When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he became aware of something that was in the realm of God. “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22). Man knew what was good and what was evil. He gained a conscience. He had the ‘knowledge’ of what was good and what was evil, but did not have the ‘ability’ to carry it out. “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Rom. 7:18; see blog “Why do we have a conscience and why can we not keep it?”) When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin entered into the world. What is sin then?
The nature of sin is thinking that we have the ability to carry out our knowledge of good and evil. It is a nature because it is a spontaneous tendency we have in thinking we know what is right from what is wrong. When we think we know what is right, we no longer depend on God. We exert and exercise our own will. We no longer empty ourselves, as Christ did, (Phi. 2:7) so God could live in and through us. We are made for God to live through us — made in his image. (2 Cor. 3:18) We are the temples of God, (2 Cor. 6:16) the house of God where we are the many abodes. (John 14:2) When we say we can do it, it is the very moment we commit sins. That is why “sin came into the world through one man,” (Rom. 5:12) – at the very moment that Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his eyes were opened, he could see right from wrong, something in the realm of God, “becoming like one of us” (Gen. 3:22) — and he thought he could judge now and do what was right. But he could not. He had no ability in his flesh. The punishment for sin is death. That is why, “Just as sin came into the world through on man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Death is the lost of life, the divine live because something that is divine cannot live in something that has sinned. That is how we lost the eternal life of God. So we were expelled from the garden of Eden, “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever —“ (Gen. 3:22).
Why is thinking that we have the ability to carry out our knowledge of good and evil sin? Firstly, we don’t have the ability. To think so is foolishness, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) “For I have the desire what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Rom. 7:18) Secondly, we lack the power to do good so we need the power of the Spirit. The power to do good is divine, it is not human, of the flesh. That is why “we must serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code,” (Rom. 7:6) “for we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive.” (Rom. 7:6) Living as human beings, we all tried to follow the written code, which was impossible for us to do, because “while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” (Rom. 7:5) Being told what is good and evil only arouses our evil passions. That is why the deceiver Satan has deceived us all, (Rev. 12:9; 20:3) because we all think that we can follow our own abilities to do what is good and kept away from what is evil. Thirdly we create our own set of goods and evils, making our own determinations of what is good and what is evil. This is the corrupted thinking within men. We all begin to have our own set of rules that others will violate, causing division and animosity so we become enemies and no longer love each other. That is why a code of moral ethics seems so had to define. Finally, we no longer need God and have put ourselves on the thrones in our lives, defining our own rules and abiding by our own wills to do what is good or evil. This becomes our sin.
That is why “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” (Rom. 5:20) When we have the law, we try to fulfill its righteous requirements ourselves, so that makes the transgression increased. Not only are we not able to fulfill the law, we think we can. That is why men failed in following the first covenant because the method was incorrect. That is why Jesus was so much against the religious people at that time. They were trying to follow the laws of God, thinking they could do it – when they can’t. They did not have the ability. When religion sets up rules for men to follow and not rely on God, realize that is sin. It says, “We can do it ourselves, we can follow the righteous requirements of God ourselves.” When we teach people how to behave, or even worse, when we ritualize a set of practices and tell people if they do this, they will be saved, we have lost the reality of Christ. We are saying we have the ability and no longer need Christ. “I do not set aside the grace of God. For if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2:21) His death would have no purpose. That is what religion tells us. It tells people if you do such and such, you will gain favour with God or even worse, if you practice in such a way, you will be saved. People who perform the practice without the reality of Christ as the life-giving Spirit, is doing so according to their own abilities. This becomes sin.
What exactly is sin? It is when we say, “I can do all things through [me] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) rather than “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That is sin. When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was able to discern what was good from evil. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) Sin is that tendency or nature within us that says we know what is good from what is evil. We know how to be good. We have the ability to follow our conscience. We think we can —when we can’t. We sit ourselves on the throne within us and judge what is good and what is evil. We establish new rules of what we feel is good or evil. This is what causes chaos in our lives, in our interactions with others, in society as a whole, and even among nations. We have usurped the supremacy of God. That is sin.
Just like Satan, the archangel – “the anointed Cherub,” (Eze. 28:14) who wanted to be higher than God, causing the initial rebellion. He usurped the supremacy of God. When we exert our own wills, thinking we can do all things through ourselves, realize our thinking is just like Satan. We think we have the ability, but we do not. We think that we can judge, but we cannot. We think we can live independent of God, but we need to rely on him day by day, moment by moment. The only person who submitted his own will to God’s will in an absolute, complete and total way was Christ. That is why Jesus’s Father needed to be God and not of a man. A human cannot do this because he cannot submit his will totally to God. He is fallen and of the flesh so he has no ability. “The willing (our knowledge of good) is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom. 7:18 – NASB) A human cannot be without sin. Although all judgment was given to Jesus, (John 5:22) he did not come to judge, but to save us. (John 3:17) He did not practice exerting his own will in judgement. He did not practice or exercise his own will, but the will of the Father above. Even in death, he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mat. 26:39) That is how Christ defeated sin when he went to the cross for us. He had submitted his will totally to the Father above, even in going to the cross. That is why he is our burnt offering – he offered up every part of his being, throughout his living and all the way up to the cross, to the Father. That is why we have to identify ourselves with Christ as the burnt offering by laying our hands on him. (Lev. 1:4)
Sin therefore is very deceptive. Whenever we say we are doing something for God, realize it may be the sin within us. It dwells within so we are the children of the evil one. (1 John 3:10) Only in Christ are we freed from sin. That is why Christ had to come to live in man to be his expression. For whatever we do, whether it is right or wrong, if we do it within ourselves, is sin. We have to say within ourselves, “apart from (you I] can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Realize this within yourselves, so we don’t commit sins. Realize the sins that we commit are simply actions that are from our own desires, from our own wills, and not according to the will of God. Isn’t that how we define sins?
To clarify, because we are unable to carry out what we know as good and evil, we commit sins. When we think that we have the ability to — relying on ourselves — that is the nature of sin. When we are not dependent on God for our ability, that is sin. That is why, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23)