How is one to define sin? If you think about it too long, it can easily become difficult to define. Pastors, theologians, and exegetes often bring up the philosophical and theological distinctions and nuances of sin. From mortal sins to venial sins. From sins of omission to sins of commission. Not only this, but we often distinguish between imputed sin, inherited sin, and personal sin.

While learning these concepts and distinctions is important, I sometimes like to keep it simple. This simplicity creates the metapicture of what I believe sin is and helps to keep things in perspective.

Sin is a worthless choice.

The Bible has a way of making things so clear and compelling. This is no less the case in the familiar story of Jacob and Esau and the selling of the birthright. I believe that in this story the definition of sin is so clearly given and illustrated it leaves its mark on our conscience in a vivid and stunningly simple way.

Genesis 25:29-34 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

My argument is simple. Sin is illustrated in Esau attitude to sell his birthright for “Red Stuff.” The birthright represented the eternal blessing of God; the stew represented the worthless passing physical pleasures. The birthright was the lineage of Christ which would last for all eternity; the stew was a meal that lasted only seconds. The birthright’s representation was clear and glorious; the stew was so worthless that Esau did not even know what it was, calling it “red stuff.”

Sin is something that compels us and lures us in, deceiving us to think we must have it or “we will die.” It is something that preys upon the weakness of the flesh. In the right moment, sin can cause us to trade everything of value, for something so worthless.

Listen to my sermon called “Red Stuff” to learn more (right click and choose “save target as” to download).

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    2 replies to "What is Sin? A simple definition"

    • Bible Study

      Sin is transgression of the law according to scripture. Stealin, lying, adultery, murder, etc. It is all sin.

    • Bible Study

      I had a friend tell me once that “sin is whatever a person thinks is sin”. However, the bible teaches us that sin is the transgression of the law. Whether we think something is sin or not, if it is the transgression of the law, then it is sin. Sin is simple. It is such things as taking God’s name in vain, adultery, murders, thefts, lies, etc.

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