Sin.

SIN sɪn noun. Immoral behavior—as defined by religious morality.
2. Violation of God’s law or known will.
3. A reprehensible action, or serious shortcoming.
4. A state of human nature in which one is alienated from God.
5. verb. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful 'sɪn.fəl adjective.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” meant, or is. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of something: They’re sinning their brains in, and don’t care to define their behavior as sin, so they’re hoping to either plead ignorance, or get us to admit there’s some kind of gray area, and grant them some leeway.

But too often, I’ve found nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new Christians. Nobody ever sat the newbies down and told ’em, “Here’s what sin is.” I grew up Christian, and they absolutely told us kids what sin is—and to not do it!—but churches tend to forget adults didn’t always have that upbringing, and there might be a big ol’ gap in their knowledge.

So the adult Christian converts presumed. And most of the time you can kinda figure it out, ’cause certain preachers love to rail against sin. You can easily deduce you sinned if you broke one of the Ten Commandments. Or if you commit one of the seven deadly sins.

But you might get the wrong idea nothing else is a sin. Pagans make that mistake all the time; it’s why, whenever some bishop lists a few sins, pagan reporters freak out as if this is a great big headline: “The church is adding new sins to the seven deadly sins!” No; these are old sins, and you clearly don’t know what sins are.

Anyway it’s because of this guesswork people keep right on committing the same fruitless behaviors we’ve always done, unaware of how this activity undermines our relationship with God, and any greater religious growth.

The apostles defined sin as when we know what God expects of us—we know the right or proper thing to do—yet we ignore it and selfishly do our own thing.

James 4.17 KJV
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
 
1 John 3.4 KJV
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

At its core sin is based on selfishness. If we aren’t so insistent on doing our own thing, and care more about doing what God wants, we’ll be far less likely to sin.

Here’s the problem: Sin is based on selfishness, but selfishness isn’t necessarily sin.

No seriously. It’s not always wrong to think of ourselves first! In fact we kinda have to: When we follow Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves, Mk 12.31 it’s expected we already do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. When you’re serving others, but you work yourself to death in the process, you’re not gonna serve others for very long. If you’ve ever been on a plane and remember the safety lecture, y’might recall when the oxygen masks drop we’re supposed to put on our mask before we help others with their masks, ’cause we’re no help to anyone once we pass out from oxygen deprivation. Often we need to think of ourselves first.

The problem is when we think of ourselves only: We don’t or won’t love others too. (Or we don’t love ourselves, and use that as an excuse to be awful to others.)

Sin is the product of corrupted selfishness. Like nearly every animal, selfishness is hard-wired into the human body and instinct. After all, when we don’t look out for ourselves, when we ignore that self-preservation instinct, we get physically hurt! But humans have taken this instinct to a level God didn’t intend when he built it into us. We don’t just preserve our lives and well-being. We preserve our comforts too. Whenever God’s will runs contrary to the things which entertain us, please us, or suit us, we’re all too willing to ignore him. We figure he’ll forgive us. Or we just don’t care what he thinks.

Hence sin. And it hasn’t merely corrupted humanity: It’s warped the whole planet. Nothing works as originally intended. Instead of living forever as we oughta, humans die. Instead of a harmonious, balanced ecosystem, we have famines, plagues, and natural disasters. Instead of working together in love, and naturally sharing a close personal relationship with God, humans fight one another, and try to manipulate and control and dominate one another. Even Christians fight over our ideas about Jesus: We may know about the sin problem, but we’re hardly immune to it. We’re just as infected as the rest of the world.

But God intends to remove sin from humanity. In four steps.

  1. God’s Law, in which he spelled out his will for the Hebrews and humanity.
  2. Jesus’s atonement, in which our sin was defeated and dealt with.
  3. Sanctification, in which we learn how to stop sinning and resist temptation.
  4. Resurrection, in which we receive new, sin-untainted bodies.

Sin and humanity; sin and Christians.

Most people confuse sin with evil. ’Cause sin is evil. But they’re not interchangeable. And humans don’t sin because we’re evil; we sin because we’re overly selfish.

Selfishness is a fully ingrained part of humanity. Psychologists even make it a part of their models of the human psyche. Sigmund Freud called it “the id,” and Karen Horney called it “the real self” (as opposed to “the ideal self”). Paul of Tarsus called it σάρκα/sárka, “flesh,” although a lot of current bibles prefer to translate it “the sin nature” or “the sinful nature.” Ro 8.6 I tend to refer to it as “the inner child,” to borrow a pop psychology term—although to be honest, in my case particularly, it’s more of an inner brat.

In general the inner brat is what we are whenever we ignore our consciences, peer pressure, societal norms, and God, and do as we will. But again: Not everything the inner brat wishes, would be evil. Wanting to hang out at the beach instead of shoveling snow: That’s hardly evil. It becomes evil, or morally wrong, when we’re meant to be shoveling snow, and don’t—we’re getting paid to do it, or promised someone we’d do it, or someone’s gonna die if we don’t dig them out of their snow-covered home. It becomes evil when we let that selfishness rule our lives: We turn our inner brat into an inner despot, and put it above truth, reality, and God. We choose sin.

Happens all the time. Christians do it too.

Problem is, a lot of Christians are in denial that we do. Always have. Even back in bible times, the apostle John had to deal with Christians who were pretty sure they didn’t sin anymore, because God had done some sort of magic on them which made all their actions and motives pure and clean. John called rubbish:

1 John 1.6-10 KJV
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Even today, you’ll find Christians who claim we’re in a new dispensation where God’s Law no longer defines sin; where there are no more sins. (Or no sins other than the Ten Commandments, plus a few particular things Jesus instructed which they’ve not yet nullified.) So we’re righteous, and nothing we do is sin. Everything we think and do is right. Others are wrong—and probably dangerous, and we need to stop them.

Yeah, this mindset flies entirely in the face of Christianity. Because we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. We don’t follow Jesus all that perfectly; we selfishly distort his commands, and invent all sorts of loopholes which let us get away with violating God’s will. Same as the Pharisees did. Human nature hasn’t changed any in 20 centuries, y’know.

But like John said, when we admit our sins, come clean to one another and God, and strive to walk in the Light which God is, we can be cured of sin. We don’t have to live in it!

Other Christians take the other extreme: They claim it’s impossible for Christians to stop sinning. We’re too depraved to live any other way; we’re doomed to keep sinning till we die and Jesus raises us. So we’re left with two options: Either create a lot of tight, rigid rules and minimize the amount of sinning we do… or give up and quit trying. Either legalism or libertarianism.

Nope, neither of those things are the answer. Only Jesus is:

1 John 2.1-6 KJV
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

God gave us commands because he wants us to stop sinning. God gave us his Holy Spirit because he wants us to have the power to actually stop. We can’t defeat sin without God, but he’s giving us help! So fighting sin isn’t impossible.

It’s just it’s easier, lazier, and most of us figure it’s more fun, to keep on sinning.