The concept of sin seems to be rather unpopular these days. The word itself tends to evoke a connotation of religious dogmatism in the minds of many people I have interacted with. The eye roll that you get when the label of “sin” is used to describe this or that human behavior. But what is sin? Is the concept really just a religious construct? And what about Salvation? What does that mean? Have you ever been asked “Have you been saved” by an evangelist? I’d like to explore these ideas and share some of my thoughts about this.
Sin and Salvation are two of the dominate themes within Christendom. The earliest Christians proclaimed Jesus as the messiah who died for the sins of the world. (1 Peter 3:18, 1 Cor 15:3-5, Romans 4:25) But what IS sin? One of the Greek words for sin used in the New Testament is hamartia,  and it is translated into English as a sin or a failure. The simplest definition that I find the easiest to understand is missing the mark. Imagine an archer aiming for the bulls eye but missing, that is analogous to what sin is regarding human behavior. Notice that this definition presupposes that there is a bulls eye to be aimed for. Just as an archer would be a perfect marksman if he hit the bulls eye every time, to be sinless would mean to behave perfectly in every situation. Further, there must be an objective (or “divine”) moral law if there is to be any sin. It makes no sense to speak of “missing the mark” if there truly is no standard of how we ought to behave. This is the fundamental reason that many modern people have rejected the notion of sin. It is because moral relativism has been widely accepted. If moral relativism is true then the concept of sin does not exist because there is no target to be aimed at. If you accept moral relativism as true, then I can see why the notion of sin would be absurd to you. If you are a naturalist or a materialist (Someone who believes ultimately matter is all there is, everything derived from matter), then you must face the “is/ought” problem eventually. I won’t be able to cover that here though.
Now that I have established an understanding of what the Christian worldview means when it speaks of sin, let us now look to the reasonableness of such a concept. As previously stated, I have found that many people are very turned off by the term “sin.” The idea that there is some sort of divine law which we are capable of transgressing against is offensive to them. After-all, who are you or I to tell anyone else that what they are doing is wrong? How does anyone go about establishing the moral authority to claim that they know the truth regarding how human beings ought to behave? These questions deserve consideration, but for now I’d like to focus on examining sin more. It seems to me that this concept of sin rests upon the assumption that there truly is a God who created and ordered this universe the way it is. Thus, anyone who rejects the proposition “God exists” is unlikely to accept the idea that we are sinners. However, is even that reasonable? Watch the news or open up a news paper and you will find story after story of human beings missing the mark. Child kidnappings, rape, murder, war, injustice, and on and on. It seems to me that sin is simply a reality. I know that I personally miss the mark quite often. I am not even capable of following standards that I set for myself perfectly, much less the perfect moral standards that God sets. Have you ever tried to make a rule for yourself or some kind of standard? From anything to what you eat, or how often you promise to work out, to studying X amount of time. Do you perfectly follow even your own standards that you create yourself? If yes, then I am shocked and amazed. Please let me know how you do it. Each person has one or more of the vices that they struggle with I would maintain.  Refer to the chart in reference 3 and you will see a list of Biblical vices and virtues. As a side note, I have found that because each person is unique and different, their struggles are also unique and different. Bob might struggle with lust while Jim struggles with sloth. Bob will feel justified in talking about how lazy Jim is, and Jim will feel justified in talking about (or even just thinking) how lustful Bob is. It is also very easy for us to notice the faults of others. They seem to stick out like a sore thumb in our minds, but it is all too easy to ignore our own vices. Why do you think that is? A topic for another time.
What I want to emphasize here is that the notion of sin seems to me to be an incredibly reasonable idea that perfectly characterizes the reality in which we live. Well, the skeptic would rightly point out here that even though this idea of sin might be reasonable given the human experience, it certainly doesn’t prove that there is some kind of divine law out there. To this I would say you are right. I don’t think a lot of things can be proven. We can’t prove that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago and we implanted with all the current memories we have. We have no independent evidence for a whole host of things all reasonable people believe. Consider the following list of things, and try to think of any independent evidence that you could appeal to in order to try and prove their truth.
- Our belief forming processes are sometimes reliable.
- Sense experience is sometimes reliable.
- Memory is sometimes reliable.
- The world has existed for more than 5 minutes.
- There is an external world.
We accept the truth of all of these things, but if you try to prove any of them you end up reasoning in a circle. So if you ask me to prove that there is a divine law all I can do is give some reason and evidence, but even I don’t think it would constitute a proof. Rather, it is like finding dozens of clues that all point in the same direction. Circumstantial evidence can create a powerful case for the truth. If you don’t believe that there is a God, then I doubt anything I have said here will change your mind. However, I hope at least you have a better understanding of what Christians mean when they speak of sin. In Romans 3:23 Paul says that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The person who believes in God recognizes that their transgressions fall short of Gods perfect standard, and that we are incapable of making amends for that debt. Different religions provide different ways to attain some kind of salvation, but I’d now like to focus on what Christianity means by the term.
I would like to introduce the concept of Salvation in part 2.