The Nature of Sin

I had to laugh. Last Saturday, agent Rachelle Gardner of Rants & Ramblings titled her post, “The S Word.” You may remember, this was the same title I used for my Thursday post. Rachelle, however, was talking about “safe” fiction whereas I was talking about sin.

So, to dispel any confusion, I’m forgoing the obscure title and calling sin sin.

I also have to admit, Kameron’s comment to my Thursday post shook me. I thought only a certain segment of people calling themselves Christians would see sin in a different light, a liberal light that pretty much denies Mankind sins, claiming instead that we only make mistakes, most of which are too ordinary to require any special attention like forgiveness or the blood sacrifice of God’s perfect Son.

But I know this is not Kameron’s view of sin or forgiveness or the cross of Christ.

The result was, I went back to the Bible, asking, What does Scripture show about the nature of sin? Somewhere in college, I learned the importance of going to primary sources, so I went to Genesis to see what exactly the Bible had to say about that first sin.

Apart from Adam and Eve hiding from God, Him confronting them, and assigning their punishment, not much. Not here.

But I don’t want to rush past God’s confronting them. His first question was, Where are you? His second was, Who told you that you were naked? After assigning punishment, he came back to what had happened and said this: “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.”

In other words, something fundamental changed in Adam. He lost his innocence. This was not just one isolated sinful act which required payment. His sin changed the way he saw the world.

Chapter five is significant in light of this radical change in Adam.

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made Him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

Clearly there’s a shift. Adam, created in the likeness of God. Adam sinned, gaining the knowledge of good and evil. Adam gave birth to a son in his own likeness, not God’s.

And the question. Do people today know good and evil? Inherently? Not just as something taught? Human experience certainly points in that direction, but so does the Bible. Romans 1, for example, supports that fact:

That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened
emphasis mine.

Interestingly, Kameron, in his second comment, said something to support this point.

Granted, Christ had his divinity, which made it possible for him to obey the law perfectly where the man could not, but that does not change the fact that it is by choice that we sin,
emphasis mine

What is it that prevents Man from obeying perfectly? I understand this to be the whatever changed in Adam, the thing he passed on to his son. This knowing good and evil we all experience, this darkening of our foolish hearts. Sin.

Published in: on June 2, 2008 at 11:37 am  Comments (11)  
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  1. No where did I say sin was only a mistake, “most of which are too ordinary to require any special attention like forgiveness or the blood sacrifice of God’s perfect Son.” I disagreed with the position that the Bible teaches that we have inherited a sinful condition from Adam, which makes us separated from God at birth.

    I don’t understand how you are equating knowledge with sin. Sin is an action. We commit sin. It is a transgression of God’s law. That transgression can be a thought, emotion or physical act. Regardless of the form that transgression takes, it separates us from God, and only the blood of Jesus can restore us.

    I think it’s quite a leap to say that the passage in chapter 5 excludes Seth from being in God’s likeness because he was also in the likeness of Adam. Again, God is the creator of our spirit (Eccl 12:7; Zech 12:1; Heb 12:9). There is a part of us that is like God and a part that is like our earthly fathers.

    Do we know the difference between good and evil? Yes, I agree. That was one of the consequences of Adam’s sin. But the sin was not knowing the difference, the sin was transgressing God’s command not to eat of the fruit of that tree.


  2. Kameron –

    You bring up many good points, but (of course, as these things go) I’d like to respectfully question the issue of sin inheretance, at least for clarification.

    Are you talking about the comission of sins, the state of sin, or both?

    If there is no inheritance of sin, at which point is sin measurable? Is it different for each person? For example, is it possible for a baby to be born and grow to, say, young adulthood, before committing sin?

    If there is a “pre-sin” state to which are all born, why then Christ’s torture and death? Would he not have been compelled, instead, to teach us some method for extending the sinless state (as he so obviously had mastered?)

    If we are born sinless and then degrade to a state of sin over time, is there not some justification for systemic infanticide? After all, there is no guarantee that all will come to saving faith in Christ, but any person who dies in a sinless state is quite obviously allowed into the presence of the Holy One.

    For whom were Temple sacrifices made? All people or only those of a certain age?

    Now, I do think think it is possible to get tangled up with the “inheritence” term, as if Adam is some ancestor who spent his life amassing a wealth of evilness for us to unwillingly “inherit.” The concept can be twisted and abused to avoid responsibility for sin. (i.e. “I didn’t have any choice! I inherited sin from my father Adam!”)

    But that isn’t what inheritance means in this instance. Since Adam, every person ever born has entered (and will continue to enter) into a state of shortcoming. Sin, in this regard is not a thought, word or act. Sin is a state of being: that is a state that falls short of being perfect and favorable to God.

    I guarantee you that the very moment each one of my precious little “innocent” angels entered into this world, they were, by God’s mercy, an unfathomable joy, and unfathomably sinful. This doesn’t mean that they were wicked – merely not qualified, without intercession, to enter into the holy presence of God.

    In other words, little children, left to their own means, are no more able to enter the kingdom of heaven than I am. This is the sin that besets us.

    At times, I wish there were two different words for “the state of sin” and “a thought or act of sin,” as they are two linked but very different terms.


  3. Kameron, you may have read this while I was editing and missed this important line:

    But I know this is not Kameron’s view of sin or forgiveness or the cross of Christ.



  4. I did, in fact, miss that line. I appreciate the clarification.

    I also need to amend my last paragraph. After further study and meditation, I’m very uncomfortable with saying the Bible supports the position that we inherited the knowledge of Good and Evil from Adam. Paul states in Romans 7 that apart from the law he did not know sin. Knowledge is not inherited, it is learned. We see this with our own children. In fact, Deut 1:39 states: “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.”

    The mosaic law shows a clear delineation of responsibility/culpability at the age of 20. While this threshold is not carried over to the Christian dispensation, it does set the precedent that God recognizes those of a young age are not accountable for their actions because they do not possess the faculties to make the proper judgments.

    Why couldn’t Jesus teach us to extend the sinless state? He did. See 2 Peter 1:1-11. Divine power allows us to “never stumble.” Jesus had divine power while in the flesh. We have it through the “knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” We are partakers as long as we continually add to our faith those seven characteristics added.

    Unfortunately, all too often we rely upon our own strength and understanding. Bereft of that divine power, we give in to temptation and sin. Thus, we need Christ’s blood for atonement.

    “But that isn’t what inheritance means in this instance. Since Adam, every person ever born has entered (and will continue to enter) into a state of shortcoming. Sin, in this regard is not a thought, word or act. Sin is a state of being: that is a state that falls short of being perfect and favorable to God.”

    Sin is always described as an act in the Bible. I challenge you to find a scripture where it is a state of being. The closest I can think of to your “state of sin” is when one commits a sin and does not repent, and is therefore “living in sin.”

    “Falling short” infers an action: falling. Is being born against God’s laws? Is crying for food (or because you’re in pain, or scared) when you can’t speak a sin? You can only fall short when you know where the bar is set.

    When does that happen? I don’t know, and it varies on an individual basis. There is a point, however, where we become accountable. Thankfully, I am not the one who judges that, and He who does is both merciful and just.


  5. I don’t want to get in on this again. I think the previous scriptures from Romans clinched the semantics. However, sin is also used as a “noun” in the Bible, not always an action verb, defining a condition, not just a direct act. It is also used as an “adjective” to describe people at large (sinning, sinful, etc. Romans 8:3;12).


  6. @Nicole: That is certainly your prerogative. I’d encourage you not to focus so tightly on a couple verses in one book to the detriment of the entire Bible.

    There was a comment from Sally A. in the previous post that I wanted to respond to (now that I went back and read the rest of them). There are some serious issues with the NIV and its editors’ decision not to stick to a strict translation. Psalm 51:5 is one such case in point. Both the NKJ and NAS translate the verse:

    “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”

    This definitely lends the verse to an entirely different interpretation–in light of other scriptures–than the mistranslation in the NIV. David is not confessing his sinfulness at birth, but making a commentary on the state of the world, and possibly his mother, at the time of his birth/conception.

    The NIV makes similar errors in Romans by substituting “sinful nature” for “flesh.” The former reflects the editors’ concerns for the “fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers” (taken from the preface to the NIV I have in my library), while the latter is the literal translation of the Greek word.

    I find it presumptuous and preposterous that these people are attempting to interpret the thoughts and intentions of those who God spoke to directly rather than just sticking to translating the words and letting the Bible interpret itself. That doesn’t mean I can’t use the NIV to teach the truth to someone, but it does make it a little trickier.


  7. Kameron, you can cite all the scriptures you want in whatever translatiion you choose to use. I think you’re wrong. These aren’t “so tightly focused”. The entire theme of what you’re saying is not backed by up by the multiple scriptures you’ve chosen to use. But you don’t see it, so you’re entitled to your opinions. Just note that they are your opinions and not the absolute infallible truth.

    And think about it: flesh/sinful nature? C’mon, Kameron. What’s the difference. Wait, don’t answer that.


  8. Bible translation is a difficult topic, especially when it gets to “word for word” vs. “thought for thought” issues. For instance, in the NT, they don’t speak about the “heart” the way we do. They use the word “spleen”. It is an idiom, and in our language we use “heart”, so they translate it like that.

    The “flesh” vs. “sinful nature” is a similar issue and up to debate. The question is — when you add up everything Paul is saying about “flesh”, what does it mean? He is clearly not just talking about our physical bodies. My “cells” are not to blame for my actions — rather it is the corrupt state of my soul and spirit (passions) working in my flesh (body). (Romans 7:5)

    Kameron, you would probably understand this verse differently, but that just begs the question, doesn’t it? What does it mean? And though we may not agree, you are still my brother in Christ.

    Although the NIV is fallible (as are all translations compared with the originals), in general I have found it reliable when compared to the various Greek mss. (Notice in Romans 7:5 there is a footnote telling the reader that Flesh is the Greek word.)

    But knowledge of Greek (and Hebrew) is still an important skill, because being aware of original words and their shades of meaning enriches our understanding.


  9. Kameron, I want to address this “age of accountability” concept here. You said, quoting Scripture: “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil There is an interesting verse in Romans in the midst of the discussion in which Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. I’m referring to v. 13 of chapter 5: “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

    As best as I can understand this, sin is not “credited” when there is no law. Of course, Romans 1 makes it clear that the law is written within us: “That which is known about God is evident within them … For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God …”

    There are some good examples of this “not imputing” in the Old Testament. Cain, not given capital punishment for killing Abel; Abraham twice lying about Sarah being his wife with no consequence; Rahab lying about the whereabouts of the spies and becoming an ancestor of Messiah, and so on.

    Could this mean that a baby without the ability “from within” to know God will not have his Sin nature imputed to him? With God, all things are possible.

    Still, I dispute your appeal to Mosaic law. You said: The mosaic law shows a clear delineation of responsibility/culpability at the age of 20. While it’s true that the Levites weren’t assigned jobs until the age of twenty and that those under twenty were allowed entrance into the promised land, there are lots of other indications that the young were held accountable.

    For one thing, the men leading rebellion against Moses were punished, along with their entire household. None of the enemies of God who Israel was to drive out were to be spared, including children. And the Levites, taken as the substitutes for the first born of the rest of the people of Israel, were numbered to cover even the children. That’s just a smattering. There are other things, like Samson being a Nazarite from conception and so on.

    Still doesn’t mean God “has to” punish infants. He is God and He is just, fair, and good. What He chooses to do will be right. With the same token, the issue of the eternal destiny of pre-born or newly born children should not be used as “proof” that there is no sin nature. Especially when a child’s sinfulness becomes apparent even in advance of language skills and the like.

    OK, that was the equivalent of another blog post. Sorry.



  10. xpaul, Nicole, Robert,

    I’m not trying to ignore you. I love this discussion and your contributions are great—generating more give and take. Thanks so much for participating. You, and Kameron too, continue to prompt my thinking, so mostly I’m responding with new posts instead of comments here. 😉



  11. […] God’s special intervention. In addition, because of sin and the sin nature (see posts from Monday and Tuesday ), the world is not a safe place spiritually […]


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