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Your understanding of sin can have a profound effect on your life. If your definition is inaccurate, you will be either too judgmental or too lenient with yourself and others. What is sin? What is the best way to understand sin? Is sinning different that sin?
Sin is Rooted in a Sinful Nature
What is a sinful nature? It is the condition of our existence that we are born into. It cannot be escaped by any effort apart from God.
A sinful nature is a core (primary) attitude in the heart: a desire to live your own life, with your own rules, apart from God. Instead of acknowledging and choosing dependence upon God, sin is rebellion against God and what He stands for. Rebellion can be open and demonstrative or silent but seething below the surface.
Those who desire to live apart from God will get what they wish for. Hell is a place absent of God’s goodness, with no hope of escape.
Sin is Different than Sinning
Sin is the disease of the heart. None of us are born ready to choose God wholeheartedly.
We are powerless to separate our sinful nature from our physical bodies. Everyone (except Jesus, Elijah, and Enoch) will die physically because of their sin. Jesus died, but not because of His sin. Elijah and Enoch were sinful like the rest of us, but God took them to heaven before they died. The point is that sin is fatal.
Sin is ongoing but sinning (committing a sin) is a distinct moment in time. Sinning is trivial compared to sin. Sin is more like an incurable disease and sinning is like a natural symptom of the disease. Ceasing sinning does not eliminate sin. But the person who is cured of the disease by faith in Jesus will eventually stop sinning.
We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.Romans 6:6-7 NLT
Sinning is an action. Sinning is essentially involuntary for non-believers. Because Christ defeated sin and death, sinning is a choice for believers.
Believers are Saints, Not Sinners
A non-believer is a “sinner.” A believer is a “saint.” A sinner will continue sinning. A saint will sin, but not continue in the same defiant way over time. God gives saints the ability to repent.
John Piper answers the question, What is Sin? on his website. He does an excellent job explaining and supporting the idea that no one is good except God. We all fall short, therefore, none of us are capable of good works (apart from God working in us).
For as good of a job he does providing the needed support to answer the question, I am disappointed with his final, concise definition:
Sinning is any feeling or thought or speech or action that comes from a heart that does not treasure God over all other things.John Piper
As a counselor, I see this definition as confusing at best or containing errors at worst. The definition is complicated and susceptible to misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Here are some questions it raises for me:
- What about a heart that does treasure God? A saint will treasure God. But a saint is still capable of sinning.
- Sinning is different than sin. How does this answer the question, what is sin?
- Feelings and thoughts, and even speech and actions can be indicators of a sinful heart. They are like the smoke resulting from a raging fire.
- Feelings and thoughts can be involuntary. They just happen. God judges sin and condemns it. Should a definition of sin focus on condemning feelings? When people burst into tears or express they are afraid, do they need to know first and foremost that they are sinning? Negative feelings can indicate wrong belief about God (needs correction), but they don’t necessarily mean unbelief (sinful).
A better definition will focus on the heart, the core, the root of the problem. I propose a simpler, direct definition: Sin is brokenness producing an attitude of foolish rebellion against God and what He stands for.
The saint practices learning how to stop sinning. The saint values God’s truth. The saint sees dependence upon God as the only way life can possibly work. There can be only one true Kingdom — God’s. Attempting to set up one’s own kingdom apart from God is nothing less than sinful insurrection.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.