One fundamental difference between biblical Christianity and all other world religions is the concept of sin. How bad is sin? What does a Holy God think about sin? Here we offer a brief overview of the nature and impact of sin.
Let’s start with a definition. Here is how Wayne Grudem defines sin in his Systematic Theology: “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” We’ll begin with the act of sin. The act of sin is when the individual acts upon the sinful desires of their heart (James 1:15, Psalm 7:14, Job 16:45, Isaiah 59:4). The attitude of sin has to do with what a person actually desires. These are the thoughts and desires within that are contrary to God’s attitudes and desires (Exodus 20:17, Matthew 5:22, 28, Galatians 5:20). Finally, the nature of the individual can be counted as sin. The very thing that makes a person the way they are can and does mark them as sinful, even before any thought, desire, or deed is conceived (Psalm 51:5, 53:1-3, Job 14:4, Ephesians 2:3).
It is the idea that our nature is sinful, and therefore corrupts everything we do, that all other religions would find objectionable. Yet, logically speaking, this is the obvious conclusion to draw from the fact that we have sinful acts and thoughts. Jesus himself said, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18).” This does not mean that people are incapable of obeying God’s moral law at times or doing good things for others. What this means is that if the nature of the person is corrupt then even though their outward actions seem good and their thoughts seem good, and they seem to desire good, they are not actually good. A bad tree can produce fruit that looks appealing but is bad on the inside. Unless the nature of that tree is changed, it will never be good. This is why Christians teach that there is no spiritually good thing that any person can bring to God, especially as it relates to the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus was very clear on the sinful nature of humanity when he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person (Matthew 7: 20-23).” The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?” And Solomon testified, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).”
You see, we all sin, and this sin is evidence of our nature. We are bound to sin. Jesus says that those who sin are slaves to it and must be set free by him (John 8:34). Paul wrote that we are “by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).” We are under wrath because the punishment for sin is death (Genesis 2:16-17, Leviticus 17:11, Romans 6:23). A Holy God does not abide sin. A just God will never leave sin unpunished. So, our natural state is one of bondage to sin and under the just wrath of a holy God.
This corrupted nature is due to our first parents: Adam and Eve. As the 1689 Baptist Confession states: They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. ( Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, 45, 49; Psalms 51:5; Job 14:4; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 6:20 Romans 5:12; Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ).
All this indicates that we in no way have any hope of ever contributing any positive merits toward our salvation from and forgiveness of sins. Sin stains everything. As the prophet Isaiah said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6).” Therefore we require God’s grace. We need God to give us spiritual life (John 3:3-8), to free us from our slavery to sin (John 8:35-36), to give us faith (Ephesians 2:8), and to give us repentance (Acts 11:18). We bring nothing to our salvation. Salvation is from God alone. To pretend otherwise robs God of his glory and only serves to demonstrate the complete sinfulness of anyone who thinks they can bring any spiritual good before God as a contribution to their salvation.