Why Sin Matters
By Peter Amsterdam
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Sin is an important topic, since it affects the life of every human being and is what has caused the separation of humans from God. Thankfully, God, in His love and mercy, has made salvation from sin available to humanity through Jesus’ suffering and death.
Rufus Jones offers the following thoughts on sin:
Sin is no abstract dogma. It is not a debt which somebody can pay and so wash off the slate. Sin is a fact within our lives. It is a condition of heart and will. There is no sin apart from a sinner. Wherever sin exists there is a conscious deviation from a standard, a sag of the nature, and it produces an effect upon the entire personality. The person who sins disobeys a sense of right. He falls below his vision of the good. He sees a path, but he does not walk in it. He hears a voice, but he says “no” instead of “yes.” He is aware of a higher self which makes its appeal, but he lets the lower have the reins. There is no description of sin anywhere to compare with the powerful narrative out of the actual life of the Apostle Paul, found in Romans 7:9–25. The thing which moves us as we read it is the picture here drawn of our own state. A lower nature dominates us and spoils our life. “What I would, I do not; what I would not, that I do.”1
The most common Hebrew word used for sin in the Old Testament is chata, which is defined as “to miss the goal or path of right and duty, to miss the mark, to wander from the way.” The Old Testament also uses words translated as to break off (as in breaking God’s covenant), transgression of God’s will, rebellion, going astray.
The New Testament uses a variety of words when speaking of sin. These are translated as violate, transgress, overstep, miss the mark, go past, fall beside, failure, wrongdoing, deviate from the right path, turn aside, a deviation from truth and uprightness, unrighteousness of heart and life, lawlessness, ungodliness, unbelief, rebellious disobedience, and falling away.
Some definitions of sin from theologians are as follows:
Sin may be defined as the personal act of turning away from God and His will. It is the transgression of God’s law … the violation of God’s command. It is the turning away from God’s expressed will.2
Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.3
While God has expressed His will and moral law through the Bible, there was a time when the Bible didn’t exist. There are also many who haven’t heard of it or read it, or don’t know that it contains truth about God and His will. However, all throughout history humans have inherently known God’s moral law to some extent, as God has embedded it in the heart of each person.
“When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”4
While many people do not specifically know the moral laws of God as expressed in Scripture, everyone has a basic understanding that murder, stealing, lying, etc., are wrong, which is evidence of an overall moral consciousness that humans have. This understanding is often referred to as natural law or moral law and is contained within the Ten Commandments.5
Because humans have intuitive knowledge of the moral law within them, they have a sense of what is right and what is wrong, of moral accountability. Their conscience “bears witness.” God’s expressed moral law and will in Scripture, and each person having an intuitive knowledge of the moral law and a conscience that bears witness when they break the moral law, means that all humans—whether they know Scripture or not—are aware that they fail to conform to or that they deviate from the moral law, and that they are doing wrong.
The first sin
When Adam was told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God didn’t give him a specific reason why he shouldn’t eat it, only that there would be serious consequences if he did. Adam was in a position to show his willingness to obey God’s commands, to submit his will to the will of his Creator. It can be seen as a test of whether he would allow God to determine what was right or he would undertake to determine this for himself.
Adam and Eve’s first sin shows the essence of sin. They resisted God’s will and would not subordinate themselves to it, but rather chose to do what they felt was in their best interest. They wouldn’t let God decide what was best for them.
Louis Berkhof explained it like this:
The essence of that sin lay in the fact that Adam placed himself in opposition to God, that he refused to subject his will to the will of God, to have God determine the course of his life; and that he actively attempted to take the matter out of God’s hand, and to determine the future for himself.6
Instead of accepting that God was their Creator and as such they were subordinate to Him, they yielded to the temptation to put themselves in the place of God. God had said that if they ate of the tree, they would surely die. The serpent told them they wouldn’t. God had told them what was true, yet they disbelieved God’s word; they questioned who was right.
The decisions Adam and Eve made to not subordinate themselves to God, to not accept His determination as to what is right, and to not believe Him, are emblematic of the root cause of the specific sins of individuals throughout the history of humanity. Every human is tempted to sin just as the first humans were, and every human yields to that temptation. In doing so, each of us has acted toward God in the same manner that Adam and Eve did.
Prior to this first sin, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with their Creator. They enjoyed His fellowship; they trusted and believed Him. Their freewill decision to disobey God changed that, not just for themselves but for all of humanity. This sin resulted in the fall of man, and humankind hasn’t been the same since.
Humankind stands guilty of sin before God due to Adam and Eve’s sin being imputed to all, and due to our own individual sinning. As sinners, we are separated from God; we physically die and stand guilty before Him and deserve punishment for our sins.
God, in His love for humankind, made a way for humans to be forgiven, to be reconciled with Him, and to be spared from His wrath.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”7
Being reconciled to God through Jesus, being forgiven for our sins, being redeemed, is the greatest gift one can receive—a personal gift directly from the hand of God. It not only changes our lives today but for eternity. It is a gift that each of us has received, and that we have been asked to pass on to others. It’s the good news we are commissioned to tell others about, so they too can be freed from sin’s grasp and can become children of the eternal, loving, gracious, and merciful God.
Originally published September 2012. Adapted and republished May 2020.
Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
1 Rufus M. Jones, The Double Search—Studies in Atonement and Prayer (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1906), 60–61.
2 J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 222.
3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 490.
4 Romans 2:14–15.
5 Exodus 20:13–17.
6 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 222.
7 Romans 5:12, 17–19.