Traditional Legal Model – Sin is simply the act of breaking God’s rules. If He says don’t do it and you do it then that is a sin; you have sinned and you are a sinner. Breaking His rules requires the administration of a penalty to maintain God’s justice.
Biblical Healing Model – A sin is the act of breaking God’s “rules.” However, the rules must be understood correctly (see “law“) as diagnostic tools to show us our condition; our sinful nature. That sinful nature is a mind that does not trust God fully and may even be in full rebellion against Him. The word “sin” can describe any of:
- a sinful attitude – willful rebellion against God
- sinful flesh – our sinful nature
- sinful acts – symptoms of that sinful, fallen condition
From a Modern Dictionary
- transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam.
- any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.
- any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense: It’s a sin to waste time.
- to commit a sinful act.
- to offend against a principle, standard, etc.
(www.dictionary.com, accessed Feb. 20, 2018)
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
- The voluntary departure of a moral agent from a known rule of rectitude or duty, prescribed by God; any voluntary transgression of the divine law, or violation of a divine command; a wicked act; iniquity. sin is either a positive act in which a known divine law is violated, or it is the voluntary neglect to obey a positive divine command, or a rule of duty clearly implied in such command. sin comprehends not action only, but neglect of known duty, all evil thoughts purposes, words and desires, whatever is contrary to God’s commands or law.
Sin (verb, intransitive)
- To depart voluntarily from the path of duty prescribed by God to man; to violate the divine law in any particular, by actual transgression or by the neglect or non-observance of its injunctions; to violate any known rule of duty.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/sin, accessed Feb. 20, 2018)
So Many Words for Sin
“Sin,” as used in scripture, becomes difficult to understand for two major reasons.
1. Because there are many different words involved in the original languages. Think of how many words in our English translations are used for sin within the King James Version:
corruption, crime, darkness, disobedience, error, evil, fault, iniquity, lawlessness, offense, sin, sinfulness, transgression, trespass, ungodliness, unrighteousness, wickedness, wrong
There are phrases like “desires of the flesh” and probably other words I have missed as well as those describing specific sins – lust, murder, stealing etc.
2.The great emphasis on the deed. Notice, in the dictionary definitions above, how the deed is emphasized. There was no mention of “sin” as sinful flesh or as a mind in rebellion, yet scripture often uses it this way.
If you think about it, it is logical that the sin, which scripture says originated with Satan, would have – very early on – involved distrust of God.
“Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” (Eze 28:15)
There was something out of harmony with God in Satan’s mind before he committed any outward sin. Likewise, Eve would have had to distrust God’s word before she took the forbidden fruit.
Acts vs Attitude
To keep this study from becoming too long, not every original word for sin will be closely examined. It will focus on the important distinction between sin as an action that violates rules and sin as the underlying condition or attitude that causes us to so easily commit the acts. In Romans chapter 5 Paul really emphasizes this distinction.
He uses mostly two Greek words for what most people would just classify as sins:
“Hamartia” (Strong’s G266) which is normally understood as “to miss the mark” or “to not measure up.”
“Paraptoma” (Strong’s G3900) which is understood as individual acts of sin and which the KJV renders as “offences.”
Here is verse 12 from Romans 5 with some questions inserted just to bring up the issues:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered
An act enters? Was Adam and Eve stealing one of God’s apples the problem?
into the world,
Wasn’t sin – in Satan – already here before Adam and Eve were even tempted?
and death by sin;
Is this saying that sin caused death? Is the death of the sinner ultimately caused by God? Does God use sin to cause death?
and so death passed upon all men.
Were/are all punished because Adam messed up? Am I held responsible for his sin?
for that all have sinned:” (Rom 5:12)
Did a child who dies soon after birth sin? Did “all” include Jesus, born as a man?
For a better understanding of the meaning of “sin”/”sinned” in this verse and the remainder of Romans 5 go to Sin in Romans 5. Once the words are sorted out you will see the distinction Paul makes between acts of sins and the state of a sinful heart. Understanding the difference and recognizing it in scripture makes it much more understandable. I recommend you take a look at that and return here.
The Origin and Solution for Sin in Mankind
If you have read the section on Romans 5 you will have seen the distinction between acts of sin and the sinful condition or heart. We need to understand that the problem is not so much the individual acts of sin (which are really just symptoms) but the sinful nature/heart (the underlying disease) that needs to be remedied. (Of course, I am not trying to minimize the harm that comes from sin.)
Consider that Eve first had a distrust of God as a result of listening to the lies of Satan. This caused a state of rebellion in her mind. Something like: “I want and am going to experience what God is keeping from me even if He said not to.” This then led to the outward act, what most people would term the first human sin. The order is:
distrust (a choice) → attitude of rebellion (a state of mind) → acts of sin
Really, every stage of that is sin, with the distrust being the most serious as it leads to the others. So sin could be defined as being out of harmony with the will of God in:
- choice – to distrust
- state or nature – of rebellion with an inclination to act according to that distrust
- acts – individual violations of “rules”
It is very helpful to understand that the remedy for this situation in humanity needs to happen in the same order. Does resisting a temptation to sin lead a person to trust God? Not likely – that person may not even have heard of God. They may not steal simply from fear of being caught and punished. However, when a person comes to a point of trusting Him completely that inclination to sin will fade away along with the acts of sin. That state of trusting Him completely can only come by knowing Him very well – which is the whole object of this website and this glossary and why the study of the life of Christ as a revelation of the character of God is a most important activity. So, to reverse and remedy the sin problem again it starts with the question of trust:
trust (a choice) → attitude of compliance (a state of mind) → obedience
Sin is, most importantly, a choice to not trust God. When we decide to fully trust Him we can have the mind of Christ, His love in our heart and the correct behavior will follow.
There are many related terms and concepts not covered in this study:
- Original sin
- Sins of the Fathers
- Corporate sin
- Unpardonable sin
- Sin offering
- Forgiveness of sins
- Remission of sins (to be covered in another glossary entry)
- Sin, Christ made to be
The truth that sin brings its own punishment is shown here.
Go to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary