The doctrine of sin seems like it should be straightforward and easily understood. However, the more you begin to look and try to pin down exactly what sin is, why exactly something is a sin at all, it becomes a little tricky and we see the elusiveness of sin. It becomes even more important to have a correct understanding of sin when it comes to how we live our lives as a result. I think our perceptions of what sin is, and why something is considered a sin, dramatically influences the way we live our lives. It plays a huge role in how we see our relationship with God, ourselves, and others in the world. This is why it’s crucial to have a clear picture of how to see sin.
The reality is there are multiple legitimate biblical ways to view sin and understand it. Some people prefer one way over another, but what I think what needs to be fought after is wanting to understand sin in all its dimensions. If you look at sin and think it’s only a square when it reality it’s a cube, you deprive yourself of all the other sides and the depth of what sin is, which inevitably will diminish your understanding of God, yourself, others around you, and how you interact with each one of those areas. The aim of this post is to show as many sides of sin as I know. There is so much more to understand about sin like how it works in the world and where it comes from etc. But those are their own topics in their own right, and won’t be discussed here. I mainly just want to give a framework about what lenses we can and should look through when viewing sin. As custom, I don’t mean to propose that these are all the ways to see sin but are some common and clear ways to see sin.
The most generic way, but correct way, to understand sin is as a breaking of God’s rules. God has set up and declared certain rules and ways for us to live, and whenever you do what you are told not to do, or don’t do whatever you are told to do, then that is a sin. This view is entrenched in limitations if that’s your sole way of understanding sin but it is a correct reading and understanding of what sin really is. Another way which is closely related, is understanding sin as a breach of a contract. You can see life as people and God living in this contractual agreement where God says, “You do these things, and I will do these things.” In this way of understanding it, sin is anytime we don’t hold up our end of the bargain. And in another closely related way, we can see sin as a violation of a relationship. We are in relationship with God, others, and even our self, and when we violate what the relationship is supposed to be like in each respective context, then we have committed a sin. These ways of looking at sin is strongly influenced by seeing sin as some sort of failure to perform a duty we are meant to perform.
I’ve mainly been talking about sin as a sense of duty and a failure to measure up to that duty, or adhere to a particular type of order or structure. Those are totally legitimate and honest ways to see sin, but there’s more to it than that. I think duty based thought of sin gives us a solid understanding of sin, but there’s such a deeper and richer understanding of sin we need to attain. A very basic and fundamental way of viewing sin is just any event where something is desired more than God. If there’s ever a moment where you have desired something more than God, then you have sinned. If you have lost the taste for God and desired the taste of something else instead, then you have sinned. This is because, in a broad sense, anything that comes before God should be seen as an idol. Anything that is an idol is clearly a sin, so if we put anything before God in any sense, then it’s an idol and is a sin.
We also can see sin as an offense against God’s nature. God is perfect and has a holy nature that is the picture of perfection, and anything that doesn’t align with that or would offend it should be deemed as sin. This is because we are called to be holy as He is holy, so if we are doing things that aren’t in agreeance with his nature, it’s not holy and is thus sinful. Another way to see sin, is to see it as not living within the way God has intended and designed for us to live. If we believe that He created us and created all of everything, and has bestowed it with a sense of purpose, then there would be some sort of way to best navigate and exist in this creation He has made. If He was indeed the creator, then He would know what is the best way to live in this world He has made for us. So, living in the way He has prescribed for us to live will lead to the best possible life, and not living in it will result in a lessor experience of the fullness God has for us. Therefore, the best life is that which is lived in accordance with God’s design and intention, and anything that deviates from that is sin, and causes a diminished experience of life. To state it more boldly, I’ve heard it said that sin makes us less human, it dehumanizes us. By sinning we are preventing ourselves to be the fullness of humanity that God had created us to be, sin stops the full realization of being human and by effect makes us less human.
Lastly, sin can be viewed as the violation of the dignity God has instilled in something. This means that there is a certain way we are supposed to treat an object or being or thought because God has marked it with a sense of dignity, a sense of value. When we don’t treat each thing in correct proportion to its value and violate its sense of dignity, then we have committed a sin. This is why we have rules in the first place. They are meant to be a guide to show us how we should value things in existence, and subsequently it should direct us on how to treat such a thing based on its value.
It can be complicated to figure out how we should view sin, and understand why something is a sin in the first place. However, it’s absolutely critical we begin to get a full view of sin and learn to look through all lenses. Each interpretation is correct in its own right, but invariably has limitations associated with it. This is why we can’t only use one understanding of sin. We will miss things and be contained by the limitations which are packaged with implications on how we will live. We need to learn to see sin in all its intricacy and complexity to get a more profound and true sight of what sin truly is and why something should be considered a sin.