What Is Sin?

What is sin? In Protestant circles sin has variously been defined as anything that falls short of God’s perfection and righteousness. In other circles sin has been defined as a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. On the other hand, Roman Catholics tend to classify sin as either deadly which are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth, while venial sins are described as those sins that are less serious. These definitions seem to have the same focus – legal and forensic. Forgiveness then becomes a court declaring that the sins committed have been judged as guilty but the penalty for them has been paid by the judge – Jesus Christ in His death on a cross. There is much to commend these definitions, but I feel they miss the relational dimension of sin. Sin is more about broken relationships than it is about broken laws or expectations of righteous behaviour.

This dimension of sin is best seen in the book of Hosea. He was a prophet that ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC about the same time as Isaiah in the kingdom of Judah. His story is one of pain, disappointment, and betrayal. After identifying the prophet and the time in which he prophesied we read these words – Hosea 1:2 (NIV) “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous or promiscuous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’” We love our spouses jealously. I don’t mean by that that we refuse to share the love our spouse has for us with our children, her parents and siblings or her friends. The sexual dimension of spousal love is not to be shared with another. That is what I mean by jealous love.

Hosea obeyed the Lord and found himself in more pain than he had ever thought possible. At first Gomer’s (his wife’s) infidelities may have been secret with her sneaking out at night after she thought Hosea was asleep, but soon it became very blatant. She left her home and children and began to sell herself to anyone who had the price – in short, she became a prostitute. I am sure everyone in their hometown knew who Gomer was and what she had done to Hosea. Allow me to speculate just a bit. Every night Hosea went to bed alone, wondering where Gomer was and who she was with. But soon her physical beauty began to fade, and the men were more attracted to the younger prostitutes that had taken their place on the streets of their village. She was soon destitute and knew she could never go back to Hosea. She found herself in the slave market, selling herself for whatever she could get. Hosea no doubt knew what was happening to his wife. The Bible doesn’t explore what was going on in Hosea’s heart, but we see God’s command to His prophet. Hosea 3:1-2 (NIV) “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about five bushels of barley.”

In his life Hosea lived out what God experiences when we reject Him and turn to other means of satisfying and fulfilling our needs. Sin is not something to be seen solely in legal and forensic terms that need to be dealt with in a court of law, rather sin is the breaking of the heart of someone who loves us and wants to care for, protect and provide for us. Legal definitions are good but not good enough. When I sin I am breaking God’s heart and telling Him that He is not enough.

By the grace of God, we have had forgiveness extended to us. God has promised to forgive us our spiritual adultery and to welcome us back into His fellowship of love. Great news! In the midst of our hurting world may we live lives that reflect this reconciliation and remember to Keep the Son in Your Eyes.

7 thoughts on “What Is Sin?

  1. Jake

    You hit the mark about relationships. We see this in ourselves and in the lives of people around us. Thanks for putting this into words, we are all affected by this.

  2. ALM

    A raison cake sounds like a wonderful desert, doesn’t it? Except in the eyes of the Lord, of course. Maybe, like Krishna, who hated garlic and onions, people who had different dietary likes were shunned. Like people who cut their hair or.. (insert any number of local taboos or sins) Ever read James G.Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”?

    1. WebAdmin

      The Raisin Cakes spoken of here were closely pressed together “cakes” of raisins, and were primarily used in sacrificial feasts. The raisin cakes themselves were not a problem, the problem was that the Israelites loved their raisin cakes more than they loved God; this is idolatry. There is a lot more to the story, as the Isrealites also sought after false gods and abandoned God, yet God still loved them anyway.


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