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What is Sin? | The Doctrine of Man, Sin, and the Person of Christ

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this lesson, we cover the basics of what sin is and see that...

1. Sin is the act of despising God through actions, inactions, or motivations.

2. Sin separates us from God and earns his wrath.

3. Sin is the common state of humanity and the world.

What is Sin?

The Doctrine of Man, Sin, and the Person of Christ

Our topic today is an important one. We will be talking about what sin is and how it affects us.

For many of us, this doctrine almost seems like something we take for granted. But how we understand sin is connected to the foundation of everything that the Bible teaches. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Do humans have the ability to get back to God by good works? Are people basically good, even if they have some flaws? How should we deal with criminals in the justice system? How should we discipline our children?

All of these and more are directly impacted by what we believe about sin.

Our task this morning is simple. At the end of our time, I want each of us here to walk away with a biblically defined sense of what sin is. I think God’s desire for us is that we would understand sin and that we would hate it– that we would despise sin because we see it for what it really is.

There are 3 realities that I want us to see this morning. Don’t even try to write them down right now because we are going to come back to each of them. But here is where we are going.

What is sin?

  • Sin is the act of despising God through actions, inactions, or motivations

  • Sin is the common state of humanity and the world.

  • Sin separates us from God and earns his wrath.

Sin is the act of despising God through actions, inactions, or motivations

In one sense, the topic of sin is a bit daunting. If you open the Bible to a random point, as long as you open it to somewhere that is not Genesis 1 or 2, you are going to see sin and the effects of sin. Since Genesis 3, it’s been pervasive to the human experience. Even in the very last chapters of the Bible, where we look to the hope of a world where there won’t be any sin or brokenness, sin is still dealt with in those chapters. But in those chapters, it’s dealt with in judgment.

There are so many places we could look to talk about sin. But in the spirit of trying to communicate what the entire Bible says about this in a few points, I thought it would be right to start with a definition.

Sin is the act of despising God through actions, inactions, or motivations.

Let’s take a minute to break this down. First, at its heart, sin is the act of despising God.

Maybe this sounds extreme. Is sin really despising God? Is the small white lie that you tell your boss about how many hours you worked really an act of despising God? Surely that’s only reserved for the most heinous of sins.

But thinking of how the Bible speaks about sin, I can’t see a good refutation of this. Sin is always spoken of in the gravest of terms, and from God’s perspective, every act of sin is like a man who spurns his wife in favor of another lover. Even if that man holds some kind of affection for her, in his adultery he has made a decision. In that act, he has despised his wife and loved another.

To sin is to spurn God.

There is biblical merit to this language.

In Numbers 14, Israel decided to not go into the Promised land because they were scared of the Canaanites. They didn’t believe that God would actually deliver the land into their hand, and they decided to stay away. And do you know how God saw this? In Numbers 14:11, he said, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”

Or in 2 Samuel 12:9, after David commits adultery with Bathsheba then plots to have her husband killed in an effort to cover it up, God sends the prophet Nathan to David and he says, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”

In both of these cases, God could have just used the word, “sin.” Why have you sinned against me? But he doesn’t. He cuts to the heart of issue. To sin against God isn’t merely to break a rule. It’s to rebelliously spurn the good creator of the universe.

And did you notice what Nathan says to David? What exactly is David despising? “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” To despise God’s word is despise God. Why? Because that is how God has revealed himself. He reveals himself through his word. To despise what he has said is to despise who he has revealed himself to be.

But how do we sin? How do we reveal our contempt for God? That’s the second part of our definition. We do it through actions, inactions, and heart motives.

We are going to run spit fire through several verses here. I’m not going to try and argue or explain much here because I think we are probably on the same page. But I want to show a few places where I see these categories.


Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.


James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Heart motives: Proverbs 16:2, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”

When we have a heart that despises God, that heart will bear fruit in our actions, our inactions, and even in our motivations.

We’ve spent some time defining sin. But why should we care? Why is sin a big deal? There is an entire litany of things we might say in response to this.

But at minimum, we could say this. Sin is a big deal because God is a big deal. This is related to our second point.

Sin separates us from God and earns his wrath.

On this point, I want to take a moment to dwell on the first sin–the event that we generally refer to as “The Fall.”

If a baby is trying to crawl and they fall on their face, it might be sad when they cry, but the baby will be okay. You don’t mourn that baby’s experience. But if a man stands on one of the precipices of the Grand Canyon and the wind sweeps him off his feet and over the edge, it isn't just sad. It means death.

Where you fall from matters. If we don’t appreciate what the world was like before the Fall, we won’t understand the gravity of our sin. I want to spend a few minutes here doing a type of case study on the world before the fall and the first sin. Let’s look Genesis 2:8.

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [Then it talks about the rivers and characteristics of the land that anchor it to the real world and that show how luscious it was, but we are going to skip down to verse 15] The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

I want to point a few things out here.

First, notice the language up in verse 9, “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” They had every thing they needed. It was beautiful and it was delicious. They had everything they could possibly need. And not only that. The tree of life was there. The tree that would grant them eternal life.

But how did they fill their time? Adam was commanded to “work [the garden] and keep it.” Work isn’t a result of the fall. Adam was give good satisfying work to do in the garden. He never wondered if his boss was being ethical. There weren’t any HR requests or Workers’ comp claims. It was good and satisfying, and perfect.

And Adam was living in the authority that God had given him. He was made in the image of God and he was ruling over creation. That’s what it’s referring to when it says that “whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” He was exercising authority by naming the creation.

And Adam wasn’t alone. God made him a woman who was the perfect fit for him. “I will make him a helper fit for him.” This is why Adam exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Literally made for each other. In perfect harmony with God and with each other. Doing satisfying work. Representing God as they were created to do.

Can you take a moment to imagine it. This is a world untouched and untainted by sin and all of its consequences. They weren’t insecure about their love handles after they ate too much of the delicious fruit. There was no fear of infidelity. There was no hunger. There were no pesticides. Anxiety wasn’t even a concept. Violence wasn’t a thought. No one took advantage of another.

And they were with God. We know where this is going. The perfect goodness of the garden was spoiled by sin, because sin spoils things.

But in Genesis 3:8, there’s a moment where Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Do you see what the assumption is there?

They were familiar with the sound. They knew the very presence of God, and what once had been a sound of welcome and peace was now a sound of fearful foreboding.

Because they listened to the serpent rather than God.

Look in Genesis 3:1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Isn’t it amazing how brazen the serpent is? God said you will die. But the serpent says, You will not surely die. And do you see how sin’s promises fall flat? He promised that their eyes would be open and they would be like God, and indeed, their eyes were opened, and all they saw was that they were naked and ashamed. Sin is like a chocolate dessert that you eat and find out it was made from cow dung after you eat it. It seems desirable until you really have it in your mouth.

Because there are consequences. Sin separates us from God and earns his wrath.

Look in Genesis 3:16.

“To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” . . . 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

God had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, but her pain in childbearing was increased. God had created Eve as helper, but now she would crave Adam’s authority. Adam was commanded to work and keep the ground, but what was once satisfying work has become toil. And all of it is now tainted by the futility of death. “To dust you shall return.”

Adam didn’t accidentally break a rule here. This was an act of cosmic rebellion, where Adam and Even hoped to make themselves equal to God.

So often, Adam’s sin and our sin is belittled. Adam is treated like an ignorant character in a story who didn’t know what he was getting into. But no sin is a small thing. Sin is cosmic rebellion against the infinite God. Adam had been given everything he could ever want, but it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to take the wisdom of God for himself.

And our sin is no different. Our sin separates us from God and earns wrath for us. It earns us death.

We will be spending an entire session on Hell in a few weeks, so I’ll try to keep from belaboring the point here. But here are several quick references from all over the Bible that support this.

James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Romans 2:5, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

I’m not even scratching the surface here on verses we could quote to back this up. Sin separates us from God and earns His wrath. We can’t downplay our sin. We can’t act like it’s not a big deal.

This brings us to our final point.

Sin is the common state of humanity and the world.

We could quote a verse like Romans 3:23 here, and it would start to show what the Bible says on this, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but in making this point, I’m not just trying to point out that all people sin, although that is definitely included here.

Instead, I want it to be clear that our entire world is in a state of fallenness. We humans are in a state of sinfulness. Every piece of our being is touched by sin because Adam sinned.

Romans 5:12-21 addresses this really clearly.

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This section of Romans is huge for understanding the Bible’s teaching on our sinful state. I want to draw your attention to a few of the verses here. Verses 12, 14, and 19 set up a paradigm that we need to give attention.

Look in verse 14, it talks about “Adam, who was a type of the one to come.”

This is an idea we have talked about before. Paul is drawing a line from Adam to Jesus and telling us to pay attention. Jesus is the new Adam. Adam was one of the shadows in the Old Testament that points us to Christ. But Adam points us to Christ because his work was found wanting. Adam’s work didn’t result in our good. It resulted in our death.

Look in verse 12. “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

This is the fall. In a single act of rebellion, Adam separated himself from God and all humanity fell into sinful rebellion. Notice what it says there. Adam sinned, then all men sinned. Sin entered the world in that single act, and it was like a cancer that spread to all humanity. Sin entered through one man. Death entered through that sin. And death finds its way to every single person because every single person is in sin.

We are already in sin because we are Adam’s children, but as if that weren’t enough, we engage in the same reckless rebellion that he did.

But look down to verse 19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Sin is pervasive to the human experience, and this is why Jesus came. He came so that by his obedience, all who will believe in his name would be made righteous.

Paul sums up the same reality in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

This is our predicament. It’s what we will spend more time discussing next week. All humanity is born in Adam. And all humanity inhabits the same world that Adam’s sin subjected to futility.

That’s what Paul writes in Romans 8:19-22, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now”

The sin of Adam didn’t just affect Adam. It affected the entire world. The entire creation was subjected to futility. We saw that in Genesis 3. It says that creation is in bondage and corruption and that it longs to be set free with the vigor of a woman who longs be through with the pain of child birth.

I have never born a child. But I have been in the room with my wife on several occasions at this point while she did. And when the child finally comes out of her, she has never looked wanted to go back into the labor pains. This is meant to be clear for us. The entire creation is desperately waiting for the day when sin would be removed from the equation. A day when there will be peace.

And that is the day that we wait for. I have a lot of verses I would love to quote, but we just don’t have time for them.

Let’s close with this. You can look through these realities and see the same thread in each of them. This is why Jesus came. Jesus came because we have sinned. He came because we were separated from God and under his wrath. He came because all humanity was doomed and because the good creation had been turned on it’s head.

And we look to a day when sin will be no more. There won’t be any actions or inactions or motives that are opposed to God. There will be perfect peace, and we will dwell with God as his people, and he will dwell with us as our God. The world will be renewed in the New Heavens and the New Earth, and we will praise his name of Jesus forever because where we were rebels, he was faithful. And He has done it.


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