What is sin?

Presbyterians believe that sin is more than bad behavior and immorality. We are not sinful people because we commit acts of sin. Rather, we commit acts of sin because we are sinful. Sin is not just what we do; sin is what we are. It is a state of being separate from God. When we are not in relationship with God, all our other relationships suffer, and we are likely to commit acts that hurt others and cause divisions in and among communities.

We believe that we were created whole, to live at peace with God and with each other. That perfect relationship was broken by humanity’s first act of rejecting God. When the first humans severed their fellowship with God, sin entered the world. Today, sin continues to enslave us.

How do we recognize sin?

Presbyterians believe that God revealed through Scripture how we are to live. Jesus summarized the laws and commandments of God in the Great Commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). When we are honest with ourselves, we know that none of us comes close to living up to this commandment. The apostle Paul, one of the earliest teachers and preachers, wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is a state of being against which we constantly struggle.

Presbyterians believe that we reveal our sinfulness when we act in ways which fail to reflect a loving, trusting relationship with God and with our fellow human beings. Because sin stems not from our actions but from our very being, our sinfulness is pervasive, and we cannot escape it on our own. Even our best actions are tainted by self-interest and the desire for praise and recognition.

If even our best actions are tainted by sin, then what can we do about sin?

Presbyterians do not believe that we are unable to do good deeds. On the contrary, we believe that God’s creation is good—even humankind. Human beings demonstrate many gracious acts of charity, heroism, and moral virtue. Yet, no matter how noble our actions and efforts might be, there is not a single aspect of our thoughts, our words, and our deeds which is not touched by sin, because our very being is estranged from God.

So, try as we might, we human beings cannot escape the sinfulness which separates us from God. We believe, therefore, that our only hope of being freed from sin comes not from ourselves, but from God.