What Is Sin?
What is sin? Sin is transgression of the revealed will of God which teaches that we are to act in perfect holiness from a heart of faith to the glory of God.
Question 15 in our catechism asks a simple question: What is sin? Virtually everyone could easily give examples of sin, identifying the “biggies” that would surely qualify. But we have a sense that there are plenty of other sins that aren’t so easily identified or detected. The answer to this question, then, can help us not only define sin but also know how to detect it in our lives.
What is sin? The first part of the answer gives us a terse definition. Sin is “transgression of the revealed will of God.” We sin when we act contrary to what God has explicitly commanded or forbidden. For a certain act to be sin, it has to violate what God has clearly said to us in the Scriptures.
But notice what our answer says next. The revealed will of God “teaches that we are to act in perfect holiness from a heart of faith to the glory of God.” Far from being limited to a certain number of “do’s” and “don’ts,” we see here that sin is a deterioration of holy attitudes and not just holy actions. Even if we are externally doing the “right things,” we might find sin lurking in the motives and attitudes of the heart.
We might abstain from sins like materialism (Matt 6:19) and sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18) not because we want to reflect God’s holiness but because we want to save our money or our bodies. We might exercise certain Christian liberties not because we have come to careful Christian convictions on its permissibility (a heart of faith) but because we want to “fit in” with other Christians who engage in the same kinds of activities (Rom 14:22-23). We might even participate in sacrificial Christian ministry not because we seek the glory of God in the work but because of the praise and admiration of others it brings to us (Acts 4:34-5:2).
So now we see how deceptive and heinous sin is, and how seriously we must go to battle against it. We must not content ourselves on outward appearances of obedience, but let the scripture penetrate deeper, allowing it to judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12). We will certainly find ourselves guiltier than we imagine. At the same time, we just might find the love and mercy of God to be even more compelling and praiseworthy than we’ve ever experienced it to be before.