People don’t really like to talk about “sin.” It’s an uncomfortable word… no one revels in being called a “sinner.” It is becoming increasingly politically incorrect to say that there is such a thing as right and wrong. Lifestyles are not unbiblical or sinful, they are “alternative.” God’s love and mercy are applauded, while the thought of a holy God righteously judging sin is avoided.
So, what is sin? Do we even know?
People often think of sin as violating God’s laws. This is absolutely true. Stealing, murdering, committing adultery are all sin- they are all examples of breaking God’s law.
But it goes deeper than that.
In Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” found in Matthew 5-7, He points to specific laws in the Old Testament and elaborates on them. The people had “heard it said” that they should not murder or commit adultery, but then He broadened the statement. Murdering is wrong, yes, but it begins in a heart full of hate – hating your brother is the root sin. Committing the physical act of adultery is wrong, but it begins in a lustful look – lust is the root sin. Even if these things are never acted out on, even if no laws were technically violated… they are sin.
Sin is anything contrary to the nature of our holy God. Our completely righteous, completely loving, completely just God. The core of His nature is holiness – He always acts completely righteously because that is who He is. He loves completely because that is who He is. The laws He has given us in His Word flow out of His nature – to do what is right is to act in a way consistent with His character, to sin is to do (or be!) anything that contradicts anything in His nature. God created mankind in His image, and people are valuable to Him – so they were to value human life, also. Because He is love, we are to love. Because He is a God who makes and keeps covenants, the marriage covenant is to be guarded and treated as holy.
Even if we somehow manage to outwardly follow all the “rules” (and wow – I know that I have not managed to do so!) we are still sinners at heart. No matter how hard we try, all the “good” things we try to do, the “good” people we try to be will fall woefully short of God’s standard.
In Mark 10:17-22, we find a fascinating interaction between Jesus and a faithful rule-follower:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus is trying to help this man see his own failure to live up to God’s standards. No one is good but God alone! Keeping all of the commandments did not make him good. In his heart, this man loved his wealth more than he loved God or the people He made – and henceforth, his heart was full of sin. He had fallen short of God’s nature.
That really is the essence of sin – falling short. We have all fallen short of God’s standard. Perhaps compared to one another some of us might look “good,” but in comparison with the Holy One, no one is good but God alone.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”