What is sin and why is it such a big deal?

Why do some Christians make such a big deal over sin? Everyone remembers the stereotypical "hell and brimstone" preachers who rant about sinners going to hell, but it seems that lately in some churches, sin is being talked about less and less. There are some preachers that don't even like to talk about sin, possibly for fear of their members leaving if they hear something they don't like. Since our culture seems to put more emphasis on tolerance and relativity than absolute right and wrong, is it easy to see how the topic of sin has been swept under the rug in many churches. However, sin is a very important thing to discuss, as it is the entire reason that the Bible was written, and why Jesus came to earth to die. By ignoring sin, we will not understand how important Jesus' death on the cross was, and it distorts our view of God. A lack of understanding about sin is probably why many people say "I've been a good person, so God will let me into heaven", and don't feel the need to turn to God. so let's look at the Bible and see what it says about sin.

What is Sin?

This is the most basic question we must answer first. Some Christians make it seem that anything other than singing hymns and reading the Bible is a sin. This is not true though, and the Bible lays out some very clear rules on what is sin. The most obvious list is the Ten Commandments, summarized below (Exodus 20:1-17):

  1. Do not worship anything besides God.
  2. Do not make idols and don't worship idols.
  3. Don't misuse God's name.
  4. Keep the Sabbath as a day of rest.
  5. Respect your father and mother.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Be faithful in marriage/don't commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Don't tell lies.
  10. Don't covet anything that belongs to someone else.

This list was given to Moses by God after the Israelites left Egypt and were travelling in the desert towards Israel. God also gave Moses a whole lot of other suggestions related to civil and religious laws (how to treat slaves, punishments for crimes, property law, sacrificial laws, etc.) and these are recorded in Exodus 21 - 31, and the book of Leviticus. This was the basis of setting up the Israelite society after they had left Egypt and had no government. The Jews were told to follow these commandments, and the Orthodox Jews still try to follow all these instructions in Leviticus today.

It is true that if everyone followed the 10 commandments, we would have a much better society than we have now. If you find it hard to remember this list, Jesus summed it all up in just 2 rules: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is: Love others as much as you love yourself. All the Law of Moses and the Books of the prophets are based on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40).

There are other occasions when the Bible explains things that God thinks are sins. There is the often-mentioned Romans 14 rule, where if you believe something is a sin, then for you it is a sin. Also, if you do something that will cause someone else to lose faith, then it's a sin. There are also verses suggesting homosexuality is a sin (or at least not approved of by God) [1], as well as statements against divorce, by saying divorce causes adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). There are warnings against many other things (immorality, witchcraft, etc.), but these can all be traced back to one of the 10 commandments (e.g. witchcraft = not worshipping God).

God takes sin so seriously that Jesus told us it is better to chop off a hand or foot if it causes you to sin (Matthew 18:8-9). This means that if there is anything that causes us to sin or to want to sin, we should remove it from our lives. I doubt a hand or foot would cause sin, but what about a collection of pornography, or perhaps alcohol, or going to clubs? I remember hearing about one woman who knew her husband struggled with pornography, so she removed even the pictures of women in lingerie from catalogs, just to be sure nothing could tempt him. If you have certain books or movies that you know God wouldn't want you to read or watch, get rid of them. Don't hang out with people who encourage you to sin. In our culture this sometimes seems extreme, but God knows what is best for us, and this is why he labels certain things as sins to be avoided.

Where did Sin come from?

The very first sin happened in the Garden of Eden, when God had made the very first two people Adam and Eve. God only gave them one rule they had to follow, and it was to avoid one particular fruit tree in the Garden which would give them knowledge of good and evil. However, Eve was tricked by Satan, who showed up to her in the form of a serpent and convinced her and Adam to eat the fruit. God was not happy, and punished them by sending them out of the Garden of Eden and cursed the entire world to make life difficult (Genesis 3).

Now if you don't understand and interpret this story right, it comes off as a very harsh, angry God who punishes Adam and Eve with death and banishment from Eden. However, if we look carefully, this is not the case. As discussed quite well in this article by Dr. Kalomiros [2], God did not cause them to sin by putting the tree there and telling them not to eat it. Instead, he quotes Theophilus of Antioch who said the tree was good and contained good knowledge, and intended to be used by Adam and Eve when they had spiritually matured. However, in the meantime God didn't want them to eat from it, same as a baby shouldn't eat steak - because it's not ready for it. But they disobeyed. It was the disobedience (not the fruit) which caused separation from God. And separation from God (who is the source of life) is a bad thing. Because God did not want people to be separated from him forever, he made Adam and Eve leave the garden and cut them off from the tree of life. If they had kept eating from this tree, they would have never died, but they would have never been able to be close to God again. So God allowed them and the entire creation to be subject to entropy and death, so that they would not be permanently stuck in sin. Because we're all descended from Adam and Eve, who had a tendency to sin, we also all have the tendency to sin and everyone will sin at least once in their lives. God wanted this relationship with them and all of us to be restored, and created a plan to achieve this.

No One is Good Enough

At first, God gave his 10 commandments and laws to the Jews. Later, Jesus came, however Jesus did not cancel out the Old Testament laws. He said "Don't suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a period or comma will ever disappear from the Law." (Matthew 5:17-18). He also said "You must obey God's commands better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law obey them. If you don't, I promise you will never get into the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5:20). As you can see, God has very tough standards. Jesus says the law is even tougher than we would think: "You know the commandment which says 'Be faithful in marriage'. But I tell you if you even look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts."(Matthew 5:27). Jesus also said that we are supposed to love our enemies, and pray for people who treat us badly (Matthew 5:44).

No one can live up to these standards. Paul explained "The Law says these things to stop anyone from making excuses and to let God show that the whole world is guilty. God doesn't accept people simply because they obey the Law. No, indeed! All the law does is to point out our sin." (Romans 3:19-20). There is not a single person on earth who deserves to go to heaven. Everyone has sinned at least once in their lives, and one sin is all it takes. Paul said "All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory."(Romans 3:23). Because God is so holy, he can't just ignore our sin and say "That's ok, you tried your best, that's close enough.". The payment for sin is death (Romans 6:23, 1:32). And not just physical death, but spiritual death (eternal separation from God) as well.

What are the consequences for sin?

As stated above, the direct consequences for sin is death and separation from God - eternal separation in hell if the person has not turned to God by the time they die. However, the idea of punishment for sin is not because God is mean, or he likes to punish people. God is more like a loving father who knows that in order to teach his kids not to do bad things which will hurt themselves and others, there must be consequences. In [2], the author describes two kinds of punishments - those designed to correct someone, and those designed to end evil when it has spread too far. These are not God being evil. For example, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins (2 Peter 2:6) and killed most of the world's population in Noah's flood because they were so evil (2 Peter 2:5). But the plagues of Egypt were designed to convince Pharaoh that God was the real God, and to let the Israelites leave their slavery (Exodus 7-13). Because Pharaoh did not do this, there were more and more punishments. God sometimes punishes people to convince them to leave their sins now, so they do not end up in hell forever. God doesn't want anyone to go to hell, so it is better to make them suffer a little in hopes of them turning around than to let them blindly walk into hell. In the cases of God killing someone due to their sins, it is most likely because that person had chances to repent, did not, and are negatively affecting others. In order to protect the others, God gets rid of the person who had already rejected Him. A person goes to hell because they have rejected God, and so if they do not want to be with God, the only alternative is "not God". Since God is the source of everything good, then hell will naturally be the opposite of God - everything bad.

Another form of punishment is that God let people sin and experience the consequences of sin: "So God let these people go their own way. They did what they wanted to do, and their filthy thoughts made them do shameful things with their bodies...They did shameful things with each other, and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds. Since these people even refused to think about God, he let their useless minds rule over them."(Romans 1:24-28). So if God knows someone won't repent, he just lets them do whatever they want and won't bother to correct them. This will lead to the person in effect destroying themselves with their own actions. There is a time coming when God will send horrible disasters to earth, which is called the Tribulation. This is to punish those who continue to sin and follow Satan (Revelation 16:2,9,11, 2 Peter 3:7), and to convince others to turn to God while they still can.

God's plan for Salvation

Because death is the consequence for our own sins, no one can pay off the sins of anyone else (Psalm 49:7-9). Because God loved us so much, even though everyone had sinned, God made a plan to save those who would accept His salvation so they will be able to live forever with Him. In order to pay for sin, previously God had required the Jews to give him sacrifices - usually of sheep, but also doves or other animals. These sacrifices did not last though, and had to be redone frequently. More detail can be found in my article here. However, since Jesus was God, he was able to live a perfect human life and therefore he did not have to die for his own sins. Therefore, he could be a perfect sacrifice to pay for all sin: "When Christ died, he died for sin once and for all." (Romans 6:10). If we accept Jesus' sacrifice as payment for our sins, then our sins are erased from God's memory. "God blesses people whose sins are forgiven and whose evil deeds are forgotten. The Lord blesses people whose sins are erased from his book" (Romans 4:7-8). So we are free because our punishment was paid by Jesus.

I love the lyrics of "Jesus Paid it All" by Elvira Hall, where it says "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow."[3]. It makes all the worry of being "good enough" just disappear because all my sins are paid for completely by Jesus, and there is nothing else I could possibly do to add to it. The realization that I have sinned and deserve hell, but God loved me so much that Jesus would be willing to be tortured and die to pay for my sins is absolutely amazing! If we get to heaven and God asks us "Why should I let you in here", all we have to say is "Jesus paid it all.". Part of this requires faith. The teachings on sin and salvation are sometimes difficult to understand and reason out logically, but we just need to trust that this is what God has told us in the Bible, and even if we can't fully understand it we just have to have faith for now, and maybe in heaven we'll understand it better.

Pastors need to teach about sin

If we downplay sin, and don't discuss it, then Jesus' death loses it's importance. If we don't understand that Jesus paid personally for our sins, the crucifixion seems more like a sad unnecessary historical event. It diminishes God's love for us, and we start to think that we can get to heaven on our own. If we don't realize we are sinners, it may easily lead to pride and thinking we are better than other people. It should be the pastors job to remind their congregations of sin, as well as helping instruct Christians to stay away from sin. If the pastors ignore sin and don't teach about it, they are not doing their job. Jesus said "If you reject even the least important commandment in the Law and teach others to do the same, you will be the least important person in the kingdom of heaven. But if you obey and teach others its commands, you will have an important place in the kingdom."(Matthew 5:19). Pastors such as Joel Osteen do not teach about sin [4], and will be called out on it when (and if) they get to heaven. God's salvation of mankind is the entire point of the Bible, and to take away the reason why such drastic salvation was required in the first place makes the rest of the Bible lose it's power. It would be like the story of "The Lord of the Rings" but ignoring the part about the Ring being evil and being used to destroy the entire civilization of Middle Earth, and the story would lose much of its appeal.

Christians and Sin

As Christians, we are called to stop sinning. John wrote "Anyone who does right is good, just like Christ himself. Anyone who keep son sinning belongs to the devil ... God's Children cannot keep on being sinful. His life-giving power lives in them and makes them his children, so they cannot keep on sinning."(1 John 3:7-9). So the good news is if you feel stuck in a sin, you're not, and God can help you out of it.

We should also be accountable to each other. James wrote "If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed."(James 5:16). Sometimes there are things you cannot deal with on your own, and you will need help from others. I don't think I could have gotten over some of the things I have dealt with without another Christians' help and prayers, and it is the strongest way to fight against Satan's lies and temptations. "If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble."(Ecclesiastes 4:10). Jesus promised that if you pray together, he will answer your prayers: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."(Matthew 18:19-21). So if you're struggling with something, the best advice is to go find a mature Christian whose judgement you trust, and tell them what you are dealing with and pray together.


So even though the concept of sin and salvation can be overwhelming to understand and analyze, it is also very simple. All that matters is: we've messed up and sinned, that sin deserves death, we can't pay for our own sins or ever be good enough on our own, so Jesus came to pay for our sins. If we accept Jesus' payment for our sins, then we are reconciled with God and can have a personal relationship with Him. When we die, we will enjoy heaven forever with Him That's the entire point of the Bible. Anyone who ignores sin is ignoring the Bible, and so we must teach about sin even if it is not "politically correct". If you want to be forgiven of your sins, all you have to do is pray to Jesus, admit you have sinned and that you need Jesus to pay for your sins. Then read the Bible and learn what God wants you to do with your life, and you can know God personally and not have to worry about death ever again.

[1] About.com - What the Bible Says about Homosexuality
[2] The River of Fire, by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros
[3] Lyrics: Jesus Paid it All - by Elvira Hall
[4] www.safeguardyoursoul.com - Joel Osteen Exposed