What is sin? (Spin-off discussion)

Just one question for now. What do you think sin is?


My first thought is that this is one of the questions that I love.

My second thought is that this is getting a bit too far afield and maybe needs to be split off.

So I started searching backwards to where this started and I found the topic turning to sin and original sin sparked by RichardG’s comment about the difference between having a sinful nature and being born with it, which heddle comments on with this post.

As far as the discussion is going I find much to agree with in the words of both RichardG and Christy. I don’t think tossing Genesis 2-4 out the window as having no historical content is necessary. And I don’t believe this is about condmenation for mistakes but the self-destructive consequences of bad habits. For that is my answer to the question of “what is sin?” Christy is quite right to point out the range of theological understandings of “original sin,” but I am certainly in agreement with RichardG’s rejection that this means sin is compulsory because of some altered nature we are born with. I thread the needle by taking that famous passage, “none can say they are without sin,” to say that by the time we learn to speak it is inevitable that we have acquired some self-destructive habits in our thinking if not in our actions.

I really doubt that God attaches as much importance to this as people do. I think what concerns God is the battle against these self-destructive habits and for him it is a question of what medicine is helping and what isn’t.

Since I can observe for myself that bad habits act like a progressive disease destroying more and more of our integrity, awareness, and free will – then the answer is yes, in that sense, all this staring from an original self-destructive habit does make sense to me.

Because I don’t believe this a matter of performing some human sacrifice powered magic but about changing the way we think and that takes a lot more than just one event. It takes a long history of working on us and that is the story I see being told in the Bible.

Well it never was from God in the first place. But it is certainly possible that religion has made a fundamental problem even worse. I think most things are more of a mixed bag than we might think. Many languages, cultures, war, and religion all have BOTH positive and negative aspects to them. And to be sure change often comes with ten steps forward and nine steps backward.

What??? Free will means no consequences of your choices and actions? It does NOT! I agree that it makes little sense that heaven and hell are a matter of reward and punishment for our actions – if that is what you mean. But I don’t think that is what heaven and hell is about. It is about a choice we have in dealing with sin. We can either fight these self-destructive habits and get help cutting them out, or we can let them them destroy us as they grow within like a cancer.

In any case, I think you very much over-reacted to the things Christy has said.

Because God made us for a relationship with Him. I don’t think God ever intended for this no win scenario where His presence in their lives was doing more harm than good (as someone to blame things on rather than someone to learn things from). When I read Genesis 6, I see a God in the worse kind of agony imaginable, where everything originally good has turned into something completely evil – clearly this is not a situation God would put Himself into intentionally.

@RichardG In the context of the original thread I was talking about sin in terms of a “sinful nature.” What I understand the Christian idea that “humans are born in sin” to mean is this–The corporate human condition is one where our natural tendencies are destructive and oppositional to God. I don’t know the historical specifics of how we got that way. I do not think the Bible teaches that we are created to be sinful. I think the Bible presents the situation in images and stories because the main point isn’t why we are the way we are, the main point is pointing out our need --we need to be rescued from our self-destruction. I mostly studied literature not science in school, and it is not just the Bible or Western Christianity that recognizes there is something wrong with the human condition and we are all in need of grace. That is basically the theme of all literature ever.

The biblical version says that our human nature is inclined to rebel against the rule that God asked us to share with him. That is sin. We are called to co-regency, but our inclination is to usurp the throne. Since fulfilling our calling to live peacefully under God’s rule as his image bearers is the path to justice, love, and thriving in relationship with God and others, our natural propensity to go the opposite direction damages and degrades our individual lives and our human societies. Humanity as a corporate entity is sinful.


Yes. No good and loving parent says, I would really like some opposition and rebellion in my life. I think I will have children so I can fight with someone.

Great question. I am a bit uncomfortable with the definition I get from some in my church–that sin is a “falling short” of God’s standard. After all, He not only created us finite, but delights in teaching us how to be more like Him. In addition, as His children, I shudder at Communion to think that even one of my sins would have sent Him to the Cross. So, I’m not sure that our imperfections are sin. If He made us finite, so that we do what all children do–fuss, scream, cry, repent, cling to our Father as we learn about Him–it sounds to me more like Irenaeus’ (from what I understand of his writings) and Lewis and Macdonald’s ideas, that God views what we do as an earthly father would–that He corrects us not to vindicate His far off glory, but to bring us to Himself.

On the other hand, as we grow to know and enjoy God more, we also delight in taking off the old skin, as Eustace’ dragon form tried–and then depended on Him to do it all. As in the Great Divorce, that “farther up and farther in” of metamorphosis continues for eternity, under His tutelage.

It’s wonderful to have a God as a father who not only understands the awful things we do to each other and ourselves, but takes that skin (sin) off and brings us to Him-with the death of Jesus being a demonstration of how eager He is to do that.

Sin, in its simplest definition is disobedience to God. But that assumes that we are certain of what God wants. It seems to me that a person could live their whole life abiding by a strict code derived from one faith or another ( not limiting it to Christianity or the Decalogue) and still be accused of being a sinner by a Christian (Who claims it is impossible not to sin).
Selfishness is considered sinful, and yet it is in built to all creation (survival) so if that is sin then we are indeed all tainted by it, but by God’s design, not human endeavour.
We appear to have decided on a perfection that is impossible to attain and blamed God for our inadequacies. And turned that in to “needing God”. Religion therefore stems from a lack of faith in Humanity and a need for a perfection that cannot exist. (which is encapsulated in the garden of Eden)
Scripture says that God’s ways are not our ways… yet it is our ways nd ideals that we judge humanity by. We talk about perfection as it if it is ideal, yet is that what God created? Death is a two edged sword, both horrific and essential to life. Even disease has a place in population control and the survival of the life that actually causes it. Perhaps we ned to revise, not so much our standards as our understanding or grace. To claim that God clamps down on the minutest of deviations is to not understand God. And if God does not, why do we? In fact, society does not. There is a leniency and understanding in civil authority that seems lacking in Spiritual guidance and assertions.
Original Sin would seem to be based on an impossible notion of Goodness making it self fulfilling.
Perhaps we need to redefine our understanding of Sin and realise that perfection is not actually a clean sheet, but the best result possible in the circumstances. Which might change our notion of Original Sin also.


Defining sin as disobedience can have only one result for me – the rejection and repudiation of the resulting “god” and “christianity” as the most vile and evil trash imaginable. In such a case I would relish all condemnation and punishment by this devil god as an affirmation of my utter rejection of such a monster.

With respect to that version of “sin,” “god,” and “christianity,” I am most certainly the an atheist of the most fanatical variety. I will see that “god” and “christianity” destroyed utterly if it is the last thing I do.

But I frankly think this is nothing more than the result of turning christianity into a greedy human tool of manipulation and power. Of course they define “sin” as disobedience because obedience to themselves is what this religion they have made is for.

Obviously this is not what I see in the Bible at all. I see a Christianity where sin consists of self-destructive habits. And God created life precisely because obedience is of no interest to Him. He values love and freedom rather than power and control. And we must be saved from ourselves because our bad habits are eating away at everything of value within us.

Is this because of the principle or the manifestation?

From what I have read your beef is with the church, not God. And maybe, even, the fanatical church not those who are trying to live the faith.


I see sin as being dis-order that is outside of God and doing things outside of God’s Will and Plan. Sin is what drive’s people away from a relationship with God and makes people think that they can become their own god in creating order within themselves outside of God. The evil of sin is that it makes us distrust God and think He isn’t the Good Father who is there for us, thus we find things that can fill the void of our empty hearts that cry out truly to God one way or another. God is a relational Being and wants relationship with His creation.

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Principle… obviously!

Why obvious? Because I AM a Christian… even though I was not raised Christian.

Clearly I don’t have a problem with Christianity in general. Its just a certain way thinking that transforms it from something good into something made convenient by men for an evil purpose.

My reaction to this one isn’t nearly as negative as disobedience, but I still have a problem with it because it makes it all about God rather than about us. It is still a little too convenient for religious people and pushing the dominion of their religion over others.

Yes, eternal life is all about a relationship with God because only from Him can we find that which makes existence worthwhile for an eternity. But I don’t think it is about being obsessed with Him personally and religion being the only human activity which is of any value. Because frankly, what I see Jesus (Matthew 25) and Paul (Romans 2) doing in the Bible is equating a relationship with God to other things – love, compassion, and doing what is right. Even in Isaiah 1 we see what concerns God is not religion but doing what is right and good.

The point here is I don’t see a God in this crying out for more attention to Him. Quite the opposite, I see a God crying out because of how little attention we are paying to each other. It really is about us and not about Him,… you see? If we just live and embody the ideals and values that God has then that is what makes a relationship with Him and not all this religious stuff. It is not that the religion has no value but from Isaiah we see that too much focus on religion can actually make it empty and pointless to the point that God will hate and be sick of it.

Agree; and how interesting in that I heard a similar sermon preached this Sunday over Isaiah and terms of relationship and helping other. Funny how things work :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

We do not agree on all things but in essence I am with you here. Christianity is primarily about our relationship with each other rather than an obsession with the demands (or not) of God. But perhaps one can spring from the other? If we understand Scripture correctly.


If sin is not simple disobedience then what is it?

I saw one idea that it was based on selfishness but that would make it 100% in all creation because Survival must be selfish. To expect selflessness as a matter of course would be unreasonable at best and impossible most likely. And, it would have nothing at all to do with any sort of Adam, real or otherwise.
The sin of Adam was disobedience, not selfishness. He disobeyed a direct command, not because of the “reward” but because it was offered to him and it looked tasty!
If Eve was as innocent as we like to portray her she did not understand what the benefit was going to be. And it is not a factor for Adam either. And, they got more than they bargained for!
And may be, they would not have done it if they had realised the consequences.

And while we are at it. Is nakedness really that important an issue? If God had wanted our sexual organs hidden He could have provided natural covering for them.


It’s figurative and its not about sex. Sin leads to shame and shame drives a person to avoid vulnerability and being fully seen in relationship. Plus, I believe it is deeply symbolic in the Jewish culture that the solution to the shame, pictured by their nakedness, involved the shedding of blood. You have to read it like a lit major, not a police detective.


I have never liked the over interpretation of the skins covering. Skin is just more efficient and long lasting than a few leaves. You may be right, but I do not see it as necessary.


Sin is any number of self-destructive habits of thought and action.

Yes Adam and Eve disobeyed a commandment. Guess what? Children do that. It is not the end of the world. It certainly doesn’t put an end to the relationship between parent and child. It is a fact of human life and development that we learn by making mistakes. The 180 degree reversal between teaching that God is all about love and forgiveness and yet God cannot forgive this one act of disobedience is utterly contradictory and bizarre. It is the worst example of parenting I have ever heard about.

There is one thing and one thing only that can break a parent-child relationship. That is when the parent’s presence in a child’s life is no longer in the child’s best interest. Where do we see that happening in the story? It is not in their disobedience, no matter how bad the consequences of what they did might be. It is when they turned around and blamed it on God and everything but themselves. “It was that woman you gave me.” How can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t even acknowledge that you made a mistake and how can God be their teacher if He is just convenient excuse for anything which goes wrong? I think this is the original sin and a bad enough habit to twist the whole relationship out of joint, and more importantly justifies God’s response, which is all about how they were now on their own to live by their own efforts and how it changed the relationships with Eve and Lucifer.

Children have a tendency to hide in shame something connected with their transgression. That, the talk of an increase in the pain of childbirth and how the story turns to them having children right afterwards rather strongly points to what the fruit represents. Why is it called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? I think it is because becoming parents is something that puts them in the position of authority to dictate good and evil even if they have no real understanding of this. So my suggestion here is not sex is bad and sinful but rather that children having children is a rather central human problem.

Like the parental command, “do not play in the street or you shall surely die!” it is a matter of timing. The command is not “you shall not go in the street as long as you shall live.” Just like the road, sex serves an important purpose. But these things require some degree of maturity and I think the plan and hope was that Adam and Eve would first partake of the tree of life, i.e. develop their relationship with God, and become parents afterwards.

And that is my main argument against any sort of inherited sin. If it is inherited then it is not our fault.

By the way, I do not take the story literally so all your complaints about it being real or not are rather lost on me. I totally agree that it show a distinct lack of parental guidance and example and a ridiculous reaction to a first mistake.

And if there is no original or inherited sin, all this notion of separation from God (automatically) is also not real. The whole thing misconstrues why Jesus came in the first place. It was a reaction to a faultering religion, not a fallen race.


But as has been explained to you there is a whole spectrum of beliefs in regards to original sin.

  1. An inheritance of guilt and culpability for a sin by ones ancestors.
  2. An inheritance of a nature or compulsion to commit acts of sin.
  3. An inheritance of consequences for a sin by ones ancestors.
  4. An inheritance of bad habits.
  5. Simply a first sin.

Furthermore there is the question of how such things may be inherited.
A. Genetics (i.e. DNA).
B. Memetics (i.e. human communication and bad examples in child rearing).

So I think we agree on the rejection of 1,2, and A.
But I think there is plenty of demonstrable evidence for 3,4, and B.
And there is certainly a good reason for Christians to believe in 5.

This is the simplest and most complete description that I have seen:

James 4:17

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.


And I have refuted the lot with the possible exception of your number 5 which would be harmless, yet still not true if the Story is not based on fact.

The whole notion that society is by nature corrupt is hogwash. There is good in the world and it is not restricted to people who call themselves Christians.

IME most Christians are no more “Christian” in their behaviour than unbelievers. To suggest that Belief (Salvation) will suddenly invoke some sort of transformation is clearly without empirical data instead relying on a blind acceptance of certain Scriptural passages.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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