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Sin - What is Sin?

Christians talk about 'sin'. But what is sin? "Sin is lawlessness", "Sin is missing the mark", some reply. But I don't find these are enough. On this page I want to go deeper to understand what sin is, and what kinds of sin there are. And yet in a practical manner.

Misconceptions About Sin

Here are some misconceptions about sin:

Kinds of Sin

What kinds of sin are there? Is telling a lie as bad as murder or not? Why or why not?

If I tell a lie, steal, commit adultery, lust after a woman, murder, be angry with my brother without cause, keep a grudge, turn away from God, act selfishly, have a selfish attitude even though I act unselfishly, perpetrate injustice, refuse to give justice - these are all sin, and so are many more things.

Now, I don't want to become all technical, about the difference between sinful acts and deep-rooted sinfulness. Instead, I want to separate out and understand the different kinds of sin and sinfulness. I find Dooyeweerd's aspects useful here.

Explanation of aspects: Aspects are not just categories, but also 'spheres of law', i.e. ways of being lawful or its opposite, ways of being good or bad. Dooyeweerd found fifteen distinct aspects - some mathematical, some governing plants and animals and our biological and emotional life, some cognitive, some social, and some societal. Of the fifteen, nine especially are 'normative', that is, we can live and act either with or against their laws.

Each aspect gives us a different kind of sin:

Different Kinds of Sin and the Harm it Can Do
(Its meaning)
Sin Harm
Quantitative aspect
(Discrete amount)
Spatial aspect
Kinematic aspect
(Flowing movement)
Physical aspect
(Forces, energy, mass)
Biotic/organic aspect
(Life, organism)
Sensitive/psychic aspect
(Sensing, feeling, emotion)
Analytical aspect
(Distinction, concepts
Abstraction, logic)
Covering up, obfuscation
Formative aspect
(Deliberate shaping,
Technology, skill, history)
Laziness Not achieving, under-achieving
Lingual aspect
(Symbolic signification)
Lying, equivocating Truth is distored;
People believe something that is untrue;
Trust diminishes
Social aspect
(Relationships, roles)
Enmity, hating Breakup of relationships, community or society
Economic aspect
(Frugality, resources; Management)
Waste, greed, excess, carelessness Wasted life, poverty Ephesians 5:18
Aesthetic aspect
(Harmony, delight)
Boring, refusing to give of my best with others? DIscord, chaos, boredom
Juridical aspect
('Due', appropriateness;
Rights, responsibilities)
Injustice, inappropriateness Bad laws, corruption, nepotism, etc.
Ethical aspect
(Attitude, Self-giving love)
Selfishness, defensiveness, self-centredness Defensive, competitive attitude spreads, which is hard to go against
Pistic/Faith aspect
(Faith, commitment, belief;
Vision of who we are)
DIsloyalty, faithlessness Idolatry; mistrust spreads

So sin can be many different kinds. No kind of sin can be reduced to any other, and all are important in the eyes of God. Dooyeweerd held that no one aspect is more or less important than others; all are equally important. Likewise, each kind of sin is equally important. If we think that telling a lie is less important than murder, then let us remember that Jesus chose to characterize the Devil as a liar - someone who distorts truth. Does not James also hold this view, when he says that whatever kind of wrong we do, we are still guilty.

This makes sense, because God intended his creation to be a place of diverse kinds of goodness, all working together like instruments in an orchestra. Any one instrument that goes wrong disrupts the whole.

Remedy for Sin

Is is just a matter of trying not to sin? Who can? Moreover, sin is so deep-rooted that it distorts our very ability to see and desire straight. The answer to sin - of all kinds (being guilty before God, disrupting our own lives, and harming the world around) requires God to act, and us to respond. And act in at least three dimensions.

The most important response is repentance.

See Also

More detailed discussion of sin according to a New View in Theology and Practice.

This page, "", is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain easy conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: Last updated: Created: Version 1, 31 October 1998 but never completed; Version 2, 31 March 2013. Last updated: 27 April 2019 link to repentance; rid empty table; new .end, .nav; link to nv/sin and nv/; corrected link.