A simple understanding of sin is wrongdoing. But it goes much further than bad actions – it also includes wrong thoughts and attitudes. Christians believe that God made the entire universe and, in the beginning, it was absolutely perfect. The Bible story begins with the first people, Adam and Eve, who were sinless and enjoyed a perfect relationship with each other and God. But then sin came into the world. This is known as The Fall. The Bible book, Genesis, tells how Adam and Eve were given free choice by God and opted to disobey him. This was the first sin. There were consequences. It created a division between God and people, bringing spiritual death into the world. It also damaged the relationship between Adam and Eve. And it affected the relationship between people and the rest of creation.
This ‘original’ sin was so serious that it continues to echo through history as if it has been passed on in humanity’s DNA, affecting every human and the communities in which they live. God made humans in his image. We have the capacity to love, forgive and live in relationship with God and each other. He also gave us an instinctive understanding of right and wrong. And yet, because of The Fall, people’s inclination is towards sin. None of us is capable of living completely sinless lives. The Bible shows us that even the closest followers of Jesus Christ did and said the wrong things. As the Bible book, Romans, says ‘all have sinned and full short of the glory of God’. One of the key figures at the start of the Christian church, Paul, wrote Romans. In it, he writes of his own struggles… ‘what I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate, I do’. The Bible says that humanity cannot blame external influences for sin – it comes from our own hearts.
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.'
God is perfectly blameless; perfectly holy and cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Christianity teaches that there has to be judgement for sinful actions and thoughts. God is not going to turn a blind eye to the poisoning of his perfect creation. There will be justice. There will be a day of judgement when the sins of every person will be laid bare. Sin will be punished. But at the heart of Christianity is the understanding that, although humanity cannot get free of sin on its own, God has made it possible. His son, Jesus Christ took all of the punishment for the world’s sin on himself. Jesus, in the Bible book, John, says ‘…God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…’. Some people believe that because of what Jesus did in taking the blame for sin, everybody will escape judgement for sinful thoughts and actions. But the Bible makes it clear that’s not the case. Jesus goes on to say, ‘but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…’ Christians believe that escape from sin, and judgement for it, is possible – we can all be forgiven for everything we have done wrong – but only by putting our trust in Jesus Christ. Doing that breaks sin’s permanent grip. It then becomes possible to think and behave differently.
The Bible says God created a spiritual world that existed before the Earth. He created angels – spirit beings that are not human, but not God. There was a hierarchy within them. Among the most senior was Lucifer. But pride prompted him to lead a rebellion against God and he was ejected from God’s presence. Other angels joined this rebellion and suffered the same fate. The Bible refers to this confrontation in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation. Since then Satan has set himself up as God’s arch enemy, leading unseen spiritual forces at war with God and his people. The first time Satan is encountered in the Bible is at The Fall when, in the form of a serpent, he persuades Adam and Eve to defy God. The results are catastrophic for humanity – separation from God. But the story points ahead to Jesus who will defeat Satan and save humanity.
Some Christians feel that Satan is not a spiritual being but a way of describing evil principles at work. Jesus talked about Satan, describing him as ‘the father of lies’. Three of the Bible books which document Jesus’ life - Matthew, Mark and Luke – tell how Jesus encountered the devil during a 40-day retreat in the desert and how the devil tried to tempt him. But Jesus resisted. The Bible book, James, says people can do this too… ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you’. Christianity teaches that the devil has power and influence and should be taken seriously but he is not equal to God. Jesus Christ was always able to overcome him. Although he is active now, Satan’s destiny is permanent destruction.
‘resist the devil and he will flee from you’
Christians believe that God is just and because of this, although God will judge every person who existed, no-one will suffer a fate after their death that they do not deserve.
Christianity teaches that people who accept Jesus Christ as rescuing them from their sin will spend an eternity of joy and love in God’s presence, in the new heavens and the new earth. But those who reject Jesus will spend eternity separated from God in hell. For many Christians hell is a real, physical place. But there is disagreement about what it is like. The Bible paints a vivid, terrifying picture of eternal punishment with perpetual fire, where people will cry out for relief and grind their teeth in anguish; a place of darkness and decay. Many Christians see this imagery as purely symbolic – a powerful warning of the awfulness of separation from God. They see hell as a desolate, miserable place where people live for eternity, permanently excluded from God’s presence because of their sin and their earthly decision to reject Jesus. Others believe that a loving God could not allow people to suffer for eternity and that hell is total annihilation – where a person’s existence comes to a permanent end.
Some Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe there is a transitional state between this life and heaven known as purgatory where human souls are purified in preparation for eternity with God. The concept of purgatory dates from the early Church but is not mentioned in the Bible.