(Click to listen to an audio recording of this article: What is sin?)
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 you know when you commit sin?
What is sin? Knowing what sin is – knowing what is wrong
Sin is transgression 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, your conscience immediately senses danger. Your conscience (or your understanding of right and wrong) tells you when you are about to transgress God’s will and reminds you when you have sinned. It is meant to be a help to prevent you from committing sin.
Because your conscience is your knowledge of good and evil, any transgression of the promptings of your conscience is regarded as sin. However, your understanding is limited and your 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 your personal upbringing. When you start to serve and obey God, He will send you the Holy Spirit to guide you to His perfect will. The Spirit can enlighten you in areas where your conscience cannot, and your understanding comes more and more in line with God’s will.
The fall – how sin entered the world
In order to understand the concept of sin, it is important to understand its origins. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lie and 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.
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. 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. 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. It is also often referred to as our “sin nature” or “original sin.”
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 you have is this sin in the flesh – lusts and desires – that you have inherited. This is no fault of your own; it is something you are born with, and does not entail guilt. You experience this tendency every time you are tempted. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James 1:14.
However, there is a big difference in having sin – which is being enticed by your lusts and desires – and committing sin.
When have you committed 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 your mind consciously agrees with the lust. The result is that you commit sin, whether in thought, word or deed. This is sin for which you will be held accountable; now you are guilty. It is possible to receive forgiveness for this sin if you wholeheartedly repent. But, after such repentance, the intention is that you do not commit sin again.
Read more in these articles: “Having sin – Committing sin,” and “What is the difference between temptation and sin?”
Sin you are not aware of – deeds of the body
It is clear that you 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 your members (read about this in Romans 7 and 8). Because these inclinations never passed through your consciousness, there is no punishment for these deeds of the body. God will not condemn you for the sin that you are not aware of. However, even these deeds can be brought to your consciousness at a later stage, and have to be dealt with. That is, they must be judged and rejected by your conscious mind – you have to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)
No one has to commit sin!
Even though you have sin in your flesh, you do not have to commit sin. When you are tempted to do something you know is wrong, you can choose not to commit sin. You can choose to do God’s will, instead of agreeing with your 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)
What is sin? Answering this question can be challenging. You can read more by following this link to our topic page about sin – and what is even more important, what we can do about it and how we can follow Jesus in articles on our topic pages about overcoming sin and the battle against sin, or in the selected articles below: