What is sin? It might seem like a simple question with a simple answer but you might be surprised that there are people who define sin differently. Whilst some, rightly, define sin as doing anything which is at odds with God. Others, have attempted to redefine sin to mean: ‘Any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.’

However, getting the understanding of sin right is critical in fully comprehending and appreciating the gospel. So, how does the bible define sin?

The clearest explanation in scripture can be found in 1 John 3:4, where it states: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.”

Sin, therefore, is nothing less than the breaking of God’s law. However, to fully appreciate what this means, we must frame this in regards to both God’s relationship with humanity as well as His character.

You see, humanity was made by God to be in close communion with God. Yet, such intimate fellowship could only be achieved on God’s terms. As God is both righteous and holy, this meant that such intimate communion could only happen if humanity was both righteous and holy. This being only possible through man’s consistent obedience to God’s will as evidenced by His commands.

Yet, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit against the explicit commandment of God, obedience to the degree required was no longer possible. In fact, the sinful act committed by Adam and Eve brought forth an inclination to sin which was inherited by their descendants, and humans became sinners by nature. Subsequently, humanity could no longer be tolerated in the presence of God (Genesis 3; Isaiah 59:2). Ever since, man has been morally unable to uphold God’s standards. This best being reflected through the pages of the Old Testament, and the inability of the nation of Israel to consistently adhere to God’s law.

However, Israel is hardly alone. For as Romans 3:22-23 articulates it: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. No one can uphold God’s law, but everybody can, and, in fact, does, infringe it. We are all law-breakers.

And, as with infractions of any law, there is both judgement and punishment awaiting those who have violated God’s decrees: Death resulting in the eternal separation from the holiness of God and the receiving of the full wrath of God’s righteous fury poured out upon them (Romans 6:23; Luke 13:28; Revelation 14:10).

Providentially, whilst man could not uphold God’s law to the degree required to be reconciled to God, there was one who did: Jesus Christ. He lived in perfect obedience, “becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). It is through this death on the cross that not only was sin crucified for all who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, but that Christ’s righteousness was imputed to believers (Romans 10:9).

So, what is sin? Sin is when we violate God’s law. It separates us from God, and leads us to damnation. Yet, through Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Praise God!