Q16: What is sin?
ANSWER: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world He created, rebelling against Him by living without reference to Him, not being or doing what He requires in His law--resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.
According to the Scriptures, sin is not simply wrong doing; it is wrong being. It is a fundamentally disordered relationship of deliberate and determined independence from God. Sin is not just an act we do; rather it is a fact of who we are, and it will control us, and eventually destroy us, unless we are rescued by another, stronger power. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Reformer John Calvin elaborates on this crucial distinction between sin as "act" and sin as "fact." He defines sin as a
hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it—such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders—he accordingly calls "fruits of sin" although they are also commonly called "sins" in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.
In other words, our “sins” are only the symptoms. Sin is the disease. And it is a disease that leads to physical and spiritual death.
Think of it this way: a person suffering from cancer might exhibit symptoms like a headache, nausea, or mood swings, but those symptoms, painful and problematic though they may be, are only indicators of the real problem: Cancer. We might be able to temporarily alleviate the headaches with aspirin, but they would surely return if we didn’t also address the underlying condition—the cancer that slowly kills us. In the same way, though we do things that are wrong, those bad acts—what we term “sins”—are only indicators of the real problem: the condition of sin that is slowly killing us. Now we may succeed in temporarily avoiding the commission of certain sins through various disciplinary approaches or the sheer exertion of moral resolve, but we can be sure that those sinful behaviors—or others like them—will eventually return if we don’t address the underlying condition of sin.
Unfortunately for human agency, there is nothing and no one in the created world that can solve our problem. We really ought to know this by now, given that human beings have been trying—and failing—to overcome sin through our own efforts for centuries. The only power stronger than the power of sin—and the only power capable of solving our real problem—is the power of God’s love. Christ offers us hope and new life through his forgiveness of our sin, if we acknowledge the futility of our strategies for dealing with sin and place our trust in Him. And in truth, have we any other choice? Only God can save us from ourselves; we know all too well that we are unable to do so. In faith, we must look to Christ, daily and continuously depending on Him and not on ourselves, to accomplish in us what we cannot.
1 John 3:4
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.