Sin is more than making mistakes. It is not an accident that causes harm to someone else. And yet, many of us have heard sin defined as such. Too often, we hold back from even saying the word “Sin” because it just seems so heavy and serious and offensive.

A while back, I wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition entitled, “Parents, Tell Your Kids They Are Sinners.” Let me tell you, there were a lot of comments both positive and negative. Some people even accused me of emotional and spiritual child-abuse, because, “How could anyone tell their children such terrible things.” But if I want my kids to become Christians, they need to know their need for Christ… which means they need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior.

The Bible talks about sin, and if we don’t then we’re holding back on God’s Word. Even worse, if we do not talk about sin, then how can we proclaim the gospel which frees us from the chains of sin and death?

But what is sin, and how does temptation work? That’s what the rest of this post explores.


What is Sin?
There are a few ways to define or describe what sin is. Allow me to offer a few different ways to answer the question:

  • Sin is anything (in thought, speech, or behavior) which does not honor God or conform with his commands.
  • Sin places your own desires above God’s desires, which leads to failure to obey what God has instructed. In this sense, sin is self-worship and self-idolatry. All sin is a failure to keep the first Commandment (have no other gods before me).
  • Sin proclaims that God is neither trustworthy nor to be obeyed. Sin erodes faith.

Sins of Commission
Sins of Commission are when we do what we are commanded not to do. When people think about “sin,” this is what they think about. I doubt this type of sin needs much explanation, but here are a few examples:

  • Acts of violence against others.
  • Theft and taking what is not yours.
  • Adultery and breaking your vows.
  • Speaking words that are not honoring to God or to others.

In case you need more motivation to read and study the Bible, it is also worth pointing out that “accidental” sins are still sinful. Just because you didn’t intend to sin, that doesn’t mean it’s no big deal and therefore not a sin. The Old Testament Law made provisions for sacrificial offerings to atone for unintentional sins, see Numbers 15:22-31.

Sins of Omission
Sins of omission are those sins which exist because we failed to do what God commanded. Sins of omission point to our failure to do what is right.

Remember, to “omit” something means “to leave it out.” It points to the absence of something that should be there. James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

Too often, we only think about sin as something that we “do.” It is just as sinful to be silent in the midst of oppression (omission) as it is to be the oppressor (commission). Other examples of sins of omission:

  • Thanklessness which leads to coveting or theft.
  • Silence in the midst of obvious oppression (racism, poverty, human trafficking, etc.).
  • Neglecting the Great Commission and failure to talk about the gospel with others who do not believe.
  • A stingy spirit which leads to a lack of generosity (not tithing, not giving to others who are in need, etc.).

Sin Doesn’t Define the Christian Life
Sin is not the end of the human story. By faith, the Christian believes they are more than what they do… they are who God says they are. Our actions do not define us.

This is the promise of the gospel: We have a glorious savior who has rescued us from our sin. By faith, we are made saints… declared “holy” by Christ and adopted as sons and daughters of God.

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25, ESV