(5-minute read)

Is there still something called sin?  Norman Geisler in his preface on his book Ethics laments that;

“Someone has said that we live in a strange world where the relativity of Einstein is considered absolute, and the absolutes of the Bible are considered relative.”[1]

Everybody remembers the famous book written by Dr. Karl Menninger, “Whatever became of Sin,” in the early ’70s where he asks this very question:

“The very word’ sin,’ which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word. It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and lifestyle. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared—the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?” [2]

Dr. Ray Pritchard of “Keep Believing Ministries” says;

“Why have we turned away from the concept of sin… There’s only one answer to that question. We have turned from the concept of sin because we have turned away from the concept of God’s moral law.”[3]

We can all agree that sin is still popular; a faint glance at the world around us reveals quite easily that sin has always been the normative standard. The world is oblivious to sin, and what is alarming is that the Church seems to be more accommodating to sin to make the Gospel more attractive. The acceptance of homosexuality is on the rise even in the Catholic [4], and Protestant Churches[5], and specific sins can even be proportioned only to a specific ethnic group of people.[6] Good ‘Christians’ don’t care as much anymore. Recently a Pastor said to me, ‘we preach the goodness of the Lord, none of that nastiness about sin.

Kent Hughes, in his book “Set Apart” relates some startling statistics about the Church from the Princeton Religion Research Center in an article they shared titled “Religion is gaining ground, but morality is losing ground.” The article adds:

“Positively… adult weekly Church attendance has increased from 38 % in 1996 to 44% in 2000… The same is true of teenaged students, only higher, from 42 % to 53 %… There is also an uptrend in adult Bible reading… from 18% in 1982 to 26 % in 2000. Yet at the same time, one Gallup Poll indicates that 78 % say that our moral values are “somewhat weak” or “very weak” and that morals are in decline.”[7]  

The statistics are old, but the point is very simply that ‘fuller’ Churches do not necessarily produce more moral people. Now I know I can be accused of pursuing a simple ‘moralism’ and equate that to be the Gospel. But that is not at all what I am getting at. Sin is a fact. Paul, the Disciple of Jesus, decries the reality in his letter to the Romans (3:23-24) when he declares:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Paul makes the universality of sin abundantly clear and further shows that no reality of sin equates to no need for a Saviour! John MacArthur writes in his book “The Vanishing conscience.”

“remove the reality of sin, and you take away the possibility of repentance. Abolish the doctrine of human depravity, and you void the divine plan of salvation. Erase the notion of personal guilt, and you eliminate the need for a Saviour. Obliterate the human conscience, and you will raise an amoral and unredeemable generation.”[8]

The problem is not just the effects of sin, but our very definition of sin. We should ask ourselves, what is sin, really?

A Definition of Sin

Theologian Wayne Grudem describes sin as;

“Any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”[9]

Sin could be a failure to conform to the originally revealed predicates given by a perfect and Holy God. Sin can be defined as a rebellion against the established order of God and, ultimately, God Himself. Noting from the Christian Scriptures Millard J. Ericson[10] writes about terms in Scripture that emphasize the very character of sin which he describes as:

a) Missing the mark
The Word “agnoeō” [ἀγνοεῖν ] is used in Scriptures like Romans 1:13 as well as 2 Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 1:22 which denotes innocent ignorance. Erickson mentions that God overlooked some acts due to man’s ignorance and because they did not know any better (Acts 17:30), but in other instances sinful actions were deliberate (Heb.9:7) where people would know what is right yet would persist in what is wrong and be willfully ignorant (agnoēmatōn – “ἀγνοημάτων”).

b) Error
In the New Testament this term (planēsousin – “πλανήσουσιν”) could be as a result of being deceived or going astray (Mark 13:5-6, 1 Cor.6:9, Gal.6:7) via evil Spirits (1 Tim.4:1, 1 Joh.4:6, Rev.12:9;20:3) or through humans (Eph.4:14, 2 Tim.3:13), or oneself (1 Joh.1:8). Erickson comments that regardless of the source, those who fall into error know or ought to know that they are led astray.

c) Inattention
In classical Greek, the word παρακοῆς (parakoēs) could mean to hear amiss or incorrectly (Rom.5:19,2 Cor.10:6). The verb παρακούσῃ (parakousē) could mean to ‘refuse to listen’ or to ‘ignore’ (Matt.18:17, Mark.5:36).

d) Irreligion
Erickson notes that sin could be designated as a lack of religious duty (worship/reverence) in a legal context where there is neglect of one’s obligations towards the gods or God. Impiety would be the closest English rendering mainly found in passages like the book of Romans, 2 Peter, and Jude.

e) Transgression
This usually refers to the Jewish law that has been transgressed or a specific command (Matt.15:2-3). An example of this applies to Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit (Rom.5:14, 1 Tim. 2:14).

f) Iniquity (lack of integrity)
Erickson notes that this could be a simple failure to maintain the just law of God (Lev.19:15). There could also be a disjointedness in the character of the person where there is no correlation between their present or past behavior.

g) Rebellion
The New Testament characterizes sin as a rebellion or disobedience, which in its result caused the Israelites to miss the promised land (Heb. 3:18, 4:6). Erickson also noted that the gentiles were seen as “sons of disobedience” because the law of God was written on their hearts (Rom.1:30, Eph.2:2, 5:6). Another other instances of disobedience because of rebellion is found in both 1 Timothy 4:1 and Hebrews 3:12 where Christians fell away from the faith (“ἀποστήσονταί” – apostēsontai).

h) Treachery
Erickson notes that the New Testament references to sin as a form of treachery is where some have deliberately turned away from the plain truth (Heb.6:6) [παραπεσόντας – parapesontas]. There is a focus on the bond or covenant between God and people which have now been violated or neglected.

i) Perversion
The basic idea is to bend or twist or even to bow down (Isaiah 21:3). Erickson notes that the bending and twisting are not just displacing the decrees of God, but ultimately the very character and nature of the individual becomes obscure as well.

j) Abomination
This could be defined as God’s attitude towards sin and its effects upon Him. Acts include idolatry (Deut.7:25-26), homosexuality (Lev.18:22, 20:13), the sacrifice of children (Deut.12:31), witchcraft (Deut.18:9-12), being clothed in the opposite sex’s clothing (Deut.22:5) etc.


In conclusion, I have not tried to place anyone under condemnation or even to call for a moralistic upliftment of good Christian sentiment. I have pointed out that good Christian sense starts with a solemn knowledge of what bewilders and vexes God. Holiness preacher J.C. Ryle wonderfully sums up my intention when he wrote:
“he that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high… The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.”[11]

John MacArthur rightly laments when he writes:

“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners! Jesus specifically said He had not come to save those who want to exonerate themselves (Mark 2:17). Where there is no recognition of sin and guilt, when the conscience has been abused into silence, there can be no salvation, no sanctification, and therefore no real emancipation from sin’s ruthless power.”[12]

May we ever reflect on the pleasure and the displeasure of our Father and assume a posture that seeks to please Him not because we fear, but because we love. And because we love, we aim to please Him.


Pastor Rudolph Boshoff


[1] Christian Ethics, Pg.13.

[2] Whatever Became of Sin? Menninger. Pg.14.

[3] https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1993-05-30-Whatever-Became-of-Sin/

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/18/most-u-s-christian-groups-grow-more-accepting-of-homosexuality/

[5] https://www.pewforum.org/2009/03/19/most-mainline-protestants-say-society-should-accept-homosexuality/

[6] https://www.disrn.com/2019/11/15/opinion-woke-warriors-have-destroyed-the-definition-of-real-racism/?fbclid=IwAR1l6qaEL35gaHnJCSw_gtEqlqM-GA6iPMuAGFK_WIAUSe_JzmejUgYBMlQ

[7] Set Apart, Pg.15.

[8] The Vanishing Conscience, Pg.12.

[9] Systematic Theology, Pg.491.

[10] Christian Theology, Pg.583-593.

[11] Holiness, Pg.21.

[12] The Vanishing Conscience, Pg.41.