What is sin?

Straight Talk

The Question

What is the difference in a fault, mistake and sin? Does a fault/mistake keep you from going to heaven?

JF From Alabama

The Answer
Part 1: Missing the mark
Part 2: Remedy

Missing the mark (Part 1)

Perhaps if we look at the word sin from its Bible definition roots the differences of the other words will better fall into place. Then we can talk about what can keep you from going to heaven.

In the New Testament the Greek word translated as “sin” is HAMARTIA and it means, “missing the mark.” The Old Testament has several Hebrew words for sin but one of them, CHATA, is similar in meaning: “to miss, go wrong.” I think these roots give us a powerful idea of sin. So how is sin missing the mark? What is the mark?

Isaiah had a firsthand experience that helps us. He had a vision of God’s throne room and the creatures standing continually in his presence. “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:3-4) So first of all, the mark is God himself, his holiness and perfection.

Now watch what happens next. “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’” (Verse 5) Being in God’s presence made it abundantly clear to Isaiah how far off the mark he was. It is the same way any of us would feel if the holiness of God actually became real to us. The Bible says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) We all miss the mark!

Perhaps about now you’re thinking I’m not really answering your question in a way that is helpful to you. How does all that stuff help you know which things/activities are sins and which are not? Is that what you really want to know? Well I’d like you to look at sin a different way. It’s not so much the individual things we do or don’t do. Rather, it is by admitting the truth of who we are in comparison to God and his righteousness that understanding comes. With that comes the possibility of a remedy.

Remedy (Part 2)

I like the way The Message puts Isaiah 64:6 in explaining our common condition of sin. “We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags.” You’re a sinner and I’m a sinner and Isaiah was a sinner. One person may steal and another lie but all humankind is really in the same place. So as far as going to heaven, none of us deserve it.

Is there any help for us then? Any chance? Yes. God realizes how hopeless we all are so he sent his Son Jesus to pay the price we could never pay. Jesus covered our sin so we could stand comfortably in the Father’s presence (that’s heaven in a nutshell).

Let’s go back to Isaiah 6 for a minute and the scene in the throne room. After Isaiah cried out that he was ruined something happened for him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.’” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Notice that Isaiah did nothing but acknowledge the truth of his condition. It was at God’s initiative that his sinfulness was wiped away. This is a perfect picture of the cross of Christ. We acknowledge our condition and God himself wipes away our sin because of the shed blood of Jesus. Again, his initiative.

Now I’ll answer the second part of your question about what can “keep you from going to heaven.” What can keep you from going to heaven is never acknowledging your condition and therefore never receiving God’s provision to cover sin. The gift of being in right standing with God and therefore eligible for entrance to heaven sits there but you may refuse it.

I realize I went in a very different direction in answering this question than you probably anticipated—or desired. I’d like to redeem myself and end with some practical advice about sin. I also know I didn’t differentiate between sin, faults and mistakes. Well, here’s a way to look at any of them.

What if we defined sin this way: sin is anything you’d be ashamed to do if you were standing in God’s throne room like Isaiah did. When making choices about what to do—what not to do, picture yourself there. If your head starts to hang in shame and you start to say to yourself, “Woe is me” then DON’T DO IT. That is sin!