I remember being on a holiday a few years back where I visited a church, and I was taken back when the service leader used the words mediocre and below average in a confessional prayer. He was describing sinful attitudes and behaviour; I was astounded by the use of these words when the word sin could have easily been used in their place. I realise it’s important to use language that can be understood by our hearers, but these replacements are far from adequate.
We live in times when our western culture feels uncomfortable with the use of the word sin. As a reaction many Christians respond with watering down the word so it doesn’t offend people, but in doing so we all lose a true understanding of the term sin.
You could say that people who water down the meaning of sin are taking the ‘sting’ out of sin. For there is such a big difference between the secular mindset of error or mediocre compared to the notion of sin that we discover in the Bible.
Christians must have a clear definition so they know how to explain sin’s meaning rather than distorting it so it fits into a secular worldview.
One of the hardest things to do in life is to be the bearer of bad news. I think about what a hard task the military have when they must tell a fallen soldier’s spouse that they have died at war. Even the challenge of disciplining a child is avoided because it’s telling somebody something they don’t want to hear.
This is often the case when we talk about sin because we are telling people about how their own sinful condition is an abhorrent offence against God. Not only are we informing them that they are sinners, but we are also telling them that this condition leads to everlasting destruction in hell. Sin and its consequences are not easy news to give to people, so when we do so we should be extremely clear, caring and careful about it. It’s a delicate task.
Wayne Grudem states that, “We may define sin as follows: Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature. Sin is here defined in relation to God and his moral law. Sin includes not only individual acts such as stealing or lying or committing murder, but also attitudes that are contrary to the attitudes God requires of us” (Systematic Theology).
Here we see that sin isn’t just outward expression, but it is also inward (attitudes and nature).
Child Evangelism Fellowship have a simple and helpful definition of sin, that they use to explain to kids; it goes:
“Sin is anything we think (🧠), say (🗣), or do (🖐), or don’t do that we should do (🚫) that breaks (🔨) God’s Law“.
God gave us 10 Commandments to live by, and by keeping them we live rightly in His sight, or another way to say this is that we keep God’s law. Nobody keeps the law, but they break it in attitude, action and by nature, for since the womb we have been lawbreakers.
Psalm 51:5 says:
“Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me”.
Proverbs 22:15 also testifies to this,
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”,
and here, Proverbs 29:15
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
Because I have lived in unrighteous rebellion against a righteous God He would be just in condemning me eternally (Hell) from His presence for breaking His holy laws. However the story of sin doesn’t have to end there! Jesus is a Saviour who covers our sin and advocates for us in our battle against it.
John says this,
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2)
The bad news of sin must be clearly defined and explained (not watered down) so the good news of reconciliation through Jesus can be shared, understood and trusted.