Sin is a word most of us use for something morally wrong, perhaps evil. But what exactly is sin? How do we know when something is sinful? What does this imply?
Instinctively, we act as though sin is independent of human opinion; when we identify sin, we see it as morally wrong for all people of all time, regardless what others believe, think or feel. For example, those who find racism, slavery or oppression of women morally wrong apply this to all cultures across all time, imposing their view as if it is a universal, timeless standard, even when those of other cultures and times don’t agree.
If our instincts are correct, that moral duty is independent of human opinion, that it’s universal and timeless, we’re recognizing a moral standard that’s not man-made, and that sin is the violation of this standard. This implies a transcendent, metaphysical reality; a moral law Giver: God. We’re evidently made in His image, instinctively identifying a universal standard defining good and evil, unable to live any other way.
So, if our instincts imply that sin is breaking God’s Law, violating God’s moral standard, it should not come as any real surprise that God defines it this way. (1Jn 3:4) If we neglect, dismiss or alter any part of His standard, we get the definition wrong and encourage sin.
Our problem in society is that we don’t agree with each other on what this universal standard is. Rather than asking God to reveal His definition of sin to us, giving ourselves to understanding God’s Way and aligning ourselves with Him, we make up our own definition of sin as we go, as if we are God.
Yet God has only one standard, and He has publicly revealed it in Torah. It applies to everyone (Mt 5:19); in breaking any part of it, we break it all, as a whole. (Ja 2:10)
Ultimately, sin isn’t about how we feel, or what we think is good or bad, or what society says. It’s about what God says.
Our conscience is the part of us which reacts to moral behavior, seeing right and wrong in the actions of both ourselves and others, condemning what we think is sinful and approving what we think is good. It makes us feel shame and guilt when we think we’re sinning, and wrath, indignation, disdain and contempt as we judge others. Our conscience isn’t defining sin itself, any more than a thermometer makes things hot or cold; the conscience is just a detector, and it can be broken in more ways than one.
When we don’t listen to God and study His standard for ourselves, the enemy wars against us, easily convincing us that some things are sinful which aren’t, and that other things aren’t sinful which are. This results in a weakening of our conscience (Ro 14:2), and as we act against a weak conscience we further corrupt and defile it. (1Co 8:7) As we continue to let the enemy deceive us, our conscience can eventually become seared (1Ti 4:2), no longer properly responding to moral behavior at all.
To be healthy in God, we must continually exercise ourselves (Ac 24:16) to keep our conscience clean (He 10:22), constantly washing our mind and heart in the Word of God (Ep 5:26), through which the blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from thought patterns which lead to sin and death. (He 9:14) We hide His laws in our heart (Ps 119:11) and meditate on them all the time (Ps 1:2), so that we can have a conscience that is good, working properly to identify sin and holiness. (1Pe 3:16) This is, in fact, the goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5)