Sin is Seperation
by Jacob Sparks
When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I would often find myself asking the question, “Is ____ a sin?” both to myself and to others. It is, on a certain level, an understandable question to ask. After all, if God does not want us to sin, attempting to figure out what sin is in order to avoid it seems like the logical thing to do. But what exactly is sin? And why does God not want us to sin?
Perhaps it is helpful to first discuss what sin is not. Sin is not the breaking of a rule; sin is not an infraction against an arbitrary code of conduct. Sin, according to the New Testament, is more pervasive and runs deeper than that. Jesus himself describes sin as slavery, saying, “every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). The idea of sin being slavery is also communicated before Christ’s ministry by John the Baptist. When John begins baptizing in the wilderness, he preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4). The word here translated as “forgiveness” is aphesin (ἄφεσιν), literally meaning “to release.” The idea being communicated here is that through this baptism of repentance, people are released from sin, just as a slave is released from his chains. The Apostle Paul goes even further than this, describing sin as having a life of its own, as an agent “working death in me.” (Romans 7:13). In fact, the word sin itself is a translation of the Greek word amartia (αμαρτία), literally meaning “to miss the mark.” The common thread that runs along all of these descriptions is the idea of separation: slavery separates a slave from his master and from freedom, the power of sin “working death” separates one from oneself and from others, and missing the mark separates an arrow from its target. Sin is in essence separation (1).
The concrete effects of the separation due to sin can be seen immediately after the first sin is committed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The first action Adam and Eve take after eating the forbidden fruit is to sew garments of fig leaves to cover themselves, separating their physical bodies from one another. When they later hear God walking in the garden, their first instinct is to hide themselves behind bushes because they are naked, separating their nakedness from God. This separation, as God had warned them, culminates in the tragedy of physical death itself, the ultimate separation of a human from himself and from others. Anyone who has had a friend die knows that it is not so much the death of the person’s physical body that we are concerned about (our bodies’ cells are constantly dying and reproducing, and we care little about that), but rather the separation of our life from theirs. The beloved friend, once graced with existence and communion with others, has had that torn from him, and as a consequence, the friend is likewise torn from us. Those who have had friends leave or abandon them suffer the same fate; their friend is torn from them, and the communion of friendship is severed. This, too, is a form of death.
The remedy for this sin, separation, and death is found in Jesus Christ, he who is both fully God and fully man. He came and fulfilled the entire plan of salvation for us, destroying all of our sin and separation by doing so. By voluntarily taking on human flesh and becoming the God-Man, he permanently destroyed the separation between God and humanity. By becoming a slave, he set us free from slavery (2). By dying, he destroyed death itself. By rising from the dead, he raised us up from the tombs with himself.
The question that once plagued me as an Evangelical Protestant was entirely the wrong question to ask. Since sin is not the breaking of a rule, but rather slavery to oneself and separation from God and neighbor, the question I should have been asking was, “Will _____ separate me from God and my neighbor?” And the good news now is that regardless of the sins we do or do not commit, Jesus Christ has destroyed sin and death, and we are no longer under the bondage of our sin and separation. Having destroyed the separation between God and humanity, Christ gives us every opportunity to be united with Him: he hears our sins and sees our repentance in the sacrament of confession, and literally unites us to his body and blood through Holy Communion. We are no longer slaves, for through Christ, we have every opportunity to become free.
1: I am borrowing part of my argument here from Kabane the Christian’s YouTube video, “Do Orthodox Christians Believe in Penal Substitution?” Click here to view the video.
2: See Philippians 2:5-11. The word used in verse seven which is translated as "servant” is the Greek word doulos (δοῦλος), which literally means slave.