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What is Sin?

Eating apples isn't necessarily sinful.
If there's one thing we all know about sin, it's that it isn't good. But what exactly is it? The closest we get to a one verse answer in the Bible is that 'sin is lawlessness' (1 John 3:4).

So, does that mean sin is committing crimes? Does that mean sin is really bad stuff like the looting and rioting that went on during the summer?

A 'yes' answer would come as a relief to most of us. After all, we're not criminals. We even disapprove of the criminal behaviour we hear about on the news. Yet the Bible tells us that 'all have sinned' (Rom. 3:23). How can it be?

It can be, because the law we're talking about when we talk about sin isn't the law of the United Kingdom (or whatever country you happen to be sitting in), but rather, God's law. That means sin isn't just the serious crimes we hear about on the six o'clock news; sin is anything that goes against what God has said.

And God has said things like 'Honour your father and your mother' (Ex. 20:12), so when we rebel against and disrespect our parents, it's sin. God has said 'You shall not covet your neighbour's house' (Ex. 20:17), so when we get jealous of the Jones' conservatory or new carpet, it's sin.

Sin isn't just doing what we think of as the 'serious stuff'.

And sin isn't even just doing stuff.

The Puritans defined sin in the Westminster Shorter Catechism as 'any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.' Doing stuff that's against God's law is what they meant by transgression. But that's only half their definition. The other half's about not conforming to what God wants: not measuring up to His standard. In other words it's about the things we don't do. Sin isn't just doing stuff, it's not doing stuff as well!

Sin is when we do what God doesn't want us to do, and sin is when we don't do what God does want us to do. But, it's not just about our actions, but our attitudes and feelings and desires and even are nature. Sin is when we aren't the way God wants us to be, and sin is when we are the way God doesn't want us to be. As Wayne Grudem sums it up, 'sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God, in act, attitude or nature.' (Grudem, Systematic Theology).

So, 'sin is lawlessness', and sin is deadly. But 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' (1 Tim. 1:15) and has 'put away sin by the sacrifice of himself' (Heb. 9:26).

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