According to God’s Word, sin is what separates people from God, and the wages of sin is death. But what is sin, actually? And how do I know when I am sinning?
Knowing what sin is – knowing what is wrong
Sin is transgression of or disobedience to God’s laws. (1 John 3:4)
God’s moral law is written in the heart of every human being (Romans 1:20), and when a sinful temptation is introduced, my conscience immediately senses danger. My conscience (or my understanding of right and wrong) tells me when I am about to transgress God’s will and reminds me when I have sinned. It is meant to be a help to prevent me from committing sin.
Because my conscience is my knowledge of good and evil, any transgression of the promptings of my conscience is regarded as sin. However, my understanding is limited and my conscience may not be exactly in line with God’s perfect will, since it can easily be influenced by outside factors such as norms in society and my personal upbringing. When I start to serve and obey God, He will send me His Holy Spirit to guide me to His perfect will. The Spirit can enlighten me in areas where my conscience cannot, and my understanding comes more and more in line with God’s will.
In order to understand the concept of sin, it is important to understand its origins. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They obeyed their own will rather than God’s will, and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their conscience was awakened, and they became aware of right and wrong, and knew that they had sinned. By this act of disobedience their human nature was corrupted and they received a sinful nature, or sinful flesh – often referred to as original sin.
Sin in the flesh – having sin
All of Adam and Eve’s descendants have inherited sin in the flesh – not guilt, but a tendency or inclination to follow their own self-will rather than God’s will. The Bible uses many words to describe this inclination: sin in the flesh, the body of sin, the law of sin, lusts and desires etc. In Romans 7:18 Paul writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” Here he describes this tendency to sin that we have all inherited.
John writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8. The sin that I have is the sin in the flesh – lusts and desires – that I have inherited. This is no fault of my own; it is something I am born with, and does not entail guilt.
I can feel this tendency every time I am tempted. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James 1:14.
When have I committed sin?
There is a big difference in having sin – being enticed by my lusts and desires – and committing sin. James goes on to write: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” James 1:15. Here we see that temptation doesn’t become sin until a conception takes place. This conception is when my mind consciously agrees with the lust. The result is that I commit sin, whether in thought, word or deed. This is sin for which I will be held accountable; now I am guilty. It is possible to receive forgiveness for this sin if I wholeheartedly repent. But, after such repentance, the intention is that I do not commit sin again.
Sin I am not aware of – deeds of the body
It’s clear that I can act, speak or think contrary to God’s will, without being aware of it at the time. The Bible calls these acts deeds of the body, and being captive to the law of sin in our members (read Romans 7 and 8). Because these inclinations never passed through my consciousness, I have no guilt. God will not condemn me for the sin that I am not aware of. However, even these deeds can be brought to my consciousness at a later stage, and have to be dealt with (judged and rejected by my conscious mind).
No one has to commit sin!
Even though I have sin in my flesh, I do not have to commit sin. When I am tempted to do something I know is wrong, I can choose not to commit sin. I can choose to do God’s will, instead of agreeing with my own lusts and desires.
This understanding opens a door to a very exciting life! It really is possible to always have a pure conscience. It really is possible to live a life that is always pleasing to God! It really is possible to overcome sin and death and become a partaker of the divine nature, and eternal life! (2 Peter 1:2-4)