What is sin?
Jennifer Holloway
Crumbled up white piece of paper

Inside: What is sin? Sin literally means to miss the mark, and we ALL miss the mark (or sin), even Christians. But… what is sin? What is sin in our lives today (what does that look like and how do we know when we’ve messed up?)? We’ll share what sin is, some things to watch out for, the truth about our sins being forgiven, and how to recognize when we mess up.


This month’s blog is brought to you by Jennifer Holloway: writer, Bible teacher, and my partner in crime (and Director of Marketing) here at Women, Worship and Work. I hope you enjoy Jennifer’s moving blog about sin, freedom, and forgiveness in Christ as much as I did!


My daughter wet the bed last week (hazards of living with a 4-year-old).

It was…. *ahem*… obvious, but when I confronted her about it, she insisted that it was “sweat.”

She was so convinced that she’d get in big trouble (she wouldn’t) that she was willing to live with (wet and smelly) consequences rather than admit the truth.

I’m simply not okay with that. I love her too much to let her walk around in wet pants and sleep in a dirty bed!

In this conversation with her, I had an overwhelming thought: is this what I’m like when God confronts me about sin in my life?! (Unfortunate answer: SOMETIMES)

Earlier this year, the Holy Spirit pointed out some sin I was ignoring in my life. For YEARS (yes, actual years), I had been pretending like this wasn’t a problem. (If you want to bring my analogy full circle, I’d been sitting in a dirty bed and acting like everything was okay.)

Friends, sin is never “okay.”

In my case, I just hadn’t been taking it seriously. I had unintentionally developed an attitude of “eh, this is maybe *technically* sin, but it’s not a big deal, and it’s not hurting anyone.”

But… that’s not what the Bible says.

In reality, the Bible says that sin is serious and must be removed from our lives.


And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

Matthew 18:8 ESV


If I’m going to be serious about my faith (and I absolutely want to be), I need to wake up, wash the metaphorical sheets, and start aggressively kicking sin out of my life.

But… how does that work? What is sin? And what exactly counts as messing up?


What is sin?

Here is a great video from The Bible Project about what “sin” means in the Bible. Check that out later, and for now, let’s start with some LayWoman’s terms…

Sin = not living like Jesus taught us to

The word “sin” means missing the mark or falling short. As Christians, the “mark” we aim for is to live like Jesus, and to live as the Bible teaches. We miss the mark (or sin) when we fail to fully love God and others. Sin is selfish. We sin when insist on taking things into our own hands instead of trusting God’s way. Sin places other things above God in our lives.

Sin is a problem. It separates us from God and holds us back from the joy and fulfillment that comes with fully walking out the plan God has for our lives.

One tricky thing about sin is that you can fall into it without meaning to (Paul addresses this in Galatians 6).

With some sins, it’s obvious we messed up (think: the stuff we tend to remember from the ten commandments – don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, etc.).

Sometimes, it is less obvious when we mess up. I once heard a pastor put it this way: Satan is a master at taking morally neutral things and turning them into sin.

While the Bible calls out many ways we tend to miss the mark (or sin), there isn’t a comprehensive list. The Type A in me loves a list, but I know that when I’m fully trusting in the Lord and putting Him first, He’ll let me know when I mess up (more on that later) and help me work through it.


When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 NLT


This passage comes to us from a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians church, and mentions how we can miss the mark (aka sin) when we follow our sinful human nature rather than living for Jesus (more on this in Matthew 16 and Colossians 3).

Paul’s list is not exhaustive, but if you’re asking the question “what is sin” and looking for examples, this is a great place to start. You’ll notice the sins Paul mentions have their root in self-centeredness (me putting myself before God and/or others).

In our lives today, this could look like…

  • Screaming at your husband (or kids) when you’re in the middle of a fight
  • Drinking so much wine at dinner that you say or do something you shouldn’t (and wouldn’t have if you’d been completely sober)
  • Doing something even when you know you shouldn’t
  • Talking badly (or gossiping) about a friend at girl’s night
  • Being bitter that your neighbor got a new car (and you didn’t)


What should I do about sin in my life?

We ALL sin.

The Bible tells us that we have all sinned. The difference between Christians and the non-believer isn’t that the Christian doesn’t sin, it’s that, when the Christian does sin, they are held to a higher standard: humble confession and repentance (aka to stop sinning).


If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 NIV


The forgiveness of sin

Some good news… Jesus loves us so much that He died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven.


He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

Ephesians 1:7 NLT


Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are fully, freely, and forever forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross covers all the times we have messed up in the past, and all the times we will mess up in the future. (Even the shameful, scary, dirty sins we might beat ourselves up over.)

But this forgiveness isn’t a free pass. We’re forgiven and also called to humbly confess what we did wrong (sometimes to God, sometimes to others) and remove sin from our life.


Don’t be a slave to sin.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

John 8:34 NIV


The Bible describes a Christian’s relationship with Jesus as one of freedom. It describes the relationship between a believer and sin as one of slave and master.

What does it mean to be a “slave” to sin?

Sin is controlling. It operates kind of like an addiction… think of someone who is addicted to smoking. At some point, they may decide they want to quit the habit, but quitting is difficult, even when you want to. It takes hard work and it’s easy to drop back into bad habits.

Now think about something the Bible teaches us not to do, like gossip.

If you’ve ever had a problem with gossip, you know that, even when you decide not to do it anymore, it’s a hard habit to kick. Have you ever tried to quit gossiping and found yourself still falling into the habit of doing it even though you know you shouldn’t? It can be controlling in the same way a nicotine addiction can.


Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

Romans 6:12 NIV


Sin controls, sin destroys, and sin separates us from God.

I want to be clear: if you’re thinking God sounds like He’s sitting on His throne just waiting to strike us down with lightning when we miss the mark… think again. God doesn’t want us to sin because He loves us.

In her Bible study “Jesus & Women,” Kristi McLelland says “God doesn’t hate sin because we broke a rule. God hates sin because sin breaks us.”

Just like I don’t want my daughter to sit in a dirty bed, God loves you too much to be okay with you living with the mess that sin creates in your life. 

In His love, God doesn’t gloss over sin. He does something about it.

When we miss the mark, we’re called to do something about it, too: confess our sin to God (humbly own up to doing it and apologize for missing the mark) and repent (stop doing it).

He wants to bring you out of a life of sin and into something better: a life of purpose He designed for you (and sin can definitely be holding you back from the calling He has for you).

This requires us to take action. This requires us to recognize where we have sinned and be intentional about taking it to God.


How to recognize when we miss the mark.

We’ve answered the question “what is sin” but how do we know for sure when we miss the mark? Luckily, God gave us a couple of awesome tools for recognizing when we sin (or mess up):

The Bible:

Reading God’s Word is important for many reasons, and one is that it gives us guidelines for how we should live (including telling us sin to avoid).

The Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit dwells inside of all Christians, and one of the things the Holy Spirit does is convict (aka let us know) when we are doing something wrong.


Some initial tips for you as you work to recognize and remove sin from your life:

  • Read your Bible all the way through, and read it daily (we are so passionate about getting women in the Word that we have a whole group dedicated to this)
  • As you’re meditating on God’s Word, take a look at how Jesus lived His life. What did He do? What did He not do? How did He treat those around Him? How can we live more like Jesus?
  • Pray! Here’s a simple start: Lord, help me see truth in my life. Show me areas where I am sinning and help me recognize where that is happening and stop doing it.


What now?

So… to bring us full circle… what is sin? It’s something that needs to be kicked out of our lives. It’s time to get out of the metaphorical “wet bed,” own up to missing the mark, and as Jesus would say, sin no more.

I, for one, have been praying that we (yes, me included!) would get serious about finding (and removing) sin in our lives, starting with a prayer asking the Lord to help us see where we need to make a change.

I have been praying that we would hand our lives over to Jesus and trust Him to take the reins in areas we’re trying to control (a lot of the sin in my life boils down to this: ME trying to be in control and, in essence, not trusting GOD to take the reins – it sounds crazy when I write it out, but it’s true).

The truth is, it probably won’t be easy. But it’ll be worth it, and you can do it (with God’s help!).


While you’re on this journey to turn things over to God, we’ve got some goodies for you! We made some encouraging, downloadable Bible verse wallpaper for your phone lock screen. You can grab those, for free, below.


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  1. Hattie

    Jennifer! This is great! I love the analogy of peeing the bed! So simple and so true. Really brings the sin to light. Always a good reminder that living in sin is really no secret. It’s just feels gross and dirty when we hide it. And such a simple fix.

    • Jennifer Holloway

      Thank you for reading! I love how you put that: it feels gross and dirty when we hide it. The fix is simple (but often not easy). So true! You know what is funny about that analogy – I was struggling to put into words what the Holy Spirit was teaching me on this topic, then He served up the PERFECT analogy in my life. He is good!!


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