What is SIN?

by Mark J. Ward

The Bible clearly teaches us that "the wages of sin is death" in Romans 6:23. In Romans 3:23, we read that "all have sinned" and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is so terrible that Christ had to die on the cross in order that we might have access to God's plans of salvation (See Matthew 26:28; John 3:16; Hebrew 9:28). In this article, let us answer the question "What is Sin?" by looking at God's Word on this important topic.

SIN is a trespass

In I John 3:4, the King James translation of the Bible reads, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." If we are in England and violate the applicable laws that are currently in force in that country, we are guilty of transgressing that law (and are subject to being punished). If we lived under the law of Moses, for example, and violated the requirements of that law, we would be guilty of sin (i.e. trespassing that law). Similarly, if we today violate the new law, the law of Christ (i.e. the perfect law of liberty: James 2:12; James 1:25) we trespass, transgress and thus are said to SIN.

In the similitude of one traversing over a property line of a neighbor who has "no trespassing" signs up on their property, a person who "steps over the limitations" set by God's Word is guilty of sin.

In this way, committing an action that is contrary to God's Word, or unauthorized by the law of Christ, is said to be SIN.

SIN is lawlessness

Another way of looking at this is that of sin being "law-lessness". The same verse noted above, I John 3:4, in the New American Standard Bible reads, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." To engage in sin is to act in such a way as to act WITHOUT law, without the authority of Christ (in our case, since we live accountable to the law of Christ today).

If we are doing something that Christ has authorized, we are not "without law" for we HAVE law (we have authority from Christ) for such activity. But, on the other hand, when we do something that is either strictly forbidden or something that is simply not authorized, we act on the basis of being "without law" and thus SIN.

But, engaging in acts of unauthorized activity are not ALL that can be called sin. Please read on.

If you violate your conscience you SIN

Another point that needs to be made concerning sin is that if we violate our conscience, we sin. Please notice that one's conscience may NOT be in harmony with the law of Christ, that is, a person may not have the proper understanding of God's Word on a particular issue, but if that person violates the law of his conscience, he sins. Notice the teaching of Romans 14:23, "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."Never violate your conscience, but don't rely on your conscience to be right without being sure that it conforms to God's Word.

NOTE: So, the conscience is not a safe guide!  Don't heed the wrongful advice, "Let your conscience be your guide." God's Word is truth (John 17:17) and our perfect guide (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3). The solution to this delimma is to learn the truth of God's Word and align our conscience with truth. Paul did many things that were sinful, that were NOT against his conscience prior to his obedience to the gospel as noted in Acts 23:1. But he was wrong since he was violating God's word.

If you violate the conscience of another you could SIN

Did you know that we can sin by wounding the conscience of another? The Bible clearly teaches in I Cor. 8:11, 12 and in Romans 14:12-15 that when we engage in a liberty (i.e. something that is authorized by God, but is not mandatory for us to engage in) in the presence of another who has a conscience that believes that such activity is sin, we SIN!

These passages indicate that we should strive to know the convictions of those around us, that we should continue to strive to grow into the truth on every Bible subject (so we are in agreement with our beliefs, teaching and practices) and that we should be considerate of those who have convictions (in liberties) different that we to the extent that we don't violate or wound their conscience.

NOTE: This is not applicable to things that God teaches us that are MANDATORY. We MUST engage in activity that is mandatory, even if it were to violate the conscience of another. The problem arises when one party thinks something IS mandatory or forbidden, for example, and the other party thinks that same activity is a "liberty". God's Word has the real answer, but we need to learn to dwell together respecting the consciences and convictions of others, given their various stages of spiritual growth on Bible matters. Maturity in Christ would have believers in AGREEMENT on the truth set forth by God on subject matter over which there was previous disagreement. But this takes study, digestion time, disagreement, listening to others' points of views, more study, then a conviction arrived at that is tested and tried/proven to be the truth of God on the subject.

Not doing good, when we know to do good, is SIN

James 4:17 teaches, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." This passage lets us know that if we know to do good ("good" being defined as being permitted by God's authority, not man's) and fail to do it, we are guilty of a SIN of OMISSION. So, we can see that SIN is not limited to only DOING WRONG per se...SIN also includes the concept of NOT DOING RIGHT when we know to do right and have the opportunity to do good and simply fail to act upon it! Beware! The devil loves to catch folks in this type of sin...sins of inactivity! Christianity is not a passive religion. Action is required in authorized areas in running the spiritual race.

Ignorantly disobeying God is still SIN

Sometimes I fear that people limit SIN to trespasses in only those topics that are KNOWN by an individual. In other words, a person only would be able to sin if they did something they knew was wrong or failed to do something they knew was right. But, the Bible teaches that those who are in various states of ignorance (on Bible subject matter) are still guilty of SIN and will be held accountable. To read of some who were ignorant, were wrong and were accountable to God while in their ignorance, please note Acts 17:23-30 and Romans 10:1-14.

We have already pointed out that Paul noted that he was wrong, even tho' he was not disobeying his conscience (Acts 23:1), while he persecuted the cause of Christ prior to his conversion. Also, please notice the teaching of Acts 26:9. Ignorance is no excuse before God today.


Now that we have a pretty good idea of the concepts of what sin is, let's look to some practical applications that might affect us today.

Sin in immorality

Most religious people would readily agree that murder, hatred, strife, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, idolatry, drunkedness, and the like, are sinful. Passages such as Galatians 5:19ff and I Corinthians 6:9ff point to the fact that immorality is wrong before God, thus sinful. People who at least try to live by what is commonly called "the golden rule" would not live in such a way to be overtly immoral.

But, we always need to guard against immorality and how it creeps into the thought processes of those trying to live godly lives. One only has to take a look at "what is popular" today among prime time television shows, movies, music lyrics, and what is being glamorized in the advertising world to see the continual influence of worldliness. The Christian needs to constantly be on guard, lest we invite the devil into our homes and allow the influence of media suggestiveness, for example, soften us up to the sins of the flesh. Be on guard!

Sin in worshipping God

Have you ever thought much about the possibility of sinning in a religious service to God? I am not even talking about (in this article) a religious service outside of what is commonly referred to as Christendom. I am talking about sin that is committed with the very best of intentions.

The Bible teaches that acceptable worship to God must be "in spirit and in truth" (See John 4:24). "In spirit" carries with it the idea of worship that is sincere, from the heart, devoted properly toward God. This is essential to acceptable worship or the worship is sinful! So, even if the practice being engaged in in worship unto God is authorized, if the individual's heart is not centered properly on the action of worship, sin is involved on the part of that person. Don't let your mind wander during worship activities to God! Keep your mind on things above!

We should also recognize that worship is to be "in truth". This means that our worship today is to be according to the Word of God, specifically, authorized by the law of Christ (the new covenant, the new testament). We could say that our worship is to be "by faith". Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Cain, an old testament example, worshipped God unacceptably...the Bible teaches that the worship of his brother Abel, was acceptable. What was the difference? God was still the proper object of the worship by the brothers. The Bible points out that due to Abel's worship being "by faith" (See Hebrews 11:4) it was acceptable before God. Abel did what God authorized, no more and no less.  Likewise, we today must do everything in our worship according to the authority (permission/truth) of Jesus Christ (See Col. 3:16,17). 2 John 9 teaches that if we are not abiding (this would include our worship activities) in the doctrine of Christ (the new testament pattern) we don't have God...Another way of saying it is that we "sin" when we engage in worship for which we have no authority.

There are numerous folks who claim or think that they are truly Christians today who are worshipping God in vain. Matthew 15:9 says that vain worship includes teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, instead of the truth from God. Why are there so many conflicting practices in worship services today? Certainly we don't think they are ALL pleasing to God? How are we to determine what pleases God? Surely we know to read His Book and apply it. The problem is in the interpretation and in the application.

We can't devise worship activities that we "think" will please God without consulting His Word for authority; God has already told us what we should do today to worship Him acceptably. Let's continue in what is right (truth) with the proper frame of mind (spirit), but let's stop all worship activities for which there is no new testament authority! Only then can we be pleasing before God. Good intentions won't suffice.

Sin in teaching religious error

Matthew 15:9 has already been mentioned in the previous section with regards to vain worship including teaching other than God's will. Creed books written by uninspired men and women are being used by religious leaders in denominations that make them uniquely "Baptist", "Methodist", "Episcopalian", "Lutheran", etc. This system of religious division (we call it denominationalism) is an "attend the church of your choice" fragmentation approach to Christianity. God wants us to be Christians only and simply be members of the Lord's church (See Mt. 16:18; Acts 2:47; Acts 26:28; Rom. 16:16; Eph. 4:1-6; John 15:1-11). Why be a part of something that continues to endorse a splintering of what is perceived to be "Christians in denominations" when Christ only built one church? He purchased the church (His church) with His blood (Acts 20:28). Teachers will receive a heavy judgment (James 3:1). Don't believe what your "Pastor" says without searching the scriptures and studying for yourself (See Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).

Sin in following religious error

While teachers will be sinning if they teach error; everyone sins who follows religious error. Notice that after discussing immorality, we are now looking at how people can actually be guilty of sin when they are engaged in seemingly "good", religious activities! Beware! Yes, the Bible is plain that if the blind lead the blind BOTH shall fall into the ditch. This principle illustrates well how that both the leaders (teachers) AND the followers (audience) of religious error are going to receive the same fate in the end.

There are many warnings throughout the Scriptures concerning not following the teachings of men without checking to be sure they are teachings of GOD. See I Cor. 11:1; Acts 17:11; Acts 17:28-31; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2:1-3. God's word is truth (John 17:17). We must rightly divide (properly interpret) and apply God's word to our lives so we are NOT in religious error.

Sin SIN can be forgiven

As ugly as sin is, sin can be forgiven. Those who are not Christians need to hear the Word, believe it, be willing to repent of their sins, confess Christ as the Son of God and submit to water baptism for the remission of sins (Rom. 10:17; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 22:16; Mark 16:16; Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:26, 27). If we are already Christians and sin, we need to repent, confess the sins as widely as they are known and pray God for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; I John 1:6-9; James 5:16). Thanks be to God above that there IS a remedy for sin. The precious blood of Christ takes away our sins when we meet the aforementioned conditions outlined in God's Word. Thanks for reading.   --mjw

Email the Editor at markjward@yahoo.com