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What the Bible teaches about sin

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What the Bible teaches about sin
Posted on May 15, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

As Christians, we talk a lot about how Jesus saves us from our sin. We say that He has redeemed us, that everyone is a sinner and that sin is what separates us from God in the first place. While we talk a lot about how sin relates to our salvation, we often give little thought to exactly what sin is. In this post, we will look at what Christians mean when they talk about sin.

Defining a taboo

To begin with, sin is a word that is often considered taboo in society today. The concept of sin is written off to human mistakes, illnesses, and irresponsibility. It is rarely seen for what it truly is — moral guilt. 

Sin is our inward inclination to do things that are outside of God’s will. It is not just what we do, it is part of who we are. Sin in our hearts leads to rebellion against God. When our natural desires are corrupted, they lead to sin. 

Sin is not just what we do, it is part of who we are

Believers, over time, have come up with several theories concerning sin that encompass at least some of the total Christian doctrine about sin. These ideas are as follows: 

  1. Sin is violation or disobedience in relation to the divine commands or Law of God. 
  2. Sin is breaking the covenant with God and being unfaithful to Him.  
  3. Sin is wilful, prideful rebellion against God and/or turning away from Him. 
  4. Sin is idolatry or the worship of a creature or created thing rather than the Creator of all. 
  5. Sin is unbelief, or not believing and trusting in the true God.  
  6. Sin is selfishness. 
  7. Sin is sloth or apathy in reference to knowing and doing the will of God. 

Total depravity

We must remember that sin is unnatural, but that humanity has a propensity towards sinning because we live in a fallen state and our very natures have been corrupted. Sin appears to be part of our nature, though, in reality, this is limited to our fallen natures. God is not merely saving us from the things that we do, He is saving us from who we are.

Sin is not always fully deliberate or voluntary, and some people may not know they are sinning in regards to every sin they commit.  Some sins are deliberate; some may be the result of ignorance. But let it be known that once someone knows that a certain action is sinful, there is no longer room for ignorance when that sin is committed.  

Once someone knows that a certain action is sinful, there is no longer room for ignorance when that sin is committed

Christians are to view sin as a universal problem as is the issue of personal sinning. All humans are born as depraved individuals. John Calvin believed that original sin was a hereditary feature that corrupts all human beings in their souls; it makes all people subject to the wrath of God. Walter T. Conner later described human depravity as not only the ability to sin, but also as the inherent tendency to do so because of man’s moral weakness. 

It is inevitable that all humans will sin. Total depravity can be understood as the corruption of every aspect of man’s being; man is unable to deliver himself from the power of sin. Sinful depravity has corrupted our nature, but it has not caused us to lose our value. God still values us, and while our image of Him is broken, it is not absent. 

Sin causes people to become hardhearted and, ultimately, it leads to disaster. Our disaster. This is why we view God’s laws not as a list of things not to do, but as a way of looking out for our good and benefit.

Sinners are alienated from God. Humans are not free to choose not to sin. Humans who never repent from their sins and turn to follow Christ will ultimately remain alienated from God. These will face God’s eternal wrath, which results in both physical and spiritual death.

Slaves of sin

When someone becomes conscious of sin, that person recognises his or her wilful disobedience and pride. Consciousness of sin is intended to lead us to repentance. 

Sin always leads to disaster. That is why we view God’s laws not as a list of things not to do, but as a way of looking out for our good

Here are some specific things the Bible has to say about sin:

  • We are counted as guilty because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12, 18-19).
  • Because of Adam’s sin, we have a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5). We are inclined towards sin.
  • We are lacking in all spiritual good before God (Romans 7:18).
  • Apart from Christ, we cannot do any spiritual good (Romans 8:8, John 15:5).
  • God holds every person accountable for his or her own works (Romans 2:6, Colossians 3:25).
  • All people are sinful (Psalm 14:3).
  • We are still responsible for our sins (Ephesians 2:1).
  • We are considered legally guilty of sin before God after we commit our first sin (Genesis 2:17).
  • In terms of God’s displeasure and in terms of consequences, some sins are worse than others (James 3:1 and Luke 12:48 speak about teachers being held to higher standards).
  • When Christians sin, they do not lose their salvation, but our fellowship with God is disrupted and our lives can be damaged (Ephesians 4:30 warns against grieving God’s Spirit; Hebrews 12:6 suggests that God will discipline us when we sin).
  • The unpardonable sin is the rejection of the Holy Spirit. As Wayne Grudem says, this rejection is a clear rejection of Christ and the workings of the Holy Spirit by someone who knows who Christ is and who attributes the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to the devil (Matthew 12:22-31).

God’s righteousness demands the punishment of sin. When a person dies in his or her sins, the individual’s soul goes to Hades. At the final judgment, the person will stand before God guilty of his or her sins, and be cast into hell, the eternal lake of fire.

Far-reaching effects

Theologian Millard J. Erickson detailed three ways sin influences our lives for the worse.

  1. Sin affects our relationship with God. It brings divine disfavour, guilt, punishment, physical death, and spiritual death.
  2. Sin affects sinners. It causes enslavement (we are enslaved to our sins); it causes us to be unwilling to face reality (we want to run from our consequences); it causes us to deny our sins (we do not want to admit our wrongs); it produces insensitivity in us (as we sin more, we become less responsive to the convictions of the Holy Spirit); it causes self-centredness (we call attention to ourselves and our good qualities); and it causes restlessness (we are never fully satisfied with sinful choices and, eventually, sins lose their ability to satisfy us altogether). 
  3. Sin affects our relationship with other humans. It causes competition, and an inability to empathise with others; it causes us to reject authority, and be unable to love others as we should.

God’s counter to the problem

Salvation saves us from the Fall; it allows us to overcome the things that separate us from God. Salvation re-humanises us, but its full impact will not be realised until we enter into the eternal state. Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection, His place in glory, and His incorruptibility and immorality show us a glimpse into what we will become.

Salvation re-humanises us, but its full impact will not be realised until we enter into the eternal state

Here are some things the Bible says about what salvation does to sin:

  • God’s salvation in Christ has taken care of the effects of the Fall and removed the curse on nature (Romans 8:19-21; 2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 11:1-10). 
  • In Christ, mortality will be swallowed in immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51ff). 
  • In Christ, there will be reconciliation and regeneration and no second death (Romans 8:1). 
  • In salvation, our inclination to sin can be controlled (Romans 6:6).
  • Our inclination to sin will eventually be removed in its entirety (Revelation 21:27). 
  • Christ forgives us of our personal sins (Ephesians 1:7). 

Every aspect of the Fall was offset by the death and resurrection of Christ. God desires for all humans to be saved. He calls us to love others and not to hate them, to act justly rather than unjustly to others. God extends grace to sinners so that they may repent, be saved, and escape His wrath.

I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer, asking God to reveal to you attitudes and actions in your life that need to change. Think of things you can do to make those changes and remember that apart from the strength of the Holy Spirit in your life, you cannot do anything. Do not let your heart become hardened to the conviction of God’s Spirit, but instead allow Him to conform you to the person He wants you to be.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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