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1. What Is Sin?

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What exactly is sin? Wayne Grudem says, “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”1 Simply, sin is when we fail to look like God and depend on him. Tony Evans said this about sin:

Sin makes us self-centered and self-dependent instead of God centered and God-dependent. The less you need God, the more sinful you have become, because you are trying to function independently of the Creator.2

Though there are eight words used for sin in the Old Testament and twelve in the New Testament, the two primary words used for sin, “chata” (Hebrew) and “hamartia” (Greek), have the same basic meaning which is “to miss the mark.”3 These words were used of someone shooting an arrow and missing the target. What target do people miss when they sin? It is the target of looking like God. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When God made Adam and Eve in the garden, they were made in the very image of God (Gen 1:27). Image doesn’t refer to their physical makeup, since God is a spirit and does not have a physical form (John 4:4). Image, at the minimum, refers to humanity’s character and function. Adam and Eve were made with a righteous disposition—a desire to honor God and love others. In addition, as a matter of function, they were called to rule the earth, even as God ruled heaven. They were essentially God’s vice-regents. Adam and Eve were to display God’s image and glory to all of creation, as benevolent stewards. When humans fail to do this in thought, word, or action, we miss the mark. We sin by failing to live according to our original purpose as bearers of God’s image.

Another definition of sin is “lawlessness.” First John 3:4 says, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.” When people break God’s laws, which are ultimately summed up in loving God and others (Matt 20:37-40, Gal 5:14), we sin.

Sometimes people categorize sins as sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is when we “commit” a sin by breaking one of God’s prohibitions, such as: do not lie, steal, or covet. A sin of omission is when we “omit” doing something God commands, such as making disciples, going to church, or serving those in need. James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.”

Another aspect of sin that is important to remember is that sin is first of all committed in the heart before it is acted out. In Matthew 15:18-20, Christ said:

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.

Murder, sexual immorality, lies, theft, slander, and every other evil thing first start in the heart. In fact, in Matthew 5, Christ simply taught that if a man lusted after a woman that was not his wife, he had committed adultery (v. 27-28). He also taught that to hate was essentially to murder, since it’s the root of murder (v. 21-22). For this reason, when battling sin, we must battle it first on the heart level so that it never manifests as an action.

God has given people the highest standard: We are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet 1:16) and perfect as he is perfect (Matt 5:48), which includes not only our actions, but also our words and thoughts. To fail at this, is to sin—to miss the mark of God’s glory (Rom 3:23).


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What is a good definition of sin?
  3. What are the primary Hebrew and Greek words used for sin and what do they mean?
  4. What are a sin of commission and a sin of omission?
  5. What questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 490). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... . Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

3 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (pp. 238–239). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin)

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