Whenever I try to determine what is a sin and what isn't I get very confused... I read things by Paul and sins seem to become very subjective...

_____ is a sin if you make it a sin through belief that it isn't acceptable due to your obeying of the law (the old law, before Jesus came)

then I read the old testament which makes it much more objective...

_____ is a sin because it is immoral (Referring to God's morals)

If the first is true than couldn't anything be justified as not-sin simply by a choice in a state of mind and what you believe your morals are (if that's the case why would you need Jesus for salvation, you are already free of "sin"... so that obviously isn't the case)

If the second is true than how do we ever know what is sin and what isn't? (The spirit that is given to us.)

Okay, but what about before the spirit came (personally and historically), how could anyone interpret wether or not they are sinning? I know the law was given but surely the law couldn't cover everything?

Is it all just a matter of the heart? I read about "sexual immorality" but what is that even referring to, immoral things in your conscience and the culture you live in or immoral as a definition of a standard of God that was never given to man... I see people who look at everything sexual as a biological process so of course they never feel guilt or remorse and it would seem almost unjust to classify their actions as sin. I see others who see it as something where ____ is culturally acceptable but ____ is not and is therefor sin.

How does one define sin? I know it seems like a broad question but I can't simplify it any further than what I've typed above.

  • If the question to this is really "How does one define sin" then this isn't super important, but I am curious where do you find this in the bible: is a sin if you make it a sin through belief that it isn't acceptable due to your obeying of the law (the old law, before Jesus came) Feb 24, 2013 at 6:22
  • I base it off of Romans 14:1-9, but obviously it is not a complete interpretation because my basis on that verse led to me saying this in the question above, "(if that's the case why would you need Jesus for salvation, you are already free of "sin"... so that obviously isn't the case)" Feb 24, 2013 at 6:47
  • @JeremiahPrummer "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." ... (more verses after this... too long for a comment though) Feb 24, 2013 at 6:48
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    The law is objective. Judgment is subjective. We will be judged largely by what's in our hearts - I believe that means motive, willpower exercised in self control, our internal understanding on the law, etc. I'll add more to my answer
    – Jason
    Feb 25, 2013 at 1:41

3 Answers 3


Sin is absolutely objective but in its application in our lives has a subjective element. The particular case that you mention is where Paul is saying if a person thinks something is a sin (even though it is not) then it is a sin to that person if they run about doing what their conscience condemns. This is because anything done without faith is a sin:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23, ESV)

In other words if you truly thought that wearing a purple shirt was a sin, you should not wear a purple shirt.

However the reverse is not true. Anything that is objectively a sin, like blasphemy, murder, sexual perversion, etc. even if you think it is not a sin, is still a sin. Sin is anything that is done not derived from pure love to God. This means we all sin daily as none perfectly loves God.

To answer your question: sin is objective (it is not loving God perfectly) but one objective sin is doing things you incorrectly consider as sin due to want of knowledge or wisdom. This is a sin because it shows lack of respect to God when you ignore your own conscience, even when it is confused on neutral matters.

  • Very nice explanation! This makes a lot more sense (sins) ... (bad pun.. haha) #SoundedBetterInMyHead. Feb 25, 2013 at 3:27

Sin is not an idea or a component of a "moral system". God's laws are not based on a notion of right or wrong, but are based on God's personal nature and therefore how He wants us to be.

This doesn't mean that it's not wrong to sin - you can say to a degree that it invariably is wrong to sin - but to stress that sin itself isn't about good/bad, right/wrong, etc.

Sin is to deviate from this nature, but in the end God understands that we are not of His nature (which why we are said to be bound to sin, and that it is within our skin). This is why God is willing to show mercy on our sin and forgive us for not following the law. This is why He wanted to send his Son to accomplish this - because he knew sin is an actual part of what we are, making us dependent of a Savior.

Since I brought salvation into it I think I need to add that that a huge part of what God wants is for us to humble ourselves, specifically because of the ways we are not like Him and are dependent on his grace to be saved.

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    I don't mine being marked up or down, but it would be nice to know why, specifically if I have offended anybody.
    – Jason
    Feb 24, 2013 at 6:29
  • It wasn't me :o Feb 24, 2013 at 6:49
  • I just up voted you, this is a very good, calm answer. It helps give me a better perspective, I love the humbling part and have never thought of salvation that way, only as a belief not an action (committed in the heart of course) like humbling ones self. Thankyou, I am looking forward to seeing others answers. Feb 24, 2013 at 6:51

What is and is not a sin is not subjective. Scripture gives a very clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4.

Sin is transgression of the Law.

What is subjective is our understanding of what sin is. We're flawed finite creatures, with varying preconceptions, who are taught various different things (whether those things are right or wrong) and unfortunately we tend to filter everything we take in and understand it after it's been filtered by (or mixed with) our preconceptions.

So we disagree on certain points, That doesn't mean that Truth is subjective at all. There is still one Truth. Something is either a sin or it is not. We tend to disagree on certain things but the fact remains that it is a perfect, just, and holy God, not us, that determine what is a sin and what is not.

If the Old and New testaments were really giving differing definitions of sin, that would be a discrepancy. Since Scripture cannot contradict itself, we need to go to the tried-and-true rules for resolving apparent discrepancies.

In this case, it seems that your understanding of the idea of the New Testament promoting a "Subjective" view on what sin is seems to be a simple (and common) misunderstanding of historical context.

Your "Subjective" example seems to be based on Romans 14:14.

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

What Paul is referring to is a concept known as "legalism" in which people try to say that you must obey the letter of the law to retain your salvation. This was a misuse of that Law. In effect, these people were saying that you are saved by obedience to the Law, rather than by the forgiveness of God through the sacrificial work of Christ.

In context, Paul is not saying that there is nothing that is inherently sinful. He's talking about people trying to enforce their own perspective of what is sinful on others. What he's saying is in perfect agreement with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:5

You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother's eye.

Of course this doesn't mean that we should remain silent about sin. There is a time and a place, and a purpose for which the law exists, and we are commanded to rebuke sin. But only in the right time, for the right purpose, and not with a self-righteous attitude. More here.

Put simply, it is a misconception that the New Testament teaches that sin is subjective. The New Testament as a whole agrees completely with the Old Testament. Sin is sin. But what the new Testament adds is that Christ offers freedom from sin.

There is a pretty good study on the issue at https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1335-a-study-of-romans-14


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