Dying to Live by Bob Smith


Chapter Five

The Psychology of Sin

Understanding the concept of sin is basic to our understanding of ourselves, our insight into the problems that surround us in the world today, and most important of all, our knowledge of God. Through such understanding we are enabled to grasp the reason behind man's basic insecurity with its accompaniment on one hand of overwhelming feelings of inferiority or, on the other hand, the bluff and bluster of man's colossal conceit--the cover-up for insecurity.

As we understand sin, we also begin to understand man's insatiable quest for knowledge, originally God-given, which has become a misguided attempt on man's part to prove his own fancied self-sufficiency. "You will be as God" was the promise, the lying insinuation of Satan. Yet we are not independently self-sufficient as God is. God is still waiting patiently in the wings, still sovereign, still the author of life, still the great supplier of all our needs, still longing for us to come to our senses and acknowledge our utter dependence on him. In spite of all attempts to bolster our coming of knowledge, we still seem to ego through the know inherently that we have made a moral overdraft on our account, with insufficient funds to cover the debt--and that no amount of mere knowledge or intellect will supply the deficit. Man's ever learning and yet never coming to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. We know so much but understand so little. Yet we find it so hard to admit our spiritual poverty.

Old Testament Concepts

First let's consider the Old Testament words referring to sin. One of the Hebrew words for sin that is most frequently used is chatah, which means "to miss the right point" and describes those who have lost their way--who even with the best of intentions are still off the track. Another word, shalah, means "to err," that is, doing that which is not done--that which is unacceptable conduct. Two other words have the sense "to rebel"--the Hebrew pasha and marad.

Right away we can see that the Old Testament idea of sin recognizes a standard of acceptable behavior (specified by God) from which men depart. It's an easy step from there to an attitude of rebellion which brings with it a sense of guilt. Feelings of guilt are caused by departure from God's norm, attended by a sense of opposition to God, who has authority to call us to account.

In addition there is also the idea of acting in some degree of ignorance, implying a clouded mind incapable of assessing the consequences of unacceptable actions. Beyond this, the Hebrew concept of sin also includes the idea of uncleanness: Sin makes men polluted and unfit for fellowship with God, who is spotlessly holy.

So in the Old Testament concept of sin * we have these ideas:

Sin is missing the right point.

Sin is unacceptable conduct.

Sin is rebellion against authority.

Sin contains an element of ignorance.

Sin makes unclean.

* Much helpful material for this chapter has been gleaned from Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, 8 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-72).

Dying to Live

The net result for man is an uneasy sense of guilt and frustration--a sense of alienation from God and fear of facing him in life or in death. It's easy to see that these factors describe the common state of mankind, reflected by the unrest of his heart in the presence of God and the sense of frustration and futility which is our common lot.

It is not much of a step from this sense of futility to the current phenomenon of flagrant deviation from required norms and the ultimate repudiation of every norm--the swamp of moral relativism in which much of the world lives today. Our understanding of sin should give us insight into the current trends of thought and life if we are to supply genuine answers to the real needs of real people.

The Rock of Truth

In the midst of the confusion brought about by relativism, the revealed truth of the Bible tells of a God who sovereignly reigns, and against whose authority man only breaks himself. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible makes a valiant effort to show man the folly of missing the right point, whether in rebellion or in ignorance. No wonder it reveals the antidote to sin and guilt with pleading power and shows us how to be free from that feeling of dread which makes us want to flee from the greatness of God and our ultimate accountability to him.

But the sense of sin and guilt also has its useful side. Guilt is to the soul of man much like pain is to the body. It can be used by God to show us that we have violated not just human standards of conduct, the mores of man's making, but rather we have violated God's norms. The relative weight of sins in man's view is not the question--instead, we are "missing out" through life s frustrations because we have missed the point of God's plan. The true sense of sin and real guilt are God-given to lead us back to a right relationship with him. Thus the question is not how we missed the point, whether guilt is incurred through a mistake or in conscious rebellion. The result is still the same: guilty feelings and a sense of uncleanness, which must somehow be removed. In sinning there is always an element either of bad judgment or of outright rebellion which must be dealt with by God.

For example, at the beginning of the race, Eve was deceived and sinned while Adam sinned willfully: "...and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim. 2:14). Note that Eve is called a transgressor even though she was deceived. To set aside guilt, from whatever cause, requires the same atoning sacrifice even though outright rebellion may make us more culpable, for guilt is the debt incurred by acts of sin and somehow the debt must be paid off.

The Truth about Consequences

In the Scriptures the original pair is a picture preview of us all. We can all be trusted to act and react the same way they did. The consequences of sin are being lived out in our own experience in the same way as in the experience of the original pair. Looking from their experience to our own, we can discover these consequences:

An attempt to "cover up."
A tendency to shift any blame off ourselves.
A sense of guilt and unacceptability.
A desire to escape the consequences of our wrong acts.
A drive for knowledge to bolster our ego.
Attempts to pit our vaunted intellect against the knowledge
Operating from our own mind set and/or sensual drives.
Minds beset with the cold power of doubt, with its attendant insecurity.
Rejecting of any idea of uncritical obedience to revealed truth about God.
Flaunting of God's sovereign authority.
Being stuck with our own stupidity

Falling heir to all the frustration and futility of life without God, which is in reality the "walking death" inherited from Adam.

Living in a world of illusion.

Finding all the wrong answers to the right questions because we fail to see that, "...the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2:6), and "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight" (Prov. 9:10)

By believing the lie, we become slaves of the one we obey--dupes subject to Satanic power and influence.

Finally, we become God's critics.

Writing about the Genesis account of the entrance of sin into the race, Gottfried Tuell declares:

The narrator [of Genesis] consciously emphasizes the demonic nature of the thought which derives from doubt, which strives fanatically for knowledge and which for the sake of it tears down everything that would hamper it. He gives us to understand that a kind of alien power comes over the man who sins, which he must obey against his better judgment because it convinces him by its assured manner and its correspondence with his own feeling.

Because man seeks to be wise irrespective of God's authority, because he seeks to penetrate behind the thoughts of God and to anticipate them, because he not only wills to do this but is able to do so within certain limits, a sphere of mistrust is opened up in which it is possible and tempting for man to renounce the attitude appropriate to him as a creature, to regard the creator with criticism and to think and act as himself God, unhampered, and responsible only to himself. *

* In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 8 vols., ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-72). Used by permission.

Tracking Down the Greek

Our understanding of the psychology of sin can be further enhanced by examining the unfolding pattern in the history of Greek thought, leading up to the ultimate usage of the Greek words for sin in the New Testament. The most commonly-used word for sin in the Greek New Testament is hamartia and its related forms, used some 217 times. The use of this one word, traced through the golden age of the Greek philosophers, is like a floodlight on the patterns of worldly thought, not only in ancient Greece but in today's thinking as well.

Aristotle defines hamartia as, "A missing of virtue, the desired goal, whether out of weakness, accident or defective knowledge." His definition involved no concept of guilt. Not until this word was used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament was it invested with the idea of being an offense against God. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the revelation of God was added to man's wisdom as expressed through the Greek philosophers.

The biblical view of sin is not found in classical Greek, for in Greek thought there was no sense of man expressing enmity against God in his refusal to yield to God's authority and do his will. Hamartia, in its classical Greek usage, covers everything from crime to harmless faults. It includes:

Artistic and intellectual defects.

Technical and hygienic failures.

Errors of judgment on the part of legislators.

Political blunders.

And finally, ethical failures mistakenly performed in good faith, but done through non-culpable ignorance.

In Aristotle's definition, virtue was not an absolute, but it was the mean between two extremes. Any deviation from that mean, to either extreme, was considered hamartia.

Hamartia, then, was doing that which is not intellectually or technically correct in accordance with the Greek mores. There were no moral implications connected with hamartia, since a man deviating from the mean was simply acting out of the inescapable ignorance to which he was bound. No real sense of guilt was inferred. In this view all guilt was derived from ignorance, but since ignorance is a limitation of human existence imposed by fate, man deserves no blame.

The Tragedy of Greek Tragedy

The meaning of the Greek tragedy is anchored in this concept: Human guilt follows from the limitation of human knowledge--not as personal, moral guilt, but as guilt given with existence itself. Man acts in ignorance, with unforeseeable consequences for which he is not responsible. All he can do is accept the consequences of his ignorant error. The result: tragedy, with no remedy.

Socrates based his work of instruction on the principle that ignorance is the root of all evil. It follows that for the Greek philosopher right understanding will lead to right action; the man who really understands and knows, acts rightly. And, of course, behind this assumption stands the belief that man is basically good.

In all this we see the background of more modern thought: The view that wrong actions of men stem from ignorance which can be removed by education, thus avoiding any thought of personal responsibility or guilt. Solon, another Greek philosopher, put it this way: "According to the immanent laws of developing reality, according to the law of time, the bad withers and the good flourishes and establishes itself." Or, putting it all together: It's inevitable that things will get better and better, education will produce right behavior, and man (being basically good) only needs to learn and he will behave.

The factor obviously lacking in this philosophy, from the Christian view, is the will of fallen man by which he expresses his defiance of God and His Word.

Sin in the New Testament

Hamartia achieves a moral and spiritual meaning in the New Testament by a dual process in which (1) words first employed about the natural and physical realm of life are eventually transferred into usage encompassing the moral and spiritual realm, and (2) God takes these words and invests them with still deeper meaning as they are employed by him in the biblical revelation of truth.

We can discover some of this added meaning by examining both the derivation and development of the words themselves and then by viewing their usage in the context of the New Testament. Before we do this, though, we want first to look at the etymology of hamartia. In Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, we discover that the derivation of this word is a bit obscure and uncertain, yet there are certain intriguing possibilities. The first of these is the conjecture that hamartia may derive from marpto, "to grasp." If marpto is coupled with the letter alpha, the sense is negated, and we have hamartia, or "a failing to grasp." Another possibility is that it may stem from meros, meaning "part" or "share," from which a negative verb was formed meaning "to be without one's share, to miss out."

While these possible derivations are interesting, the more certain meaning is derived from an observation of the use and scope of the word in Greek writings, especially in the New Testament Trench summarizes his own understanding of hamartia by the statement: "Only this much is plain, that when sin is contemplated as hamartia it is regarded as a failing and missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God." Thus hamartia signifies "missing the mark," being the exact opposite of the Greek word for "hitting the mark, to attain, to achieve." Trench adds that in secular Greek this word is used of a poet who selects a subject which is impossible to treat poetically or who seeks to attain results which lie beyond the limits of his art (Aristotle, Poet, 8 and 25).

It appears obvious that if sin truly involves missing the point of our life and existence, then an understanding of sin should drastically alter our whole approach to life, particularly our attitude toward God, for no one really wants to miss out on anything good, especially when it involves missing the whole point of one's life and reason for being.

As we look now at New Testament usage, with this definitive research data in our minds, the light of clearer understanding should break through regarding the deep significance of "sin" as revealed in God's Word. The starting point in this part of our investigation is Romans 3:23: "...since all have sinned [hamartanein] and fall short of the glory of God." The addition of the words, "fall short of the glory of God," is helpful confirmation of the sense of "missing the mark" implicit in hamartia. Add to this our Lord's words in John 8:24: "...for you will die in your sins [hamartia] unless you believe that I am he." Here we have the fatal consequences of sin declared and the remedy offered--in the Son sent from the Father to redeem man.

To summarize the far-reaching effects of sin implied or pointed out in the uses of hamartia in the New Testament the following charts may be helpful.

In this charted form, we have summarized over sixty of the more than 200 occurrences of hamartia in the New Testament. It's remarkable to see what a clear overview it gives us to list the occurrences of this word under these headings. If you were to review the remaining references to hamartia, using Greek Concordance, you would undoubtedly learn even more about God's view of sin and its effects in our lives.


 (I) WHAT SIN IS Not acting in faith (Rom. 14:23). The product of desire (Jas. 1:15). Not doing what we know we should (Jas. 4:17). Transgression (1 Jn. 3:4). Lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4). All unrighteousness is sin (I Jn. 5: 17).
 (2) WHAT SIN DOES Brings death (Rom. 6:16, 23; 7:5, 11). Enslaves us (Rom. 6:17, 20; Jn. 8:34). Deceives us (Rom. 7: 11; Heb. 3: 13) Gives certain pleasures (Heb. 11:25). Surrounds us (Heb. 12: 1). Can be against our own body (1 Cor. 6:18). Can be against our own brothers (1 Cor. 8:12). Can be fatal (1 Jn. 5:16; Heb. 10:26).
 (3) WHO SIN TOUCHES All under sin (Rom. 3:9; Gal. 3:22). Both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:12). All have sinned (Rom. 3:23).



 (1) How




 Where sin abounded, grace all the more (Rom. 5 20).

Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).

God made him (Christ) to be sin for us (2 Cor. 1 5:21).

In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of I sins (Col. 1:14).

He, by himself, purged our sins (Heb. 1:3).

He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9 26).

He bore our sins in his own body (1 Pet. 2:24).

His blood keeps on cleansing us from sin (1 Jn. 1 7).

If we confess our sins, he forgives (1 Jn. 1:9).

He is the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 2:2).

He was manifested to take away our sins (1 Jn. 3 5).

He loosed us from our sins (Rev. 1:5). BUT ALSO

Christ's coming exposed sin (Jn. 15:22, 24).




 Sin not charged (Rom. 4:8).

Dead to sin (Rom. 6:2, 7, 11; 1 Pet. 2:24).

Not sin's slave (Rom. 6:6, 12, 14, 17).

Free from sin (Rom. 6:22; 8:2).

Yet sin still a problem (Rom. 7:14, 17, 20).

We still sin (1 Jn. 1:8-10).

But we don't practice sin (1 Jn. 3:9)~

It's not for us (1 Jn. 2: 1).

Abiding in Christ keeps us from sinning (1 Jn. 3:6).

Sin reigns (Rom. 5:21).

Dead in sins (Eph. 2: 1).

Are of the devil (1 Jn. 3 8).

Are dying in sins (Jn. 8:24).

The Greeks Had a Word for It

Hamartia, however, is not the only word used for sin in the New Testament. Several other words each give a different dimension to the concept of sin. Here are some of them:

Ase'beia: "Godlessness"--living and acting as though God didn't exist, or if he does, we owe him nothing. Ruling God out, refusing to give to God the thanks and worship due him. Romans 1:18 illustrates: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness [asebeia] and wickedness of men who . . . suppress the truth."

Parakoe: "Disobedience" resulting from a refusal to listen--being inattentive to what God has to say. Romans 5:19 illustrates: "For as by one man's disobedience [parakoe] many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." (Also compare Heb. 2 1-3.)

Paraptoma: "A blunder," or deviation from the right, failure to act in accord with the standard. Galatians 6:1 illustrates: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass [paraptoma], you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness."

Parabasis: "Transgression," conscious crossing of a divinely appointed boundary, trespassing into areas clearly proscribed. Romans 2:23 illustrates: "You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking (parabasis] the law?"

Anomia: "Lawlessness," deliberate disregard of God's laws by acting contrary to them in a spirit of rebellion. 1 John 3:4 illustrates: "Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness [anomia]; sin is lawlessness" (i.e. hamartia is anomia).

Hettema: "Defeat," failure to appropriate available resources, thereby accepting failure as inevitable. 1 Corinthians 6:7 illustrates: "To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat [hettema] for you...Hebrews 9:7 illustrates: "..taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors [agnoema] of the people."

Agnoema: "To err through ignorance," not necessarily willfully but through thoughtless heedlessness.

Apistia: "Unbelief," challenging the truthfulness of God and failing to act on his trustworthiness 1 Timothy 1:13 illustrates: "...I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief [apistia]...

Though this by no means exhausts the list of terms in the New Testament which describe and define sin, we can begin to see not only what sin is and does but how it relates to God.

Thus we can begin to form in our minds a theology of sin. It could assume a form something like this:


 HAMARTIA (Sin)  Missing the very point of life, which is to know God and the beauty of his plan.
 ASEBEIA (Ungodliness) Ruling God out of our life and plans--living as if we owed him nothing.
 PARAKOE (Disobedience)  Refusing to listen to God, as if we knew better than he how life should go.
 PARAPTOMA (Offense) Being consecrated blunderers, not necessarily with evil intent but still out of line.
 ANOMIA (Lawlessness) Defiance of God's laws, as if he had not spoken; living in anarchy against God.
 HETTEMA (Defeat)  Accepting defeat as if there were no available resources in Christ.
 PARABASIS (Transgression)  Flouting God's laws of life in conscious, rebellious contempt of his commands.
 AGNOEMA (Ignorant error)  An ignorant mistake, not so much willful as stupid, but still in error.
 APISTIA (Unbelief) Calling God a liar and acting as if he were an enemy trying to deceive us or somehow selfishly desiring to make us miserable by getting us to do something we won't like.

The Savior's Word

Before we leave this study of sin, we must hear directly from the Lord Jesus himself. Since he is the Savior from sin his should be the final word on the subject. In his earthly life and ministry as recorded in the Gospels, our Lord, while not directly unfolding a doctrinal treatment of sin, nevertheless revealed (1) its nature and reality and (2) his consciousness of being victor over it.

In the Gospel of Luke our Lord illustrates the nature of sin in the story of the Prodigal Son:

And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare but I perish here with hunger!" (Luke 15:14-17).

By this story Jesus shows us what sin is: going out from the Father's house and living a life remote from God, with everything that means in terms of loss, poverty, and uncleanness. But Jesus declares his victory over sin in these words spoken to a paralyzed man: "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2); and he also says, "For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?" (Matt. 9:5).

Jesus is fully aware of the alienating power of sin, but at the same time, he is wholly conscious of the overcoming grace and forgiveness of a loving heavenly Father whom he represents in his earthly mission of redemption. This redemptive 'mission is clearly reflected in the announcement of the angel to Joseph about the coming One: "...and you shall call his name Jesus [Lord God/Savior], for he will save his people in their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

Who Else Can "Fix Sin"?

A simple and beautiful example of the Lord's ability to handle the sin problem is the following story of a young man who clearly understood about sin and the Savior. A basic test of the worth of a religion is what it teaches that God has done to "fix sin," according to Jim Mexican, a twenty-year-old Navajo Indian. Jim used the question about "fixing sin" to defeat representatives of a false religion. The story comes to us from Gordon Fraser, director of Southwestern School of Missions at Flagstaff, Arizona:

Jim Mexican came to us a year ago as a new believer. He is a Navajo, 6' 1" tall, twenty years old. He attended a government school for five years but admits: "I fool around all time-- not learn enough English." He started studying his Bible avidly, and we could hear him downstairs at 5 A.M. sounding out his words.

A few months after he came to us, he walked into the office and said, "Want to go to reservation--see my auntie--These fellows go two by two always bodder her--want to chase them off."

We felt that Jim would be no match for these carefully trained cultists, but we finally yielded to his insistence and let him go for the weekend. We prayed and worried some, but Jim was back on Monday wearing a wide grin.

"How did you make out, Jim?" I asked.

"O.K. I guess. They went away and left my auntie alone. I don't think they come back."

"But what did you tell them?"

"I ask them one question."

"What was that? Usually you have to argue a long time be fore they leave."

"I ask them, 'How you fellows fix sin?'"

"That would be a rather difficult question for them to answer. What did they say?"

"They say, 'Start out right, live clean life, obey the law of the gospel, just stop sinning, and you be all right.' I tell them' 'Too late, I already a bad sinner. Get in jail five times in six months. How you fellows fix sin like that?'"

"What did they say to that?"

They jump in pick-up truck and slam door. They say crazy Indian, don't know nothing. "They go away mad. I just laugh at them."

With renewed perspective on sin and its devastation it seems to me our response should be "Hallelujah what a Savior"--and a life of grateful cooperation with the saving work of Jesus Christ in us and through us. "For if while we enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Rom 5:10)

II. Understanding Man And His Problems (Outline of Chapters 6-9)

Using the inside information God has revealed to us in his Word about the nature of man and how to handle a major problem--the flesh.

Chapter 6 Man--As Seen By Man

Value--And Limitations
Freud's Approach
Men or Mice?
Non-Directed Counseling
A Grain of Truth

Chapter 7 Man As God Sees Him

Natural Man
Number One Need
Public Enemy Number
Strategy of Defense

Chapter 8 The Enemy Within

Identifying the Flesh
Two Kinds of Wisdom
Observe the Results
Biblical Examples
Twin Pictures
War with Amalek
Getting Values Straight
Truth in Labeling


Sin Pays Wages: Death
Facts about the Flesh
Enjoying Life
Freed from Slavery
True Liberation
The Theory Applied
Futility--Or Fulfillment

Go to Chapter Six
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