THE DEFINITION AND EXTENT OF SIN. I believe that sin is, at its core, a state of rebellion against and enmity toward God, which leads to specific acts of rebellion and enmity. Although created good and in the image of God, mankind has inherited a sin nature from Adam since his sin in the garden (Rom. 5:19). This nature affects—and infects—each individual such that we each must say with the Psalmist, “I was conceived in sin” (Ps. 51:5), and must acknowledge that we are (or were) enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:16-22).
The nature of sin in man—what Paul typically refers to as “the flesh” (Rom. 7-8, Gal. 5:13ff, Eph. 2:3, et seq)—breeds in him sins; i.e., specific acts of rebellion of which each person is guilty (Lev. 16:16, Num. 5:6, Matt. 9:2ff; Jam. 5:16). The Bible differentiates between intentional and unintentional sins (Lev. 4:2, 13, 22, 27), and between sins of commission (i.e., a sinful action) and sins of omission (i.e., failure to act; Jam. 4:17). Beyond these specific acts, there seem to be mindsets that either reveal our sinfulness (that is, our sin nature) or are, in and of themselves, sin (Rom. 14:23, 1 John 5:17).
The Bible—whether in Hebrew, Greek, or English—uses well over two dozen different words to identify and demonstrate the character of sin, both as nature and as actions; a sampling of these words: bad, blasphemy, deceive, defile, disobedience, evil, guilt, idolatry, iniquity, lawlessness, profane, rebel, shame, sin, transgression, trespass, unclean , unrighteousness, wickedness (Rom. 1:29-31; Gal. 5:19-21). These different words give voice to the vastness and diversity of our rebellion, as well as to its intensity, malignancy, and consequence. While our sin nature is deserving of death, we see that individual sins are distinguished by a diverse array of temporal penalties that correlate to their intent, intensity, and result (cf. Exod. 21:12-14; 22:1-4; Lev. 26:14ff; Num. 35). In a similar fashion, there seem to be varying degrees of eternal punishment reserved for those who die in a state of separation from God, such that judgment and punishment will be greater for those whose sins were greater (Matt. 11:21-24, Luke 12:47-48).
THE ORIGIN OF SIN. I believe that sin began when Lucifer, the created guardian cherub (Eze. 28:14ff), fell as a result of his prideful desire to elevate himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14). Lucifer became Satan, the deceiver (Rev. 12:9), and many angels sinned by following him in his pride (Matt. 25:41). Satan deceived Eve (Gen. 3:13; 2 Cor. 11:3) and Eve enticed Adam (Gen. 3:12), who was not deceived but sinned by eating fruit he knew to be forbidden (1 Tim. 2:14). Thus sin entered the world through Adam (Rom. 5:12).
THE RESULTS OF SIN. God had warned that disobedience would result in death (Gen. 2:17). It is clear that this did not mean immediate physical death as the record of Adam’s 930 years of life show (Gen. 5:3-5). It was, rather, a spiritual death of separation from God. This death is experienced through man’s shame and hiding from God (Gen. 3:8), as well as through God’s punitive decree (Gen. 3:23-24, Ex. 32:33-34, Hos. 9:15).
Sin also resulted in physical death, beginning (most likely) with the deaths of the animals whose coats were necessary to clothe the man and woman in the garden (Gen. 3:21). Certain sins may result in immediate or nearly immediate physical death as a divine judgment (Ex. 32:27; Lev. 10:1-2; Lev. 20; 1 Chr. 13:10; Acts 5:1-5). Some sins may result in a deterioration of life leading to eventual physical death (as suggested in Rom. 1:27), and sin as nature results in the decay or “corruption” of life (Rom. 8:21).
Physical death is, except in rare cases, absolute and irreversible short of eternity (Heb. 9:27; cp. Enoch in Gen. 5:24, Elijah in 2 Ki. 2:11, and the many who were resurrected in both Old and New Testaments). Spiritual death is reversible by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17-18, 6:4-11). Those who die physically while in a state of spiritual death are condemned to the “second death”, an eternal death of unending punishment and judgment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14, 21:8).
While death—spiritual, physical, and eternal—is the ultimate result of sin and is most significantly a separation from God, there are other temporal results, as well. These results impact ourselves and our relationships with others and include such effects as: guilt (as an objective state of violation, not merely guilt feelings), shame (Gen. 3:8-10), punishment (up to and including death; also including retribution and repayment; Lev. 6:4-5), physical enslavement and/or exile (Jer. 29:4), spiritual or mental enslavement (e.g., to a habitual sin or pattern; Gen. 12:10-20 and Gen. 20; Rom. 6:6), and deception (Jer. 17:9; 2 Sam. 12:1-15), among others. Sin can even hinder our prayers (1 Pet. 3:7).
The sins of one generation affect and are often repeated by subsequent generations (Gen. 20 & 26:6-10; Ex. 34:7; 1 Ki. 14:22, 15:3, et seq), yet each person is individually responsible for his own sins (Deut. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; Ezek. 18:14-20).
THE EXTENT OF SIN. I believe that just as each person is responsible for his own sins, so each one has the freedom to choose good or evil (Josh. 24:15; Isa. 7:15-16, 65:12, 66:4; Ezek. 20:8; Rom. 7:18; Philem. 14). This is by no means an absolute freedom; sin has thoroughly defiled the nature of man (2 Cor. 7:1) and grossly limited his ability to do good (Rom. 7:7-25). Yet sin did not eradicate from man the image of God in which he was created and which outfits him for good. Thus, though grossly limited by our sin nature, men are equipped for good, drawn by God to do good, resurrected from spiritual death to righteousness by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and empowered for good by the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 9:8, Eph. 2:10, Phil. 2:13).
Thus it is no contradiction to state that, apart from Christ, no one is righteous and no one seeks God (Ps. 14:1-3, Ps. 51:1-3, Rom. 3:10-11). No one can change his sinful actions or nature; apart from Christ, no one has the ability to seek God, hear his voice, understand his word, or know his Spirit. (Jer. 13:23, Matt. 19:25-26, John 6:44, 8:43, 12:39). Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead; there is no spiritual life or ability within us (Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:13). We are even incapable of approaching God for forgiveness, relying instead on God’s own initiating work (Isa. 6:6-7; Luke 23:34). And in spite of our complete inability to hear or respond to God apart from his initiating work, we have the hope of freedom from slavery to sin and a release from condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2)!
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