Hebrews 9:22 says that without shedding of blood there will be no remission of sin. It started after Adam and Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. God clothed their nakedness with animal skin (Genesis 3:21). That system of animal sacrifice as a temporary covering for sin would last for about four thousand years. But it was all just a symbol, a foreshadowing of the time when God would send His own perfect and spotless Lamb to die once and for all. But what is sin? Do we all decide that for ourselves, or does the Bible definite it specifically? And what is it about sin that is so serious that it requires death to atone for it?
What is Sin?
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”Proverbs 14:12
On the day our Lord Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate asked Him a rhetorical question. “What is truth?” The irony of Pilate asking a question about truth to Jesus Who IS the Truth is pretty intense. Pilate walked away without an answer showing that he neither understood nor regarded that there was such thing as an absolute truth that could be known. In our society today, many are asking the same question about sin. “What is sin?”
Even mainstream churches these days seem to disagree about what actually constitutes sin. Is it a sin to be LGBTQ or transgender? Or is it a sin to refuse to accept people with those labels into a congregation? Is it a sin to affirm alternative lifestyles? Or is it a sin to reject those lifestyles and suggest that people can and should change? Among those who all carry the same label of “Christian,” there is a pretty serious disconnect about what sin means. There are those who, like Pilate, believe that absolute truth can’t be known. For the rest, we look to the Bible for the definition of sin.
Sin is Transgression of the Law
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”1 John 3:4
Strong’s Concordance translates the Greek word hamartánō (ἁμαρτάνω) as to “miss the mark” so as to “be without a share in.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin involves missing, or coming short, of the perfection of following God’s law. Where there is sin, there is no share in God (who is Life). Where there is sin, there is death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Law From Adam to Moses
God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a certain tree in the midst of the Garden. He gave a command, and the consequence for disobedience was clear in advance. God said of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, “You shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). One bite of the fruit opened their eyes and changed everything. From that moment, “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Romans 5:14) until the Mosaic Law would provide a system for atonement. The nature of humanity was now defiled. Romans 5:12 says, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Now that people knew the difference between good and evil, they would be held accountable for it. Romans 2:14-15 says, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” From Adam to Moses, transgression of the law meant disobeying God’s known will or violating one’s conscience.
The Law From Moses to Jesus
In God’s time, some 2,500 years later, God brought Moses to Mt. Sinai and spelled out His law, the Ten Commandments. He spoke them audibly, wrote them on tablets, and commanded that they be kept inside the Ark of the Covenant. He also gave Moses the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah. In it, there were some 613 specific rules and ordinances for the Israelites to follow in every area of life. These would be proof that they were set apart for God (Exodus 19:5-6), a guard against sin (Galatians 3:3), and a tutor to teach humanity its need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24).
But with explicit rules comes both accidental and willful rule-breaking. Sin earned death, and someone had to pay. So the Mosaic Law also included detailed instructions for how to atone (make up) for breaking those commandments through a direct system of animal sacrifice. But the death of innocent animals only provided a temporary blood covering. Each year on the Feast of Atonement, another sacrifice would have to be made. Hebrews 10:1 says, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.”
The Law After Jesus
The law after Jesus is a culmination of the laws of all time. Before God gave the Ten Commandments, the known will of God and the conscience determined sin. After God gave the Ten Commandments and made a covenant with the Israelites, people were held to the letter of that law. They also followed rules and ordinances that dealt with the flesh that were shadows of spiritual concepts God was trying to teach. When Jesus came, the New Covenant focused on the spirit of the law. Physical circumcision was replaced with circumcision of the heart, for example.
Plus, now it would no longer be enough to keep from breaking God’s commandments such as “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Now one must refrain from even thinking about sex outside of the covenant of biblical marriage as well (Matthew 5:27-28). In fact, 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we must now live by “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
The New Covenant
But the New Covenant isn’t just about following rules, both physically and mentally. It’s about laying down our lives, our thoughts, our desires, and our ways. It’s dying to self and living for the Christ who paid our sin debt in full. It’s about a relationship with the Living God. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
What the letter of the Mosaic Law did with death, Jesus would do with Life after His resurrection. 2 Corinthians 3:6b says, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Now, belief in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross is the is the only blood covering we need for sins. It sets us free once and forever from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). God gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32) and we are born again, not of flesh, but of Spirit. This is the only way we will see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). As completely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), we now hate the sin we used to love. We also have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to turn away from things that go against our conscience, the Ten Commandments, and the known will of God as revealed by His Holy Spirit and His Word.
What Does Sin Do?
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”Isaiah 59:2-3
But why is sin so bad that it requires death and blood to atone for it? What is it about a little white lie, wanting what others have, or having unforgiveness in our hearts that would require the death of an innocent animal, much less the death of a perfect, sinless Man who is God incarnate? Sin separates us from a perfect, holy God. Apart from grace and Jesus’ propitiation, there is no way we could stand in His presence. God can’t even look at wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). He is the High and Lofty One. He is holy (Isaiah 57:15). As His followers and those who would seek to be with Him both now and in eternity, we must also seek light and turn away from darkness. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Turn From Death to Life
Sin in transgression of the law, and the consequence of it is death. It separates us from a perfect, holy God. In the Age of Grace, we are under the New Covenant. We are saved by faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But if we believe that Jesus is Savior, we must live with Him as Lord. We must submit to Him in every area of our lives as revealed by our conscience, the Ten Commandments, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible (the known Word and will of God). Our identity is now replaced by His. Our lifestyle is now the one He shows us by His example.
Yet the Bible says that in the last days many will claim the name of Christ but deny the transformational power of God (2 Timothy 3:2-5). They will come as they are and expect to remain. But the blood of Jesus can only cover sins that are acknowledged as such (1 John 1:9). Those who choose to live in lawlessness like the world will die as the world dies. Hebrews 3:15 says, “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Today we must turn from our ways and turn toward His. We must turn from death to life.
If you like to look closely at scripture, try The Red Heifer is a Symbol of Jesus & Sanctification. Or, try 9 Reasons God Doesn’t Hear Our Prayers. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email inbox. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.