15. The Nature Of Sin


What is the greatest affliction in the world? Cancer? Drugs? War? None of these. By far the most terrible scourge is sin. Sin not only causes more misery than any other tribulation, but if it is not overcome by the blood of Christ it will result in eternal punishment.

What is sin? John says, “Sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. It is the transgression of God’s law. Again John says, “All unrighteousness is sin.” 1 John 5:17.

Literally, the Greek word from which “sin” comes means “to miss the mark.” The will of God is the mark; when we miss it we have sinned.

There are different kinds of sin. We will list four. (1) Sins of immorality; (2) sins of omission; (3) sins of brotherly offence; and (4) sins of disobedience to God.


Many things which society approves of are condemned by God. Therefore, our basis for determining what is immoral must be the scriptures rather than human opinion.

The New Testament is not just a catalogue of things that we may not do. But the principles that are given in it, properly applied, are sufficient to govern our actions in every situation. Some sins are condemned by name while others are prohibited by principle.

Let us notice those things which are proscribed by name. An analysis of several passages of scripture Galatians 5:19-21 / Ephesians 4:25-32 / 1 Corinthians 5:11 / 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 / Colossians 3:5-9 / 2 Timothy 3:1-5 / Romans 1:29-31, shows that sins of immorality may be divided into three general categories, sins of thought, word and deed. The sins of word and deed originate in our minds.

Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Matthew 12:34. Again he teaches, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:18-19.

Sometimes we think that only the deed is condemned by God; Jesus shows that the thought which produces the deed is also sin. For example, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28.

The deed is adultery; the thought that produces it is lust. Again we are told, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15.

Murder is often produced by hatred; if the thought had not first existed, the deed would not have followed. Likewise, the deed of theft is often produced by covetousness. The sin of slander is often the result of jealousy.

Both the thought and the action which is produces are sin. But there is this difference. The consequences of a sin of thought are different from the deed which may be produced by that thought.

We would all rather be hated than murdered; we would rather that another would be jealous of us than that he would slander us. The sin that is in thought often hurts no one except the person who does the thinking, while the sin in action or word may seriously harm another individual. The consequences are different, but the sin is the same.

Some sins of thought should be noted. One often considered in the scriptures is covetousness. Covetousness is an unlawful desire for that which another has.

Should our neighbour purchase a new car and should we desire to have it, that would be covetousness. But if we desire to have a car like his, we do not necessarily covet.

Another sin is lasciviousness. It may be defined as lust or unlawful sensual desire. The Christian must not allow his mind to be thus polluted.

Other sins of the mind include jealousy, malice and wrath. Many times we sin by word of mouth. Jesus says, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37.

These verses should cause us to think seriously about the language that we use. Some sins of speech are railing, reviling, blasphemy, lying and boasting. Of the tongue, James says, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8. The tongue cannot be tamed, but by constant vigilance, the Christian can learn to control it.

Consider a few of our sins of speech. Jesus forbade swearing. He said, “But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:34-37.

It has been debated whether Jesus had in mind judicial oaths, but all should agree that profanity is condemned. This includes using the name of God and Christ in a light or flippant way. Many expressions which are thought of as slang are actually derived from the name of God or Christ.

“Gee” comes from “Jesus”; “gosh” and “golly” are substitutes for “God”. Each of these is a euphemism which is “the substitution of an inoffensive or mild expression for one that may offend.”

Other euphemisms are “deuce” which comes from “devil”; “heck” from “hell”; “darn” from “damn”. Since our speech should be above reproach, these words should be removed from our language.

One of the strongest condemnations of the scriptures is reserved for lying. “All liars will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” Revelation 21:8. And those who tell “white” lies are not excepted.

The scriptures make no distinction between “white” lies and “black”. The Bible teaches that the end does not justify the means, Romans 3:8, and while we are not always required to reveal all that we know, we are forbidden to speak or imply a deliberate falsehood.

Christians are forbidden to gossip. “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.” 1 Timothy 5:13.

People usually gossip either because they desire to slander or because they wish to have the glory resulting from telling something new. A good rule to follow is that if what you would say about another will not help him or others, don’t say it.

Railing and reviling are kindred expressions that refer to unnecessarily harsh or vituperative language. While it is true that it is sometimes necessary to rebuke another, we ought never to do it in the cruel way denoted by these expressions.

Too often this type of language is directed against members of one’s own family with resultant bitterness and discord. If we are filled with love our words will be couched in kindness.

The largest number of sins condemned in the scriptures involve human actions. Some of these, such as adultery, theft and murder, are condemned by society as well as by the word of God and therefore little need be said of them. Others, however, while not approved by society are seldom condemned.

These include drunkenness, strife, factions and deceit, most of which result from sinful thinking on the part of the one committing the sin. Some of them come from a lack of self-control.

Whatever the cause we should remember, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Many sins are condemned by the principles of the scripture rather than by name. The devil is constantly inventing new devices designed to lead men astray.

Gambling is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, yet when Biblical principles are applied it is found to be sin. It appeals to selfishness and is therefore covetousness.

It is theft in the same sense that duelling is murder. In both cases the action is by mutual consent, but the result is the same. Two men agree to fight until one kills the other. Two men agree to gamble until one steals from the other. The difference between the two is one of degree, not of principle.

Many kinds of dancing are condemned by principle. The physical actions in many dances inevitably result in lasciviousness on the part of one or both of the partners. Whether or not this lust results in further sin, such as adultery, if the dancing causes such evil thoughts, it is sin.


In the sins we have been discussing are sins of commission, positive things which we may do which are wrong. It is also possible for us to sin by failing to do what we have been commanded to perform.

James says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17.

In the great judgment scene described by Christ in Matthew 25, the unrighteous are condemned for their failure to do good. Thus, if we know we should visit the sick and neglect to do so, we sin; if we know to help the needy and do it not, we sin. If we fail to study, pray or worship God when we know we should do so, we sin.

Christianity is not merely not doing certain things that are wrong, but it involves doing those things which are right.


Every Christian has a responsibility to his brother. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 8.

He points out in regard to the matter of eating meats, “When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” 1 Corinthians 8:12-13.

His line of reasoning is that, while it is not wrong to eat meat, if Christians eat meat which has been offered to idols and, in so doing, cause those weak in faith to stumble, they have sinned in causing offence, and it is better to do entirely without meat rather than to cause another to be lost.

While we do not have this problem with respect to meat today, the principle applies in many ways. Each Christian is his brother’s keeper. We not only must not do those things which we know are wrong, but we must consider the effect that our habits and practices will have on others.

We cannot rightly say, “What I do is my own business.” As well expressed by Paul, “do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” Romans 14:16.

The next lesson will deal with the fourth kind of sin, disobedience to God.


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