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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

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The Bible refers to sin by a variety of Hebrew and Greek words. This is partly because sin may appear in many forms, from deliberate wrongdoing and moral evil to accidental failure through weakness, laziness or ignorance (Exodus 32:30; Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28; Romans 1:29-32; James 4:17). But the common characteristic of all sin is that it is against God (Psalms 51:4; Romans 8:7). It is the breaking of God’s law, that law being the expression of the perfection that God’s absolute holiness demands (Isaiah 1:2; 1 John 3:4). It is the ‘missing of the mark’, that ‘mark’ being the perfect standard of the divine will (Deuteronomy 9:18; Romans 3:23). It is unbelief, for it rejects the truth God has revealed (Deuteronomy 9:23; Psalms 78:21-22; John 3:18-19; John 8:24; John 16:9). It is ungodliness, and it makes a person guilty before God (Psalms 1:5-6; Romans 1:18; James 2:10).

Origin of sin

From the activity of Satan in the Garden of Eden, it is clear that sin was present in the universe before Adam and Eve sinned. But the Bible does not record how evil originated. What it records is how evil entered the human race (see EVIL).

Because human beings were made in the image of God, the highest part of their nature can be satisfied only by God. They cannot be independent of God, just as the image of the moon on the water cannot exist independently of the moon (Genesis 1:26-28; see HUMANITY, HUMANKIND). Therefore, when God gave the created world to them, he placed a limit; for complete independence would not be consistent with their status as being in God’s image (Genesis 2:15-17).

But the human beings God created went beyond the limit he set, and so they fell into sin. Because of their ability to know God, they were tempted to put themselves in the place of God. They wanted to rule their lives independently of him and be the final judge of what was good and what was evil (Genesis 3:1-6). Pride was at the centre of human sin (Romans 1:21-23; 1 John 2:16; cf. Isaiah 10:15; Isaiah 14:13-14; Obadiah 1:3 a; see PRIDE).

Sin entered human life because people doubted God, then ceased to trust him completely, and finally were drawn away by the desire to be their own master (James 1:14; cf. Ezekiel 28:2; Ezekiel 28:6; John 16:9). Human sin originated in the human heart; the act of disobedience was the natural outcome (Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23).

Above all, sin was against God – the rejection of his authority, wisdom and love. It was rebellion against God’s revealed will (Genesis 3:17; Romans 1:25; 1 John 3:4). And the more clearly God’s will was revealed, the more clearly it showed human sinfulness (Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20; cf. John 15:22-24).

Results of sin

As a result of their sin, human beings have fallen under the judgment of God. They have come into a state of conflict with the natural world (Genesis 3:17-19; Matthew 24:39), with their fellow human beings (Genesis 3:12-13; 1 John 3:12), with their inner selves (Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:11-13; Romans 7:15; Romans 7:19) and with God (Genesis 3:8-10; Genesis 3:22-24; Romans 3:10-18). The penalty they have brought upon themselves is death (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19; Genesis 3:22-24; Romans 6:23). This involves not only physical death but also spiritual death. It means separation from God, who is the source of spiritual life (John 3:3; John 3:7; Romans 6:16; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:13; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Ephesians 2:1-5; see DEATH).

Ever since Adam’s sin, the human story is one of people running from God, loving themselves instead of God, and doing their will instead of God’s (Romans 1:19-23). The more they reject God, the more they confirm their own stubbornness and hardness of heart (Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 13:12-13; Romans 1:28-32; Ephesians 4:18). Sin has placed them in the hopeless position of being separated from God and unable to bring themselves back to God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:10). God, however, has not left sinners in this helpless condition, but through the one fully obedient human being, Jesus Christ, has reversed the effects of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:18).

All sinned in Adam (‘Original sin’)

In Romans 5:12-21 the whole human race is viewed as having existed originally in Adam, and therefore as having sinned originally in Adam (Romans 5:12; cf. Acts 17:26). Adam is humankind; but because of his sin he is humankind separated from God and under his condemnation.

Because of Adam’s sin (his ‘one act of disobedience’) the penalty of sin, death, passes on to all people; but because of Christ’s death on the cross (his ‘one act of obedience’) the free gift of God, life, is available to all people. Adam, by his sin, brings condemnation; Christ, by his death, brings justification (Romans 5:17-20; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If ‘condemn’ means ‘declare guilty’, ‘justify’ means ‘declare righteous’; and this is what God, in his immeasurable grace, has done for sinners who turn in faith to Jesus Christ (Romans 5:16; Romans 8:33; see JUSTIFICATION).

Just as Adam is the representative head of humankind as sinful and separated from God, so Jesus Christ is the representative head of humankind as declared righteous and brought back to God. All who die, die because of their union with Adam; all who are made alive, are made alive because of their union with Christ (Romans 5:16; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ bears sin’s penalty, but more than that he brings repentant sinners into a right relationship with a just and holy God (Romans 4:24-25; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-13; Philippians 3:9).

Human nature is corrupt (‘Total depravity’)

In addition to being sinners because of their union with Adam, people are sinners because of what they themselves do. They are born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam, and the fruits of this sinful nature are sinful thoughts and actions (Psalms 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 4:17-18).

People do not need to be taught to do wrong; they do it naturally, from birth. Sinful words and deeds are only the outward signs of a much deeper evil – a sinful heart, mind and will (Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 2:3). Every part of a person is affected by this sinful nature. The corruption is total (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:13-18; Romans 7:18; Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23) and it affects all people (Romans 3:9-12; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10).

Total depravity means not that the whole of humanity is equally sinful, but that the whole of each person’s nature is affected by sin. All people are sinners, but not all show their sinful condition equally. The strong influences of conscience, will-power, civil laws and social customs may stop people from doing all that their hearts are capable of, and may even cause them to do good (Luke 6:33; Luke 11:13; Romans 2:14-15; Romans 13:3). But in spite of the good that people may do, human nature is still directed by sin. It has a natural tendency to rebel against God’s law (Romans 7:11-13; Romans 8:7-8; Galatians 5:17-21; Colossians 2:23;). (See also FLESH.)

A hopeless position apart from God

Since human nature is in such a sinful condition, people are unable to make themselves into something that is pleasing to God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 8:7-8). The disease of sin has affected all that they are (their nature) and all that they do (their deeds). Every person is a sinner by nature and a sinner in practice (Psalms 130:3; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10).

The position of sinners before God is hopeless. Their sin has cut them off from God, and there is no way he can bring themselves back to God (Isaiah 59:2; Habakkuk 1:13; Colossians 1:21). They are slaves to sin and cannot free themselves (John 8:34; Romans 7:21-23). They are under God’s condemnation, and have no way of saving themselves (Romans 3:19-20). They are the subjects of the wrath of God and cannot avoid it (Romans 1:18). (See also JUDGMENT; PROPITIATION.)

This complete hopelessness may be summarized under the word ‘dead’. People are dead in their sin and unable to make themselves alive. But God in his grace gives them new life, so that they can be spiritually ‘born again’ (John 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1; see REGENERATION). This is entirely the work of God. It is made possible through the death of Jesus Christ, and is effectual in the lives of all those who in faith turn from their sin to God (John 1:13; John 1:29; John 6:44-45; Acts 3:19; Romans 3:24-25; Ephesians 2:8-9). (See also ATONEMENT; RECONCILIATION; REDEMPTION.)

Having been forgiven their sin and freed from its power, believers then show it to be true by the way they live (Romans 6:1; Romans 6:14; Romans 6:18; Galatians 5:1). Because of the continued presence of the old sinful nature (the flesh) they will not be sinless, but neither will they sin habitually (Romans 6:6-13). They can expect victory over sin, and even when they fail they can be assured that genuine confession brings God’s gracious forgiveness (Matthew 6:12-15; 1 John 1:6-10; 1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 3:10). (See also CONFESSION; FORGIVENESS; SANCTIFICATION.)

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Sin'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​s/sin.html. 2004.
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