DEFINITION OF SIN
What is sin?
BIBLE READING: Genesis 3:14-19
KEY BIBLE VERSE: To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it." (Genesis 3:17)
Sin is disobeying God. Adam and Eve learned by painful experience that because God is holy and hates sin, he must punish sinners. The rest of the book of Genesis recounts painful stories of lives ruined as a result of the fall. Disobedience is sin, and it breaks our fellowship with God. But, fortunately, when we disobey, God is willing to forgive us and to restore our relationship with him.
BIBLE READING: Leviticus 4:1-12
KEY BIBLE VERSE: The Lord said to Moses, "Give the Israelites the following instructions for dealing with those who sin unintentionally by doing anything forbidden by the Lord's commands." (Leviticus 4:1-2)
Sin includes unintended wrongdoing. Have you ever done something wrong without realizing it until later? Although your sin was unintentional, it was still sin. One of the purposes of God's commands was to make the Israelites aware of their unintentional sins so they would not repeat them and so they could be forgiven for them. Leviticus 4 and 5 mention some of these unintentional sins and the way the Israelites could be forgiven for them. As you read more of God's laws, keep in mind that they were meant to teach and guide the people. Let them help you become more aware of sin in your life.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 8:1-4
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Jesus touched him. "I want to," he said. "Be healed!" And instantly the leprosy disappeared. (Matthew 8:3)
Sin is a disease beyond human cure. Leprosy, like AIDS today, was a terrifying disease because there was no known cure. In Jesus' day, the Greek word for leprosy was used for a variety of similar diseases, and some forms were contagious. If a person contracted the contagious type, a priest declared him a leper and banished him from his home and city. The leper was sent to live in a community with other lepers until he either got better or died. Yet when the leper begged Jesus to heal him, Jesus reached out and touched him, even though his skin was covered with the dread disease.
Sin is also an incurable disease—and we all have it. Only Christ's healing touch can miraculously take away our sins and restore us to real living. But first, just like the leper, we must realize our inability to cure ourself and ask for Christ's saving help.
BIBLE READING: Mark 7:1-23
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Then he added, "It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God." (Mark 7:20-23)
Sin has an inward as well as an outward aspect. Do we worry more about what is in our diet than what is in our heart and mind? As they interpreted the dietary laws (Leviticus 11), the Jews believed they could be clean before God because of what they refused to eat. But Jesus pointed out that sin actually begins in the attitudes and intentions of the inner person. Jesus did not degrade the law, but he paved the way for the change made clear in Acts 10:9-29 when God removed the cultural restrictions regarding food. We are not pure because of outward acts—we become pure on the inside as Christ renews our mind and transforms us into his image.
BIBLE READING: Romans 3:9-20
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Are we Jews better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. (Romans 3:9-10)
Sin is the universal separation of people from God. Paul uses these Old Testament references to show that humanity in general, in its present sinful condition, is unacceptable before God. Have you ever thought to yourself, Well, I'm not too bad. I'm a pretty good person? Look at these verses and see if any of them apply to you. Have you ever lied? Have you ever hurt someone's feelings by your words or tone of voice? Are you bitter toward anyone? Do you become angry with those who strongly disagree with you? In thought, word, and deed, you, like everyone else in the world, stand guilty before God. We must remember who we are in his sight—alienated sinners. Don't deny that you are a sinner. Instead, allow your desperate need to point you toward Christ.
Sin is in our nature and must be faced by every person. The last time someone accused you of wrongdoing, what was your reaction? Denial, argument, and defensiveness? The Bible tells us the world stands silent and accountable before almighty God. No excuses or arguments are left. Have you reached the point with God where you are ready to hang up your defenses and await his decision? If you haven't, stop now and admit your sin to him.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SIN
How can we recognize sinful behavior?
BIBLE READING: Genesis 3:1-24
KEY BIBLE VERSE: At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:7)
Sinful behavior often begins as a delightful and fun action. Satan tried to make Eve think that sin is good, pleasant, and desirable. A knowledge of both good and evil seemed harmless to her. People usually choose wrong things because they have become convinced that those things are good, at least for themselves. Our sins do not always appear ugly to us, and the pleasant sins are the hardest to avoid. So prepare yourself for the attractive temptations that may come your way. We cannot always prevent temptation, but there is always a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). God's Word and God's people can help you stand against it.
Temptation to sinful behavior is rarely obvious at first. Notice what Eve did: She looked, she took, she ate, and she gave. The battle is often lost at the first look. Temptation often begins by simply seeing something you want. Are you struggling with temptation because you have not learned that looking is the first step toward sin? You would win over temptation more often if you followed Paul's advice to run from those things that produce evil thoughts (2 Tim. 2:22).
Sin's effects spread. After Eve sinned, she involved Adam in her wrongdoing. When we do something wrong, we often try to relieve our guilt by involving someone else. Like toxic waste spilled in a river, sin swiftly spreads. Recognize and confess your sin to God before you are tempted to pollute those around you.
Sin usually causes guilt. After sinning, Adam and Eve felt guilt and embarrassment over their nakedness. Their guilty feelings made them try to hide from God. A guilty conscience is a warning signal God placed inside you that goes off when you've done wrong. The worst step you could take is to eliminate the guilty feelings without eliminating the cause. That would be like using a painkiller but not treating the disease. Be glad those guilty feelings are there. They make you aware of your sin so you can ask God's forgiveness and then correct your wrongdoing.
Sin creates a barrier between us and God. God desires to have fellowship with us, but we are afraid to have fellowship with him. Adam and Eve hid from God when they heard him approaching. God wanted to be with them, but because of their sin, they were afraid to show themselves. Sin had broken their close relationship with God, just as it has broken ours. But Jesus Christ, God's Son, opens the way for us to renew our fellowship with him. God longs to be with us. He actively offers us his unconditional love. Our natural response is fear, because we feel we can't live up to his standards. But understanding that he loves us, regardless of our faults, can help remove that dread.
Sinful behavior is almost always covered by excuses. When God asked Adam about his sin, Adam blamed Eve. Then Eve blamed the serpent. How easy it is to excuse our sins by blaming someone else or circumstances. But God knows the truth, and he holds each of us responsible for what we do (Genesis 3:14-19). Admit your wrong attitudes and actions and ask God for forgiveness. Don't try to get away with sin by blaming someone else.
BIBLE READING: 2 Samuel 11:1-27
KEY BIBLE VERSE: When Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was very displeased with what David had done. (2 Samuel 11:26-27)
Sin often leads to more sin. In the episode with Bathsheba, David allowed himself to fall deeper and deeper into sin. (1) David abandoned his purpose by staying home from war (2 Samuel 11:1). (2) He focused on his own desires (2 Samuel 11:3). (3) When temptation came, he looked into it instead of turning away from it (2 Samuel 11:4). (4) He sinned deliberately (2 Samuel 11:4). (5) He tried to cover up his sin by deceiving others (2 Samuel 11:6-15). (6) He committed murder to continue the cover-up (2 Samuel 11:15-17). Eventually David's sin was exposed (2 Samuel 12:9) and punished (2 Samuel 12:10-14). (7) The consequences of David's sin were far-reaching, affecting many others (2 Samuel 11:17; 2 Samuel 12:11, 14-15).
Sinful behavior can and should be stopped before it starts. David could have chosen to stop and turn from evil at any stage along the way. But once sin gets started, it is difficult to stop (James 1:14-15). The deeper the mess, the less we want to admit having caused it. It's much easier to stop sliding down a hill when you are near the top than when you are halfway down.
THE RESULTS OF SIN
What are the results of sin?
BIBLE READING: Numbers 15:30-36
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Those who brazenly violate the Lord's will, whether native Israelites or foreigners, blaspheme the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. (Numbers 15:30)
Sin deserves punishment. God was willing to forgive those who made unintentional errors if they realized their mistakes quickly and corrected them. However, those who defiantly and deliberately sinned received a harsher judgment. Intentional sin grows out of an improper attitude toward God. A child who knowingly disobeys his parents challenges their authority and dares them to respond. Both the act and the attitude have to be dealt with.
Sin is punished with death. Stoning a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath seems like a severe punishment, and it was. This act was a deliberate sin, defying God's law against working on the Sabbath. Perhaps the man was trying to get ahead of everyone else, in addition to breaking the Sabbath.
BIBLE READING: Genesis 20:1-18
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Abraham moved south to the Negev and settled for a while between Kadesh and Shur at a place called Gerar. Abraham told people there that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. So King Abimelech sent for her and had her brought to him at his palace. (Genesis 20:1-2)
Sinful actions can become sinful habits. Abraham had used this same trick before to protect himself (Genesis 12:11-13). Although Abraham is one of our heroes of faith, he did not learn his lesson well enough the first time. In fact, by giving in to the temptation again, he risked turning a sinful act into a sinful pattern of lying whenever he suspected his life was in danger.
No matter how much we love God, certain temptations are especially difficult to resist. These are the vulnerable spots in our spiritual armor. As we struggle with these weaknesses, we can be encouraged to know that God is watching out for us just as he did for Abraham.
BIBLE READING: Exodus 2:11-17
KEY BIBLE VERSE: After looking around to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. (Exodus 2:12)
Hidden sins have a way of becoming public. Moses tried to make sure no one was watching before he killed the Egyptian. But as it turned out, someone did see, and Moses had to flee the country. Sometimes we mistakenly think we can get away with doing wrong if no one sees or catches us. Sooner or later, however, doing wrong will catch up with us as it did with Moses. Even if we are not caught in this life, one day we will have to face God and his evaluation of our actions.
BIBLE READING: Luke 12:1-12
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Those who speak against the Son of Man may be forgiven, but anyone who speaks blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. (Luke 12:10)
Lifelong rebelliousness blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. This has worried many sincere Christians, but it does not need to. The unforgivable sin means attributing to Satan the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes (see Matthew 12:24-32; Mark 3:22-29). Thus it is deliberate and ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit's work and even of God himself. A person who has committed this sin has shut himself or herself off from God so thoroughly that he or she is unaware of any sin at all. A person who fears having committed it shows, by his or her very concern, that he or she has not sinned in this way.
BIBLE READING: Romans 6:15-23
KEY BIBLE VERSE: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Without Christ, the results of sin are death. You are free to choose between two masters, but you are not free to manipulate the consequences of your choice. Each of the two masters pays with his own kind of currency. The currency of sin is death. That is all you can expect or hope for in life without God. Christ's currency is eternal life—new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God. What choice have you made?
With Christ, sins are forgiven and eternal life is given. Eternal life is a free gift from God. If it is a gift, then it is not something that we earn, nor something that must be paid back. Consider the foolishness of someone who receives a gift given out of love and then offers to pay for it. A gift cannot be purchased by the recipient. A more appropriate response to a loved one who offers a gift is graceful acceptance with gratitude. Our salvation is a gift from God, not something of our own doing (Ephes. 2:8-9). He saved us because of his kindness and pity, not because we were good enough to be saved (Titus 3:5). How much more we should accept with thanksgiving the gift that God has freely given to us.
What should we do when we realize we are sinners?
BIBLE READING: Psalm 139:1-24
KEY BIBLE VERSE: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)
Be open with God regarding our sins. David asked God to search for sin and point it out, even to the level of testing his thoughts. This is exploratory surgery for sin. How are we to recognize sin unless God points it out? Then, when God shows us, we can repent and be forgiven. Make this verse your prayer. If you ask the Lord to search your heart and your thoughts and to reveal your sin, you will be continuing on God's "path of everlasting life."
BIBLE READING: Matthew 5:43-48
KEY BIBLE VERSE: You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Look to Jesus, who requires us to be perfect. How can we be perfect? (1) In character. In this life we cannot be flawless, but we can aspire to be as much like Christ as possible. (2) In holiness. Like the Pharisees, we are to separate ourself from the world's sinful values. But unlike the Pharisees, we are to be devoted to God's desires rather than our own and show his love and mercy to the world. (3) In maturity. We can't achieve Christlike character and holy living all at once, but we must grow toward maturity and wholeness. Just as we expect different behavior from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behavior from us, depending on our stage of spiritual development. (4) In love. We can seek to love others as completely as God loves us.
We can be perfect if our behavior is appropriate for our maturity level—perfect, yet with much room to grow. Our tendency to sin must never deter us from striving to be more like Christ. Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature in every area, becoming like him. Those who strive to be like Jesus will one day be like him as a result of seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2-3).
BIBLE READING: Matthew 27:45-56
KEY BIBLE VERSE: At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)
Trust the truth that Jesus died for our sins. Jesus was not questioning God; he was quoting the first line of Psalm 22—a deep expression of the anguish he felt when he took on the sins of the world, which caused him to be separated from his Father. This was what Jesus dreaded as he prayed to God in the garden to take the cup from him (Matthew 26:39). The physical agony was horrible, but even worse was the period of spiritual separation from God. Jesus suffered this double death so that we would never have to experience eternal separation from God.
Trust the truth that Jesus broke through the barrier separating people from God. The temple had three main parts—the courts, the Holy Place (where only the priests could enter), and the Most Holy Place (where only the high priest could enter, and only once a year, to atone for the sins of the nation—Leviticus 16:1-35). The curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn in two at Christ's death, symbolizing that the barrier between God and humanity was removed. Now all people are free to approach God because of Christ's sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 9:1-14; Hebrews 10:19-22).
BIBLE READING: Luke 3:1-20
KEY BIBLE VERSE: John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. (Luke 3:3)
Repent in order to counteract sin. Repentance has two sides—turning away from sins and turning toward God. To be truly repentant, we must do both. We can't just say we believe and then live any way we choose (see 3:7-8); neither can we simply live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with God, because that cannot bring forgiveness from sin. Determine to rid your life of any sins God points out, and put your trust in him alone to guide you.
BIBLE READING: John 1:29-34
KEY BIBLE VERSE: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
Remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process. Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). Isaiah 53:7 prophesied that the Messiah, God's servant, would be led to the slaughter like a lamb. To pay the penalty for sin, a life had to be given—and God chose to provide the sacrifice himself. The sins of the world were removed when Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice. This is the way our sins are forgiven (1 Cor. 5:7). "The sin of the world" means everyone's sin, the sin of each individual. Jesus paid the price of your sin by his death. You can receive forgiveness by confessing your sin to him and asking for his forgiveness.
BIBLE READING: John 19:28-37
KEY BIBLE VERSE: When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "It is finished!" Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
Realize that Jesus' death and resurrection were God's final remedy for sin. Until this time, a complicated system of sacrifices had atoned for sins. Sin separates people from God, and only through the sacrifice of an animal, a substitute, could people be forgiven and become clean before God. But people sin continually, so frequent sacrifices were required. Jesus, however, became the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. The word finished is the same as "paid in full." Jesus came to finish God's work of salvation (John 4:34; John 17:4), to pay the full penalty for our sins. With his death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon himself. Now we can freely approach God because of what Jesus did for us. Those who believe in Jesus' death and resurrection can live eternally with God and escape the penalty that comes from sin.
BIBLE READING: 1 John 1:5-10
KEY BIBLE VERSE: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. (1 John 1:9)
Confess our sins to God. Confession is supposed to free us to enjoy fellowship with Christ. It should ease our consciences and lighten our cares. But some Christians do not understand how it works. They feel so guilty that they confess the same sins over and over; then they wonder if they might have forgotten something. Other Christians believe that God forgives them when they confess, but that if they died with unconfessed sins, they would be forever lost. These Christians do not understand that God wants to forgive us. He allowed his beloved Son to die just so he could offer us pardon. When we come to Christ, he forgives all the sins we have committed or will ever commit. We don't need to confess the sins of the past all over again, and we don't need to fear that God will reject us if we don't keep our slate perfectly clean. Of course we should continue to confess our sins, but not because failure to do so will make us lose our salvation. Our relationship with Christ is secure. Instead, we should confess so that we can enjoy maximum fellowship and joy with him.
Commit ourself not to continue in sin. We wouldn't be genuinely confessing our sins to God if we planned to commit them again and just wanted temporary forgiveness. We should also pray for strength to defeat temptation the next time we face it.
Be assured that God's forgiveness is guaranteed by Christ's death. If God has forgiven us for our sins because of Christ's death, why must we confess our sins? In admitting our sins and receiving Christ's cleansing, we are: (1) agreeing with God that our sin truly was sin and that we are willing to turn from it, (2) ensuring that we don't conceal our sins from him and consequently from ourself, and (3) recognizing our tendency to sin and relying on his power to overcome it.
Handbook of Bible Application.