What is sin?

The following notes are taken from Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears’ book “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe.”

Eight aspects of sin that the Old Testament teaches us:

  • Sin in the OT is 1st a relational breach – Gen 2-3 where because of their sin our 1st parents are separated from God and one another; they hide from God and one another fear God, blame one another, and seek to cover their sin and shame while living their life apart from God.
  • Sin in the OT is a social matter because shalom (peace) has been vandalized – evidenced by murder, perversion, drunkenness, the continual evil that precipitated the flood and human attempts at an Edenic-like society without any regard for God that spring forth in Genesis 4-11.
  • Sin in the OT is a covenantal rebellion against God and his authority (EX 32-34) – where after God’s liberation of His people they dishonor, disregard and disobey Him.
  • Sin in the OT is a legal transgression that results in guilt that necessitates punishment (Deut 32)
  • Sin in the OT results in ritual uncleanness, pollution, and filth, marked by the use of words such as filth, defiled, unclean, and whore.
  • Sin in the OT includes emotional pain such as shame and disgrace – Gen 3.
  • Sin in the OT is spoke of in historical terms as an accumulating burden whereby sin is piled up from one generation to the next.
  • Sin in the OT is spoken of with the finality of death.  Sin is deadly, and ends only in death.

In addition, the New Testament gives us several meanings of the word sin:

  • “harmartia” – missing the mark, which refers to the innumerable ways we fall short of God’s standard
  • “paraptoma” – to trespass, a crossing a line of God’s law
  • “parabasis “– disobedience and transgression and specifically refers to an evil intent whereby someone defiantly chooses to disobey God and thus sin, knowing full well what they’re doing
  • “asebeias” – speaks of a sinner’s active character of rebellion whereby they act as if there is no God and/or if they were their own God and the highest authority in their life

Total depravity – every motive, word, deed and thought is affected, stained, and marred by sin.  Includes the mind, will, emotions, heart and conscience, and physical body.  The totality of a person is pervasively affected by sin and there is no aspect of their being not negatively impacted by sin

What are some of the different views of sin:

  • Materialism – no spiritual reality and “sin” is the result of electro-chemical imbalance leading to biological dysfunction and the solution to evil and sin is medical/chemical improvement
  • Evolutionism – sin is essentially anything that hinders the perceived progress of the human race rather than any offense against God
  • Psychologism – sin is caused by a low self-esteem that results in the repression of one’s true feelings.  The solution is to love and accept yourself
  • Humanism – sin is reduced to attitudes or actions that hurt other people.  Human nature is basically good so the solution is better education and social conditioning to help people act out the goodness of their nature
  • Environmentalism – sins results from not acting on the truth that the earth is ultimately our mother and living as if all living things –  from plants to animals – are of equal value to oneself.  People are encouraged to be one with and live with in harmony with the rest of creation as the means by which they can overcome sinful actions.
  • Pantheism/Panentheism – sin is being out of balance with our immediate environment and living out of harmony with the rest of the earth so the answer is for people to meditate and do yoga to connect with the cosmic consciousness and tap into their innate spirituality.

What are some sinful responses to sin?

  • A propensity to minimize sin
  • A delusional belief that my sin is different from anyone else’s because I have good reasons to legitimize my sin
  • There is the common error of rationalizing sin as acceptable because of some extenuating circumstances
  • There is blame shifting, where someone is blamed for the sin of another
  • There is diversion, where we try to avoid our sin by, for example, saying we were just joking, someone misunderstood us, or the person who confronted us about our sin was not as loving as we would have liked and hurt our feelings
  • There’s a partial confession, where we tell only a part of our sin.  In pride, rather than simply, clearly, truthfully, and thoroughly telling all that we have done, it is common to only confess a portion of it.
  • There is what Paul calls “worldly grief,” where we merely regret the consequences of our sin.
  • There is victimization, where I appear helplessly pitiful and unable to have done otherwise by naming someone or something as responsible for my sin.
  • There is mere confession, where I name the sin but do not repent of it and put it to death by God’s grace.
  • There is a growing tendency to speak of sin in secular counseling circles as more of a disease than an evil offense.

All of this matters because we are supposed to love sinners.  In order to love sinners we must take their sin seriously, as God does.  If we do not, we rob sinners, including ourselves, of the dignity God bestows on us as his image bearers.  Indeed, as Plantiga says, we ought to pay evildoers, including ourselves, the ‘intolerable compliment’ of taking them seriously as moral agents, of holding them accountable for their wrongdoing.  This is a mark of our respect for their dignity and weight as human beings.  We were not made for sin, and to allow sinners to sinfully respond to their sin and not be confronted by it is unloving toward God and unhelpful for them. (Driscoll, Breshears, pp. 170)

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