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This has implications for how we have to repent of sin, and may have more serious repercussions that I haven't thought of.

Discrete cases of sin seem obvious, as when we break a clear command with a single act or decision. But can we also sin in an on-going manner, such that guilt accrues to us continuously over time?

This latter case is not as clear, but the following simple argument may make it equally clear: Is it a sin to not exhibit a Christian virtue (humility, generosity, etc.) to its fullest? Since none of us mere mortals ever do that, we are therefore sinning the entire time we are in the less than ideal state. We are therefore indeed accruing sin guilt every second of every day.

Can it be argued that sins are only discrete?

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  • Welcome to the site. Your question gives me pause for thought regarding the way the word 'discreet' is being used. From what you comment, I would have thought you meant the word 'distinct' sins (as opposed to 'unclear, hidden, secretive, on-going' sins.) Yes, it's true there are sins of omission as well as of commission! Even our careless words Jesus said: we'll be judged for every idle word Mt.12:36. I hope you get detailed answers.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 12:33
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    Yes, I am using the term "discrete" intentionally, as in happening in finite time-bounded choices/actions that we can identify. The opposite of that would be continuous, as in accruing guilt for sin spread out over time, where we can't identify a starting or stopping place. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 2:30
  • This is an interesting question. I think it really depends on what Christian tradition you have in mind. You seem to be asking whether one must act discretely in order to accrue guilt (such that sin is defined as any accruement of guilt).
    – zippy2006
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 6:17
  • I'm asking if sinning can be an on-going thing, and not just count against us when we do single acts against God's will. So if I haven't yet apologized to my neighbor for a hurtful thing I said, is that a single sin of some fixed magnitude, or because I am still able to go and apologize, am I continuously accruing guilt for each second/minute that I am not stepping up and making the apology? Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 4:04

1 Answer 1

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Short answer

Can it be argued that sins are only discrete considering we incur fresh guilt daily? Yes, I think so, although terminology influences the answer. Following how the Bible distinguishes sin as deed and sinner as sin-producer out of weakness (as opposed to willful sins by the "wicked", see GotQuestions article Do Christians Sin?) , and following how major Christian traditions develop Biblical theology of stages of salvation where the propensity of sinning post-conversion is mitigated by the Holy Spirit's grace during sanctification (either in Protestant-style simul iustus et peccator or in Catholic-style sinners commit venial sins in the state of grace), then YES, it makes sense to define "sin" as discrete while the weakness that cause Christians to still continuously sin (Rom 7:21-25) until we are fully conformed to Christ who is fully human but without sin (Heb 4:15, 1 Pet 2:2, 1 John 3:5, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).

Long answer

Your question contains 3 elements that Christian theologies distinguish:

  1. sinful acts/deeds (the discrete events)
  2. sinful nature (the propensity to do fresh sinful acts), and
  3. living in the spirit (the new way of living possible when we are joined to Christ, at first imperfectly, but striving toward the ideal where we no longer do sinful acts/deeds).

The central message of Christianity is that Jesus provides a solution for our souls to be healed so we can die to our sinful nature (#2) and instead have the power so we can NOW live in love (#3), something that we can certainly do perfectly after death. Although different Christian theologies offer different variations of the solution:

  • some say perfect / ideal #3 is possible on earth
  • some say perfect / ideal #3 is possible only after resurrection of the body
  • some say God will give special graces to get much further toward the ideal #3 if we ask, and the evidence is in the lives of the saints / martyrs

they will all point to what St. Paul teaches in the book of Romans, especially in Rom 5:18-Rom 8:17 when he zones in on his observation of how the "power of sin" (#2) works and how the solution (#3) involves:

  1. dying to our sinful nature with Christ, cf Rom 6:6

    This is a choice to let God crucify our sinful nature with Christ resulting to our new status in Christ of being a friend of God (Rom 5:11) and a child of God (Rom 8:14). This new status needs to be reaffirmed after discrete sinful acts (#1) in repentance (i.e. asking forgiveness and receiving absolution).

  2. making the choice to reject sinful nature (#2) but instead live under the freedom of God's grace and in the spirit (#3) resulting in good deeds for God, cf Rom 6:14, 7:6, 7:4

    This is living consistent with our new status as God's children, possible because we have been resurrected with Christ, but still a struggle given the latent possibility of falling back into sinful nature (#2)

  3. persevere in our struggle to keep saying "no" to our sinful nature until we die, the point where we receive the reward: eternal life

    Our daily task is to join forces with the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:2) to be freed from "this life that is dominated by sin and death" (Rom 7:24) so at the end we will receive eternal life, the FREE gift of God for those who chose to die to our sinful nature, given through Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

Conclusion

You ask:

is it a sin to not exhibit a Christian virtue (humility, generosity, etc.) to its fullest? Since none of us mere mortals ever do that, we are therefore sinning the entire time we are in the less than ideal state. We are therefore indeed accruing sin guilt every second of every day.

We have to distinguish between discrete sinful acts and our status before God (justification). Rom 8:1 is clear that once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior we belong to Christ (becoming slave of God, cf Rom 6:22) and that:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

But we need to be careful to REMAIN in Jesus (John 15:4) to produce good deeds for God, for it is possible to fall back to our sinful nature. As long as we retain our status as a child of God, it is OK to commit fresh sinful acts AS LONG AS we don't stay complacent and repent right away when we are conscious of them. BE VERY MINDFUL of the warning given in Rom 6:19 "... which led ever deeper into sin...") so that instead of complacency we should be EXTREMELY conscious of the STRUGGLE toward righteous living through which the Holy Spirit slowly transforms us to the image of Christ (the ideal). I believe God will be pleased if we struggle together with the Holy Spirit in continuously doing a "whack-a-mole" every time a temptation surfaces its ugly head in our consciousness, characterized by St. Paul as "another power within me that is at war with [our minds] ... [ready to make us] a slave to the sin that is still within [us]." (Rom 7:23)

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  • It sounds as if you are placing the lack-of-virtues problem into the sanctification category, rather than classifying it as sin. That makes sense to a point. But beyond that, a lack of a virtue will at some point mean sin. I'm not sure that really moves the lack-of-virtue problem beyond the sin arena. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 23:25
  • @user1745937 I think it's a matter of definition. Theology can introduce new categories that is still reverent to Biblical terminologies. For example, in Catholic theology, virtues are habits which people need to grow with the aid of grace so it becomes easier to do good. The counterpart of virtues are vices, predisposition to do evil. So both vices and virtues are a matter of degrees although they can produce discrete sinful / good acts. Born again Christians possess some measure of virtues (#3) which they need to grow while killing their vices (#2) so in the process sin is inevitable. Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 2:52
  • @user1745937 I updated the answer with a short answer that hopefully addresses more of your question. Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 14:31

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