A Definition of Sin

“There follows a definition of sin. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (anomia). There are other definitions of sin in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 14:23; Jas. 4:17; 1 Jn. 5:17); but this, far from being ‘somewhat superficial’ (Dodd), is the clearest and most revealing. The statement ‘sin is lawlessness‘ (that is, a defiant violation of God’s moral law) so identifies the two as to render them interchangeable terms. Wherever one of them is read, it is possible to substitute the other. It is not just that sin manifests itself in disregard for God’s law, but that sin is in its very nature lawlessness. Lawlessness is the essence, not the result, of sin. Thus exposed in its ugly reality, the seriousness of sin emerges. The heretics seem to have taught that to the enlightened Christian questions of morality were a matter of indifference; today our sins are excused either by euphemisms like ‘personality problems’ or by the plea of cultural relativity. In contrast to such underestimates of sin, John declares that it is not just a negative failure (hamartia, sin, meaning literally ‘missing the mark’, and adikia, unrighteousness, a deviation from what is right or just), but essentially an active rebellion against God’s known will. It is important to acknowledge this, because the first step towards holy living is to recognize the true nature and wickedness of sin.”

– John Stott, The Letters of John, p.126-127

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