What is sin?

What is sin, actually? Sin is what separates people from God, and the wages of sin is death. I commit sin when I disobey God’s will, and transgress His laws. (1 John 3:4)

There are many expressions, biblical and non-biblical, to describe sin. For example, what is meant by sin in the flesh and deeds of the body? We all have sin, but no one has to commit sin. What is the difference?

The origin of sin

Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They obeyed their own will rather than God’s and by this they became conscious of right and wrong. (Genesis 2-3) By this act of disobedience their human nature was corrupted and they received a sinful nature, or sinful flesh.

Sin in the flesh

What is sin in the flesh? 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. (Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:1)

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?

However, 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 (committed sin) until a conception takes place. This conception takes place when my mind 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.

Sin I am not aware of—deeds of the body

I will also often experience that I can act, speak or think contrary to God’s will without being aware of it at the time. In Romans 7 and 8 Paul describes this very clearly, and here he calls these acts deeds of the body, and being captive to the law of sin in my members. Because the inclination never passed my consciousness, I have no guilt. However, even these deeds can be brought to my consciousness at a later stage, and then they have to be dealt with.

Read the other articles in this section to find out more about dealing with the conscience, temptation, forgiveness for sin, and living an overcoming life.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


What is sin?

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What is the difference between having sin and committing sin?

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What is the difference between temptation and sin?

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How do I overcome sin?

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