Any doctrine that relates to sin, is effected by our understanding and definition of sin. Most errors in theology can usually find their roots in a defective definition of sin. This I have found to be profoundly true.
If our definition of sin causes Christians to view things so differently, does this not imply that the problem resides in a faulty view of what sin really is? Circular reasoning makes for great arguments, but those that can differentiate between the facts, and the theories used to support those facts, will find themselves closer to common ground.
While it would be desirable to come outright with a definition to work from, I believe it will be of better use to the reader to see that any definition that is arrived at must be based upon an inductive study of all sorts concerning sin.
Much of the difficulty in defining sin is that there is no universal consensus as to what the nature of sin really is. Any definition given will no doubt be scrutinized and summarily rejected by some for this very reason. Even though an attempt will be made to arrive at a usable definition, I fear that many will either outright reject the definition because it does not meet their theological presuppositions, or that a singular definition does not do justice to the whole realm of what sin is.
Sin as an act is of more importance to us here and now. It is something that is in the realm of our responsibility, and as such, should be examined to see what, if anything can be done about it.
Sin, as an act, is defined by Wesley as “A willful transgression of a known law.” This holds to the elements in question. The idea that we gain by this is that sin, as an act of rebellion, requires that one understands that they are doing wrong.
Here is an example, my great grand father had over five wives and It wasn’t sin because of the laws that had their time and environment bound, it is sin to do so today (christianity)… So was my great grand father committing sin when he wasn’t??? Or does the definition of sin change from generation to generation?
The question is, did he sin? According to Wesley’s definition he did not, for it did not carry the essential elements. First, he did not know he was doing wrong. Secondly, he did not willfully violate his women.
Sin is a matter of the heart and intent, not necessarily the result of what occurred.
This gives us insight into many passages of Scripture such as in 1 Corinthians where a man was involved with incest. Paul, a Jew who knew the Law, was in a pagan land where they knew little or nothing of the Law. Paul constantly remarks with exasperation, “Did you not know?” This is how they could be carnal, yet obedient up to the light that they had about right and wrong. Once informed of the sinfulness of this act, Paul suggests that Church discipline be enacted as to “turn such a one over to Satan.” Luke records in Acts 17:30, that, “the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” God views mistakes and “sins” of ignorance differently than willful “high-handed” sins, which is to be seen throughout Scripture. “Sin” as an act is something that the Bible asserts is unavoidable.
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