About sins

Keith Giles formulates well why many people turn away from church. He writes (source): “It’s quite disturbing to me that so many Christian churches today are continually fixated on how sinful we all are. They constantly remind us that we are unworthy and that our sins are filthy and that this keeps us separated from God.” In another blog post (Seven reasons why Jesus was not sacrificed for your sins) he goes further and writes that “One of the lynchpins of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory [PSA] is that Jesus had to die on the cross to fulfill God’s requirement for a worthy sacrifice that could atone the sins of mankind once and for all”. In a theological fight against the idea of atonement he gives a list of Bible verses that turn it ad absurdum. I personally think that Keith is getting a bit too hot there. Which is an example of how the Bible can be interpreted in very controversial ways. Theology is an eternal wayfare in boggy lands!

Let’s start with some definitions.


An act that is forbidden and punishable by civil law.


An act, statement, thought, attitude, belief, behaviour that is against divine law, against the Will of God.

A sin is something where you are wrong and where you should repent, i.e. change your mind, amend your deeds, revoke your statement

original sin

A sin committed by humanity in general.

Jews and Christians illustrate it in the story of Adam and Eve in Eden where they disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Theologians have characterized it in many ways, ranging from “a slight deficiency”, or a “tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt”, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through “collective guilt”. (via Wikipedia)

Gene Veith writes (in The Doctrine of Original Sin as an Essential American Conviction): “Among the characteristics of those religious dissidents who settled at Plymouth was a strong belief in original sin–that is, a sense that evil is innate, pervasive, internal, and systemic, that human beings have a tendency to aggrandize themselves and to harm each other.”

personal sin

Something that an individual human does wrong, against the Will of God. In contrast to original sin.


The fact of being responsible for a crime.

The word sin is sometimes mixed up with the notion of guilt. But they are not the same because you can commit a sin without knowing it, or you can know about your sin without finding a way to change it.

Recognizing sins

Only God knows whether something is a sin or not. But in our desire to avoid sins, we try to define rules for recognizing them. Some examples:

A sin is when you hurt one or many other humans.

A sin is to turn the mirror of one’s heart away from God.

Classifying sins

We differentiate between individual sins (committed by a single person) and collective sins (committed by a group of persons).

  • Which aspect triggers the reaction of others (behaviour, statements, attitude, …)

  • Which law is being offended (civil? moral? natural? …)

  • Who suffers (the sinner himself? somebody else? many others? …)

  • How severe is the problem? How big is the damage done?

  • How much personal responsibility the sinner has.