What is sin?


In our modern pluralistic culture, sin has become an incorrect term. There is only right or wrong. And right and wrong are defined in relation to the customs, practices and religious beliefs of different social groups. The right of one social group is the wrong of another group. Thus anything can be defined right in the particular social group.

We have become so tolerant to sin that we call it an inclination of the mind or a psychological mental condition. Even cold blood murder is often described as psychological disorder. Murder is only a psychological depression now.

The new age philosophy has influenced the religious sphere also. Sin is reduced the violation of the peace of the society. Spirituality has become a personal affair of chosen ethics.

Holiness is legalism and Grace is freedom to sin. Separation from ungodliness is an anti-social attitude. Hell is replaced by a short term purification and God’s judgment is a fable. Sanctification is declared as a legalistic burden.

 In a world like this, it is may not be appropriate to discuss about sin. But it is a must to understand what it is, in order to escape from the wrath of God. The existence of God is a truth; His ownership and authority over the whole world is a truth, the coming judgment and eternal punishments are very near. Though we do not believe, God’s eternal plan for mankind is a truth. 

So let us try to understand what sin is, how it came to us and what is our responsibly towards it. Here we are discussing Sin on the basis of the Biblical teachings.



The study of sin is called Hamartiology. The doctrine of sin is central to Christianity because sin is always related to the redemption in Christ.

Sin is a concept of evil that existed in all culture and social groups, ancient and modern. The Biblical principles of sin is often explained with the Hebrew and Greek concepts of it. It is because of historical and geographical role of these nations in the biblical history.

The English term, “syn” is a translation of from the Biblical Greek term “hamartia” and Hebrew term “hata”. The word is taken from the registry of archery and the sport of spear throwing.

In the original sense of the terms is a failure in missing the mark. It literally refers to missing the "gold" at the center of a target that is drawn as a bull ’s eye, but hitting the roundabout of the precise target.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated “sin” throughout the Bible contain two major concepts.

The first concept is what we have already mentioned: “to miss the mark.”

This is the concept of our going in one direction but straying off course to another the side. We are not in the right direction and we are continuing in the wrong direction. The result is that we never reach the finishing line or the aim. Remember ways always lead to another way; no one can travel back through the same way. So once we miss the right path, we go on through the wrong path and away from the right aim.


This concept also encompasses the idea of failing to measure up to a standard.

Let me use a modern analogy to explain it. Even if a student writes the exam bad, he may get some marks in the examination. But he is not declared passed in the exam, because he has not secured the minimum standard for passing the exam. He has secured some marks but not the minimum level of marks necessary to pass the exam. He has missed it.

In the sport of archery and spear throwing, the participant has hit somewhere in the roundabout of the central golden mark, but missed the expected level of perfection. He missed the gold in the center of the round, the precise target. So he fail.

The gold center of the target could be seen as God's commandment for righteousness and we miss that standard of holiness and we are said to commit sin. 

1 John 3:4 says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” (NKJV)

The Greek word “anomia” is translated as “lawlessness” in the above verse. This Greek word means, without law or against law.

Thus sin is the active violation of God’s laws and basic moral principles. This refers to actions that are outside the bounds of God’s law and that are committed deliberately rebelling against His laws.

The second concept in sin is “transgression”. To transgress means “to step across” or “to go beyond a set boundary or limit.”

This concept is also related to the ancient practices in sports. All athletic playing field will have lines delineating the boundaries within which the game is played. When a player crosses over those boundary lines, he has committed a “transgression” and gone out of bounds. The boundary lines are the limits that define the playing area, and the players are to stay within the limits of that area.

It may be compared to the track drawn in the field for a race. All those who run in the race are supposed to run within the track.

That means, reaching the finishing line is not enough, running through the proper track is a must.

2 Timothy 2:5 says, “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (NKJV)


Both of these concepts, missing the mark and transgressing the boundaries involve a basic requirement. The requirement is that, we must have a mark, target or standard. Without a precise mark or target none is said to miss it.

If we transgress, which means to cross over a set boundary or limit, then we must have a boundary or limit to cross over.

Sin, then, is to miss the target God has set for us or to transgress those boundaries God has set for us.

The Word of God explains to us the standards and the boundaries God has set for us. They define the goal we are to aim and the tracks in which we are live. God has given us both the end and means to achieve it. Achieving the end without the keeping the rules of the means is sin. The end and means must qualify the parameters of God.

The aim and standards are the fundamental principles of God, given to us to live today. They are the acceptable parameters of God’s holiness.

Man is not the agent to define sin; the principles of God defines the sin. Sin does not come into effect by an arbitrary declaration of good and evil by God. God’s principles reveal His Holiness and they are the way He lives and works. God expects the same standard of living from his supreme creation, human beings.


Origin of sin

 With this introduction, let us move on to study about the origin of sin. How sin came into this world? Sin had its beginning with Lucifer. Lucifer was probably the most beautiful and powerful of the angels. All angels were created by God and were under His authority.

Bible is not a record about everything God has been doing. It is a record about the God’s eternal plan to redeem and restore human beings and the Kingdom of God.

So it is not described in detail what happened to the angels in heaven. But we have short descriptions about the past events that happened in heaven, before the creation of humans, Isaiah 14:12-15

Though it is not clearly stated in the Bible, it is right to assume that all angels had the Free Will to choose good and evil. We have to assume that, the majority of angels chose good. It was a choice of once and forever.

But Lucifer was not content with his position. He desired to be higher than God. He was joined by a large group of angels. But that was the beginning of sin and it caused the downfall of the evil angels.

Sin is not the downfall or separation from God, but sin is his desire to be higher than God. Sin is Lucifer’s pride that caused the rebellion against God. The downfall and separation is the effect of the sin. Sin is an act, the rebellion against God and His eternal authority.

 This is original sin in the universe. It preceded the fall of Adam and Eve.

Sin originated in the free will of Lucifer. He was free to choose good or evil. He had the full understanding of the effect of this choice. Still he choose to rebel against God.

 So God judged him and Lucifer was absolutely and completely cast out of God’s heavenly government and his place of authority (Luke 10:18).

Lucifer who is later known as satan brought sin to the human race.

In the Garden of Eden he tempted Adam and Eve with the same enticement, “you shall be like God.” Genesis 3 describes Adam and Eve’s fall to sin and rebellion against God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit with the ambition to become like God. This is rebellion against the heavenly Kingdom.

Since Adam is the federal head of all humanity, sin passed down from him to all generations of mankind. Thus we have inherited sin from him.

Romans 5:12 tells us that “… through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (NKJV)

This is the Original Sin in the Christian view, which brought into the nature of in sin in humans. Humans live in the nature of sin since the fall of man.


Original Sin


The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon.

Tertullian, Cyprian (SIP-ree-ən) and Ambrose considered that humanity shares in Adam's sin, transmitted by human generation. Later, St. Augustine shaped and developed the doctrine.

Augustine formulated the concept of Original Sin after 412 AD. It was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. They affirmed that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom to do good.

Before 412 AD, Augustine said that free will was weakened but not destroyed by original sin. But after 412 AD, he changed his view to a loss of free will except to sin. Modern Augustinian Calvinism holds this later view.

The Catholic Church declares that Baptism erases original sin.


The effects of Sin


What are the ways in which humans are affected by the Original Sin?

According to Romans 5:12–21, Adam’s sin affects us all in three ways.

They are the inherited sin, the imputed sin and the personal sin which is a choice.

Let us learn more about these three types of sin one by one.


Inherited Sin

 We shall begin with the inherited sin.

The Original Sin of Adam causes the rest of humanity after him to be born into a sinful state or condition. The corrupted sin nature that we inherit from Adam begins in our mother’s womb. This is what John Calvin referred to as “a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature.”

 Inherited sin explains that through Adam all human race of all time has inherited an inclination to sin and human beings became sinners by nature. When Adam sinned, his inner nature was transformed by his sin of rebellion. It effected his spiritual death and depravity which is passed on to all who descended from him.

This passed-on depravity, from generation to generation is known as inherited sin. Just as we inherit physical characteristics from our parents, we inherit our sinful natures from Adam.

This is what he meant when King David lamented his fallen condition of human nature in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (NKJV).

 Inherited sin is a tendency or inclination to follow their own self-will rather than God’s will.

Romans 7:18 Paul writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” (NKJV)

That is to say, we are sinners not because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners.

Imputed Sin

 The second type of sin is the imputed sin.  We may explain it like this: Adam’s sin and guilt is attributed, or reckoned, to us and our legal standing before and relationship with God is negated. By this same principle, by the grace of God, the sinner’s guilt and condemnation is imputed to Jesus Christ, who atones for sin on the cross and enables his righteousness to be imputed to the sinner as a Christian.

Imputed” is a term used in financial and legal settings. The Greek word translated “imputed” means “to take something that belongs to someone and credit it to another’s account.”

Before the Law of Moses was given, sin was not imputed to man, although men were still sinners because of inherited sin. Even sins committed by people were considered as inherited sin. That means, humans committed sin because of the inherited sin in them. Humans were not directly responsible even for the sins committed by them. But after the Mosaic Law was given, sins committed by a person in violation of the Law were imputed (accounted) to them. Imputed sin is the violation of God Laws described in the Mosaic covenant.

That is what we read in Romans 5:13 “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (NKJV)

All humans, from Adam to Moses, were subject to death, not because of their sinful acts against the Mosaic Law but because of their own inherited sinful nature. After Moses, humans were subject to death because of both inherited sin from Adam and imputed sin from violating the laws of God.

Imputed sin makes man responsible for his sinful actions. Imputed sin makes us responsible for the sins committed by us. It is reason for repentance.

Thus imputed sin was introduced by God by the Mosaic Law. But it is not meant to condemn humans, but as a principle to redeem human beings. The principle of imputed sin is a blessing to us.

God used this same principle when He imputed the sins of believers into the account of Jesus Christ. By imputation of sins, Jesus could pay the penalty for it on the cross. 

Jesus did not inherit sin from Adam, but human sin was imputed on Him. He bore the penalty for sin, but He never became a sinner. His pure and perfect nature was untouched by sin.

In exchange, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers and credited our accounts with His righteousness.

That is what we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (NKJV)

Personal sin

The third type of sin is personal sin, that which is committed every day by every human being. Because we have inherited a sin nature from Adam, we commit individual, personal sins, everything from seemingly innocent untruths to murder. Thus we are each sinners by both nature and choice. That means, we have the Free Will to choose sin or holiness. We shall discuss this topic in detail later on.

But all those who have confessed their faith in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus have the power to resist sinning. God’s Grace is enabling power to overcome sins and Holy Spirit is our helper to triumph over satan. Holy Spirit further convicts us of our personal sins, if we ever commit them and helps us to confess them and receive the forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Thus Holy Spirit helps us to restore the fellowship and communion with Christ.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NKJV)

Thus, personal sin becomes our personal choice. We are free to choose God’s Holiness or commit a sin. We are free to accept God’s Grace and His Spirit to resist and overcome sin.


Sin as our nature

After the discussions so far, we have come to the conclusion that sin is our nature and a choice. Now let us discuss how inherited sin becomes our corrupted nature.
The sin nature in man is the inherent natural inclination to sin. If we are given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing. Violating God’s will or law is rebellion against His authority. The sin nature in humans turns him rebellious against God. Sinful behavior comes natural.

Proof of the sin nature abounds in our life. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish; rather, we have to work hard to teach children to tell the truth and to be unselfish.

Our news media is filled with tragic reports about human’s cruelty and dishonesty. Wherever people are, there is trouble.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous evangelist liven in England in the 19 century, said, “As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.”
Humanity is sinful, not just in theory or in practice but by nature.

 The sin nature is universal in humanity. All of us have a sinful nature, and it affects every part of us. This is the doctrine of Total Depravity, and it is biblical.

The sin nature is that part of human beings that impels us to commit sin. Not only do we commit sin, but it is our nature to do so.

Isaiah 53:6 says: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (NKJV)

Paul admits that “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14 - NKJV)

Solomon concurs: “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 - NKJV).

Apostle John confesses the fact in 1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (NKJV)

David was speaking of the sin nature of his flesh in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (NKJV).

How we got the sin nature? Bible in Genesis 1: 27 says that God created humans good and without a sinful nature: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NKJV). But Genesis 3 records the disobedience of Adam and Eve and their fall to sin. By their one action, sin entered into their human nature. They were immediately stricken with a sense of shame and unfitness, and they hid from God’s presence. When they had children, Adam’s image and likeness was passed along to his offspring (Genesis 5:3). Thus the sin nature was passed on to the next generation.

By the sin nature in him, the very first child born to Adam and Eve, Cain, became the very first murderer (Genesis 4:8).

The consequence of sin nature mainly is death. From generation to generation, the sin nature was passed down to all of humanity. And so the sin nature leads humanity to death.

Romans 5:12 says: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (NKJV)

Another consequence of the sin nature are hostility toward God and ignorance of His truth.

Paul says, in Romans 8: 7, 8: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be (7). So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (8)

1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (NKJV)

We don’t lose our sin nature when we receive Christ; sin remains in us. And so the struggle with that old nature will continue as long as we are in this world. Paul bemoaned his own personal struggle in Romans 7:15 – 25.


Romans 7: 15 - 18

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.

16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.

17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (NKJV)


Adam’s sin is imparted to us so that we are conceived in a fallen state and, apart from the enabling grace of God, are unable to respond to the gospel or remedy our depravity. As a result of our sin nature, we are by nature children of wrath, all sinners, and destined to death. 


Sin is a choice

 Sin is not only our nature but a choice also. Sin has something to do with the Free Will of man also. Free Will is the governing power in the nature of man, bringing all the other faculties under its sway. Free Will is not an inclination towards good or evil. It is the deciding power which works in the children of men unto obedience to God or disobedience. Sin becomes a personal choice when we value properly the importance of Free Will in human’s life.


Romans 6:16 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”  (NKJV)


According to Paul, we have a choice: “to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey”. He also says that we are free to choose sin leading to death or obedience leading to righteousness.

That means the saying, “we sin because we are sinners” does not contain the human condition completely. Sin is a choice also. Sin is the sinner’s individual act. It is imputed to humans.

It is inevitable that children should suffer from the consequences of parental wrongdoing, but they are not punished for the parents’ guilt, except as they participate in their sins.

Sin is the sinner’s individual act and free will is the central issue. We are not powerless.

We are born sinful but not sinners. There is a tremendous difference.


Clearly, the fallen human nature we inherit, offers us, no escape or excuse. But by the correct exercise of Free Will we can keep us away from sin. Overcoming sins is a divine gift given to the New Testament believers, by the Grace of God. And Holy Spirit indwells every believer in order to help us to overcome the sinful nature.

Thus by the Grace of God and by the help of the Holy Spirit, the evils of the fallen human nature can be repressed. We can submit ourselves to the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus inherited these very tendencies, but throughout His life repressed them and was guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit by His own choice. So it may be with us.


We make the choice to sin because we have a sinful nature. However, we are free moral agents, meaning we do what we want to do. No one makes us sin. When a person stands before God in judgment, he is held accountable for what he has actually done, not what someone else has done. As Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (NKJV)

Proverbs 8:36 says, “But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death." (NKJV)


There is a difference between struggling against sin and living sinning.

I John 3:6 says: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” (NKJV). The present tense of the verb “sins” indicates ongoing activity.

God does not tempt us to sin, but instead the temptation arises from within our own sinful hearts.


James 1:13 - 15

13  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (NKJV)


That makes sin a choice exercised by the Free Will of humans.



The unfortunate result of our sin nature is that we sin. Being sinners by nature, we cannot help but sin. These sins separate us from the perfect, sinless God. Yet God has provided a way to receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of salvation as being "born again."

He told Nicodemus:


John 3: 5 - 7

5    Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

6    That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7    Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  (NKJV)


Born again is a spiritual rebirth. Our old man with all its sin nature dies and a new man born of Holy Spirit, empowered to inherit the triumph of Jesus over sin and satan is born anew. It is the born again experience, it is salvation, redemption and restoration. All those who are truly born again and live submissively to the Holy Spirit in God’s Grace have the power to overcome sin. They “shall not be hurt by the second death." (Revelation 2:11 - NKJV)


Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.  (NKJV)

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