- For a general discussion of the concept of sin and the view of it by other traditions, see Sin.
Sin, according to the teachings of most Fundamentalists, is at the root of the tendency to set one's own will in opposition to that of God and the general deficiency of our own moral character compared to that of God. God is Perfect and Holy, and thus cannot tolerate any kind of blemish in His Presence.
Sin refers both to action (or inaction) and state of being. A particular sin is an action or inaction that does not conform to God's character, and especially any action that is committed with the foreknowledge that it is contrary to conscience or morality or divine law. Humans have inherent knowledge of right and wrong that was obtained at the time Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We commit "sin" when our actions violate these instincts. It is through sinful acts that we fall short of God's intended design and will.
Such behavior displeases God and causes us to be separated from Him. This, then, is the state of being that the word sin also stands for: a separation from God, resulting from the harm done to our relationship with Him.
Human laws or the codes of conduct of a society are not always in keeping with God-given morality, and we are not absolved from judgment on our actions because society views them as acceptable. The foreknowledge of right and wrong is something that all humans have, and life is itself something of a measure or test to see how we will use this knowledge.
The Greek word translated sin in the New Testament is ἁμαρτία (hamartia). Hamartia does not mean "crime" or "guilt" only; it means a failure or a fault of some kind. It literally means a missing of the mark at target practice.
More generally, hamartia means any deviation, no matter how slight, from a perfectly desirable design or outcome. Thus sin is any thought or act, however innocent in intention, that does not meet the Divine standard. This includes, but does not limit itself to, all negligent, reckless, knowing, and intentional misdeeds.
Evidence for Foreknowledge of Right and Wrong
That any human being might be expected to know ahead of time what is right and what is wrong might seem incredible to any casual observer of human society; and, yet, the following points favor the notion of instinctual foreknowledge of violations of conscience:
- Any government promulgating a frankly murderous or otherwise oppressive policy toward any subset of its subjects must actively persuade its remaining subjects, usually through propaganda, that such a policy is morally acceptable. The obvious example is Germany during the Second World War. In fact, many other examples, historical and modern, illustrate this point.
- No organized society has ever explicitly endorsed theft as a legitimate business practice.
- Attempts to justify such offenses as adultery, fornication, covetousness, or lying almost invariably fail. More typically, one caught engaging in such activity will try to excuse it by pleading some sort of extenuating or mitigating circumstance, or innocent intent (see above). Or else he will boast of his "right" so to act. Sadly, even some church leaders have taken such a brazen stance.
- By far the most salient statement concerning human foreknowledge of right and wrong comes from Paul. He wrote:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:19-21 (KJV)
The following are according to the most common interpretation of fundamentalist churches, but not universally accepted by other branches of Christianity.
The First SinThe Creation story ends with God's evaluation of the earth:
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (KJV)
The word rendered very means "truly," not "extremely." In essence, God made everything perfect. Sin did not exist in this world, not because the world had no moral context, but because the world was in perfect compliance with it. Nothing was in the world that God did not put into it.The Fall of Man changed everything:
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Genesis 3:17 (KJV)
God had given Adam and Eve strict warning not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This direct order from God provided the necessary moral context by which we recognize original sin--in essence, the first sin. By disobeying that order, Adam and Eve fell short. Thus sin came into the world. No longer, then, was the world "very good."
Two things then happened. First, Adam and Eve separated themselves from God. By so doing, they did "die"--spiritually, though not physically (at least not immediately). As mentioned above, God cannot tolerate sin in His Presence. Second, the world itself could no longer be perfect. By his sin, Adam sowed seeds of corruption, decay and decline, not merely for himself and Eve and their posterity but also for the entire world.
Condition of the World
Sin of the world
At first, the world was perfect. Now it is not. Indeed, prophecy says that it will never be perfect. Physical death exists in this world, and such death did not exist before. The explanation for untoward events traces back to this first event: God could no longer stay in the world to keep it running properly--and thus, like any engine or other machine left unattended, it began immediately to damage itself. This damage continues today.
Many creationist models incorporate this sin-induced damage as an explanation for such things as the long lifespans recorded prior to the flood, the origin of disease, predation and the apparent error of dating based on uniformitarian assumptions.
Reconciliation of the worldThe world is an impersonal entity. It cannot be reconciled. Therefore, at an as-yet undetermined date in the future, God will destroy it:
And then God will make a new world in which He will never allow sin ever again:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. II%20Peter 3:10 (KJV)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. Revelation 21:1-5 (KJV)
Until then, the earth and the cosmos are fallen, and will continue to decline. Many creationists hold that the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes that decline in a mathematical way, and therefore that sin is the essence and trigger of entropy. Others would find it difficult to imagine a world in which the second law did not operate and instead would say that in the perfect state the outworking of entropy was counteracted by the direct intervention of God, as he might occasionally do even now. For example, consider this:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. Isaiah 65:17-25 (KJV)
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Deuteronomy 29:5 (KJV)
Condition of Man
The sin conditionAs has been seen, Adam effectively ruined the world by his disobedience. But he did more: he affected the condition of man himself. Paul describes it best:
Before God, every person is guilty, because everyone has fallen short. More than that, no one ever seeks after God without Divine help:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Romans 3:10-12
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: John 6:44 (KJV)
This total depravity of man (a position explained by John Calvin) is the reason why Jesus Christ had to come to earth and die. Without the shedding of blood, no remission of sin is possible. And no blood can suffice, except Jesus' own.
Now that this sacrifice has been made, salvation is available to anyone willing to accept it. (John Calvin held that the only ones who will accept salvation are those whom God saw fit to enable to accept it, while Jacobus Arminius holds that all men possess the free will to accept God's gift, or refuse it.) No action by man is necessary--and no action by man would suffice.
Many persons, not necessarily in other religious traditions, confuse sin with wickedness. Wickedness is deliberate, intentional wrongdoing. A wicked person does more than merely miss the target--he deliberately aims wide of it as if out of spite. In any case, not being wicked is not enough. Since man cannot be perfect, he needs a substitutionary sacrifice--namely, that which Jesus provided.
Many religions include elaborate codes of conduct that represent attempts to present people with a target they can hit on their own power. But according to Fundamentalism, no one can hit God's target - to live without sinning requires total perfection of thought and deed, a standard no human has any possibility of achieving. Salvation from sin is by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ, Who alone can say on anyone's behalf, "I paid his penalty in full, and I move that his deeds be stricken from the record."