The Nature of Sin
The word sin is a religious term that indicates both willful, defiant acts that transgress divine law, and the underlying condition of opposition to divine law from which those sinful acts originate. Sin separates man from God, and is the root of all resistance to and conflict with Him.
Sin is universal. The Bible is clear that every person born into this world is a sinner by birth (Psalm 51:5) and by choice (Romans 3:23).
The first usage in Scripture of the word sin is found in Genesis 4:7. In the original Hebrew, the word translated in that verse as sin meant “an offence.” A number of other words also are translated sin in the Scriptures. For example, the Greek word hamartia means “to miss the mark,” and implies an inward condition of sin out of which acts of sin originate. The Apostle Paul frequently used this word. Asebeia, also translated as ungodliness, denotes a refusal to worship God as God. Parabisis has the meaning of “going aside,” and refers to a definite breach or transgression of God’s law. Other words translated sin express the condition of being unpersuadable, a refusal to hear, lawlessness, and unbelief.
Sin can be described as either a state of being or an act of transgressing. Because of the sinful nature inherited from Adam, the entire human race is instinctively inclined toward evil from the moment of birth.
The topic of sin is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, starting with the original sin when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. In that first act of rebellion against God, Adam and Eve deliberately chose to do wrong. As a result, the pure nature with which they had been created was corrupted, and their sinful nature was transmitted to all of their descendants. Thus, sin can be described as either a state of being or an act of transgressing. Because of the sinful nature inherited from Adam, the entire human race is instinctively inclined toward evil from the moment of birth. As individuals grow and begin making conscious choices regarding their behavior, each one eventually chooses to do wrong and commits acts of sin.
The Word of God describes sin as the “transgression” of God’s law (1 John 3:4), and in 1 John 5:17, we read, “All unrighteousness is sin.” Many specific evils are identified in the New Testament as sinful. Some of these include: adultery, fornication, murder (Mark 7:21); thievery, greed, deceit, lust, envy, blasphemy, pride (Mark 7:22); homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27); malice, malignity (Romans 1:29); backbiting, spite, lying, disobedience (Romans 1:30); lack of mercy (Romans 1:31); vengeance (Romans 12:17); immorality, impurity, indecency, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, hostility, heresy (Galatians 5:19-20); unbelief (Hebrews 3:12); hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:1); and rebellion (2 Peter 2:10). Other deeds also are identified in Scripture as sin, but even this relatively short list establishes the types of behavior that cannot exist in a Christian life.
It is important to recognize that there is a difference between acts of sin, and actions that are the result of human behavior or infirmity rather than moral failure.
It is important to recognize that there is a difference between acts of sin, and actions that are the result of human behavior or infirmity rather than moral failure. To commit an act of sin, there must be both knowledge of the law of God and a willful and defiant breaking of that law; such actions spring from the carnal nature. However, there may be other actions that spring from human frailties or limitations that are not themselves sinful. The physical, emotional, and mental capacities of man were affected by the fall, and at times strain, exhaustion, disease, or mistakes in judgment can result in offenses or other manifestations of human weakness. Age-related infirmity or dementia also can distort judgment and result in actions for which the individual is not morally responsible. This highlights the vital necessity of being honest with oneself and with God, who alone knows the heart. If a person has committed an act of willful defiance toward God, he must not rationalize or excuse that behavior, but acknowledge and repent of it before God.
The Bible also makes a clear distinction between sin and temptation. While the word temptation is also used at times in Scripture to mean the trial or testing of our faith, it also refers to an allurement to sin. Temptation as an allurement is not sin; yielding to an allurement is sin. God does not forsake His own because they are tempted. Rather, He gives the grace and strength to stand fast in times of temptation.
Scripture teaches that it is possible for individuals to live lives free from sin, stating unequivocally that “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” (1 John 3:9; see also verses 4-10). Zacharias, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, spoke of God’s promise “that we . . . might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75). Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Christ came to break the power of sin, for we read, “He shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21; see also 1 John 3:8). Paul asked the question in Romans 6:11-18, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?” His emphatic answer, “God forbid,” is clear evidence that it is God’s will for every Christian to live victoriously without sin.
While a victorious life without sin is possible, the Bible is clear in affirming that the relationship with God can be severed.
While a victorious life without sin is possible, the Bible is clear in affirming that the relationship with God can be severed. Individuals who have been born again can choose to go back into sin, the same as Adam and Eve in their righteous state chose to commit sin. The prophet Ezekiel addressed this issue when he said, “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (Ezekiel 18:26). However, it is possible for one who has turned away from God to be restored again to salvation and a right relationship with God. We read, “If he [the wicked] turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 33:14-15).
Scriptures warn that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin that is not repented of will lead to eternal separation from God and eternal punishment.
Calvinism Contrasted with Arminianism
Within the broad scope of Christian theology, Arminianism and Calvinism share both history and many Biblical doctrines. However, they offer radically different interpretations of Scriptures related to salvation through Jesus Christ. In addition, there are a variety of approaches under the general headings of Calvinism and Arminianism; proponents on both sides are not in universal agreement regarding how they apply these doctrines.
Calvinism, which is built upon the religious teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564), emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the salvation of the elect (those He has predetermined will be saved) by God’s grace alone.
Arminianism is based upon the original beliefs of the theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), but can also include teachings of John Wesley and others. The Apostolic Faith subscribes most closely to the Wesleyan view of Arminianism.
In his written works, Arminius quotes from Christian theologians dating back to the first century who taught that grace is extended to all, but that man, by his own free will, may turn toward or away from the faith. He also demonstrated that there were Christian leaders in every age since the time of Christ who taught that man can and should live holy in this life.
Following is a chart that briefly states the five main points of difference between Calvinistic teaching and Arminian teaching.
Total Depravity: Man is born with a depraved nature and lacks a free will. God draws to repentance only those He has predetermined for salvation.
Unconditional Election: God has chosen only certain individuals for salvation. The elect are those God has predetermined will be saved.
Limited Atonement: When Christ gave His life upon the Cross, atonement was made available but only for the elect.
Irresistible Grace: Grace is extended only to the elect. God’s call cannot be resisted and always results in conversion.
Perseverance of the Saints: Saved individuals retain their salvation to the end because they are preserved by God. No saved person will ever be lost; once an individual is saved, he is always saved.
Free Will: Man is born with a depraved nature but has a free will. God draws all to repentance, but man can choose to repent and be regenerated, or resist and perish.
Conditional Election: God has chosen all humanity for salvation. The elect are those who respond to His offer of salvation with repentance and faith.
Unlimited Atonement: When Christ gave His life upon the Cross, atonement was made available for everyone. However, atonement avails only for those who choose to accept Christ’s provision.
Resistible Grace: Grace is extended to all. Man is free to accept or reject God’s call. Conversion results when man believes and receives God’s offered grace.
Assurance and Security: Saved individuals can retain their salvation to the end through continued obedience and faithfulness to God. However, saved individuals can forfeit their salvation by turning away from God.