What is sin?

The subject of sin seems to be very cryptic as of recent years and continually lands Christians into confusion. I heard a sermon recently on the exact question “What is Sin?” and the answer was confusing and vague. The answer the pastor gave was “disobeying God.” Subsequently, the sermon was about drinking too much alcohol and people who have multiple sex partners outside of marriage.

While drinking too much and having a loose sexual lifestyle are self destructive behaviors, they don’t quite explain “What is Sin?” These types of sermons continually beat around the bush on the subject of┬á“What is Sin” and never actually lead anyone to the truth of the matter. Because of the gross lack of education and the negligence of God’s Word in the Christian churches on this issue, I am going to explain what sin is and what it means to sin.

The Shorter Catechism

First and foremost, the Westminster Shorter Catechism has this exact question within it. The Shorter Catechism states the following in question 14.

Q. 14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

There are two aspects of Sin: The “Want of conformity unto” and “The transgression of“. The object of sin is God’s Law.

This concept of law is ingrained even in our laws today and is by no means just a “Christian” teaching. An example of this is the McPherson murder in February 2012 where 3 people were arrested for murder, when only one of them actually committed the murder. The other 2 were arrested for murder because they were involved in the murder. Even though they never committed the murder, they will be prosecuted for conspiring to murder which is “omission”. They did not prevent the murder from happening, and also aided the murderer in the murder. This is an example of┬á“The Want of conformity” or “breaking God’s Law by Omission“. You can read more about the case here.

What does the Bible say sin is?

There are many Bible passages that contain these two concepts. Below are a couple of examples of the teaching of the Sin of Omission and Commission from the Bible.

The Want of Conformity unto God’s Law (Breaking God’s Law by Omission)

God’s law is broken by omission when the sinner does not conform their life to that law. The law is not actually broken by the person, only by neglect in duty or helping another break the law. This includes breaking God’s law by accident or without knowing.

Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment. (Lev 5:17 NAS)

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. (Jam 4:17 NAS)

An example of this can be seen with the story of “The good Samaritan.” A lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? (Luk┬á10:29┬áNAS)” in regards to God’s Law. Jesus stated the following:

Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. “And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. “And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. “But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. “And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’ “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luk┬á10:30-37┬áNAS)

It is clear from this passage that if someone is beaten and laying on the ground to die and people see the person there and ignores him, they are guilty just the same. Neglecting to aid someone when they are hurt or starving is the same as causing the damage to them. This is sin against God and should not be ignored. Unfortunately, this message does not seem to be a part of the modern church. Christians today seem to think they are righteous because they don’t drink┬áor┬ásmoke; even though, they don’t care if┬ápeople are┬ástarving in the street or if their neighbor needs their help.

What do you do about breaking God’s law by omission?

Help those who are in need. Don’t bypass any opportunity to help the needy. Feed the homeless, give clothes and your extra stuff to the poor, give someone money that needs money. If you have a talent or skill, help those who are in need with your skills and talents.┬áAlso, don’t help others to break God’s commandments. If you see or know someone who is breaking God’s law, help them to understand why they should not do it. Don’t help them or encourage them to break God’s laws.

The Transgression of God’s Law (Breaking God’s Law by Commission)

Actually stealing or murdering is breaking God’s Law by commission. They “committed” the act. This is beyond helping someone else in the act but actually doing the act themselves.

“When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the LORD, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted to him, or through robbery, or if he has extorted from his companion, or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering. (Lev┬á6:2-5┬áNAS)

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1Jo 3:4 KJV)

An example of committing a Sin against God’s Law would be the story of Cain and Abel. In Genesis we read:

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” And Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen┬á4:3-9┬áNAS)

So here we see the transgression of God’s Law. Cain beat Abel over the head with a rock (or used some other means) and killed him. It’s clear cut. Should rocks be banned from society? Banning rocks is not the solution. Murder is a condition of the heart and not caused by guns, rocks, knives or whatever else is used for murder.

What to do about breaking God’s law by commission?

First of all, recognize you are a sinner and that you cannot change yourself. Second, you need to believe in God. Have faith in God’s saving plan for your life. Rely on God for your guidance and stop listening to the world. It’s in following ungodly advice and guidance that gets you in trouble in the first place. Study God’s Law and you will not forget it. In knowing God’s Law you will find peace.┬áSociety needs to teach God’s Laws from the earliest of childhood and for the rest of our lives. Only then will breaking God’s Laws diminish.

What is God’s Law?

In a nutshell, God’s Law is His ten commandments. The Bible is very┬ásimple in many respects. No need for confusion or cryptic messages. God’s law is:

  1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
    “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
  4. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
  6. “You shall not murder.”
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.”
  8. “You shall not steal.”
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
    (Exo 20:3-17 NAS)

It never ceases to amaze me how this is not taught in the Christian church anymore. You will get a million sermons on living a “wholesome” life with no drinking or smoking. They always want to stress how you should cut your hair and look well dressed and clean cut. The most important of all, of course, is making sure you donate money and show up to church every service. As if missing a church service is a sin against God. They expect you to show up and “fellowship” with them, which usually equates to baking cookies, having pot lucks, talking about golf or other “non-God” related subjects that are boring and a waist of time. They focus on making everything “fun” for the children, even though their version of fun is the biggest “drag” and waist of time ever invented. The┬ámain┬áobjective is to never help a single person in their life, give useful instruction, or anything else relevant to peoples lives.

The sum of the ten commandments

Finally, the most important part of “What is Sin” is the lack of love. The lack of love toward God and toward our neighbor. The disciples asked Jesus what Law was the greatest and His answer was:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mat┬á22:36-40┬áNAS)


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