What is sin?

For Bible references in this video, check the description on YouTube.

Sometimes people describe “sin” like it’s just a mistake people make, a wrong choice, or a bad decision. But sin is a very serious issue and has real earthly and eternal consequences. In the New Testament, the word used for “sin” is the Greek hamartia, which literally means to “miss the mark” 1. To put it more literally, “sin” is also an archery term; when you don’t hit the bullseye, your arrow has missed the center mark. Whether you’re close to the bullseye or far away, a miss is a miss.

“Sin” does not merely mean missing the mark of society’s standard of good either; it’s missing the mark of God’s standard of perfection. Romans 3:23 calls it “falling short of the glory of God”. Sin is anything that violates the law of God (1 John 3:4), which is why it's such a serious issue.

Other words used to describe sin in the Bible include lawlessness, wickedness, evil (Genesis 6:5), wrongdoing, lawbreaking, rebellion, disobedience, doing what is right only in your own eyes (Proverbs 12:15), and going your own way or going astray (Isaiah 53:6).

How can I tell what is sinful?

Probably the most well-known list of commands given by God is the 10 Commandments as presented to Moses (Exodus 20:1-17). Violating any of these commands would be a sin because it’s disobeying God’s explicit law. These commands concern both our relationship with God and with one another. They include instructions not to misuse the name of the Lord, murder, steal, give false testimony, or covet (desire) other people’s possessions. Other sins that are clearly identified in Scripture include sexual immorality, homosexuality, greed, drunkenness, witchcraft, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, rage, and envy (Proverbs 6:16-19; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The Bible doesn’t always have a “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” for every decision. In those cases, we need to apply biblical principles to help us measure our choices against God’s standard to make sure that we do not “miss the mark” (sin).

Questions to Help Examine if X is a Sin:

  • Does this glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17)
  • Is this definitely good? (Galatians 6:10)
  • Will this have a positive impact on those around me? (Philippians 2:3)
  • Will this build others up? (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Is this behavior consistent with a follower of Christ? (Colossians 1:10)
  • Does this make wise use of my time? (Colossians 4:5)
  • Will my behavior cause someone else to fall (sin, stumble, or be tempted)? (Romans 14:21)
  • Does this decision violate a conviction that God has placed in my heart about a certain issue? Romans 14:23)
A Note About Conviction from the Holy Spirit

Sometimes God places a conviction in our hearts about certain issues that are not strictly sinful for all but are sinful for an individual. If the Bible does not specifically say that a certain action is a sin, yet the Holy Spirit has convicted you against doing it, then it would be a sin for you. (See Romans 14 for context.)

For example, while the Bible says that drunkenness is a sin, it does not say that drinking alcohol is a sin. Some people, however, have a personal conviction that it would be wrong for them to drink, so they refrain from doing so. Perhaps they know that alcoholism runs in their family, so they know it’s a road they shouldn’t follow. Or maybe they have abused alcohol in the past and are convinced that this is not something they should repeat. Or maybe a teen knows they’re underage and shouldn’t drink alcohol offered by a friend. In all these cases, it would be a sin for that person to drink because they would be violating their conscience and convictions.

God Looks at the Heart

God not only sees our lawbreaking actions, but He also knows our sinful hearts and thoughts. Our sinful actions actually begin in our hearts, which Scripture says is “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). In Matthew 5, Jesus drives home this truth when He refers to two of the Ten Commandments: do not murder and do not commit adultery. He says that not only is it a sin to commit these two actions, but it is also a sin to be angry with someone or to look lustfully at someone because they have already murdered or committed adultery in their heart.

How did sin begin?

God did not create sin nor did the world begin with sin being present. Sin is not God’s fault. In the beginning, God created everything and deemed it "very good" (Genesis 1:31). One of the angels that God created was called Lucifer. Instead of choosing obedience to God, Lucifer desired to be higher than his Creator, and that was the beginning of sin. Because of HIS sin, he was cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15). He then chose to bring sin into the Garden of Eden by tempting God’s newest creations, Adam and Eve, to disobey their Creator too.

When they gave into that temptation and disobeyed the singular command God had given them, that violation brought sin into the human world. Since that time, sin has been passed down through all the generations of mankind because we are Adam’s descendants (Romans 5:12). Just like we inherit physical characteristics from our parents, we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. A desire to sin is in our DNA, giving us the ability to know how to sin and a natural inclination to rebel against the goodness of God. We are not born neutral to God or as a blank slate; we are born under judgement because of our inherited sin nature (Romans 5:18).

The Bad News About Sin

Everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) and is unable to save themselves from the punishment for sin which is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23) because a perfect life is required to pay that penalty. One sin, no matter how “serious,” misses the mark of God’s standard. Have you ever lied? Broken a rule behind your parents’ back? Been envious of what someone else had? Been angry for no reason? Refused to admit you were wrong? These thoughts and actions are sins.

Sure, we could all point to someone more sinful than we are or to some good things we have done, but remember, no matter how far from the bullseye your arrow hits, it’s still sin. We are all guilty before God; no one is exempt. Not only is sin our natural inheritance from Adam, but we also have ALL personally chosen sin since we were children. No number of good deeds can undo our death sentence (Romans 2:12; Ephesians 2:8).

Just like a criminal that has been judged and sentenced to jail must pay the penalty for his crime, we too have broken God’s law by sinning and must pay the penalty (death) for our sin. That is sobering news.

The Good News for Sinners

However, there's some good news for sinners, and His name is Jesus! Jesus never missed the mark of the glory of God; He perfectly meets God’s standard. When He was in human form, He was tempted in every way possible, and He still hit the bullseye of God’s standard every single time (Hebrews 4:15). And better still, because He loves us so much, He is willing to pay the penalty we owe to God—even though He is perfectly innocent of ever sinning (Romans 5:6-11).

“God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” —2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus paid for your sin through His death and resurrection so that you could receive the gift of eternal life with God.

“Consequently, just as one trespass [sin] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Jesus’ death and resurrection] resulted in justification and life for all people.” —Romans 5:18

Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior from the penalty for your sin? Have you chosen to receive His gift of eternal life? If not, you can make that decision right now—it’s not too late. There’s nothing you could do that would make God love you less or find you unacceptable to receive His gift. If you want to be saved, tell Him what you believe and ask to be saved.

If you have questions about what it means to be saved or what salvation really is, we have some resources for you in the ALSO SEE section below. After believing in Jesus, He will help you make decisions that choose holiness over sin and to walk in way that pleases God.

REFERENCES: 1. “G266 - Hamartia - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV).” Blue Letter Bible, www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g266/esv/mgnt/0-1/. Accessed 30 Aug. 2022.



Sin is anything that violates the law of God (1 John 3:4). Sometimes the Bible is very clear about identifying explicit sins (Exodus 20:1-17). Other times we need to use biblical principles to help us decide about what is sin and what isn’t (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14). Sin is not God’s fault. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God (Genesis 2). Since we are Adam’s descendants, we’ve inherited a natural desire to sin (Romans 5:12). The penalty for sin is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). But there’s good news: Jesus, who never sinned, willingly paid that penalty for our sin through His perfect life, His death, and His resurrection. If you believe that Jesus has done this for you, He will help you learn to choose holiness over sin and to walk in way that pleases God (Colossians 1:10).

Writer: Hanna S.

Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.

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