Q:           What do you mean by ‘sin’?

A:           MANY PEOPLE take the view that we as humans are basically good. Given the right conditions we’ll live good lives, and when we’ve learnt enough we’ll be able to sort out all our problems and live together in a world of prosperity and harmony.

This is an appealing idea. But look around you at the world, look back at history, and if you’re really honest look hard at yourself. There is something fundamentally wrong with us. Humanity never has and, left to itself, never will live in harmony.

What is the problem? Modern philosophy finds it difficult to understand, but the Bible describes it perfectly—it calls it sin.

The Apostle Paul puts it like this: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18). We all know how he felt. For example we know we should be kind, patient, selfless—but so often we find ourselves being unkind, impatient, selfish. Why do we do it?

‘Sin’ is another word for anything we do that is wrong: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The Bible also uses the word ‘sin’ to describe our very human nature, because human nature is prone to sin: “If, then, I do what I will not to do… it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:16–17).

The concept of sin is crucial. Not only because it enables us to make sense of why human nature is the way it is, but because it shows us what God has done to solve the problem. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to give his life as a perfect sacrifice. Jesus had the same human nature as the rest of us with all its temptations to do wrong—but he mastered it, he never sinned. When he died, he defeated sin. “Now, once at the end of the ages, he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Sin leads to death. It’s all explained at the beginning in Genesis chapter 3. But if we give our lives to Christ, we take advantage of the victory that he achieved: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).