John Calvin, Mr. Happy, the man who found more doctrines in the Bible than anybody!


The study of sin is called “Hamartiololgy,” and is part of the study of man, called “Anthropology.” Sin is a serious topic because sin is serious. Sin is what drove mankind’s parents from their home in the Garden of Eden. Sin is what separates man from his God and  from his fellow man. Sin is what causes all of man’s problems.

While it is simple to identify a sin, it’s not as easy to define. The simplest way to understand sin is to understand that sin is simply a dereliction of duty on man’s part. In the Garden, man was unwilling to live within the boundaries established by God. Adam and Eve exemplified what the prophet Isaiah wrote:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

The key phrase in that verse is “turned his own way,” or as we might say today, “did his own thing.” When man chooses to “do his own thing,” he is choosing to NOT do what God wants him to do. Hence, sin is man’s failure to live in obedience to God. For the Christian, this poses a particular problem. When we confess Christ as Savior, our sins are gloriously forgiven, but temptation is still all around us. We may be “dead to sin,” as Paul wrote, but sin is still very much alive. Therefore, just as man chooses to sin, so the believer must choose not to sin by daily “dying to sin,” and cultivating living the will of God. In other words, the Christian must master the art of self-discipline.

No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:27)

1. Defining Sin

There are actually several Greek words that get translated into our English word “sin” or refer to “sins.” By looking at each of these words, we can get a good idea of what sin is all about.

(A) Hamartia. This may be the most common word used for “sin,” and means “missing the mark.” Picture being at the shooting range, firing at a target. If you are a terrible shot, you “miss the mark.” The word hamartia is used frequently in the New Testament, but Romans 3:23 is a good example:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23)

What is “the glory of God” referring to in this verse? It seems to have reference to God’s original high and holy purpose for man to be like His Creator. Man was created to be like His God; WE were originally created to be God’s glory on Earth.

(B) Parokoe. This Greek word is often translated “disobedience.” It means failing to pay attention to God’s will as He speaks through His Word and by His Spirit.

For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:2-3)

(C) Parabasis. Often translated “transgression,” it means “passing beyond a boundary.” It means to “go too far,” but also means to “break a commandment.”

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:14-15)

Think about the “No Tresspassing” sign in relation to parabasis. If you ignore that sign and tresspass, you are breaking a law.

(D) Paraptoma. This Greek word means “falling down when you should be standing up.” It’s often translated “trespass” and often refers to our faults or shortcomings and our mistakes. When we don’t “stand upright” when we should be, our behavior doesn’t glorify God and we don’t treat others honestly or with the respect due them.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

(E) Agnoema refers to an error caused by ignorance. When this word is used in the New Testament, it is used in the context of a person or persons acting out of ignorance when they should have known better. Think:  “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13)

(F) Hettema. This Greek word carries with it the idea of being defeated or overtaken by an adversary. How is this a sin? Christians are engaged in spiritual conflicts every day. The New Testament calls these conflicts “spiritual warfare,” and we are given the weapons to prevail. When we don’t prevail; when we are spiritually defeated, we have essentially failed in our duty.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (1 Corinthians 6:7)

(G) Asebeia means “ungodliness,” and apostasy. It refers to living life and leaving God out. This may well be the worst kind of sin, even though it doesn’t always have to do morality or ethics. It simply refers to ignoring God; failing to acknowledge Him and love Him, the One who gave you life and sustains your life.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… (Romans 1:18)

2. The depravity of man

All those words for “sin” tell us something very telling about the human condition: mankind is in sad shape without Jesus Christ! Paul put it best:

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one…” (Romans 3:10)

Man is depraved without God. This does NOT necessarily mean there is no good at all in the unredeemed man. It means that man without Christ is definitely unsaved and depraved, though not necessarily as depraved as he could be. No human being is totally “bad,” even though they may be unsaved. This, of course, in no way suggests that “good works” or good behavior can earn one salvation.

“Depravity” is that inclination of every human being to sin. It is a direct result of the Fall of man. As originally created, man was given a free will and the capacity NOT to sin. But since the Fall, man cannot help himself: while he still has a free will, he WILL sin. He may not sin all the time, but his whole nature is drawn sinward, not Godward. Paul in Romans 7 paints a pathetic picture of man in his fallen state. Even in this state, a man may desire higher ideals, but when he seeks to live that way he is constantly frustrated in his efforts because of the presence of evil in his inner most being. This ever-present evil in fallen man is his depravity.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

James put it another way:

…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (James 1:14)

Another name for “depravity” could be “original sin.” We call it “original sin” because this inner evil came down to us through its original source, Adam. It was through Adam that the sinward tug was placed in all human beings.

Dr. Pope’s remarks are helpful:

From the first Adam we received original sin. In the last Adam, Christ, we are made partakers of original righteousness, His righteousness. The fall was the utter ruin of nothing in our humanity, only the perversion, contamination, and corruption of every faculty. The human mind retains the principles of truth; the heart, the capacity of holy affections; the will, its freedom. Depravity is the absence of original righteousness and the bias to all evil. Original sin a hard and absolute captivity. Romans 7 indicates that, while man is bound to sin, underneath there is a better nature crying for deliverance.

So, is man without Christ totally depraved or just partially depraved? That question is academic because man without Christ is completely lost; without any hope of salvation. The man of Romans 7; the man who desires to live right but cannot is still lost. Good intentions don’t count toward salvation.

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