• johned@aibi.ph

What Is Sin?

(Proverbs 24:8-9 NKJV) He who plots to do evil Will be called a schemer. {9} The devising of foolishness is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men.

Romans 14:23 NKJV) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

(James 4:17 NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

(1 John 3:4 NKJV) Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

There is a popular teaching today that we have moved "beyond good and evil" and that sin is just "unskilled behavior". However as Douglas Groothius has said "some people become very skilled at it!1". The word "sin" itself means to miss the mark, to fall short ethically, to botch up before God2. Yes, it is a "lack of skill" in righteousness but it is more than that, it damages our standing before a holy God.(Isaiah 59:2 NKJV) But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. And eventually leads to spiritual and eternal death:

(Romans 6:23 NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sin is serious stuff!

The four definitions of sin above are based on a search of my bible for the terms "is sin" and "sin is". The first three clearly classify certain activities as sin. The fourth points to the nature of sin and says "sin is lawlessness"( Gk: anomia).Sin is both an activity and a nature that naturally gives rise to those activities. The lawless nature gives rise to the devising of foolishness, the transgression of the boundaries of faith and conscience and the neglect of good works. Lets do a small "thought experiment" to prove this...

Imagine that the Prime Minister of Australia (where I live) said that he so trusted the people of Australia that May would be a month in which we could all do whatever we like, the police, the army, the security services and the courts would all go on holiday and be stood down. They would have no authority over anyone for the month of May and no crime committed in that month no matter how grave could be brought against a person later on. I imagine that on the first day a few people would speed past the police station honking their horns to see if it was true. Some teenagers would throw a rock through a shop window to see if the police would come when the alarms went off. When no-one arrived after a long while looting would follow. Then people with long pent up grudges would decide that now was the time to settle the score. People would start defending their property, businesses and person with bigger and more powerful weapons and guns would become sought after. Firebugs would start lighting fires. Children would swear and fight and carry on saying "you can't stop me...". Employees would brazenly steal from work. Minority groups would be lynched by those full of hatred. Churches would be burned. Government offices attacked and the courts bombed by those with grievances. Every unthinkable crime against the vulnerable and the innocent would be committed. When all external restraints are removed human nature proves itself to be lawless. Only the born again Christian governed by the Holy Spirit and a quickened conscience will be good without external accountability. The lawless nature is the sin nature and the sin nature is lawless.

( Note: Our thought experiment is not so far removed from historical reality. When people have moved into areas, perhaps as pioneers and settlers, and law has been virtually non-existent, then there has often developed a gun crazy culture of robbery and violence that has only subsequently been modified by the preaching of the gospel, military intervention, or industrialization. This certainly has been the pattern in the USA, Africa and Australia.)

To return to our discussion on what is sin...sin is the expression of the lawless nature. When Adam and Eve had only one law and a perfect environment, and they violated it, then they changed their nature from an innocent nature to a lawless nature. They became law-breakers and it appeared to be a one way arrow.. Innocence once lost cannot ever be regained. The situation seemed hopeless and the addition of the law only confirmed it. When the lawless nature is faced with a law it rebels and persuades us to break that law.

(Romans 7:7-12 NKJV) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." {8} But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. {9} I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. {10} And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. {11} For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. {12} Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

The commandment is holy and just and good but our lawless nature produces in us 'all manner of evil desire". People without Christ in their hearts have many sinful and illegal desires. Even so called "innocent children' will playfully discuss among themselves the best way to rob a bank and devise schemes for doing mischief. This leads us to the definition of sin given in Proverbs:

The devising of foolishness is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men.

Sin include sour lawless thought life, our fantasies of revenge, anger, lust, greed and aggression. If the regular topics of your thought life include "why and how I am more important than other people", "1001 ways that I will get revenge on my enemies", "how I will get rich and have whatever I want", "delicious lusts that I am forbidden " and "me- world leader and in control of others" then you are actively involved in the "devising of foolishness". While you may not carry out any of these things they are strong indicators of sin indwelling your thought life. They are strongholds of evil thoughts that need to be cast down.

(2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV) For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. {4} For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, {5} casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

The lawless thought life "exalts itself against the knowledge of God" which leads us to the second half of our verse in Proverbs. "And the scoffer is an abomination to men." The scoffer is one whose pride has taken control of his knowledge. He or she scoffs at God and righteousness. Love and truth are folly to them. They are insensitive to moral truth and thus are "an abomination to men". They are rightfully considered depraved. This is the end result of a stronghold. They have devised foolishness until their sin has so clouded their minds and so become their delight that their minds are now "darkened" and morally upside down. They mock at God and love their foolishness. O how many of our non-Christian friends are in this desperate state! Pray, friends in the Lord, pray!

The lawless thought life causes us to overreach the boundaries of faith and conscience. This is reflected in the next of our verses:

(Romans 14:23 NKJV) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

As "law-abiding" Christians we thus have two circles we must live within. The first circle is that of Scripture the second is that of faith and conscience. Ideally Scripture, quickened by the Holy Spirit, should strengthen our faith and educate our conscience. Gradually the two circle should be made to coincide. But while this is happening we must not violate our inner sense of right and wrong for to do something we think is wrong, or doubt is right , is sin.

Many ethical areas are like the eating meat sacrificed to idols mentioned in this verse. Drinking alcohol is perhaps the equivalent issue among evangelicals today. Some are sure that it is wrong and do not drink out of conscience. Others are sure that it is fine in moderation and drink with a clear conscience. Others waver. For those that waver, or those that are sure that it is sin, then to consume alcohol is a violation of their conscience. It is not "from faith" it takes them outside of being "law-abiding' to being law-less (even though the taboo is self-imposed). They are crossing the line of conscience. However for those who have settled the matter and believe say that Jesus consumed alcohol without sinning, then they can act "with faith" -within the limits of their conscience and thus be still "law-abiding". They are not crossing any line - real or imaginary. This does NOT mean that moral relativism as preached today is OK. This does not mean that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong. There certainly are and they are clearly elucidated in Scripture - hatred, enmity, strife, magic, promiscuity, homosexuality, adultery, theft, disrespect for parents, impurity, insolence, slander...etc. Such things are not made OK for you if your conscience does not object. If your conscience does not object to these things then it is hardened. You are not "strong in faith" you are blind and in darkness!

The "strong in faith" are strong in faith because they can go to Scripture and research their position and with this knowledge of the will of God they can see that the Bible does not forbid eating meat sacrificed to idols in some circumstances or that it does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol as such. Strong faith is based on sound knowledge. Thus there is a vast difference between a hardened conscience and a strong faith. A strong faith knows what is sin and what is not sin from Scripture and is sure where it stands. It agrees heartily with it on every point. A hardened heart does not even understand Scripture to start with.

To summarize the point. We must live within the bounds of Scripture, faith and conscience. Most areas are clear, some are in dispute. We must decide where we stand personally without judging others on disputed matters. If we believe something to be wrong or doubt that it is right then we must not proceed. For us it will be sin. It will be lawlessness.

Our final point is from the book of James with its emphasis on humble, reverent practical Christianity, I will give the context as well for it is important.

(James 4:13-17 NKJV) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; {14} whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. {15} Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." {16} But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. {17} Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Conscious omission of duty is sin. God does not condemn us if we honestly did not know that we should be doing it. Accidental or unconscious omission of good is not sin. Lets look at how these merchants were neglecting their clear duty to God and thus sinning.

They were going from city to city, making a profit and making their own plans without reference to God. Their attitude was one of boastful independence from God that disregarded their place as a creature of the Creator. They forgot their transient nature and acted as "practical atheists" disregarding God's complete sovereign Lordship over their lives. Forgetting to revere God was not just forgetfulness - it was ,of course, sin.
{17} Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

The businessmen knew that they should not be friends with the world, that they should be caring for the poor, being humble before God and acknowledging his sovereign control of their fate (see the rest of the chapter) but they were not doing it. They were perhaps "too busy" to be good! This commercial disregard of the good they knew they should be doing was storing up judgment for them. In the original manuscripts there are no chapter breaks and the text continues with them being vigorously denounced.
(James 5:1-3 NKJV) Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! {2} Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. {3} Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
And so forth... They were in BIG trouble! We cannot disregard doing good in order to pursue our own interests and to "make a profit".

Doing good is not optional. God has made us for good deeds that flow naturally from our new natures, our spiritual gifts and our salvation.

(Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast. {10} For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

God has prepared these good works. God's preparation means to me that He is expecting us to do them. Why else would He prepare them? I imagine the following heavenly scenario might occur for our merchants mentioned in James. On arriving in heaven will say by way of excuse "but there was no good works I could do. I was just so busy." and God will say "Look at all these good works that I prepared just for you to do. I sent angels to set them up, I planned them, I gave them much thought. But you were "too busy" making a profit in this city and that city to do my good works. The poor have gone hungry, the naked are not clothed the dying are not comforted, the gospel is not fully preached, the lost have perished in their sin while you have become wealthy. I had much for you to do and you have scorned it, you have not wanted to be a "do-gooder", you mocked at those who got involved, you flinched from the demands on your money, you were greedy, you were selfish. While you knew that you should be doing all these things you did none of them." That would be a terrible indictment to face!

We need to get hold of a view of righteousness that includes doing faith-filled good deeds out of a heart of compassion and love as its prime expression in this fallen world.. And we need a view of sin that recognizes that sin is more than smoking, drinking, and dancing. Our view of sin needs to be biblically based and to includes the conscious omission of the good. If the churches preached that we must do good the good works that God has called us to then they would be far more practical places and a very powerful witness to this world in need of salvation.

Definition of Sin

Sin is our lawless nature manifesting its rejection of God's authority and constraints by breaking commandments, devising folly, violating faith and conscience and going on strike when it comes to participating in His program of good deeds that He has prepared for us.

Review Questions:

1. What is the relationship between sin and lawlessness?

2. What are the three main types of sin are mentioned here?

3. How is devising foolishness a form of sin? What is a stronghold?

4. "If we believe something is wrong or doubt that it is right we should not proceed". Why?

5. How would you answer someone who said "I know that Christians should give to the poor but I would rather spend my money on myself and I don't think God sees any harm in that.?"

6. Go through the definition of sin given in bold type above and reword it into your own words.


1. Douglas Groothius "Unmasking The New Age Jesus" Intervarsity Press 1990

2.Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament Fritz Reinecker/Cleon Rogers, Zondervan 1982

3. UBS Greek New Testament

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.