So we alone, I think, as Christians who understand the Bible and believe the Bible, we get it. We got all these people trying — all the politicians, and all the moralists, and all the educators and all the university people and all the sociologists and everybody — trying to fix society. And it can’t ever be done by these people, because they don’t ever deal with the reality of what is in the heart. All humanity, all humanity — nobody escapes — has a vile, rebellious, corrupt nature. The thought life is corrupt; the emotions are corrupt; the will is corrupt; and the behavior is corrupt. And Genesis 3 is crucial to understanding that…

Scripture clearly indicates this is where evil began. And it is the New Testament that is most definitive. And again, you have to know that verse, Romans 5:12. That’s the key verse. When Adam sinned, everybody sinned in Adam. And when Adam received the penalty of death, we were all then sentenced to die…

Let me give you a definition of sin at this point. Sin is any personal lack of conformity to the moral character of God, or the law of God. Then sin is a disposition of the heart. It is a bent. It thinks evil; it speaks evil; it acts evil and it omits good. Let me give you those four, because those are the four ways in which you sin. You sin by thinking evil, speaking evil, acting evil or omitting good. You sin when you do, when you say, when you think, or when you don’t do, say, think what God demands you to. So it is commission, as you’ve often heard, or omission…

I. The first question is: What is sin?

And I’ve just given you a definition. What is sin? Now we know what sin is. It is any violation, any violation of the character or law of God, the moral character or the law of God. Summing it up, 1st John 3:4. 1st John 3:4 says: “Sin is the transgression of the law. Sin is the transgression of the law.” That is one definition of sin. Another way to translate that; everyone doing sin is doing lawlessness; “ad nomia,” lawlessness. In other words, it’s ignoring God’s law; it’s violating God’s law. That is sin. Any violation of God’s law is sin. Sin and lawlessness, in that Greek construction of 1st John 3:4, are identical. It’s living as if there was no law of God. Calling your own shots. It’s further defined in Romans 14:23: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Anything that you do that isn’t done as a direct act of faith in God is sin. In Romans 14:23: To know to do right and not do it is sin. In 1st John 5:17: “All unrighteousness is sin.”

So the Bible gets around that issue in many ways. When you do something that goes against real trust and faith in God, that’s sin. When you know to do right and don’t do it, that’s sin. When you know something pleases God, something God has commanded, you don’t do it, that is sin. All unrighteousness is sin. All sin is lawlessness. And all of those things are just coming at the same issue; that sin is any violation of God’s moral character or His law. Put it another way: Sin is going beyond the bounds that God has established. That gives us a substantial understanding of sin. As you go through the Bible, you’ll find all kinds of words. I’m not going to go through all the Hebrew words and all the Greek words of sin. There are just many, many of them. It’s enough to know that sin is defined as any breach of God’s law. Now, where is God’s law revealed? Scripture, right? Scripture.

So we have a problem in our society today, folks. We — we don’t believe that man is innately a sinner. We think he’s basically good and something happens to him environmentally. But if we do believe that — if we do acknowledge that he does evil, how do we define that evil? What is our standard for what is evil? What is it? Well, once our standard for evil in America, our standard for morality in America, was established by the Bible. Right? By the Bible. I mean that’s what the nation was founded on; that’s what basically our laws were written on. Our view of morality, our view of crime, our view of justice, all came out of the Bible. And once, there were certain behaviors that were considered to be against the law. And that’s changing. That’s changing very rapidly. It’s changing in the sexual realm. It’s changing in the homosexual world. It’s changed, of course, in the world of abortion, euthanasia. Boy, watch. Watch what happens with the genetic engineering that’s going to come in the very near future, as they now can determine the ability to handle the genes and decide who gets born and who doesn’t, and et cetera, et cetera. As we continue to move down deeper and deeper into the morass of sin and dislodge ourselves from any set standard, being the word of God, we have no way to define morality anymore except to take a survey. Right? To take a survey. That’s what you do. The politicians do it. They give back what they think the constituencies would vote for. They — they want to get elected. So they basically say I believe this, because they polled the constituents, and that’s what they say. And that’s how we develop our morality.

And you watch. As our society sinks deeper and deeper into sin, and distances itself consistently and completely from the word of God, it’s going to be harder and harder to define morality. There won’t be anybody who can walk into a court and hold up a standard. You can’t walk into a court today and hold up the standard of the Bible as the standard of morality. All we have left is tradition. And tradition will be overthrown by surveys. It’ll be overthrown by vote. It’ll be overthrown by referendums. It’ll be overthrown when the people want to overthrow it. It’s all — it’s not going to get any better; it’s just going to get worse. The reclassification of behavior, we don’t have a standard. How do you go to a generation like that, and tell them they’re sinners? Based on what? Based on what standard am I a sinner? And you say well, on the standard of the law of God, on the standard of the Bible. The Bible is not our standard.

I think we have no other choice but to hold the Bible up as the standard, and to say to the sinner: It is the standard, because it is the word of God. And it’s up to you to determine, by reading it carefully and thoughtfully, that it is not the word of God. That’s a challenge I put out. Oh, you don’t think the Bible is the word of God? Have you read it? Have you studied it? Are you really sure about that? I never had anybody say to me yes, I’ve studied it thoroughly from cover to cover, and it’s not the word of God. But I don’t think we have anywhere else to go, I mean, because this is the standard. We’re just not going to have a society anymore propped up by biblical standards. And you watch the continual escalation that goes on as we redefine morality in terms of popular referendum, popular vote and survey. That redefining of morality without a standard leaves our society in a death dive, because sin is breaking God’s law. Sin is violating God’s moral character. And there’s nowhere to know that, except on the pages of scripture. And if you don’t believe the scripture establishes morality, righteousness and unrighteousness, then you have no standard and you have no definition of sin. That’s the real — that’s the real issue in our society today.

How do we tell our society about a Savior who will save them from sin when their definition of sin is basically non-existent? What is sin to them? You tell them it’s a violation of the law of God. Well, where’s that? Well, it’s in the Bible. I don’t believe that. But you know it’s still the word of God that the Holy Spirit uses, right? So I don’t equivocate. I just keep preaching the Bible, and let the spirit of God take it and use it to convict the hearts. So what is sin? Sin is a violation of the law of God. It’s a violation of the moral character of God and His laws, as revealed on the pages of scripture. That is sin. That’s all we need to say about it. That’s all we need to say about it. So you study the Bible, and you’re going to find out what God commands us to do and not to do. You’re going to find out the essential elements of God’s nature. And whenever we violate those, we sin.

Now let’s go past the definition for just a moment, and look at the nature of sin just briefly. The nature of sin.

1. First of all, sin is defiling. I’ll just give you a few things to think about. Sin is defiling. These are things that characterize sin; not defining it, but characterizing it. This is kind of how it manifests itself. It is a violation, yes. That’s what it is. But how it shows up, it — first of all, it is defiling. It is a pollutant. It is to the soul what rust is to gold; what scars are to a beautiful face; what stain is to white silk cloth. It is ugliness across the face of beauty. It is the — it is a kind of ugliness that is defined in scripture in very graphic terms. In 1st Kings 8:38, sin in man’s heart is compared to ugly, oozing sores from a deadly plague. In Zechariah 3:3, Joshua, the high priests, sin is like a “filthy garment” that is being worn by a person. When you go down in the inner city somewhere and you pass by the street people, who’ve lived in the same clothes and slept in the same clothes on the street for years, that’s the “filthy garments” that are a picture of sin. Sin scars the image of God in man. Sin stains the soul. It degrades man’s nobility. Interesting statement is made in Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah in talking about sin. There’s so much about it, of course, all through the Bible. But in Zechariah Chapter 11 and Verse 8 is a very interesting statement, where God actually says that there is a loathing. He says: “Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul loathed them,” is what it actually says. My soul detested them. And they also detested me. Sin causes you to hate God, and to loathe God and, God says: “My soul loathed them. My soul loathed them,” and they loathed me.

When a sinner sees his sin, he sees it as defiling. He sees it for what it is. Ezekiel 20 Verse 43 says: “And there you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things you have done.” When you really look at yourself, you see the defiling sin and you loathe yourself. Sin pollutes. Sin defiles. Sin corrupts. Paul calls it in 2nd Corinthians 7: “The filthiness of the flesh and spirit. Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan wrote: “Sin is called poison, sinners serpents; sin is called vomit, sinners dogs; sin is called the stench of graves, sinners rotten sepulchers; sin is called mire, sinners pigs. It is defiling, degrading. It stamps the devil’s image on the human soul.

2. Sin is, secondly, rebellion. It is not only defiling, it is rebellion. It establishes not only a defilement and a filth and a pollution and a corruption, but it establishes a life of rebellion. It is, by its own nature, as Leviticus 26:27 says, walking “contrary” to God. It is just walking in constant opposition, in constant rebellion. The sinner tramples on God’s law, tramples on God’s character, willfully crosses God’s will, affronts God, spites God, mocks God. And the Hebrew word for sin, one of the Hebrew words “payshah,” signifies rebellion. It is, at its core, rebellion. That’s what it was for Lucifer; it’s what it was for Eve; it’s what it was for Adam. It’s what it is for all of us. Perhaps a good definition, Jeremiah 44:17: “But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goes forth out of our own mouth.” That’s it. God, we will do exactly what we want to do. Sin is God’s would-be murderer. Sin would not only unthrone God, but ungod God, and replace him with us. If the sinner had his way, God would cease to be God, and the sinner is the only God in his world. So sin is defiling, and sin is open, incessant rebellion.

3. Let me give you a third one. We’ll pick up here next time. Sin is ingratitude. I mean everything we have, everything we are, is from God. We “live and move and have our being” in God, Acts 17:28 says. “He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, sends rain on the just and the unjust.” He — He’s given us everything. In Romans 1, Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, because: “When they knew God, they didn’t glorify Him as God, neither were thankful,” Verse 21. Sin is just ungrateful. All the food the sinner ever eats, God gave him. All the air the sinner ever breathes, God gave him. All the joys the sinner ever experienced, God provided. All the love he ever experienced in the human world, everything, all of his senses are from God. All of the pleasures of life to meet those senses are from God. Every beauty of life is from God. It is God who has given wisdom to us. He has given wisdom to the mind of every human being to think and feel and work and play and rest; that life might be full and useful. And it’s God who made us love and made us laugh and made us cry. And it’s God who gave us special skills and abilities to excel in some areas, and to know some measure of self-respect and value. It’s God who gave us the capacity to care for each other and have relationships. And it’s God who providentially preserves us from getting every disease and dying every death. God literally surrounds the sinners with mercy. They abuse them. Like Absalom, you know, as soon as David, his father, had kissed him and embraced him, he went out and plotted treason against his father. So the sinner eagerly takes the kiss of God that God provides in the created world, and embraces God’s graces and God’s mercy, and then betrays Him by being the friend of God’s enemy, Satan.

Sin is serious ingratitude; it’s damning ingratitude. And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against that ingratitude. Sin is defiling. It is rebellion. It is ingratitude. (source)

John MacArthur

Further reading