There’s a whole lot of reading available to you today if you’re up for it!!
The first place to start would be a collection of five quotations posted this morning at Thinking Out Loud under the title What is Sin?
Then, we go to today’s source an article in a series entitled Three Errors About Sin at the blog Counted for Christ, written and edited by a group of Christians in Nigeria. The links for the full series are:
- 3 Errors About Sin: Error 1 — A Denial That Sin Affects Our Relationship With God
- 3 Errors About Sin: Error 2 — A Denial of the Sinful Nature
- 3 Errors About Sin: Error 3 — A Denial of Acts of Sin
This is an excerpt from the second part — mostly for those of who I know may not click through! — but it does read better in full.
Sin in a Narrow Sense
“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
In this passage we have a definition of sin. Sin is lawlessness. The word “lawlessness” here is the word anomia which literally means without the law. To make this a bit simpler, we could simply say that sin is breaking the law or ignoring the law. It is lawlessness.
In response to this, the first question we ask is “what law?”
- Is this the Mosaic Law?
- Is this the law of Christ?
- Is this some internal law of the Holy Spirit who dwells with us?
Let us not worry about that particular question right now but focus on the concept of law.
A law is an objective standard. It is something that is known or should be known.
- If I drive on the left side of the road, I know I am breaking the law.
- If I cheat on an examination, I know I am breaking the law of the school.
- If I tell a lie, I know that I am breaking the Ten Commandments which tell me not to bear false witness.
In each of these cases, when we break the law, we do so willingly and knowingly. Breaking the law implies an objective standard that one knows and then a deliberate decision to ignore or reject that standard. It is true that breaking the law can become so habitual that we do not consciously made a choice every time we break the law but we certainly did at one time.
Therefore, the first way the word sin is used is as a deliberate decision to reject some law or rule or principle that is known. This is a very narrow definition of sin. It implies that the person knows the law but that he deliberately and consciously ignores or breaks it. When one understands sin in this way, the immediate following context makes perfectly good sense.
But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:4-9).
Before reading this passage of scripture, I will often ask my students, “How many of you sinned today?” Practically the whole class will raise their hands. I will then point out that according to John if they are regularly practicing sin . . .
- They are not living in him.
- They have not seen him or known him.
- They are of the devil.
- They are not born again.
The reason my students answer positively is because they tend to have a broad definition of sin. However, when I ask, “How many of you have stolen something today?” or “How many of you have cheated today?” I get few hands. They have not willfully and deliberately sinned but they assume they must have done something wrong in a broad sense of the word.
It seems quite obvious a broad definition of sin does not fit here. Therefore, one of the common ways the word “sin” is used in the Bible is as a deliberate willful ignoring or rejection of one of the known laws of God. This kind of sin always involves the will.
- This is not necessarily accidental sin.
- These are not sins of the attitude.
- This is not unconsciously offending someone else.
These are deliberate acts of sin.
Sin in a Broad Sense
If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death (1 John 5:16-17).
Verse 16-17 are very difficult verses. Theologians have struggled for centuries trying to understand what it means to sin a sin that does not lead to death. I will not attempt to resolve that question either because I am not sure of the answer. The thing I wish to point out in this passage is another definition of sin.
In 1:17 John says “All wrongdoing is sin.” The word “wrongdoing” is adikia which literally means “without righteousness.” To say this in a way that we can understand, John is simply saying “Everything that is not right is sin.”
- It does not matter if it is willful or it is not willful.
- It does not matter whether the law was known or not known.
- It does not matter whether the person thought about it or not.
The only issue here is whether it is right or wrong. As you can see, this is a much broader definition of sin.
If I tell you I will meet you somewhere at 8 AM and I get busy and forget and you go there and wait for me, have I sinned? Did I deliberately cause you to waste your time? Was this a willful decision on my part? No, it was an unintentional offense. However, was it right? It was not right and, according to this definition of sin, that kind of wrong doing is also called sin. Therefore, it is clear, just from the little epistle of 1 John that the Bible uses the word “sin” in more than one way.
How do you know when the Biblical writer is using the word sin to refer to sin in a narrow sense or a broad sense? The context will tell you. Unfortunately, the context can sometimes support either interpretation so it is not always easy to distinguish.
Sin of the Nature
However, there is a third use of sin. John says “If we claim to be without sin . . .” (1:8). This is the verse that is part of the three errors about sin. Although this passage does not give us a definition of sin like the other two passages, it does use sin in a different way than the other two. Note that the word “sin” is a noun used in the singular here. Although this may not be an absolute rule, whenever you see the word “sin” as a noun in the singular it often if not normally refers to the sin nature. A good example of this is Romans 7:15-24:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me . . . Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it . . . but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Paul recognized that there was something in him that kept him from doing the right thing. He identified it as “sin” in the singular.
I believe that this is what John is talking about in this passage. Apparently there were some Christian believers who were denying that there was anything like a sinful nature.
[finish reading this section of the series here]