In case you were unclear as to what that is. Hey, you’d be surprised how many people are.

SIN /sɪn/ n. Immoral behavior—from a religious viewpoint.
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. v. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful /'sɪn.fəl/ adj.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” is, or what the word properly means. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of defining their behavior as sin. But I’ve found quite often nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new believers. So they presumed. They figured a sin is when you break one of the Ten Commandments, or when you commit one of the seven deadly sins—but nothing else is a sin. As a result they kept right on committing the same fruitless behaviors they’d always done, unaware of how this activity was undermining their relationship with God and any 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. Jm 4.17, 1Jn 3.4 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’re following Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves Mk 12.31 —it’s expected we do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. If 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 you’re supposed to put on your mask before you help others with their masks, ’cause you’re no help to anyone once you 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 i sarx/“the flesh,” although a lot of current bibles translate it “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 KWL
6 When we say we have a relationship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie; we don’t act in truth.
7 When we walk in the light like him, who’s in light, we have a relationship with one another,
and his son Jesus’s blood cleanses us of every sin.
8 When we say we have no sin, we lead ourselves astray; truth’s not in us.
9 When we admit our sins, this is faith and rightness.
Thus God can forgive us of sin and cleanse us from all wrongness.
10 When we say we don’t sin, we make a liar of God: His word’s 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 things Jesus instructed.) 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 KWL
1 My children, I write these things to you so you won’t sin.
When anyone sins, we have an aide from the Father: Righteous Christ Jesus.
2 He’s the atonement for our sins.
Not only for ours, but for the whole world’s.
3 In this way we know we’ve known him: When we keep his commands.
4 Saying, “I’ve known him,” and not keeping his commands: It’s a lie, and truth isn’t in this.
5 God’s love is truly achieved this way: In whoever can keep God’s word.
In this way we know they’re in God.
6 Any of you saying you owe Jesus loyalty:
You’re to walk in the same way 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.