What Is Sin?
Good News Magazine
July 1975
Volume: Vol XXIV, No. 7
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What Is Sin?

Most people have an opinion about what sin is. But what does God say it is? The Bible says much about sin you may have been missing.

   AH FLOO ovah Chicago, an' bruthern, ah sawr sin!" wailed the itinerant tent-meeting evangelist. Everywhere this fiery "preachuh" went, he saw "sin." But he never got around to telling his congregations what sin is!

Do You Know?

   Are you sure you know what sin is?
   Do you realize how broad, how gigantic and ghastly sin is?
   Many of you probably do know the main Bible definition of sin I John 3:4: "Whosoever commits sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (see Charles B. Williams' translation: "sin is lawlessness").
   But that's not all the Bible says about sin.
   Actually the Bible portrays and defines law-breaking in several dozen ways. The subject "sin" becomes so gigantically broad (if you really study God's Word) you will probably be surprised.
   And did you know that all sins fall into three kinds three categories?

Sin Is a Trinity!

   Turn to I John 2:15-16. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world [Greek cosmos meaning "society, way of life"], the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world [cosmos], the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
   Do you love your life-style, your way of doing things? If so, God says you love this world. And this world is passing away disappearing (verse 17). You must forsake your way, or you too will perish.
   Now notice that John divides everything "in the world" into three classes or categories (verse 16) three divisions. One: "the lust of the flesh." This particular lust is that pulling, yearning, down-dragging powerful desire temptation to satisfy and please the body. Remember, lust is an unlawful desire to satisfy, not just the normal, lawful desire to be comfortable. God wants us to be in good health (III John 2).
   Two: "the lust of the eyes." Here is another illegal desire, but this time through the eyes. Our eyes focus on things that do not belong to us. Then we think, "Ah, now that would be nice wouldn't I like to have wouldn't I like to lay my hands on that!" Our eyes incite us to lust and covetousness, greed and envy. That is the lust of the eyes.
   Three: "the pride of life." John is here speaking of physical life. John's original word' for "pride" means the puffing, swelling, heady, billowing, superior, proud, exalted feeling which all human beings experience. The pride of life is that warm, "good," elevated self-satisfied feeling we get when someone pats us on the back when someone tells us we are pretty good.
   We have all experienced the "pride of life" somewhere in our lives, haven't we? We thought deep down inside we were right; but we were wrong. Our "righteousness" whatever its form, whatever its brand was just so much ego and pride.
   All sins appear to fit generally into one or more of these three categories of I John.

Man's First Sin

   Let's see how closely man's first sin fits John's three-way description. Turn to Genesis 3:6. "And when the woman saw that the tree was [1] good for food, and that it was [2] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree [3] to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat...."
   Did you catch that? Eve not satisfied with the food God gave her saw that the fruit was "good for food." That is, her flesh, her taste buds, her appetite lusted for that particular food. Eve had an illegal desire to satisfy her body. What is that, but "lust of the flesh"?
   Secondly, it was "pleasant to the eyes" her mind (through the eyes) lusted after something pleasant to the sight. The same as John's "lust of the eyes"!
   Lastly, in her mind she desired it to make her wiser. She looked for something to exalt, puff up, expand, and swell the self. That is the "pride of life"!
   So both Adam and Eve yielded to the triple temptation; they disobeyed God, they sinned. Man's first sin fit all three of John's categories for law-breaking..
   Too many of us today are like Adam and Eve. The fruit God gave them was not good enough. It is always the forbidden fruit that appeals to us. It's the other fellow's house, the other fellow's championship, the other woman's fur coat, somebody else's name on the record book, the other fellow's wife and not our own that appeals. Our eyes, our minds, our bodies deceive us into thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.
   Now we know how sin affected our first parents. Let's go on through the Bible to see how sin affects us today! We must know more about sin in order to root it out.

Sin Is Many-sided

   The Bible uses various words for "sin" in the original texts, showing various shades of meaning. God shows us that sin is complex not as simple as we might think. We will analyze some of these "sin" words to see what special facet of sin God is emphasizing.
   Remember one thing before we continue. All these words can be correctly classified as "sin." Their meanings all overlap to a certain degree and may even be synonyms in some contexts. However, as we go through the different passages where the various words are used, we see various kinds of sin. Let's notice some of these words in the Old Testament and the contexts in which they occur.
   The first and most common word for sin is khata. Khata means "to miss the mark." Here's the point for us: "missing the mark" is not necessarily from the habit of sinning. If you miss the mark in daily Christian living, it isn't necessarily because you are a practicing sinner. Of course, you can fail for that reason too.
   We often fail, not because we want to sin, not because we hate God in our conscious mind, but because, even though we are aiming for the mark, we are not able to hit dead center. We miss the mark because
"God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16, 17).
we don't want to hit it badly enough, because we don't practice hitting it, and because we don't have enough of God's help. We need to realize we are built short of the mark we are mark-missers, misfits by nature. God knows we will begin by missing, but with His help we can start hitting.
   Most of us, at some point, yield to temptation. If you yield to temptation you miss the mark, you khata! Notice what David said when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. "Against thee [God], thee only, have I sinned [khata], and done this evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4). David had allowed himself to drift away from God the temptation overcame him.
   God told Cain that sin (khata) would. try to pull him down. God's words to Cain apply to the whole human race: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well [if you disobey], sin lieth at the door" (Gen. 4:7). The Revised Standard Version makes the last part of this verse clearer, saying in effect: "Sin's desire will be to pull you down, but you must master it!"
   We must resist temptation we must not yield! We must strive always to hit the mark!

Your Duty and Mine

   Jeremiah 51:5 describes a time when the entire land of Israel was filled with sin. The Hebrew word for sin here is asham, meaning "incur guilt" (sometimes through ignorance or neglect).
   Are you guilty? Do you really produce on your job? Do you produce poor work? You machinists, draftsmen, design engineers, gas station attendants, farmers, bus and truck drivers, elevator operators workers of all kinds do you put out sloppy, dowdy, half-done work?
   Remember, a Christian strives to do the job better than anybody else. True Christians are not often the great of the world. We may just pump gas. We may just sit and type what the boss dictates. Perhaps we just answer the phone. We may drive a truck. Possibly we plow the soil. But we must strive to do it right and the best!
   You may say you don't have as much ability as the next man you can't do as well as he. But your zeal, your attitude, your zest for work can still put you in front! (Remember, you are in competition against yourself, not the other fellow.)
   How about wage cheating? Do you punch the clock a little early? Earlier at quitting time, that is? Or do you punch it earlier, before work starts? Do you do the job as you would want it done for yourself? For Christ?
   How about you women? If you are at home, do you live up to the high standard that "wife" and "mother" imply? If you are working, do you produce on the job? Or are you letting down (asham-ing)?

Something or Nothing?

   Another very common Old Testament word for "sin" is aven. The word is quite often connected with idolatry. Remember, an idol is anything in your mind higher than God, or anything you love more than God. The word sometimes expresses the "nothingness of sin." It may include deception, self-deception, and legal injustice.
   Read I Samuel 15:22-23. Aven occurs in the phrase "and stubbornness is as iniquity raven] and idolatry." The Bible says stubbornness is a form of idolatry!
   Notice how the concept of idolatry connected with "aven-type" sin helps explain Isaiah 1:13. "... The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity raven], even the solemn meeting." As the next verse says, these days were "your new moons and y our appointed feasts."
   Remember Christ's famous rebuke of the false ministers in His Sermon on the Mount? Perhaps you did not know part of His condemnation (Matt. 7:23) is a quote from the Old Testament: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (aven in Hebrew, quoted from Psalm 6:8). False ministers are still "working" deception (aven) in their lives today!
   Are you still stubborn? Bullheaded? Or is your particular brand of vanity personal idolatry?
   Perhaps you are caught up in the vanity of this world's vogues and fashions. Possibly you're all hung up on being "in." Maybe you preen like a peacock before the "vanity mirror" by the hour in a vain attempt to keep up with current trends. Of course there is nothing really wrong with being in fashion, but it shouldn't become a preoccupation.


   Vanity is not all that is wrong with our society! Satan is twisting everything he can. Crazy, weird, outlandish, far-out, offbeat, perverse that describes our society. A von means "crookedness" or " intentional sin."
   What about some of our modern
"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her... " (Gen. 3:6).
music? Have you heard some of the weird, outlandish yes, fiendish modern noise? It seems that the goal of many modern "composers" is to make as many notes clash in discord as possible.
   God knew this final generation would bend, twist natural laws and natural beauty into a wrong use. That is why He inspired the word avon to describe our sins today.
   "Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? Or what is our iniquity [avon]? Or what is our sin (khata) that we have committed against the Lord our God? Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Eternal, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law... therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not..." (Jer. 16:10-13).
   Yes, God knew that we would come up with crazy, offbeat modern art, weird music and lustful dances! Surely our iniquity (avon) is not hidden from God's eyes (Jer. 16:17).


   Another Hebrew word for sin is amal, meaning "labor, toil" (usually including the idea of wearisome, painful effort). Though this word can be translated "sin," it brings out a special aspect of sin. Sin is not delicious or sweet. The results of sin always bring painful, agonizing unhappiness and toil.
   Imagine how much work a gambler goes to, just to make a "fast buck." Stays up all night, drives all the way across the state, skips meals, worries, schemes and plans and plots, fights off headache, backache and hangover just to get something for "nothing." It doesn't work! As King Solomon wrote: ".... The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15).
   A lot of painful labor and toil (sin, amal) goes into the body-building game. Have you ever stopped to wonder just exactly what in the world mirrors have to do with lifting weights? I am speaking of these popular and money-making gymnasiums which advertise the "body beautiful" for men (!) and women. We know what bars are for, and disks of iron, weights, pulleys, rowing machines, etc. But what about the mirrors?
   Mirrors are an essential part of body-building apparatus. The mirrors are there so they can see themselves that is why so many body builders can't walk normally. They must tense their arms slightly to make the biceps and triceps bulge, and spread their "lats" (the muscles that make the V-shape in the outer part of the upper back), etc.
   You will note that many body builders usually work in tight bathing trunks, or at least stripped to the waist. The reason for all this is simple. They want to see themselves! They have to build up that vanity: the "pride of [physical] life"! And all the labor and toil they go through becomes arnal that is sin as long as it is for a vain purpose.
   It actually hurts to build a body. It actually takes pain and sweat and strain. But as long as you have a mirror in front of you, you're in business. The mirror pulls you on - that vanity of seeing yourself.

A Nation of Cheats

   Arnal also includes the great, strenuous effort so many students put forth to cheat. Some years back over one hundred top men in the nation at the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, were expelled for cheating! My wife and I have visited the academy. We saw what tremendous advantages those men- had there the best of everything. Beautiful area, mountain setting, fabulous new buildings, everything going for them. We noticed also they had great esprit de corps - spirit and zeal. But at least a hundred of them the nation's cream of the crop were cheats!
   The work involved in cheating is phenomenal. It takes great effort, much eye strain and mental strain to secrete the answers where a sharp-eyed examiner will not spot them.
   Stop to ask yourself how much effort you are putting forth just to get around the law. It takes pain and toil (arnal) to get around God's laws, man's laws.

Good as Gold?

   Once upon a time men used to keep their word. Sounds like a fairy tale now, doesn't it? A fairy tale, because so few men today keep their word. If you are disloyal, faithless, perfidious, or hypocritical, you are sinning; you are ma'aling. Ma'al is a Hebrew word meaning to act treacherously, unfaithfully, or fraudulently. This word is used with adultery which is a form of disloyalty and dishonesty and adultery fills our nation! The returned captives from Babylon under Ezra had transgressed (ma'al) in taking their strange wives and thus acted treacherously and perfidiously with Almighty God (Ezra 10:10).
"The Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground.... So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way..." (Gen. 3:23, 24).
   You may not be an adulterer, but how good is your word? It should be "good as gold"! Christians are supposed to place so much stock in their word so as to bring back the old days of "once upon a time." Are you willing to suffer in order to keep your word?
   God's Word never fails! "Thy testimonies are very sure..." (Ps. 93:5).
   Ask yourself how loyal you are to God's Work. Are you loyal only while it is convenient for you? Or are you as David was willing to hurt yourself, suffer loss, sacrifice whatever, rather than to see the Work take a loss? How about before the judge and the magistrates? How about before the police, the medical profession or the boss?
   If you are loyal, God will reward. If you are not loyal, you are a sinner you are guilty of ma'al!
   When Uzziah the king stepped out of his office and tried to gain God's favor by burning incense, Azariah and the priests condemned Uzziah of treachery, faithlessness, disloyalty, saying to him: "Thou hast trespassed" (ma'al). See II Chronicles 26:16 and 18.
   Another common sin coming under this category is sneakiness and petty thieving. Have you broken all your habits of petty thieving? You must train your children against this vice also. Petty thieving and sneakiness are common among children.


   Are you tired of reading about sin? Have you had enough?
   God has had enough!
   God is fed up with sin. Christ is busily preparing for a new world which will gradually stamp out sin. Right now Christ is purging sin out of His Church. You need to read yet more about the many sides of sin catalogued in the Bible.
   You have plenty to work on now. In a future issue you will read more about sins you must purge out if you are to be with Christ in that new world He is building.

(To be continued)

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Good News MagazineJuly 1975Vol XXIV, No. 7