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What Exactly Is Sin?

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

what-exactly-is-sin

It is amazing how many Christians say they do not know for sure what sin is. It is unfortunate that they sin and claim they did not know it was a sin. However, saying they don't know what sin is doesn't excuse them for sinning. Then there are some who put a value on sin by saying "little sin" or "big sin." According to the Bible, sin is sin.

Even though the word "sin" is mentioned in the Bible about 400 times, if you ask ten people what sin is, they all will probably give you different answers.

So, what exactly is sin?

what-exactly-is-sin

According to the Oxford and most other dictionaries, sin is "an offense against God or against a religious or moral law."

According to Christianity, sin is doing what God forbids and not doing what God commands. Therefore, sin is usually an action based on what you do and what you do not do. A person can commit sin also by a thought, speaking a word, as well as doing something evil. Anything that is known to be immoral or harmful to others can also be considered a sin in most cultures.

The Bible is full of sins that people commit. Those sins can be summarized in two specific ways. What are those ways?

what-exactly-is-sin

The sin of commission is doing what God forbids. A good example of the sin of commission is in the very first book of the Bible. In Genesis 2:16-17, "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'”

It is true that God told only the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve existed. However, it was Eve who ate the forbidden fruit first and offered some of the fruit from that particular tree to her husband. The man did not object, and both of them go down in biblical history as having committed the first sin by disobeying God.

They disobeyed God by doing exactly what the man was told not to do. They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The Bible is full of things commanding us not to do. When we do those things, we commit the sin of commission.

what-exactly-is-sin

Even though the Bible is full of things God commands us not to do, it is also full of things God commands us to do. When we refrain or refuse to do those things, we commit the sin of omission. The sin of omission is the opposite of the sin of commission.

A good example of a sin of omission is in the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. According to Jonah 1:1-2, "The Lord spoke his word to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it because I see the evil things they do.”

Jonah heard and Jonah understood his assignment, but he refused to do as God commanded. According to Jonah 1:3, "But Jonah got up to run away from the Lord by going to Tarshish. He went to the city of Joppa, where he found a ship that was going to the city of Tarshish. Jonah paid for the trip and went aboard, planning to go to Tarshish to run away from the Lord." In other words, Jonah went in the opposite direction of where God sent him.

Most people know the rest of the story. Because of Jonah's sin of omission, he ended up in the belly of a big fish for three days after sailors threw him overboard. After the prophet prayed, the creature spit him out, and Jonah ran all the way to Nineveh to do what God had earlier told him to do.

what-exactly-is-sin

Everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) whether by commission or omission. No matter what the method was, there are consequences for having sinned. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eve. God punished Adam by having him work by the sweat of his brow. Eve was punished by having labor pains in childbirth. People today experience those punishments because of the first sin. Jonah was also punished for his sin of omission.

Whether because of the sin of commission or omission, all sin can be forgiven. The Bible says, "If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. The sin of not doing what God commanded is this.
    • Commission
    • Omission
    • Both
  2. The sin of doing what God forbids is this.
    • Commission
    • Omission
    • Both
  3. You can be forgiven for which sin?
    • Commission
    • Omission
    • Both

Answer Key

  1. Omission
  2. Commission
  3. Both
  • Overlooked Sins
    For such a small word, a lot is packed into the meaning of sin. The Bible describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God's law.

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