12th December 2016



Sin can be pictured as an archer releasing an arrow from his bow and missing the target. It is not, of course, that failure to hit the bull’s-eye in target shooting is a grave moral matter. Rather, the simplest biblical definition of sin is “to miss the mark.”In biblical terms, the mark that is missed is not a target filled with straw; it is the mark or “norm” of God’s law. God’s law expresses His own righteousness and is the ultimate standard for our behaviour. When we miss achieving this standard, we sin.

The Bible speaks of the universality of sin in terms of missing the mark of God’s glory. Romans 3:23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standardTo say that “nobody’s perfect” or “to err is human” is to acknowledge the universality of sin. We are all sinners in need of redemption.

Sin has been defined as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”In this definition there are three crucial dimensions. First, sin is A lack or want of conformity. Nonconformity to the law of God.A sin of omission is a failure to do what God commands. If God commands us to love our neighbor and we fail to do so, that is sin.

Second, sin is defined as a transgression of the law.To transgress the law is to cross its boundaries, to overstep its limits. Hence, we sometimes describe sin as a “trespass.” We walk where we are not permitted to walk. Here we speak of sins of commission whereby we commit actions prohibited by God. When God’s law is pronounced in negative terms, “You shall not,” and we do what is disallowed, we commit sin.

Third, sin is an action performed by reasonable creatures. As creatures made in the image of God, we are free moral agents. Because we have a mind and a will, we are capable of moral action. When we do what we know is wrong, we choose to disobey God’s law and sin.

Protestantism rejects the classic distinction in Roman Catholic theology between venial and mortal sin. Traditional Catholic theology defines a mortal sin as a sin that “kills” grace in the soul and requires renewed justification through the sacrament of penance. A venial sin is sin of a less serious sort. It does not destroy saving grace.

John Calvin declared that all sin against God is mortal sin in that it deserves death, but no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys our justification by faith. Protestantism affirms that all sin is serious. Even the smallest sin is an act of rebellion against God. Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

However, the Bible still regards some sins as more heinous than others. There are degrees of wickedness even as there will be degrees of punishment rendered at the bar of God’s justice. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for omitting the weightier matters of the law and warned the towns of Bethsaida and Chorazin that their sin was worse than that of Sodom and GomorrahMatthew 11:20-24Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you. “And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead.(Greek to Hades) For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today.24 I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.”

The Bible also warns us about the guilt incurred from multiple sins. Though James teaches that to sin against one part of the law is to sin against the whole lawJames 2:10For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.nevertheless there is added guilt with each particular transgression. Paul admonishes us against heaping up or treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath Romans 2:1-11You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.  And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.  Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things?  Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honour and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favouritism.With each sin we commit we add to our guilt and exposure to the wrath of God. Nevertheless, the grace of God is greater than all our guilt combined.

The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes God seriously and it takes human beings seriously. When we sin against God, we do violence to His holiness.When we sin against our neighbour, we violate his or her humanity.

  • The biblical meaning of sin is to miss the mark of God’s righteousness.
  • All human beings are sinners.
  • Sin involves a failure to conform to (omission) and a transgression of (commission) the law of God.
  • Only moral agents can be guilty of sin.
  • Protestantism rejects the distinction between mortal and venial sin but affirms the gradation of sin.
  • Each sin committed incurs greater guilt.
  • Sin violates God and people.

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