Definition: Literally, a missing of the mark, according to the Hebrew and Greek Bible texts. God himself sets the “mark” that his intelligent creatures are to reach. Missing that mark is sin, which is also unrighteousness, or lawlessness. (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 5:17; 3:4) Sin is anything not in harmony with God’s personality, standards, ways, and will, all of which are holy. It may involve wrong conduct, failure to do what should be done, ungodly speech, unclean thoughts, or desires or motives that are selfish. The Bible differentiates between inherited sin and willful sin, between an act of sin over which a person is repentant and the practice of sin.
How was it possible for Adam to sin if he was perfect?
As to Adam’s being perfect, read Genesis 1:27, 31 and Deuteronomy 32:4. When Jehovah God pronounced his earthly creation, including man and woman, to be “very good,” what did it mean? For One whose activity is perfect to have said that what he made was “very good,” it must have measured up to his perfect standards.
Did perfection require that Adam and Eve be unable to do wrong? The maker of a robot expects it to do exactly what he has programmed it to do. But a perfect robot would not be a perfect human. The qualities viewed as essential are not the same. Adam and Eve were humans, not robots. To humankind, God gave the ability to choose between right and wrong, between obedience and disobedience, to make moral decisions. Since this is the way humans were designed, the inability to make such decisions (and not an unwise decision) is what would have indicated imperfection.—Compare Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; Joshua 24:15.
For Adam and Eve to qualify as being created perfect, must all their decisions thereafter be right? That would be the same as saying that they had no choice. But God did not make them in such a way that their obedience would be automatic. God granted them the ability to choose, so that they could obey because they loved him. Or, if they allowed their hearts to become selfish, they would become disobedient. Which means more to you—when someone does something for you because he is forced to do it or because he wants to?—Compare Deuteronomy 11:1; 1 John 5:3.
How could such perfect humans become selfish, leading to acts of sin? Although created perfect, their physical bodies would not continue to function perfectly if not provided with proper food. So, too, if they let the mind feed on wrong thoughts, this would cause moral deterioration, unholiness. James 1:14, 15 explains: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” In the case of Eve, the wrong desires began to develop when she listened with interest to Satan, who used a serpent as his mouthpiece. Adam heeded the urging of his wife to join her in eating the forbidden fruit. Instead of rejecting the wrong thoughts, both nourished selfish desires. Acts of sin resulted.—Gen. 3:1-6.
Was Adam’s sin part of “God’s plan”?
Is there really such a thing as “sin” nowadays?
Illustrations: If a sick man was to break the thermometer, would that prove that he did not have a fever? If a thief said that he did not believe what is written in the lawbooks, would that make him innocent of crime? Similarly, the fact that many people do not believe it is necessary to live according to Bible standards does not put an end to sin.—See 1 John 1:8.
Some people may choose to do what God’s Word forbids. But that does not prove the Bible wrong. Galatians 6:7, 8 warns: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.” The epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes, and so forth, gives evidence of the truthfulness of what the Bible says. God made man; He knows what will bring us lasting happiness; He tells us in the Bible. Does it not make sense to listen to Him? (For evidence of God’s existence, see the main heading “God.”)
Is not much of what is called sin simply doing what is natural for humans?
Is sex sinful? Did Adam and Eve sin by having sexual relations with each other? That is not what the Bible says. Genesis 1:28 says that God himself told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth.” That would involve sexual relations between them, would it not? And Psalm 127:3 says that “sons are an inheritance from Jehovah,” “a reward.” It should be noted that Eve ate first of the forbidden fruit and did so when she was by herself; only later did she give some to Adam. (Gen. 3:6) Obviously, the tree on which the forbidden fruit grew was a literal one. What the Bible forbids is not normal sexual relations between husband and wife but practices such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality. The bad fruitage of such practices shows that the prohibition is an evidence of loving concern on the part of the One who knows how we are made.
Gen. 1:27: “God proceeded to create the man [Adam] in his image, in God’s image he created him.” (The normal thing, therefore, was for Adam to reflect God’s holy qualities, to respond appreciatively to God’s direction. To fall short of this was to miss the mark, to sin. See Romans 3:23, also 1 Peter 1:14-16.)
Eph. 2:1-3: “It is you [Christians] God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience. Yes, among them we all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of our flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh and the thoughts, and we were naturally children of wrath even as the rest.” (As offspring of sinner Adam, we were born in sin. From birth on, the inclination of our heart is toward badness. If we do not curb those wrong tendencies, we may in time become accustomed to such a way of life. It may even seem “normal” because others around us are doing similar things. But the Bible identifies what is right and what is wrong from God’s viewpoint, in view of how he made man and his purpose for mankind. If we listen to our Creator and lovingly obey him, life will take on a richness of meaning that we never knew before, and we will have an eternal future. Warmly our Creator invites us to taste and see how good it is.—Ps. 34:8.)
How does sin affect a person’s relationship with God?
1 John 3:4, 8: “Everyone who practices sin is also practicing lawlessness, and so sin is lawlessness. He who carries on sin originates with the Devil.” (How forceful this is! Those who deliberately choose a course of sin, making a practice of it, are viewed by God as criminals. The course they have chosen is the one that Satan himself first took.)
Rom. 5:8, 10: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . When we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Notice that sinners are referred to as enemies of God. How wise, then, to avail ourselves of the provision that God has made for reconciliation to him!)
1 Tim. 1:13: “I was shown mercy [says the apostle Paul], because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” (But when he was shown the right way by the Lord, he did not hold back from following it.)
2 Cor. 6:1, 2: “Working together with him, we also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose. For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.’ Look! Now is the especially acceptable time. Look! Now is the day of salvation.” (Now is the time when the opportunity for salvation is available. God will not forever extend toward sinful humans such undeserved kindness. So, care needs to be exercised in order that we do not miss its purpose.)
How is relief from our sinful state possible?
See the main heading “Ransom.”