area. Christians are challenged to build upon victories in Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to bring one into deeper into a separated life of holiness. By separation we do not mean separated from people or life itself, but separated unto God for His pleasure. Being set apart for His service is sometimes called holiness, and other times it is referred to as sanctification; but for right now we will call it overcoming the world, sin, and the devil.
Give God thanks for delivering you from the power of sin.
1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 490.
2 Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)
About the Author:
Glenn Shaffer is the author of Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, Christianity 101 and Discipleship 201. He has a Masters of Ministry degree in leadership studies from Southwestern Christian University and is working toward a Doctorate in Ministry at ORU in Tulsa.
Glenn and his wife, Ami have been married for 40 years with two sons, Matt and Daniel. Together, they co-see the elder pastoral care of Destiny Life Church, one church in two locations (Owasso and Claremore, Oklahoma) where they have been serving for almost 4 decades. It is a non-denominational church, based on a New Testament Apostolic form of church government. Together, they also serve as the directors of ATI- Apostolic Teams International, an emerging network of churches and ministers.
One thought on “What is Sin?”
Glenn, I always enjoy your blog and will always appreciate things I have learned from you.
On today’s subject, Oswald Chambers “My Utmost For His Highest” a repeated and good definition of sin is, “my claim to my right to myself.”