Beyond Today

Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow | Learn more...

What is Sin?

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

Throughout this course we see that God explains what sin is. But now we will see that the Scriptures give us an even broader view of sin than we have already encountered. So we begin this lesson by examining the aspects of sin most commonly referred to in the Bible. At the same time we will learn why we sin so we can better understand the necessity of the conversion process . We will then proceed to the other aspects of repentance, baptism and conversion.

How does the Bible define sin in its most direct form?

“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
).

God’s law defines the difference between right and wrong, between sin and righteousness. As Paul explained, “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 Romans 3:20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
American King James Version×
).

What is the core of God’s law?

“And [God] wrote on the tablets … the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to [Moses]” (Deuteronomy 10:4 Deuteronomy 10:4And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the LORD spoke to you in the mount out of the middle of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them to me.
American King James Version×
).

All of Scripture’s commands and other laws are based on the principles contained in the Ten Commandments—and the Ten Commandments are based on the two great areas of love that reflect God’s character (Matthew 22:37-40 Matthew 22:37-40 37 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×
; compare 1 John 4:8-16 1 John 4:8-16 8 He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
American King James Version×
; Romans 13:9-10 Romans 13:9-10 9 For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
American King James Version×
).

Sin is behaving in a manner that does not show love to God or to our neighbor. It harms others as well as ourselves. It is especially destructive to our relationships with each other and God.

(For a fuller explanation of the damage caused by breaking God’s commandments, and the benefits we reap from keeping them, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet The Ten Commandments .)

What must we do first to be converted?

“… If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live …” (Ezekiel 18:21 Ezekiel 18:21But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
American King James Version×
).

To be converted—to turn away from sin and receive God’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit—we must stop transgressing His laws and start developing habits of righteousness through obedience to them. “Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right , if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:14-16 Ezekiel 33:14-16 14 Again, when I say to the wicked, You shall surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; 15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. 16 None of his sins that he has committed shall be mentioned to him: he has done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
American King James Version×
).

How widespread is sin?

“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one’ ” (Romans 3:10-12 Romans 3:10-12 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.
American King James Version×
; compare Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×
).

The Bible tells us that we all have yielded to the lusts and selfishness of human nature and have violated God’s laws.

Let’s consider both how the Bible portrays various aspects of sin and, at the same time, explains why we sin.

Are some sins more easily recognized than others?

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, jealousies, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Contentions, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Almost everyone understands that outrageously aggressive, hostile and self-indulgent behavior is harmful. But not everyone clearly sees the source of such behavior. Therefore some aspects of sin are not as obvious as those Paul described to the Galatians.

Where does sin begin?

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts …” (Matthew 15:18-19 Matthew 15:18-19 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
American King James Version×
).

Sin begins in our minds. It starts with harmful thoughts, desires and attitudes. Paul tells us that “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh , fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:3 Ephesians 2:3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
American King James Version×
; compare Romans 1:28-32 Romans 1:28-32 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 5:24 Galatians 5:24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
American King James Version×
; Colossians 3:5-9 Colossians 3:5-9 5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience: 7 In the which you also walked some time, when you lived in them. 8 But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. 9 Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds;
American King James Version×
).

Does Jesus give clear examples of such sins?

“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22 Matthew 5:22But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
American King James Version×
).

“He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” ’” (Mark 7:6 Mark 7:6He answered and said to them, Well has Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
American King James Version×
)

“But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 Matthew 5:28But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×
).

Disobedience to God’s laws always begins in the mind. Jesus cited the evils of anger, hypocrisy and lust to illustrate this principle. The apostle Peter likewise understood that sin is the product of corrupted thinking. When rebuking Simon the sorcerer, Peter advised him, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22 Acts 8:22Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
American King James Version×
; compare Psalms 81:11-13 Psalms 81:11-13 11 But my people would not listen to my voice; and Israel would none of me. 12 So I gave them up to their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. 13 Oh that my people had listened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
American King James Version×
).

Is it a sin for us to defile our conscience?

“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 1 Timothy 1:5Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
American King James Version×
).

“… Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 Romans 14:23And he that doubts is damned if he eat, because he eats not of faith: for whatever is not of faith is sin.
American King James Version×
).

Our conscience is merely what we believe to be right or wrong, whether it is or not. When we violate our conscience, we are doing something we think we shouldn’t, and thus are compromising with we what think is wrong. Paul says that this, too, is sin.

We stress that no one is born automatically knowing right from wrong. As we have already seen in this Bible Study Course , an understanding of right and wrong comes from knowing God’s law. That knowledge becomes a part of our conscience. If we act contrary to that knowledge, in letter or in spirit, we sin. The apostle Paul also warned: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron ” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 1 Timothy 4:1-2 1 Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
American King James Version×
). If we continue to sin when we know better, we run the risk of “searing” our conscience so we become less sensitive to sin and thus hardened toward God.

Is it possible to see ourselves as more righteous than we are?

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9 Luke 18:9And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
American King James Version×
).

In the parable that begins with the next verse in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes two men, each of whom looks at himself quite differently. Jesus illustrates that it is easy for one to consider himself righteous when he is not. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13 Luke 18:10-13 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
American King James Version×
).

The Pharisee, a member of a respected religious body, observed the outward requirements of the law. He appeared righteous to others, but he entirely missed the overall purpose of so many of God’s laws-loving and respecting one’s fellowman. In his heart he still despised other people. He pointed to his outward obedience to exalt himself over others rather than cultivating real love for them.

In contrast, the tax collector, a member of a despised profession that was notorious for cheating people, could see that he had been sinning. He came to God repentant, seeking His merciful forgiveness so he could begin his life anew. Jesus concluded His parable by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 Luke 18:14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
American King James Version×
). Only those who humble themselves enough to recognize their sinful attitudes, desires and motives can find true repentance. Those who remain righteous in their own eyes remain spiritually blinded.

You might also be interested in...

In our struggle to avoid and overcome sin, it is vital that we understand...

Even though our world is morally and ethically adrift, discover how your...