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Sin is the tendency to set one's own will in opposition to God's and the general deficiency of our own moral character compared to God's. Sin is considered human free will influenced by Satan. Following from that, a particular sin is an action or inaction that does not conform to God's character, and especially any action that is committed with the foreknowledge that it is contrary to conscience or morality or divine law. Humans have inherent knowledge of right and wrong that was obtained at the time Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We commit "sin" when our actions violate these instincts. It is through sinful acts that we fall short of God's intended design. Such behavior displeases God and causes us to be separated from Him.
Human laws or the codes of conduct of a society are not always in keeping with God-given morality, and we are not absolved from judgment on our actions because society views them as acceptable. The foreknowledge of right and wrong is something that all humans have, and life is itself a measure or test to see how we will use this knowledge.
The English word sin derives from various Old English, German, and Old Norse words that connote guilt for an act that the perpetrator knows, or ought to have known, was wrong. This has led to an habitual misconception of what sin is, and what it means.
The Greek word translated sin in the New Testament is ἁμαρτία (hamartia), from which comes the medical term hamartoma meaning a tumor formed from malformed rather than truly malignant cells. Hamartia does not mean "crime" or "guilt" only; it means a failure or a fault of some kind. Its roots suggest that it actually means something akin to a missing of the mark at target practice.
More generally, hamartia means any deviation, no matter how slight, from a perfectly desirable design or outcome. Thus sin is any thought or act, however innocent in intention, that does not meet the Divine standard. This includes, but does not limit itself to, all negligent, reckless, knowing, and intentional misdeeds.
Evidence for Foreknowledge of right and wrong
That any human being might be expected to know ahead of time what is right and what is wrong, might seem incredible to any casual observer of human society. And yet the following points favor the notion of instinctual foreknowledge of violations of conscience:
- Any government promulgating a frankly murderous or otherwise oppressive policy toward any subset of its subjects must engage in propaganda to make that policy acceptable to the rest of its subjects. The obvious example is Germany during the Second World War. In fact, many other examples, historical and modern, illustrate this point.
- Significantly, no organized society has ever explicitly endorsed theft as a legitimate economic activity.
- Attempts to justify such offenses as adultery, fornication, covetousness, or lying almost invariably fail. More typically, one caught engaging in such activity will try to excuse it by pleading some sort of extenuating or mitigating circumstance, or innocent intent (see above)—or else he will boast of his "right" or even his privilege so to act.
- By far the most salient statement concerning human foreknowledge of right and wrong comes from Paul. He wrote:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:19-21 (KJV)
- Main Article: Fall of man
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (KJV)
The word rendered very does not mean "to an extreme degree" here. Rather, it means "truly." God is saying, then, that when He made everything in the earth, He made everything perfect.Then came the Fall of Man:
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Genesis 3:17 (KJV)
God had given Adam and Eve strict warning not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By not heeding that warning, Adam and Eve fell short. Thus sin came into the world. No longer, then, was the world "very good."
In that day, two things happened. First, Adam and Eve died a spiritual deathmdash;which is to say, they separated themselves from God. The reason is simple: God cannot tolerate sin in His Presence. And second, the world itself could no longer be perfect. By his sin, Adam sowed seeds of corruption, decay and decline, not merely for himself and Eve and their posterity but also for the entire world.
Condition of the worldAt first, the world was perfect. Now it is not. Indeed, prophecy says that it will never be perfect. Therefore, at an as-yet undetermined date in the future, God will destroy it:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. II20Peter 3:10 (KJV)And then God will make a new world that He will never again allow anything to mar:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. Revelation 21:1-5 (KJV)
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. Isaiah 65:17-25 (KJV)Until that day, the earth and the cosmos are fallen, and will continue to decline. Many creationists believe that the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes that decline in a mathematical way, and therefore that sin is the essence and trigger of entropy. Others would find it difficult to imagine a world in which the second law did not operate and instead would say that in the perfect state the outworking of entropy was counteracted by the direct intervention of God, as he might occasionally do even now. For example, consider this:
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Deuteronomy 29:5 (KJV)
Condition of manAs has been seen, Adam effectively ruined the world by his disobedience. But he did more: he affected the condition of man himself. Paul describes it best:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Romans 3:10-12Before God, every person is guilty, because everyone has fallen short. More than that, no one ever seeks after God without Divine help:
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: John 6:44 (KJV)
This is why Jesus Christ had to come to earth and diemdash;because without the shedding of blood, no remission of sin is possible. And no blood would suffice, except Jesus' own.
Ironically, the Wikipedia entry on sin is the best illustration of the misapprehension, both in popular culture in the English-speaking world and in various religious traditions, about what sin is and what it means. It even discusses the question of whether an act needs to be an intentional misdeed in order to qualify as sin. In this regard, the author is confusing sin, which is a general concept, with wickedness, which connotes not merely missing the target but deliberately aiming wide of it as if out of spite.
Many religions include elaborate codes of conduct that represent attempts to present people with a target they can hit on their own power. In truth, no one can hit God's target. Salvation from sin is by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ, Who alone can say on anyone's behalf, "I paid his penalty in full, and I move that his deeds be stricken from the record."