'Sin' 'Sinful' 'Sinfulness' - What Do These Things Really Mean?

People have all kinds of ideas as to what constitutes 'sin.' But what is it?

A poll carried our some while ago asked people what the term 'sin' meant to them. The average kind of answer was something like 'that which is wicked' or 'something which harms other people'. But there did not appear to be any clear picture which people held.

Of course, to some the question is nonsensical. They might say, 'Who can say what 'sin' is anyway, it just seems to be an outmoded religious idea' - and yet these people are well aware of moral outrage when the wicked go unpunished, they are well aware of the outrage which they feel when some elderly person is beaten senseless by some thug in order to steal maybe only twenty pounds off them. They remember only too well the anger they felt when that precious item was stolen from their car! In short, their experience of life has shown them that certain things are simply wrong. If one would not want ones own family to be wronged (and who would?), one is agreeing that there are norms which we should all seek to live by in order to achieve less suffering, anger, stress and hardship. Here is where the ardent, postmodern, social liberal - full of the influence of Relativism ("Who can say what is right and wrong?") will often suddenly forget their liberalism - especially if the wrong which they perceive is too close to home!

No, we must avoid all cop-outs here; We all know that we are aware of right and wrong and good and evil even if we might occasionally argue over definitions.

Christians accept the principle of Moral Depravity. This does not state that all are as evil as they could possibly be, but that all people fall short of the holiness of God. We are all affected - to one degree or another - by the events in the Garden of Eden. We are, therefore, in a current state of Falleness. There are some truly evil people in the world of course, but many others are a mix of many things; but none are truly pure in either behaviour or knowledge.

In the Garden of Eden, Mankind effectively took to itself the prerogative of deciding what constitutes good and evil, since the first couple rejected the freely offered divine instruction on the matter.

The couple were evicted from the Garden in order to be allowed to go ahead and form their own socieities based upon their own concepts of 'good and evil' - and we know that there have been many attempts to produce the perfect society since then!

Martin Luther used the description, Homo in se incurvatus, to describe the sinner. The phrase means something like 'mankind curved in on itself'; this is an image of reaching in to oneself rather than reaching out to help others.

I like Emil Brunner's definition of sin. The Swiss theologian said this:

"Sin is the desire for the autonomy of man; therefore, in the last resort, it is the denial of God and self-deification; it is getting rid of the Lord God, and the proclamation of self-sovereignty."
(Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, Vol 11, pp. 92-93).

So, in the final analysis, sin is the demand for 'man-rule' or, 'self-rule.' Above all, it is anti-God autonomy, although as long as ones concept of 'God' does not make any real demands upon one, and does not impinge upon ones so-called 'freedom,' a concept of "God" might be allowed.

Swami Vivekananda, founder of the Ramakrishna Mission, not only said that there is no such thing as sin but, on the contrary,

"...You are all God."
(Swami Vivekananda, Speeches and Writings, 3rd edition, G.A. Natesan, Madras, pp.125)

New Age people believe something similar. Here is quite a handy device for avoiding the responsibility of sin.

No, we need to recognise the reality that some behaviour harms ourselves or others, and we really have little or no excuse to duck this reality when we see suffering all around us.

Some have said that the Bible gives a full definition of sin in 1 John 3:4. The NKJV says here that,

"...sin is lawlessness."

While this is true, it is only a small part of what the Bible says about sin. It is also not 'lawlessness' in the sense that, if one knew what was contained in that law - and then set out not to break it - then one could be without sin! This is a somewhat mechanical and unspiritual concept of sin. The true nature of sin goes much deeper than that, ultimately being a matter which cannot be resolved in separation from the Lord Jesus Christ. This is important to point out since some works-based sects and cults really do seem to believe that one just has to find out what this law entails, and then not break it and - hey presto! - one can be without sin. Rather, this Scripture speaks of the spiritual intent behind all of God's laws, for the laws are not an end in themselves but point to the holiness of God. Ultimately, we cannot be made 'unsinful' by keeping any law, but only through the grace of God.

The apostle Paul said,

'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.'
(Romans 3: 23-24).

As Christians we must cling to the reality of sin, yes; even more so in a politically-correct culture which does not like that little word 'sin.'

John Stott said this,

'To make light of sin is inevitably to make light of salvation and so of the cross. To deny the just judgement of God is a characteristic of false prophets, 'who say peace, peace when there is no peace.''
(Stott, Evangelical Truth, IVP, p87).

As the epistle says, the whole world really does lie in wickedness and we should be able to see the results of this all around us - no matter how 'politically-correct' and 'liberally unjudgmental' we are!

So, what is sin?

Sin is rebellion against God and we witness it everywhere. Not knowing the true God inevitably leads to behaviour which is unholy and sinful. We may clearly see sinfulness in acts of adultery, murder, strife, selfishness, hatred and malice; but we need to be aware that even 'nice people' are held under the power of sin until accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour! If a person is motivated by self-interest and has no desire to walk with Jesus Christ, that in itself is sinfulness.

Yes, there is real hope, but not through our own efforts, but through the work of Christ upon the cross.
Robin A. Brace
(This article is © copyright Robin A. Brace 2002. If you want it on your own website please do the honourable thing and come to us for permission first. It is forbidden to excerpt this article without our permission. Thank you)



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