If you’ve grown up in church or around religious people, you’ve probably heard the word “sin” all your life. If you don’t go to church, you’ve probably encountered this concept somewhere in your interactions with religious people. Regardless of where and how you’ve run into this concept, chances are you have some misconceptions about it.
This post isn’t just for the religious though. The idea of sin is deeply embedded in our culture and even if you aren’t usually interested in spiritual topics, it might be beneficial to get a little more clarity on this tiny, three-letter word that has captivated humankind since the dawn of human history.
Let’s start with the meaning of the word “sin.” Most people would use sin almost interchangeable with words like “bad” or “evil.” That doesn’t really do the idea of sin justice. The best way to define sin would be incompleteness or “to fall short.” More on what we are falling short of later.
WHAT SIN ISN’T:
Contrary to what you may believe, sin is not an action. It is a much broader concept than just a thing you do that you shouldn’t do. A lot of well-meaning religious people believe that this is all there is to sin. They think it is an issue of behavior. Do good and you aren’t sinning, do bad and you are a sinner. That isn’t at all accurate, and the truth about sin is far more complex and disturbing.
WHAT IT IS:
Sin is probably best described as a condition. In Christian thought it is the condition that we all live our lives in. It is the reason we feel incomplete or like we’re missing something, it is the reason we get sick, it is the reason we die, the reason we always want more and the reason we struggle to be truly happy.
Think of it like being born with an incurable disease. If you were born with a disease that made you blind, you wouldn’t necessarily know anything different. It would be hard for you to imagine what it would be like to see. You might have some concept of what sight is because of descriptions you hear from other people, but blindness would be so much a part of you that it would be hard for you to extract your blindness from the rest of your life.
That’s how sin is, only we are all born with it. We don’t know how to live apart from our sin. We know, or at least, most of us are aware that we are incomplete, or not perfect. We know that we try to do things that we just can’t do, or we have feelings and problems that we just can’t shake, all of that is sin. Sin is very much the human condition. The actions that people often call sin are actually the results of sin. You do things you don’t want to do because of sin. You fail because of sin and you make mistakes because of sin.
So, what do we fall short of? Some would call it righteousness, others would say perfection, or as the Bible puts it “the glory of God.” Any way you slice it, you’re falling short of a standard that you’re not really able to meet. The standard is holiness. I
t’s like a pass/fail class. You don’t get a letter grade based on how well you do. You are either holy and sinless or you have sin and you’re not holy. Back to being born blind, if you were born with blindness, there is nothing you can do on your own to make yourself see. It would require something external like a doctor, a surgeon, or a medical treatment to fix your sight.
In Christianity, the concept of the Messiah is the anecdote for sin. Since you are born with a sinful nature that you cannot fix on your own, you require the actions of a perfect sacrificial savior who intervenes on your behalf to fix a condition you are unable to change by yourself.
Regardless of what you think you know about the concept of sin, regardless of what judgmental people may have told you, Christianity never asks us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps or “get right with God.” These are misunderstandings based on the idea that sin is all about your actions.