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What Is Sin? Bible Meaning and How To Overcome

What is sin? This may not be a fun question, but it's a vital question we all need to consider.

Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 12, 2024
What Is Sin? Bible Meaning and How To Overcome

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Meaning of the Word "Sin"

The Old Testament Hebrew word for sin is khata. It means to fail or miss the goal. Bible commentator Don Stewart defines sin, according to 1 John 3:4, as lawlessness. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, sin means deviating from obedience to God’s character and will.

In the Bible, sin is described as a transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18). In the Easton's Bible Dictionary, Sin is defined as "any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God" in the inward state and habit of the soul and in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission.

Merriam-Webster provides a contemporary definition of sin as "an offense against religious or moral law."

Bible Verses about Sin

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Did you know what sin meant before you were a Christian? If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, what is sin to you? 

Sin is a word the Lord chose to describe an action that misses the mark—His mark. God is perfect, and sin is anything that deviates from His expressed will and desire. Here’s the truth: sin is sin, whether you believe in Christ. Why? Because God is God (Romans 1), and any action that wrongs Him or His holy name is a sin. Theologian Wayne Grudem tells us, “The history of the human race as presented in Scripture is primarily a history of man in a state of sin and rebellion against God and of God’s plan of redemption to bring man back to himself.” 

Someone who has not surrendered their life to the Lord Jesus cannot please God. Therefore, anything they deem as good is, instead, a sin. It’s a hard truth to take in, but a good deed must meet God’s standards to be good, and anything not deemed good by God is sin. A godly (good) deed must include all three criteria: it obeys God’s law, seeks His glory, and it’s motivated by faith.

We Christians still sin, but not in a consistent, willful pattern. Our true faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit within us, and our obedience to Him will guide our thoughts and actions. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus because we surrendered to Him. He represents us before God. (Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:17-19). A non-Christian person can’t have access to God because of his good works. God’s grace, at His initiative, saves us (Ephesians 2:5; John 6:44).

Let’s look at some details about sin.

Where Does the Bible First Mention Sin?

The word sin is first mentioned in Genesis 4:7 when God spoke to Cain. He said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” As we all know, Cain let sin rule him and murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16).

Sin as an act was introduced in Genesis 3 with the account of the Fall, which ushered sin into the world. We don’t doubt Satan (Revelation 12:9) enticed Eve to sin against God by questioning God’s Word (Genesis 3:6)—His command to Adam. Through Satan, the instigator, we discover the action of sin began with him in heaven. He schemed to exalt himself above the Lord God, and the Bible implies in his rebellion, he took “one-third of the angels of heaven with him” (Revelation 12:4).

Eve chose what was good in her own eyes as opposed to the good of following God’s command not to eat of the tree of good and evil. She stepped out of godly obedience and into the lust of the eyes. She and Adam (who also ate the fruit) sinned against God. We often refer to this as “original sin,” but it is better stated as “inherited sin” because we are born with the guilt and tendency to sin.

Consequences ensued, but not without the promise of blessings. Adam would toil, but he would have worthwhile work to do. Eve would bear pain in childbirth, but she would still have children. Her offspring (our Redeemer) would crush the devil, and that was a promise of Satan’s demise (Romans 16:20).

Since that day, sin has been part of every human being. We are all born in sin (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

Why Does Sin Keep Us from God?

Our God is holy (Leviticus 11:44). “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Because He is holy, God cannot behold sin (Habakkuk 1:13), and this will keep everyone from God because of our sinful state. But sinful acts will keep people from God, too. It’s a dual problem—sinners and sin. For the good news, see the subheading below about Jesus Christ.

Are Humans Born in Sin?

God’s Word is clear when it says we are all born in sin because of Adam and Eve’s sin. What isn’t explicit is if unborn babies, those who have not reached an age of accountability, those who lack the mental capacity for discernment, or even those who haven’t heard the Gospel will go to heaven. Our sense of fair play and our beliefs about God would have us wonder why He would allow what we think is unfair. For this article’s purposes, we will call them the “unreached people.” Good arguments may be made on both sides of this matter. I will let the reader consider what the Scriptures and biblical scholars say and make their own decision.

Do 'Unreached Peoples' Go to Heaven: The Case For

W. Robert Godfrey argues a case for babies to go to heaven when he says, “The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Article 17, say that godly parents may believe without doubt that their children dying in infancy are elect and saved. And I think that’s true.” He and Pastor Kevin DeYoung (as well as many other scholars) cite King David’s reaction in 2 Samuel 12:23 to learn his first child with Bathsheba had died. David said he would end up in the same place as the child. While not explicit, this passage gives us hope for the security of the unreached people.

One case in point is John the Baptist, who was saved in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). King David echoes this pre-born salvation in Psalm 22:10.

Some answer that God knows His elect, and unreached peoples who die without evidence of surrendering to Christ are wherever God has foreordained them to be—with or apart from Him.

If an unreached person is saved, it’s on God’s merits, not theirs; it’s based on Christ’s atoning work. The Holy Spirit can certainly reach those we humans cannot. We do not know everyone to whom the Spirit speaks.

Do 'Unreached Peoples' Go to Heaven: The Case Against

A counterpoint to the 2 Samuel 12:23 passage is one also uttered by King David. In Psalm 51:5, he says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This passage is not about David’s mother; David lamented his own sinful state from birth. He affirmed this idea in Psalm 58:3 when he wrote, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

Is our nature one of a disposition to sin, or is it a condemning sinful nature in which we are conceived and born? Are we indeed all “children of wrath?” (Ephesians 2:3). God knows.

A strong point should be made about surrendering to Jesus and doing good according to His standards. The Bible says we are dead in our trespasses and sins where we all walk before salvation (Ephesians 2:1). We cannot stand before God on our own standards because His are the only ones that matter. Yet we must look to Scripture again for true direction. In Romans 2:6-11, Paul elucidates the Lord’s decree regarding final judgment, and none are mentioned based on those who cannot complete obedient actions. 

All of us except Jesus are sinners, sinful from birth, and from the heart (Romans 3:23).

So what is our answer to what happened to the unreached peoples? Our best answer is, “We don’t know because the Bible does not give us an explicit answer.” It’s not prudent to question what God can do beyond what our feeble human minds can conceive. We know that God is holy, sovereign, just, gracious, merciful, and good. We can trust Him, who sent His Son to die on the cross for us. 

How Does Jesus Christ Save Us from Sin?

Pastor Conrad Brown gives this short summary of how Jesus saved us from sin:

(Transcript of the video above, edited for readability)

“Well, to quote the Westminster [Catechism], sin is ‘any lack of conformity to the will of God.’ Sin is missing God's mark in our life, and it’s serious because God is a holy God and he’s given us his standards. So, sin is missing out on the best that God has for us, has revealed in Scripture, and that’s why Christ became a sin-bearer, to allow us to come in the presence of a holy God, by his high priestly work on the cross.”

Let’s look a little more in-depth at these ideas.

To share the Gospel is the absolute best way to answer this question because Jesus is the Gospel. He is the Good News of God, and He died for our sins.

The Bible tells us God created Adam without sin and was suitable to govern God’s good creation. Adam, in disobedience, broke fellowship with God and brought all humanity down with him into shame, desolation, and eternal destruction. However...

In God’s great grace, He sent a greater Adam—the Last Adam (Jesus Christ), who lived the perfect life we never could. And He died the guilty death we don’t desire to die. Christ died for our sins in the sense that—on the cross—He compensated for the crimes we have committed against our perfect, holy God, our King.

Jesus acted as our substitute and took into Himself all the wrath of God against the genuine, moral guilt of His elect (people). He paid it all. He missed nothing of the past, the present, or the future. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and He meant it.

The Gospel continues as they buried Jesus, which stresses Jesus’ suffering and death, which were completely real, horrendous, and final. Matthew 27:66 says, “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” 

After slaying Him, His enemies made sure everyone would know He was dead—stone-cold dead. Not only was Jesus’ death as final as it could be. It was also demeaning. Paintings abound depicting Jesus on the cross covered by a midriff cloth and with some apparent battering. But Jesus was naked on the cross, and He lost the appearance of a human, so badly was He beaten (Isaiah 52:14). What He did is stupefying. Our great High King humbled Himself to our level and took the punishment and death we deserve.

The Gospel says Jesus was raised (alive!) on the third day. His resurrection is like God saying, “Amen!” to Christ’s, “It is finished.” Not only was Jesus raised for our pardon (justification), but His work on the cross also compensated for the sins of those who surrender their lives to Him. He is our victorious Messiah and will rule forever (Romans 1:4).

Only our risen Lord can and does say, “Fear not, for I am the first and the last, and the Living One, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). He conquered death and is now preparing a place for His followers—where we will worship and enjoy Him forever.

There are many amazing passages to consider when pondering this amazing truth. John 3:16, Colossians 1:19-20, and Ephesians 2:1-3 are particularly wonderful. As songs go, one of the greatest hymns that captures the gospel message is Charles Wesley’s hymn, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which reminds us: “He breaks the power of reigning sin, He sets the prisoners free; His blood can make the foulest clean His blood availed for me.”

A Prayer for Sinners

Lord God Almighty. Thank You for saving me from my sins. I now have life in Jesus’ name. Your Word tells me I am one of Your ambassadors, here to do Your will and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, who came and took all my sins so I can live for You. It’s an amazing and daunting privilege, and I am joyful to surrender to Your will every day. Show me the open doors You have prepared so I can make the most of every opportunity and so You can gather more souls for the kingdom. It’s all about and for Jesus. In His matchless name, I pray. Amen.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/CasPhotography 

Lisa Baker 1200x1200

Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 


This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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