What is the Nature of Sin?

Three Kinds of Sin

Sin has been described as that which is opposed to the character and will of God. Sin is something which has permeated our entire being so that it is virtually impossible to understand who we are without knowing about sin. People sin both in action and attitude.

The apostle Paul described three basic kinds of sin in his epistles. To understand how sin makes us the kind of people we are, it is important to understand each of these three kinds of sin.

Personal Sin

The first kind of sin described in Scripture is personal sin. Comparing Jews and Gentiles, Paul concluded, “For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). A personal sin may be a sin of commission (doing something wrong) or a sin of omission (failing to do something right). Personal sin may be expressed as an act or attitude. Sinful acts are produced by people with sinful attitudes (Mark 7:21). That is why Jesus equated sins like anger with murder (Matt. 5:21-22) and lust with fornication (Matt. 5:27-28).

When we practice personal sin, our fellowship with God is broken (Ps. 66:18). That broken fellowship can be restored as we confess our sins and accept God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). If a person is not a Christian, he or she will not experience fellowship with God until he or she places saving faith in Jesus (Eph. 1:7).

Scripture uses various descriptions of personal sin.These include falling short (Rom. 3:23), going astray (Isa. 53:6), transgression (Ps. 51:1), and trespass (Eph. 2:1).

Sin Nature

The second kind of sin described in Scripture is our sin nature. The word sin occurs in both the singular and plural in the Bible. Usually, when the word occurs as a singular noun, it is referring to the sin nature of people. We all have a sin nature that has been a part of us since the moment we were conceived (Ps. 51:5). The apostle John noted, “If we say that we have no sin (nature), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The Bible describes sin as having a negative influence on our intellect (Rom. 1:28) and conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), two aspects of our personality. Therefore our sin nature negatively impacts our personality. Our sin nature influences us to sin (Rom. 5:12). But our sin nature has already been judged on the Cross (Rom. 6:6). While we still have the old nature, we cannot use it as an excuse for sinning because it has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:7).

Imputed Sin

The third way sin is described in Scripture is imputed sin. The word impute means “to ascribe to” or “reckon over.” “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). When we make a purchase with a credit card, the value of that purchase is “imputed” to our account. In the same way, the sin of Adam is imputed to the human race which sprang from heaven. This is done because Adam was both the seminal and representative head of the human race. Just as a child partakes in the consequences of the wise or unwise financial investments of a father, so we live with the consequence of the imputed sin of our father Adam.

Also, just as the citizens live with the consequences of decisions made by their representatives in government, so we live with the consequences of our representative’s decision in the Garden of Eden.

Some might view the imputation of Adam’s sin to the human race as somehow unfair or unjustified, but our willingness to so readily engage in sin like Adam suggests we would have done the same thing. Still, God not only imputes Adam’s sin to the human race, but He also offers to impute Christ’s righteousness to all who believe (Rom. 5:21). The biblical remedy for imputed sin is the imputed righteousness of Christ.

God’s Provision for Sin

God created people as the high point of His creation. Although sin has marred that creation, God still loves people and wants what is best for them. The greatest evidence of God’s love for these created beings is seen in what He has done to save them from the sin that threatens to destroy them. Christians who love people like God loves people will want to do their best to help them experience the salvation God has provided for their sin.

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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