What is “Sin”?
The liberating truth about what you do and who you are.
Life in Christ comes with its own lexicon—words that pertain to the many truths and practices of our faith. Yet we use these terms so frequently and with such familiarity that we run the risk of mindlessly speaking them without meaning or conviction. In this new ongoing column, we hope to reclaim the heart of our Christian vocabulary, which holds such life-giving potential.
–The In Touch Staff
Sin is a word that’s never far from our thoughts. We see it all around us. And since we’re broken men and women in a broken world, our own weakness at times gets the better of us. We fall again and again, getting up once more only to trip over the same temptations another day. Sin, it seems, is a constant companion in this life. And sadly, it’s one we’re not always quick to dismiss.
It’s often said that to sin is to “miss the mark”—a definition derived from the Greek hamartia—in the same way an archer misses the bull’s-eye. This applies to acts of immorality or other transgressions of God’s decrees. We refer to these seemingly isolated incidences in the plural as “sins,” but there’s another sense in which we use the word: as a diagnosis of humanity’s condition since the fall of Adam (see Genesis 3).
We understand sin in the singular form as a state of being in which we are unable to participate in and be nourished by God’s life. But if we’ve received the Lord’s gift of salvation and have been given a new nature (Eph. 4:17-24), why do we continue to struggle?
One answer is that true godliness takes time. Though God redeems us in Jesus, His healing salve is an unhurried medicine. The Great Physician will not rush through making us whole by abbreviating any part of the treatment (Phil. 1:6; 2 Cor. 3:18). But some of our difficulty may derive from a failure to grasp that sinning, as a follower of Christ, is more than bad behavior.
According to the definition of “missing the mark,” sin is indeed a failure to adequately do. But as we look more closely at the New Testament, we see that at its most fundamental level, sin is foremost a failure to be. This was true of us before we received Christ—we were not yet made new creations in Him (2 Cor. 5:17)—but in a separate way, it’s still true of us today as committed believers.
When it comes down to it, the laundry list of our transgressions is merely a summary of symptoms—a way of talking about the effects of a deeper root cause. Before we ever cross a moral boundary or disobey God in thought, word, or deed, the problem begins at the core of who we are.
Thinking back to the fall, we notice Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the tree was more than breaking a rule: whether they realized it or not, eating the fruit was their attempt to reach beyond the Lord for an identity He didn’t intend for them. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” said the serpent (Gen. 3:5). Adam and Eve partook, and the result was a break in the life-sustaining fellowship they enjoyed with their Maker. In effect, they had willfully rejected who they really were. And when we sin, so it is with us.
Too many of us go through life trying to find ourselves through the wrong sources, allowing the world to offer up definitions—at times positive, at times negative. We not only listen to the voices of others; we ourselves also attempt to craft a persona, letting the ego dictate our words and actions. But much of the time, we’re not who we think we are. Only God can say who we really are, and wherever our version disagrees with His, we have not reality but delusion.
Do you know yourself? Hear it from the apostle Paul: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). Though we may look elsewhere for a sense of identity—including our sinful habits—the implication of Paul’s words is that we can come to a true knowledge of ourselves solely in the Lord. It follows that if this is how we know ourselves, we can be fully ourselves only by remaining in His will.
The Bible is fond of speaking in terms of identity: “For you were formerly of darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of the light” (Eph. 5:8). Before we can behave as children of the light, we must be children of the light. Our ability to act in the right ways stems from who we are, not the other way around.
Scripture is clear on our true identity in Christ: We are children of God, born again to a living hope, and temples of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Cor. 6:16). We are co-heirs of the kingdom, the righteousness of God (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 5:21). In Jesus, we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and His very body (Matt. 5:13-14; 1 Cor. 12:27).
Each time we transgress one of God’s boundaries, guidelines given to preserve and sanctify us, we do so possibly for several reasons. But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of our misdeeds can be traced to our tendency to forget who we are in Him—whether we do so in ignorance or willfully in a spirit of rebellion.
Though we all miss the mark at some point, the real loss is not a record of perfect behavior but a fuller experience of the Lord. As we come to know Him better over the years by spending time in His presence, this experience transforms us. So we could also say that to sin is a failure to become.
When we keep our identity of Christ clearly in view, we will be able to see sin for what it really is—a distraction that steals our focus from the single most needful thing: an ever-deepening oneness with Jesus Christ.
So the next time you feel tempted to go astray, think of these two words—say them out loud if you need to: Be yourself.
You are not your sin. You are the righteousness of God.