Wayne Grudem defines sin as, “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” Other definitions of sin have been suggested, for instance; selfishness. While being selfish can be sinful, it is not always sinful. The best definition I have ever come across is Pastor John Piper’s. Which I will get to in a second. But one thing is for sure, it is always far better to define sin in the way Scripture does, and that is, in relationship to God’s law and his moral character. John tells us that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3: 4). When Paul seeks to demonstrate the universal sinfulness of mankind, he appeals to the law of God, whether the written law given to the Jew (Rom. 2: 17 – 29) or the unwritten law that operates in the consciences of Gentiles who, by their behavior, “show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2: 15). In each case their sinfulness is demonstrated by their lack of conformity to the moral law of God.
It is interesting as I thought on Grudem’s definition that when the Bible speaks of sin, it really is most often in the context of breaking Gods law. This isn’t surprising, especially when you think about the fact, that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. (Matt. 22:37)
In many ways the law, is given as a means or way to live in right relationship with God. The best way to honor God is to live, and think, and act and talk and believe the way God has told us to. Which all starts with loving him. If you don’t love him, and treasure him, then anything that follows after that is going to be out of whack. This in essence is what his law is; his revealed will to us for us to live in a proper right relationship with him. Starting with love. It’s hard to think of a commandment as love. How do you command someone to love you? But God can, not only because there is no one infinitely more worthy of being loved, but also because he is where anything and everything of goodness and rightness, rightfully starts. You cant law someone into awe, but if you are in awe, you will love his law. (Psalm 119) Anything less than loving God, living in light of, and loving what he loves is sin. Which leads me to a a sermon delivered by Pastor John Piper at a Pastor’s conference I attended, which really got to the heart of a proper definition of sin: “Sinning is any feeling or thought or speech or action that comes from a heart that does not treasure God over all other things.” The glory of God not honored. The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not believed.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
It’s not mainly what you do. It is mainly who you are—Sin is our preference for anything over God. Sin is our disapproval of God. Sin is our exchange of his glory for substitutes. Sin is our suppression of the truth of God. Sin is our heart’s hostility to God. It is who we are to the bottom of our hearts.
Romans 3:10,12, “None is righteous, no, not one; . . . no one does good, not even one.” From this angle, without Christ we cannot do good. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). And Paul puts it like this: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) In other words, the reason some deeds of unbelievers are called “good” in the New Testament is because in the ordinary use of language we sometimes describe deeds according to ordinary human standards. Committing adultery is bad. Not committing adultery is good. But there is another angle. If not committing adultery comes from a heart that has no love for God and treasures many things more than God, then that act of chastity is not an expression of love to God. It’s not a way of expressing his value. And so it is a dishonor to God. He is neglected, ignored, not a decisive factor, and in that sense the fruit of that heart is not good. If God is not central and supreme. If his honor and glory are not uppermost in your affections, then God-ignoring kindness, God-ignoring, truth-telling, God-ignoring generosity will not be seen by you as evil. You won’t have a category for that. That only makes sense if God’s glory is the all-defining, all-pervasive good in the universe.
The reason Paul says that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) is that faith is a receiving of God in Christ as our Savior, and Lord, and supreme Treasure. Which means that actions which don’t come from faith, don’t come from treasuring God over all things. And that’s what sin is — not treasuring God above all things, preferring anything more than God.