Our study of the third chapter of Genesis revealed the first sin on earth, its trial and judgment; the consequent expulsion of man from the garden of Eden, and intervention of grace introducing a plan of redemption. Before proceeding in the history of fallen man we need to dip somewhat into systematic theology in order to fix in our minds some fundamental doctrines concerning both sin and grace.


We are not prepared to give even a definition of sin until we consider the several words which name it, or are its synonyms. We give the words in both Greek and English:

Hamartia — “Missing the mark,” Mt 1:21; Ro 7:7; Heb 9:26.

Anomia — “Lawlessness,” 1Jo 3:4; Ro 7:8. Asebeia — “Unlikeness to God,” Tit 2:12. Adikia — “Iniquity, perversion from righteousness,” Ac 8:23. Apostasia — “Apostasy, or falling away, or departure,” i.e., from God or the faith, 2Th 2:3; 1Ti 4:1; Heb 3:12. Echthra — “Enmity,” i.e., toward God, Ro 8:7. Epithumia — “Cupidity, covetousness, lust,” Ro 1:24. Kakia — “Wickedness,” Ac 2:25. Poneria — “Wickedness,” Lu 11:39. Sarx; — “The flesh,” Ro 8:2-7; 1Co 5:13; Ga 5:16-21; 1Pe 3:21.

Plane — “Error, false opinion,” 1Jo 4:6. Even a glance at these words in the connections cited shows conclusively: That sin implies a law or standard of righteousness, prescribing the right and proscribing the wrong, and law implies a lawgiver to whom the subjects of law are related. That law is not law which does not provide judgment and penalty. That sin cannot be limited to external, overt acts but must also be a disposition or state of the heart or mind. This will the more appear by comparing Mt 15:19-20, with Ro 1:28-32. Other scriptures also show that as moral law does not arise from its publication but inheres in our relations and in the very constitution or nature of our being, it must be a fixed, universal, and unalterable standard and not a sliding scale that adapts itself to our varying knowledge or circumstances. See the atonement provided for sins of ignorance (Le 4:14,20,31) and of omission (Le 5:5-6); and the prayer to be cleansed from secret faults (Ps 19:12) and the consciousness of past sins awakened by the knowledge of the law (Ro 7:9-10) and the penalty assessed on the servant who knew not the will of the master (Lu 11:48). With these and like scriptures in mind we consider next:



Sin is weakness or finiteness.


Sin is in the body, or matter; when the soul escapes from the body it will be sinless.

Sin is the voluntary transgression of a known law.

Sin is a necessary discipline.


Sin is a fall upward


The first definition ignores the fact that the worst sinners are the strongest in mind and body. It makes God the author of sin and contradicts conscience. The second definition restricts sin to matter, cannot account for fallen angels who have no bodies, nor the suffering of the disembodied rich man in our Saviour’s parable (Lu 16), and ignores many scriptures which make envy, ambition, pride, covetousness, anger, the gravest sins. It also ignores the fact that the body is only the servant or instrument of the soul. We might as well say that the gun with which a man is killed is guilty of murder.

The third definition limits sin to an overt act when it may consist in not doing, and limits to transgression when it may consist in merely falling short and makes the law a sliding scale adjusting itself to the varying degrees of knowledge, when oftentimes not to know is a sin.

The fourth definition takes away all demerit from sin and even encourages evil as a means of education. This was the essence of the serpent’s suggestion to Eve to acquire knowledge of evil by experience.


Sin is lack of conformity to the moral law of God, either in act, disposition, or state. The essence of sin is selfishness, that is, putting self in God’s place. Dr. Strong says

It is not merely a negative thing or absence of love to God. It is a fundamental and positive choice or preference of self instead of God, as the object of affection and the supreme end of being. Instead of making God the centre of his life, surrendering himself unconditionally to God and possessing himself only in subordination to God’s will, the sinner makes self the centre of his life, sets himself directly against God and constitutes his own interest the supreme motive and his own will the supreme rule. While sin as a state is unlikeness to God, as a principle is opposition to God, as an act is transgression of God’s laws, the essence of it always and everywhere is selfishness. — A. H. Strong in

“Systematic Theology.”

Dr. Strong also quotes from Harris: “Sin is essentially egoism or selfishness, putting self in God’s place. It has four principal characteristics or manifestations: (1) Self-sufficiency instead of faith; (2) Self-will instead of submission; (3) Selfseeking instead of benevolence; (4) Self-righteousness instead of humility and reverence.”

All this further appears from a glance at four persons:

The sinless Saviour, who sought not his own will but the Father’s (Joh 5:30; Mt 26:39); spake not from himself (Joh 7:16,14); sought not his own glory (Joh 7:18); pleased not himself (Ro 15:3); exalted not himself (Php 2:5-6).

The Man of Sin, 2Th 2:4 — ”Who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.”

Saul of Tarsus, who was the chief of sinners because the most self-righteous (Php 2:4-5; 1Ti 1:15-16).

Satan, the first sinner (1Ti 3:6) compared with his great followers, the king of Babylon (Isa 14:13-14) and the prince of Tyre (Eze 28:2-6).


Joh 3:3 — “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Col 3:9-10 — “Lie not to one another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

Eph 4:23-24 — “And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

Loss of godlikeness, i.e., righteousness and holiness. Alienation of mind and heart. Corruption of the whole moral nature in all its fountains. Hence moral inability to keep God’s law. The incurring of guilt and subjection to the penalty of the divine law. This appears from the necessity and nature of regeneration.


Death physical and spiritual. Separation of soul from God, separation of soul from body. Did the race sin and fall in Adam? Ro 5:12-21: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned… By the trespass of the one the many died … the judgment came of the one unto condemnation … So then through one trespass the judgment came unto all men unto condemnation … Through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners … Sin reigned in death.”

Does this apply to infants who never reach personal accountability? Ro 5:14: “Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression.” “The wages of sin is death; but eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord is the gift of God” (Ro 6:23). David says (Ps 51:5), “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” There has been but one child of woman born holy (Lu 1:35), “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.”

What is meant by total depravity? The depravity of a man refers to his fallen nature derived from Adam. Eph 2:3: “We are by nature [i.e., by birth] children of wrath.” The word “total” refers to all the parts of his nature. That is, the depravity extends to all the fountains and faculties of being, but does not refer to degrees or intensity of particular sins. It does not mean that a sinner cannot progress in sin, waxing worse and worse. Simply that there is no part of man holy, and no part that can originate holiness.

It is evident from the foregoing that apart from grace all men come into the world sinful by nature and become sinners by practice. Such is the testimony of Scripture. There is no good tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit. That which is born of the flesh is flesh (1Ki 8:46; Ec 7:20; Ro 3:10-12,23; Ga 3:22; Jas 3:2; 1Jo 1:8), hence the necessity of both regeneration, sanctification, and atonement to save men. “By grace are ye saved.”

By: B.H. Carol

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