There is a very simple definition of sin. “Sin is any transgression of or want of conformity to the will of God.” This seems to be a simple definition, and leaves only one thing lacking. That is to determine what the will of God is. In going into the study of a subject, one can usually chop it up into segments and devour each segment in order. However, sin is a difficult subject to break up, but was one that had to be devoured at one bite or not at all. This is because every part seems to be tied into the other parts.
Nevertheless, there are a few phases of sin that we can look into even though they just scratch the surface of the subject as a whole. Let us first talk about the character of sin. Sin is one of the saddest, but also one of the most common, factors in human life. Some may philosophize and think of the essential goodness of men, but as time goes on, and measures of control of men merely result in the release of evil in another direction, they must finally realize that they have been creating only the symptoms and the seat of the disease has yet to be treated. Let us look into some of the theories of sin, or evil, as the philosophers speak of it, that have been advanced over the years.
First, there is the dualistic theory that was current in Greek philosophy. This theory, in the form of Gnosticsm, found its way into the early church. It assumes the existence of an eternal principle of evil and holds that the spirit of man represents the principle of good and the body represents the principle of evil. One objection of this theory is that it robs sin of its ethical character by making it something purely physical. The only escape from sin, therefore lies in death. Spinoza, another philosopher, sees sin as an illusion due to the inadequancy of man’s knowledge. According to Spinoza, if man had God’s knowledge, he would see everything as it is unified in God. Man would have no conception of sin. This can be objected to on the grounds that it makes all of life an illusion. We must assume all knowledge is an illusion because we cannot fully understand it. Another theory is that sin is a want of trust in God and opposition to His kingdom, due to ignorance. Those who are not Christians, and therefore have no knowledge of God’s redemption, have no knowledge of sin. Man imputes his failure to make God’s purpose his own as a guilt, but God regards it as ignorance and therefore as pardonable.
What does Scripture say about sin?
Sin is a specific kind of evil. There are many evils which are not sins. These are on the physical level, but there are evils on the moral plane which are sin. Sin is the result of a free, but evil, choice of man. Sin has an absolute character. In the ethical sphere, the contrast between good and evil is absolute. There is no in between. There may be degrees of good and degrees of evil, but there are no graduations between. Sin always has relation to God and His will. To do God’s will is to love God and the things God loves. Sin is to do the opposite… to hate God, love the things he hates and continually transgress the law of God in word, deed and thought. Sin is not exclusively overt acts, but includes sinful habits, and a sinful condition of the soul. These three are tied into one, because it is the sinful state which leads to sinful acts and continuing sinful acts lead to sinful habits.