“H” is for hamartiology. What in the world does that mean? As you are likely picking up on now, this theological word is comprised of two Greek words. The one you have seen a few times, “-ology” comes from the Greek word logos which means “word” or can be understood to refer to “the study of” something. So “biology” is the study of life. Or “theology” in the broader sense is the study of God and all that entails. The beginning of our word comes from the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which means, “sin.” “Hamartiology” is the study of sin. You were probably hoping for something a bit more fascinating.
Why take a closer look at this word? Today we hear a lot about how Jesus wants a personal relationship with you. This sort of warm fuzzy feeling. While the Gospel certainly includes a relationship with our Lord unlike any other relationship because through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection He reconciled enemies together. Not friends who were in a little feud like you maybe have gone through with a friend before. Not an employee/employer relationship that is on thin ice because you have failed to meet the quota again this quarter. Not even like a parent/child relationship that has gone sour because your son or daughter stayed out late one too many nights. None of these suffice for describing our relationship with God. We are alienated from God because we are wretched sinners. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What is Sin?
Our sinfulness impacts every relationship conceivable. Man to God, man to man, man to nature, and even man to himself. We will look at this aspect of hamartiology in this newsletter but first we should define what sin is. We mentioned that the Greek word was hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which comes from the realm of archery meaning, “missing the mark or bulls-eye.” Yet as RC Sproul points out this “might imply the error is only minor.” For one could hit just outside the bulls-eye in the next section of the target. “The truth is that the standard of righteousness, the bull’s eye, is God’s law, and we are not even close to it” (Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, 106). If sin is “missing the bulls-eye” then we have not only missed the bulls-eye, we missed the target, and the barn that the target was leaning up against. Questions #28-30 of the children’s catechism that we have been reading with our daughters helps define sin for us quite well.
Question #28, “What is sin?” Answer, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Question #29, “What is meant by ‘want of conformity’?” Answer, “Not being or doing what God requires.” Question #30, “What is meant by ‘transgression’?” Answer, “Doing what God forbids.” So sin is both failing to keep God’s law by both not doing what we should do and doing what we should not do (cf. Ex. 20; Jam. 1:22; 4:17).
You may have heard before about sins of commission and sins of omission. We commit a sin of commission by doing something we ought not to do. Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We commit a sin of omission by failing to do something we ought to do. As James says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17).
Let me state here, in case you are still wondering why we are talking about this, that when we lessen the sins we commit and the fact that we are sinners we make less not more of our great Savior Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). For those who think that all people are genuinely good or even that they themselves are righteous (apart from Christ) and that we just needed Jesus’ example not bloody sacrifice, they have left orthodoxy (right belief) and are still in need of repentance and faith.
Broad Effects of Sin
I mentioned earlier that sin impacts every relationship conceivable. When Adam and Eve broke God’s command they brought physical death and destruction to both humanity and the earth. Their sin also brought spiritual death to mankind, rupturing our ability to both worship and have fellowship with the Creator. Man’s wholeness and uncorrupted nature as God’s image bearers was replaced by a sinful nature. While we still bear the image of God it is corrupted because of our sin (cf. Jam. 3:9-10). We now use the good gifts of God for evil and destructive purposes. We see great atrocities committed against fellow image bearers, both on an individual scale and nation against nation. Senseless bombings and killings, a thriving child sex industry even in America, and 3,000+ abortions every day here in the states to name a few. Man’s relationship to the ground was also negatively affected (see Gen. 3:17-19). It is because of our sin that creation is subject to its present frustration (see Rom. 8:20-22). Lastly, sin impacts our relationship with ourselves. People are very self-centered and seek to increase their own self-esteem. You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish, why? Because they have a sin nature since all are born into sin (Ps. 51:5).
What about Original Sin?
Original sin does not refer to the first sin committed by Adam and Eve but rather the consequences of that sin. Original sin is our fallen, sinful nature. But before you complain about Adam’s unrighteousness transferring to you be reminded of Rom. 5:12-19, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Thus Christ’s righteousness is imputed, which means to reckon to someone what does not belong to them, hence it is through no merit of your own that we receive His righteousness but solely by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.