Sin

Sin is a subject upon which there are widespread misunderstandings. There is a great variation in the teaching of religious men upon it. Preachers say very contradictory things about it. The greatest cause of this is the lack of a definite standard. The absence of such a standard leads to endless confusion and contradiction. There can be no agreement unless there is first an invariable definition. I have seen men who agreed in principle, but who, because of a lack of definite, invariable definitions of the terms they were using, would argue for hours and could reach no common understanding. One of my present tasks, therefore, will be to supply such an invariable definition. The Scriptures speak upon the subject in no uncertain tone, and if we will but "rightly divide the Word of truth," we may proceed with certainty to our conclusions.

There are many who teach a life free from sin. They say that the Christian is not a sinner; that instead of working evil, he works righteousness. Those who have a different standard of sin condemn them for thus teaching, and say that they are raising an impossible standard and are making Pharisees of the people. There are others who teach that we sin more or less very day in word, thought, and deed, and that there can be no higher standard of Christian life or Christian attainment. As an example of this teaching, I quote from a book published by the American Tract Society. The quotations below are from "Prayers for Family Worship." I quote only the prayer for sin.

"MORNING FAMILY PRAYER"

"Hear thou us, ... forgiving our sins ... guard us; through this day and keep us from evil."

"EVENING FAMILY PRAYER"

"We beseech thee to forgive the sins we have committed this day, and wherein we have omitted duties or have failed in any way, do thou mercifully pardon, ... take from us all love of sinning."

"SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER"

"We confess, O Lord, our many sins and transgressions. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. Amid the affairs of this world we have forgotten thee. Give unto us true repentance. Forgive our sins."

"SUNDAY EVENING PRAYER"

"Pardon in they mercy the sins that mingle with all our worship and service."

It would be utterly astonishing to think of anyone's making this the standard of Christian life did we not know that it comes from the lack of a Biblical definition of sin. If a man who knows what sin really is should use that formula of prayer, he would deliberately insult God and his own reason. What sinner could do worse than indulge in the sins therein mentioned? What sinner's life is more culpable?

The Bible says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (I John 3:9). According to its teaching Christians are not sinners, and sinners are not Christians. We are therefore brought face to face with the question, What is sin?

Evil and Moral Evil

We need to make a clear distinction between evil and moral evil. Animals can do evil, but not moral evil. Animals can destroy property or even human life, and that is a great evil, but for them it is not a moral evil. Only moral beings can do moral acts, either good or bad. The feelings, desires, and acts of animals cannot possess a moral quality, inasmuch as they possess no moral nature. Their acts, however evil in their nature, cannot be sin. All their activities are unmoral, that is, they have no moral quality whatever and cannot be judged by any moral standard. Man, however, is a moral being; therefore his acts are either moral or immoral; that is, if they involve the question of morality at all. In the common acts of life the question of morality does not ordinarily enter, our acts being on the same plane as those of the animal; that is, when we eat, drink, walk, run, play, laugh, etc., no moral principle is involved, and therefore the acts are not moral in their nature, but unmoral. Being only the natural and lawful functioning of our being, they have no moral quality. They are neither good or bad, considered alone. Let us hold in mind throughout the further consideration of this subject the distinction here drawn between evil and moral evil.

Two Standards of Sin

There are two standards of sin, or two standards from which moral action is considered and judged. One is the absolute standard. Judged by it, whatever contains moral evil of any sort is sin. Any violation of the principles of the moral law, no matter how slight and no matter under what circumstances, is sin. Whether the person has any knowledge of the right or wrong of the act, whether he does it willfully or accidentally, whether consciously or in unconsciousness, matters not; it is a violation of moral principle and is therefore sin. The other standard is that of imputed sin. Paul tells us that sin is not imputed where there is no law. This standard takes into consideration all the circumstances surrounding the case and having to do with it, no matter how slight their bearing upon it. The state of the individual, his knowledge, his intentions, and all other accidents of the case have their bearing under this standard and must be taken into consideration in determining the guilt. These thoughts will be further enlarged later on.

Four Laws for Man as Standards of Sin

There are two kinds of moral law. One is the subjective, or that primitive knowledge of right and wrong which God has implanted in mankind and which is the basis of the action of conscience in those who have no revelation and possibly to some extent is operative in those who have a revelation. The other is objective law, or direct revelation of God's will.

There are, or have been, four different laws by which God has judged sin. Some one of these has made men responsible to his Creator in each age of the world. There is, first, that subjective law which the heathen are under - sometimes called "the law of conscience." Contrasting it with the law which was given by revelation, Paul says, "For as many as have sinned without the law shall perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another" (Romans 2:12, 14, 15). This primitive subjective law, supplemented by their reason, was a sufficient law to establish in their minds the standard of righteousness. It is the law that the heathen are under. They have no direct revelation of God, but they are not excusable in doing evil. That "inner light" of reason and conscience gives them a standard. Imperfect it may be, yet it is real. Judged by that standard, their conduct is either right or wrong so far as moral quality is involved in action.

Another law is the revealed law under which people lived from Adam to Moses. At various times God has revealed himself to the race or to members of the race in various ways, and these revelations, so far as they were known, became to men laws under which they were to live. To Adam and his posterity, God revealed the true principles of righteousness. Of the limits of this law we know very little at the present time. It was, however, sufficient to make them morally responsible to God, and by it they will be judged in the last day.

To Moses God gave a while code of laws for the governing of Israel and those strangers who might abide with them. It was a more complete law than any that had preceded it; it revealed more broadly and more fully the principles of righteousness. It was, however, only temporary in its nature, leading up to the gospel.

Since the coming of our Lord and his sacrifice on Calvary, the gospel has been the standard for all men, so far as they have been brought under its teaching and influence It is the highest and most perfect revelation of moral principles that has ever been given to man or that will be given him in his earthly state. By it all who hear it will be judged in the last day.

Sin Under the Old Testament

Under the Old Testament there was an absolute standard of sin. All violation of the law, no matter of what nature nor under what circumstances, was imputed as sin, except in some specific instances. Sometimes a person had to violate one law in order to keep from violating another, as for instance, when a priest did servile work on the Sabbath in offering the sacrifices as commanded. In such and similar cases the person was not counted guilty. Ordinarily, however, all breaking of the law, no matter of what nature, was considered sin. Whether it was done willfully or ignorantly, purposely or accidentally, it brought guilt upon the individual. "Every transgression ... received a just recompense of reward" (Hebrews 2:2), says Paul. Not only was this true of those willful transgressions which were so common among the Israelites and which drew down the vengeance of God upon them so frequently, but it was also true of the sins of ignorance and their "unwitting" sins. Of these sins of ignorance we read: "And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning thing which ought not to be done, and be guilty; or if his sin, which he has sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering ... for the sin which he hath sinned" (Leviticus 4:27, 28). In Numbers 15:27, 28, we read: "If any soul sin through ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him." Practically the same thing is said of the whole congregation of Israel in Leviticus 4:13-15 and Numbers 15:22-26. Nor were the priest and the ruler forgotten. Provision was made for their cleansing from the sins of ignorance (see Leviticus 4:3, 22-23).

Thus, we observe that there was no excuse made for sin, but that a man became guilty of sin if he violated any of the precepts of the law. That law did not take into consideration any of the circumstances attending the act. It judged the act as an act, and the man was either condemned or approved because of the act. If he kept the law, he lived by keeping it; if he broke it, the penalty must be reaped.

Two Classes of Sin

Considered from the standpoint of the nature, there were two classes of sin under the old covenant. One class were those sins which involved the violation of moral principles. These were such as adultery, murder, lying, theft, and the like. They were such things as in their nature are wrong regardless of whether there is a law that forbids them. The other class of sins were ceremonial sins, such as breaking the law of the Sabbath, eating unclean meat, the neglect of any of the ceremonies commanded, and, in fact, any violation of the ceremonial law. The Israelites might neglect some of the holy days or the ceremonies of purification, or omit some of the feasts, but no matter what they did or omitted to do that broke the ceremonial law, the violation was a ceremonial sin and they had to make the atonement for it the same as for those moral evils which they might do. This twofold classification of sin as relates to its nature we must keep in mind if we are to understand the Old Testament, or if we are to compare its teaching with that of the New Testament and see the two in their true relation.

Two Times of Guilt

Under the Mosaic law there was one class of sin of which the individual became immediately guilty, and another of which he did not become guilty until he learned of the sin. Of the first class we have an account in Leviticus 6:1-7. These were such sins as the transgressor knew to be sins when he committed the acts. He sinned against knowledge and therefore became immediately guilty. The other class were those sins done ignorantly and unwittingly. Of these we read in Leviticus 5:3-6, 10, 13, 17-19. I quote verses 17-19: "And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity ... And the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass-offering. He hath certainly trespassed against the Lord." Of this class of sins it is said, "When he knoweth of it, then shall he be guilty" (verse 3). The same is repeated in verse 4.

These two types of guilt, immediate and deferred, we must keep in mind if we are to understand the difference between sin in the Old Testament and sin in the New, for the New Testament regards no such classification. The standards of sin being different, we should naturally expect the language concerning sin to be different in the two Testaments; so unless we observe this difference of standards, we cannot make the proper distinction between teachings of the two books, nor have a clear understanding on the subject of sin.

Three Classes of Sin

As relates to guilt, there were three classes of sin under the Old Testament. The first class consisted of presumptuous or high-handed sins. These were the grosser sins, as murder, blasphemy, adultery, and others of like nature. For these there was no forgiveness. He who sinned presumptuously, or despised God's commandment and sinned "with a high hand," had to meet the death penalty. The only question was his guilt; if that was once established, the penalty must be inflicted. The next class were sins willful in their nature, though less serious than the former. They were such as lying, stealing, swearing, cheating, and sins of a like nature. They were forgivable. There were certain penalties attached, but not the death penalty. They were forgiven if proper atonement was made. The third class was ignorant or unwitting sins, and these also were forgivable. The acts were sins and brought guilt whether the will was involved or not, yes, even if they were accidental or unavoidable. (It might be noted here that accidental defilement when not known became sin when known, probably because the person had omitted the prescribed cleansing when cleansing was required and had perhaps done things when so defiled that were forbidden to the unclean. Such uncleanness was not ordinarily sinful. See Leviticus 11:24, 25, 31, 39, 40). This classification of sins is not extended into the New Testament.

Imperfect Standard of Sin in Old Testament

In speaking of the old covenant, Paul said that it was weak and faulty, and that it was because of this that God took it out of the way and gave us a better one. Because of its weak and faulty nature, it was not fitted to be a permanent standard. It was not based on exact standards of justice and could not be under the circumstances. The Israelites had not yet developed to a state of spiritual or moral understanding that would render it possible to reveal to them such a law as the New Testament. It was necessary first to develop in them a sense of holiness and purity. This they possessed in some degree, but in a very low degree. A perfect standard, therefore, would have been too high for their attainment, and would have defeated its own end. For this reason it was necessary for God to give them a less perfect standard, that he might develop them and bring them to the point to receive this higher standard which he had for all the race.

To develop in them this sense of holiness and purity, he hedged them around with all sorts of restrictions, things which seem to us entirely unnecessary and which would be unnecessary to people as highly developed in knowledge as we are. The division of meats into clean and unclean was a great step in this direction. The ceremonial defilement produced by touching a dead body or an unclean thing, or by being a leper or having some other unclean disease, went far to establish in their minds the idea of holiness. Under the New Testament we have no such distinctions, there being no need of them; but they were absolutely necessary to bring Israel to understand the meaning of holiness and purity. The New Testament standard is based on the true principles of right and justice; it contains no such arbitrary elements. Right is right because it is right, and wrong is wrong because it violates some principle of right.

Again, the old law was a civil as well as a moral law, and so many things it had to be of an arbitrary nature. The New Testament law is fundamentally a moral law, with but few ceremonial observances added. It leaves to the civil powers the making and enforcing of civil laws. Sin under the old covenant was of necessity a very different thing in many respects from sin under the New Testament. It was to emphasize this distinction that I have gone so far into the subject and given such a lengthy analysis. It all leads upward to a correct understanding of the New Testament view of sin.

Explanation of Old Testament Texts

The distinction of the various kinds of sin already made will help us to explain some texts in the Old Testament that point out man as a sinner all through life. It is a mistake to bring them over to New Testament times and apply them to the New Testament standard of life. They were meant for the Old Testament and its standard of life and sin, and have no relation whatever to the New. Such texts as "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20) and "There is no man that sinneth not" (I Kings 8:46), ought never to be applied to the question of sin as relates to us today. Few men besides the priests were acquainted with the law sufficiently to know when they were doing some things forbidden by it. There were few copies of the law outside of the temple and the synagogues. Certain ones said contemptuously in the time of Christ, "This people who knoweth not the law are cursed." They were likely to commit sins of ignorance at any time; especially were they likely to violate the ceremonial law or to be contaminated by some uncleanness. Not only did they have to make atonement for themselves every now and then as individuals, but atonement had to be made on the great Day of Atonement every year for the whole nation. These and similar texts must be understood as relating to their time and situation.

David said: "I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found" (Psalms 32:5, 6). I used to wonder why the godly were the ones who confessed their sins and asked for forgiveness, but since getting a clear view of Old Testament sins, I understand. It was natural that those who had a conscience toward god should be the ones most likely to confess their sins and to pray for forgiveness. Those who were less conscientious and less godly would be inclined to be indifferent if they did violate some of the commands of God. They would not be so careful to keep the ceremonial law, and infractions of it would not mean so much to them as to the godly; the godly would pray, while the others would not.

We turn now to the New Testament, and in it we shall find a simpler and truer standard.

Sin Under the New Testament

Sin is dealt with in the New Testament from a different angle from that from which it is viewed in the Old Testament. In the New Testament sin is not considered from the absolute standpoint. Sin is imputed only on the principles of justice. A man is imputed guilty only when he sins in a manner that makes him fully responsible for the act. A thing is not imputed as sin simply because it is an infraction of a perfect moral standard; various modifying circumstances are considered and each given its due weight. The New Testament does not recognize any ceremonial sin. It defines sin as moral evil, and that alone. It does not classify meats and animals as clean and unclean, nor regard any form of disease as rendering one spiritually unclean. It takes no note of uncleanness except uncleanness of the moral faculties and of the acts that flow from such moral uncleanness. Ceremonial sin has no place whatever in the gospel economy. In the Old Testament there was a remedy provided, so that those who became unclean or sinned ceremonially might be cleansed; but under the new covenant we find no such provision made for such cleansing. The only ceremonial cleansing found in the New Testament is baptism, and that is "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh" nor any ceremonial uncleanness, but has its reference distinctly and altogether to moral impurity.

In the New Testament there is no such thing as accidental sin nor unwitting sin. Its definition of sin includes nothing of this kind. It is quite true that many present-day teachers do include such in their definition of sin, but this is incorrect and out of harmony with the teachings of the Scripture. Under the gospel, nothing but moral evil, that is, that which involves the moral nature of man, is sin. To be guilty of a moral evil, man's moral faculties must be involved.

Definition of Moral Evil

A moral evil is any act or attitude that disrupts or disturbs the moral relation of moral beings or that sets up antagonism between them. All moral creatures naturally have certain rights and privileges, such as the right to have life, liberty, happiness, to possess what is theirs, etc; and the moral relation of such beings is such that all these rights and privileges of each individual can be maintained undisturbed. Anything that encroaches on the moral rights of another, whether that other be God or a fellow being, is sin. Whenever we willfully wrong our fellow man in anything, we sin against him and also against God. The normal state of all moral beings is one of moral correspondence and harmonious relation, so that the full rights of each is conserved and the highest happiness and good of all maintained. Sin is a thing of relation. It is not a question of the intrinsic value of the act. To blaspheme a God whom we know exists in name only, cannot be sin; for it cannot change our relation, and when there is no change of relation, there can be no sin. If we were to blaspheme God, it would be sin, because it would be doing him an injustice and robbing him of the respect and reverence due him, and would create a discordant relation, for which we would be to blame.

What Gives Quality To Action

The moral quality of an act down not depend upon its wisdom, its timeliness, nor its success. In the responsible, moral sense, quality never lies in the act itself considered alone, nor in the results that flow from it. Acts that are identical may, and often do, differ greatly in moral significance. We must invariably go back of the act to find it quality. Sin lies always in the will, and never in the act. It is intent that gives moral value to an act; it is intent only that can make the act morally good or bad. Whatever is done with pure intent cannot be a moral wrong; whatever is done with a wrong purpose cannot be morally good, no matter what it may be. This fact is clearly stated in Romans 14:5, 6 - "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." Here we find people doing exactly opposite things, but in each case the intent is to please the Lord. One regards the day because he believes the Lord is pleased that he should do so; the other disregards it because he feels that God does not desire him to regard it. One "eateth to the Lord," that is, he gives God thanks and receives with appreciative heart the meat as being from the Lord; the other "eateth not," since he feels that God desires him not to do so; he abstains with the purpose of pleasing God. Here is proof absolute that the quality of the act depends, not upon the nature of the act itself, but upon the intent aback of it.

The man who looks to lust is as truly guilty as if the deed were done. The doing or not doing of the act does not change the moral value of the intent. If I purpose in my heart to do that which is wrong, I am guilty though the act is never committed. Circumstances may prevent my performing the act, but they cannot render me innocent. If I plan to commit murder and then fail in some way or have no opportunity to carry out my evil designs, I am nevertheless a murderer. There is a difference, however, between the sinful intent and the finished act: there is guilt in both cases, but the finished act involves others and affects them in a way that a mere intent cannot. Therefore in this sense it is worse to do sin than it is merely to will to do it. He who plans murder but does not commit the deed does not have upon his conscience the blood of the victim, neither is the person deprived of his life, neither is the community shocked by a terrible crime. Guilt there is, to be sure, and it differs not in quality but only in degree from that which comes from the completed act.

Since, therefore, the New Testament judges the intent instead of the act, there can be no such thing as accidental sin. Sin is ever willful; hence nothing can be sin except that which involves the will in a wrong way, but when the will becomes so involved, there is sin whether the purpose ever becomes translated into act or not.

What Gives Quality to Intent

The child desires to do things and does them and knows no reason why he should not do so. The enlightened person desires to do and does even though he knows a good reason why he should not so do. The one is innocent, the other guilty. Both transgress, but only one is imputed guilty. It is knowledge that gives quality to intent. The acts of a child can possess no moral quality, for there is no knowledge, which alone supplies the data for choice. His relation with God is passive and his acts, no matter what they are, do not affect it. The relation of the adult is active so far only as his knowledge goes, but thus far it is affected wholly by the acts or choices of his will, and every act into which choice enters affects that relation; but accident, things done in delirium or sleep, or through misapprehension, cannot affect him morally, since they do not involve the will or choice in a morally wrong way.

These truths are clearly set forth in the New testament. Paul says, "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Again, he says, "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (chapter 7:7). In verse 13 it is clearly shown that knowledge brings guilt. He says, "That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." In chapter 4:15 he says, "Where no law is, there is no transgression," and in chapter 5:13 he says, "But sin is not imputed when there is no law." In other words, a person can be responsible for his acts and become guilty thereby only as he has knowledge of the quality of those acts. It is knowledge of the righteous principles involved that brings him to the place where he can intelligently set as a moral being, where he can choose between right and wrong in a manner to make him responsible for that choice. Paul says that "without the law sin was dead," that is powerless. He continues, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:9). The coming of the commandment means the coming of it to his understanding. He became enlightened by the commandment, and that changed his relations entirely. Through the coming of the commandment, sin, which had been dead, or powerless, revived, and the "I," who had been "alive without the law," died because of the knowledge that the law brought him. He says elsewhere, "The strength of sin is the law" (I Corinthians 15:56). The law gave a knowledge of the moral quality of acts and of purposes; gave a standard of right and wrong. Responsibility to that standard became immediate. This responsibility gave sin its opportunity. The child chooses to do many things in his unenlightened state that are in themselves violations of the moral law, but sin is not imputed to him, since he is not in a position to choose from moral considerations. He considers only his desires. He can consider nothing else, for he knows nothing else. Until he is enlightened, there can be no quality in choice; but as soon as he becomes enlightened, choice at once has quality, and his purposes then become either good or bad.

When Sin Is Imputed

Sin is imputed only when there is involved the active or passive consent of the will to do wrong. In the last analysis, sin is always rebellion against God. It is choosing and willing that which we believe to be wrong, to be contrary to God's will or law. Nothing else is sin or can be sin under the New Testament definition. Sin always involves intentionality. It is always a choice of that which is believed to be wrong, and always discloses a wrong attitude of the heart toward the right. The choosing of the evil may be done without consideration, or it may be done after consideration, but in either case the act is the result of choosing evil. Sometimes we do things with a good intent, and they do not turn out as we expect them to do. Sometimes we feel bad over the outcome, but we should not condemn ourselves as having sinned. God does not look at the outcome; he looks at the purpose. It is only when choice rebels against what we believe to be the will of God that we become sinners.

Sometimes there is a twofold intent in action - an immediate intent and one more remote. We may desire to see something accomplished that would be very good, and we purpose to do that good thing, but in choosing means to the end, we may choose that which is evil. This involves two choices - the choice of the end (remote choice) and the choice of the means by which that end is to be attained (immediate choice). Sometimes it is held that the end justifies the use of wrong means, or that it is lawful to attain the end by the use of any means. This is untrue. Both the immediate and the remote choice must be good, or sin is involved. Speaking on this point, Paul says, "For if the truth of God hath abounded through my lie unto his glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner, and not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil that good may come?" (Romans 5:7,8). Here he plainly teaches that even though the object aimed at is good, if the means used are improper, a person is judged as a sinner. To do evil that good may come is evil in the sight of the Lord. All intent, therefore, that enters into action must be pure.

Effects of Sin

Sin affects moral relation and conscience, both or either. When moral relations are affected, these relations must be restored; and when conscience is affected, it must be satisfied. Acts sometimes involve the conscience when they do not change the moral relation nor violate any principle of righteousness; that is, a person may do certain things in good faith, not questioning their moral quality, either before or at the time of acting, but supposing them to be right, and afterward may come to consider them wrong. In such a case God does not impute the acts as sin, though the person may sometimes feel as though he had sinned. To restore the spiritual repose under such circumstances, it is necessary only to satisfy the conscience. When moral relations are disturbed by transgressions, there must be such repentance and reconciliation as will fully restore these relations, at least so far as the transgressor and God are concerned. If fellow men are involved, they may refuse to be reconciled, but in such a case the sinner is clear when he has done his part to effect such reconciliation.

Three Ways to Sin

Under the New Testament there are three ways, and only three, to commit sin. These include everything that God counts sin. The first way is by the willful transgression of a known divine law. John says, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). When we give the consent of our will to do that which we know to be wrong, we sin. As already pointed out, things done by accident, under compulsion, or in any way except where the will is involved, where the will chooses to do that which it knows to be wrong, are not now imputed as sin.

The second way to sin is thus expressed by James: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). This implies a refusal to do what we know we ought to do. Such a refusal involves the will. Things left undone through lack of knowledge of duty are not sin; things omitted because there is not power to do them is not sin. It is implied that we could do if we would, but that we refuse to do, that the not doing is because off choosing not to do, and not from any other cause.

The third way of sinning is by violating the conscience or by doing that which we believe to be wrong, outside of the things commanded in the Bible. Paul lays down the principle covering this when he says, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything unclean, to him it is unclean" (Romans 14:14). Again, he says, "All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense" (verse 20). "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned [condemned] if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (verses 22, 23). According to the principle already laid down, an act is right or wrong according as the choice involved is right or wrong, and not according to the intrinsic value of the act itself. If we believe a thing to be wrong morally, no matter whether the Bible says anything about it or not, and we choose that thing, our choice is involved in a wrong way and becomes evil; and therefore the deed, since it gets its quality from choice, becomes evil.

These are the only three ways in which a person can sin according to the New Testament. In every case where sin is imputed, the act must be willful; that is, a wrong or supposed wrong must be deliberately chosen. Nothing else is sin or can be. All conduct must be judged by this rule; it is the only true standard. It is an accurate and true standard, and never varies in its application.

The testimony of those who say that they are Christians,�but that they sin more or less every day, implies one of two things - either that they are willingly and willfully disobedient, and could obey if they would but do not do so from choice, or that God demands of them what they are unable to do even with the grace that he gives. Either is a serious charge, reflecting severely on man or God. If man can do right and will not, he becomes exceedingly sinful. He is an outright rebel, setting up his will before the will of God. If he says that God demands too much of him and that try as he will, using all the grace that God gives, he is still unable to be obedient, then he charges God foolishly. He charges God with being unjust; for God would be highly unjust if he should require of us that which we could not do. The man who says that he is a Christian and then admits he sins more or less every day, must take one or the other of the horns of this dilemma. Let him look this subject squarely in the face; let him consider it in all its bearings; and then let him look up into the face of God and say whether he can be a Christian and sin in view of these facts, that is, whether he can continue sinning and at the same time continue to be a Christian.

When Christians Sin

The normal Christian life has already been illustrated from the Scriptures. It is not needful to repeat that here. I will, however, call attention to the picture drawn by Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans: "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. But now being made free from sin, and become servants unto God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (verses 11-14, 18, 22). This is positive and explicit, and needs only to be read with care.

It is true that in this world we are surrounded by temptations and may sin at any time; but if we do sin, we are at once brought under condemnation. There is but one way to be absolved, and that is by repentance and confession. If we sin, God will never forget it; the record will not fade out of his book of remembrance; time will neither condone it nor remove its guilt. God's "mercy endureth forever," but mercy ripens into forgiveness only when there is penitence and confession. Impenitence greatly aggravates sin. It causes the heart to be hardened and finally to be set in an attitude of stubbornness and rebellion. Many times people sin and think that they will repent in some revival meeting some time later, and be restored to God. This is utter folly. Repentance should be immediate. Neglect is always a form of rebellion. When a Christian sins, the Spirit immediately tries to bring him to repentance. If he refuses or neglects to repent, he is holding himself in a sinful attitude and may thus greatly increase his sin. God is kind and merciful. He desires a reconciliation as much and even more than is possible for us to desire it. When one has sinned, the thing to do is to come to God in open-hearted confession. Form a habit of being open-hearted with God, of being on familiar terms with him. Treat him as you would your very dearest friend. He will always have mercy on our sins if we will be truly penitent and seek him with all our hearts. He has said, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: and he it he propitiation for our sins" (I John 2:1, 2).