What is Sin? In these enlightened days many might laugh at the question and say, “Don’t you mean, what was Sin?” Yes, Sin has become unfashionable in describing certain attributes of human behaviour. It is offensive language to some. It upsets people if you refer to certain actions on their part as “Sinful.” After all, it is a supremely “religious” word, and as most people have emancipated themselves, and grown out of the need for religion, why should they talk about Sin any more? For one simple reason. However hard people try to cast it out of their minds, a little voice inside the mind called conscience will not go away. It always seems to be there, whether they want it or not, and even if they try to squash it, overpower it, or redefine it, there is something that says, “You have done something wrong.” Sin is therefore a fact. It cannot be disposed of like soiled garments. It needs to be faced head on, talked about, and come to terms with.
Sin is akin to death. None of us want to face either of them. However, Death eventually comes to us all, and Sin haunts us all. In this article I want to face the subject of Sin from the Bible, to learn about its real meaning, its origin, and what God thinks about it. But I want to keep it short, because it would be possible to write an extensive book on the subject. Only the bare essentials will be developed here, for those who want to be informed on this Serious Subject.
The Bible was written in two languages, Hebrew and Greek. The word for Sin in Old Testament Hebrew was CHATA,and that in the New Testament Greek, HAMARTIA. The Lexicons tell us that each has the same basic meaning, of“missing the mark.” They describe something, or someone, as having “fallen short” of some standard, some criterion or value.
In the year between finishing my years at University, and beginning a teaching career, I had the opportunity to taste and see what life was like in an environment very different to that in which I would eventually be employed. It was a Motor Car Factory in North London. My interim employment saw me at work at a capstan lathe within a huge building full of machines and operators, with a noise level to drown out all attempts at conversation. However, that is not the point of this brief anecdote. My job was to use the capstan lathe to create brass parts for Rolls Royce engines, and they had to comply to stringent standards. One particular part, when finished, had to be checked against no less than ten micrometer measurements. The Checker came along at intervals to ensure that my ongoing workmanship was acceptable. If he found that even one of those measurements deviated from the allowed tolerances, the part would be discarded. I learned an important lesson through this, as I saw the parallel with CHATA and HAMARTIA.
Each of the Checker’s gauges could be likened to a regulation, rule, standard, or perhaps a LAW. Any failure to comply with the standard could be likened to a breaking of the law. This is really a splendid example of what God teaches us in the Bible about Sin. God gave the children of Israel Ten Commandments, or Laws, by which His godly standards could be measured. Unlike the brass parts for the Rolls Royce engines, which could be made to perfection, we human beings can never pass the Divine Checker’s tests. As the Apostle Paul put it, “All have sinned and fallen short of the standard of God.” (Rom.3:23)
As we look around us in this world, read about people in the newspapers, or watch them on TV, we mentallycategorise them according to standards that seem to be instinctive, caused by what we call our conscience. We say, “That man is downright wicked. How can he do such awful things? It would be best for mankind if he were to be killed.” On the other hand we might say, “That woman has a heart of gold. She has spent her life caring for the less fortunate.” And between these two extremes, we find numerous other examples of “not so wicked”, and “not so good.” That is our estimation of other people. We all do it, whether we say anything or not. We cannot help ourselves because it operates in accordance with a set of standards that seem to come from nowhere, just built into our minds. We take it for granted that murder, theft, and other bad attributes are accepted and understood by all mankind as being what they truly are, offensive.
This brings us to an important point. Think again about the Checker in the factory. A defective part would be rejected whether it had one, three, five, of all ten measurements failing the test. Yes, even if just one failed. Looking at other people we like seeing those who are “good” in our estimation, but these people are often worst to convince of their inherent sinfulness. It is a strange thing indeed, that the building up of personal character and self-esteem can become a means to prevent us from accepting the Bible standard. God has said that all have sinned and come short. James spoke about this trouble in his letter. He said, “He who obeys the whole law, but fails in just one aspect, is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) This might cause some to react, saying it is an unjustified analysis. But James was merely saying that the Divine Checker rejects everything that doesn’t meet the perfect standard. To fail in one law, whilst keeping all nine of the others is just as useless as failing in all ten. No one can come to God and say, “I have through my life kept nearly all Your laws,” hoping for a word of commendation.
So in God’s sight the Laws are an important part of God’s blessing to mankind, by which He enlightens us about our failings. Paul said, “Through the Law we have the deeper, or more perfect, knowledge of Sin.” (Rom.3:20) The Law does not itself make men sinners, but declares the standards by which God judges lives. Without the Law, we would still have consciences, but even these tend to vary from one nation and people to another depending on the development of nations over the centuries, and therefore cannot be fully relied upon. Sin and Law cannot be separated. Evangelists and missionaries make continual use of the Law to bring the knowledge of sin to their audiences. In John Wesley’s later years, as we read from his journal, he used to ride up our very road on horseback, to preach to the farming community not a quarter of a mile from our house. But he always sent ahead a man who would patiently teach the folk God’s laws. When Wesley arrived it was to a prepared audience that he pressed home the need for repentance and belief in Christ.
However, there has been a dramatic change in recent times, both here in Britain and also in America, once truly Christian nations. Whereas the legislation of olden times was based solidly on Holy Writ, it has now become eroded. Some laws have been abandoned, others have been twisted to mean the opposite of what God intended. As a result, prisons are at bursting point, schools have become unruly, and public places dangerous to be in after dark. This is what happens when God’s laws are disregarded. National life becomes “lawless.” “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov.14:34) We are in the process of dethroning God, making a mockery of His laws, and finding life more and more difficult nationally. But instead of people returning to Biblical standards, they seem bent on self destruction.
God’s laws are wonderful. They are like the salt that preserves a nation from corruption. But without Law we disintegrate as a society. Without law we become unmanageable as families. Without law our consciences suffer, and become less acute in recognising true value. And we have the nerve to call it “the law of the jungle”. Those who know the jungle, tell us that animal life tends to keep within its own laws with amazing precision. How well Kipling described it in his Jungle Books, and how often he referred to “the law of the jungle.” It is only man who becomes lawless.
So what about the origin of this sinful state in the world? How did it arrive? Why are we as human beings continually “missing the mark”, whereas the other members of God’s creation remain within their God-given boundaries? Paul was quite straightforward in answering this. “By one man sin entered the world, and death came as a result of sin. So death passed through to all mankind.” (Rom.5:12) Many these days laugh at the thought of having derived from Adam and Eve but Paul believed in them, the Apostles believed in them, and our Lord believed in them. Anyone who is truly God-honouring should give that a few moments’ thought before adopting some alternative evolutionary theory. Remember, Darwin could never explain death, what ever else he tried to explain by his theories. No one throughout all history has ever led a perfectly sinless life . . . except Jesus . . . the One who came to bring us a remedy to this sad situation.
When we were small, we were all taught the nursery rhyme – “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” And why? Because Humpty Dumpty was a Egg, and once cracked it is impossible for anyone to “put it together again.” The human race is Humpty Dumpty, and we have unfortunately fallen off our wall, and lie on the ground in a veritable mess. No one can restore us to original rectitude. No one, that is, apart from God Himself. In order to do so, He sent His only begotten Son to this earth to live a sinless life, and become a perfect sacrifice by His death on the cross. Jesus promised this exceptionally painful solution to mankind from the very beginning, but didn’t effect it until 2,000 years ago. In the process of time Jesus will draw all men to Himself as the Holy Spirit brings to mind the great love of God in bringing us the Remedy. Humpty Dumpty will finally be reconstituted – but he will be a far more perfect Egg.
Have you been touched and enlightened by this simple survey? If so, please act on it. Tell God that you appreciate more clearly than ever before that you “miss the mark”, and need to be restored by Jesus’ love and sacrifice. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring you New Life in Christ. The Laws of God will then be written in your heart , rather than on tablets of stone. It is God’s promise to all who take a look at Jesus, the suffering servant. Look, and Live.