No agency has done more to wipe out the significance of “sin” than Christianity with fundamentalists relegating sin to a list of behavioral does and don’ts and liberals updating what constitutes allowable social interactions from Puritanical or Victorian restrictions.
In fact, sin defines any self- and other-destructive behaviors.
The documentation of the first known occasion of sin committed by Lucifer provides a thesaurus of other words for sin.
- lifted up [with pride]
- defiled (Ezekiel 28:12-18)
The most basic definition of sin is making oneself the authority over the Singularity / Creator.
“How art thou fallen…For thou hast said in thine heart…I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)
We defy God’s authority when we imagine that we can escape from the restrictions outlined in God’s laws. We selectively obey the parts we like and revise the rest. This is how the serpent tempted the woman in the Garden of Eden to break away from God’s authority.
“sin is the transgression of the law.” (I John 3:4)
Don’t make the mistake of narrowly pegging every biblical reference to “law” as being about the law of Moses. Long before God made a particular covenant with the descendants of Jacob / nation of Israel there were basic laws of holiness – perfection in relationship.
These were taught to all mankind for the purpose of establishing and maintaining harmonious relationships with each other and with God. These are built into human conscience with at least the common sense awareness that trouble will follow misbehavior.
- Cain knew that it was a sin to murder. (Genesis 4:8-9)
- Ham knew it was a sin to watch pornography and exploit the vulnerable. (Genesis 9:20-25)
- Pharaoh knew it was a sin to take another man’s wife. (Genesis 12:9-19)
“after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God. For when the Gentiles…do by nature the things contained in the law…shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” (Romans 2:14-15)
Joseph son of Jacob makes the sobering point that transgressing his master’s boundaries was actually a transgression against God’s commandments, which broadens the definition of sin and brings it down to earth.
“And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master…hath committed all that he hath to my hand…neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:7-9)
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13:1-2)
This last, of course, does not teach subjection to ungodly edicts, as demonstrated in multiple incidents throughout human history, such as Daniel in the lion’s den for refusing to stop praying, or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego cast into the fire for refusing to worship the idol. It teaches non-violent resistance to earthly forces when those powers are in direct opposition to God’s word.
“We ought to obey God, rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The essential problem with transgressing God’s laws is that these are not, as some people claim, arbitrary rules established by certain cultures which change over time as circumstances change. The definition of natural law is “a phenomenon of nature that has been proven to invariably occur whenever certain conditions exist or are met.”
Natural laws are God’s invariable, eternal laws, established when he designed the universe. We understand this process in physics, but this also applies to social and spiritual domains. Human actions cannot break these laws without throwing the affected part of the universe into chaos and inevitable destruction.
When anyone sins, i.e. does something un-right, there is a disruption in the “right-ness” of that person’s relationship / connection to God and others, which spreads and contaminates every dimension, not just moral. Anyone who has experienced a relationship breakdown should be able to personalize this concept to their own life. There is much more than a cessation of relationship with the ex-spouse – there is loss of time and experiences with children during split custody, loss of financial security, loss of shared friends, loss of a home, and it goes on and on. Then there are the effects felt by the children, and family members, and friends, and school associates, and work colleagues, and…
Unless counteracted, unchecked sin results in ever-spreading chaos and ultimate utter destruction. We’ve seen it in world wars and nuclear weapons. Current scientists are saying exactly the same thing. We humans are destroying our ecology, our social interdependency, our ability to survive as a civilization and even our own selves through our refusal to sacrifice our self-indulgence to promote the welfare and sheer existence of our interdependent social and physically sustaining world!
God responded to Lucifer’s sin by decreeing destruction by fire. This was not out of petty revenge, but to cauterize the damage. No doubt Lucifer is powerful and spiteful enough to generate a world-destroying black hole. And no doubt Lucifer expected the same fate to befall humans.
But because humans are mortal, changeable, we have the option of being restored to our original condition – being in a right relationship with God.