What Exactly Is Sin? (2023)

Growing up in Sunday School I remember how we used to define sin. Maybe this will refresh your memory – sin is anything you say, do, or think that goes against what God wants. While this may appear to be a simplistic definition, it does point to the heart of what sin is.

Over the years, conversations about sin – especially from the pulpit – have become passé or out of style. But it shouldn’t be so. Sin is just as dangerous and destructive now as it has been since Adam and Eve ate the fruit, so it should not be taken lightly.

What Is Sin?

In the Bible, the word sin – whether it is in the Hebrew or the Greek – actually means to miss the mark. The reason this definition is so important is because it points to two things. First, there is a target we are aiming at, and second it speaks to our intention. Once we know there is a target, then we can choose to hit it or to miss it.

The target is God’s word or commands and when we miss this target, we have committed sin. What makes something sinful is when we know what we are supposed to do and we choose not to do it, then we are engaging in sin. For something to be sinful, we must be aware that it violates what God desires us to do. This is not always determined by a written code, but is also evident by the moral code that God has placed in every man’s heart. For example, when Cain killed Abel, there was no written law that said you should not murder, but the moral code of not committing murder was written in Cain’s heart.

What Does the Bible Say about Sin?

As I said before, sin is not something that should be taken lightly, and the Bible speaks a lot about sin. Here are some verses that speak to the nature of sin.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:9).

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin’” (John 8:34).

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).

Why Is Sin So Serious to God?

There are many reasons why sin is so serious to God, here are three.

1. Sin Dominates

When you think about what sin is, you must recognize that sin looks to dominate a person’s life. Sin doesn’t come in to be nice, sin comes in to take control. Sin is a relentless master that looks to steer and direct every aspect of a person’s life.

Before you got saved, whether you realized it or not, you were dominated and controlled by sin. Don’t feel bad, so was I. Sin controlled us then and even though you are a Christian, sin is still looking to take back control now. This is part of the tug-of-war we experience as Christians, wrestling with the pull of sin that desires to have us back under its control and the pull of the Spirit calling us to live a godly life.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).

2. Sin Devastates

There is a truth about sin that we often don’t want to admit – sin is destructive. Sin destroys families, it destroys relationships, it destroys careers, it destroys ministries. If you allow it to linger, it will destroy everything in its path. This is why sin is so dangerous.

There are so many examples from the Bible that show the devastation that happens as a result of sin. However, you don’t even have to open the Bible, just look around at all the brokenness we see in our world. It is all the result of the devastating nature of sin. One reason you must avoid sin is because it seeks to destroy you. Sin initially appears as good fruit, pleasing to the eye, but behind it are destructive consequences which seek to ruin your life.

3. Sin Separates

Perhaps the most serious aspect of sin is that it is the only thing that separates us from God. Because God is holy, sin cannot dwell in his presence. Thus it is the reason why it separates us from him.

Romans 8 talks about what can separate us from the love of God. The argument Paul was making is that there is nothing and no one that could ever separate us from God’s love. Nothing that happens to us or is done to us will ever keep us from God’s love. However, while nothing outside of us can separate us from God’s love, the choices we make can. Meaning that if we choose to live in sin and continue in sin, we will ultimately be separated from God’s love. Remember, God is holy.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:14-15).

How Can I Know if Something Is a Sin?

Thankfully, we have two gauges in our lives to help us define and know what sin is. The first gauge is the word of God, and the second is the Spirit of God.

God’s word is clear in defining things that are black and white and are sinful without any question or room for debate. For example, you don’t have to ask if sexual relations with someone other than your spouse or cheating on your taxes are sinful, because the Bible is clear on that.

However, there are some gray areas of Scripture where something might be sinful for one person and not for another. I will give you a personal example. There are certain shows on television that I cannot watch that I know other Christians do watch. It might be alright for them, but for me the Holy Spirit has steered me away from those things. This is why your relationship with God is so important, because he knows what’s best for you.

God’s word will define the sins that are black and white and the Holy Spirit will define for you the sins that are gray. Together they will keep you from missing the mark and continue living a life pleasing to God.

Are There Different Levels of Sin?

The first thing you must be clear on is that all sin is bad. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumblesat just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” What we sometimes fail to realize is that while all sin is bad and destructive, some sins have a higher price tag attached to them than others. This means the consequences attached to engaging in certain sins is greater than others. It doesn’t mean the sin itself is greater, just the price you pay for indulging in it.

What you must also be aware of is that your sin does not just affect your life, it affects other people’s lives as well. The greater the influence you have, the greater the impact of your sin. This doesn’t mean the sin you committed was greater, it just means it affected more people.

There is one fitting way to conclude a conversation about what sin is. Just do your best to stay away from it. Proverbs chapter seven talks about an adulterous woman. I would encourage you to read that chapter, and when you see the adulterous woman, recognize that as sin. At the end of the chapter Solomon gave some words of wisdom which I will close with as the warning to keep sin out of your life.

“Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.

Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.

Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.

Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.”

(Proverbs 7:24-27).

Related articles
How Can I Help a Christian Caught in Sin?
Did Jesus Ever Sin?
Does Sinning Bring Us Closer to God?

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/CasPhotography

What Exactly Is Sin? (1)Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author ofThe Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.

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