A Guide to Christian Theology - Lesson 32

Definition of Sin

This lesson discusses the principles of polity in church leadership and the roles of elders, deacons, and members. The author believes that authority resides in the congregation as a whole, with primary authority in Scripture. The two main leadership offices in the church are elders and deacons, and members have responsibilities and authority associated with their office. Elders have responsibilities for pastoral care, equipping members for ministry, guiding the church in terms of doctrine, and leading the congregation wisely in decision-making. Deacons oversee certain services or ministries, and members have the responsibility to engage in the ministry of the local church and contribute their gifts and support. The author stresses the importance of being Spirit-led and wise in church leadership decisions and actions.

Gerry Breshears
A Guide to Christian Theology
Lesson 32
Watching Now
Definition of Sin

I. Purpose

II. Leadership Offices of a Church

A. Eldership

B. Deacons

C. Church Members

III. Holy Spirit Authority

  • In this lesson, explore the significance of systematic theology, blending academic insight with personal devotion. Learn to interpret biblical texts, understand how theology shapes beliefs, and fortify your faith against deception. This study fosters personal, biblical, and responsible theological growth, vital for spiritual development and discipleship.
  • Learn diverse ways to tackle theological questions, focusing on Holy Spirit baptism. Understand deductive, inductive, and retro-abductive methods. Acts 17:11 and Acts 15 show how community perspectives contribute to nuanced theological discussions, promoting unity amidst differing viewpoints.
  • This lesson provides insights into theological certainty levels, categorizing beliefs into "die for," "divide for," "debate for," and "decide for," highlighting essential doctrines, divisive issues, passionate debates, and less crucial matters, while underscoring the significance of understanding diverse perspectives and theological terms across different Christian tribes.
  • Explore general revelation through creation and conscience (Psalm 19, Romans 1). Responding leads to God, though not salvation alone. Special revelation possible. Diverse salvation views, favoring knowing Jesus. Seared consciences don't always void salvation.
  • Gain deep understanding of special revelation: history, divine acts, and communication revealing God's character and redemptive plan via Messiah. Lesson highlights Bible's key role, conveying God's nature, guidance, and transformative power, emphasizing ongoing divine-human communication.
  • This lesson delves into the concept of divine inspiration in Scripture, citing 2 Timothy 3:15-16 and 2 Peter 1:16-21. It explains "God-breathed" as a term highlighting God's creative influence on words, rejecting mere concepts or dictation. Inspiration involves human authors, their personalities, and styles, conveying God's message to the entire church.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the characteristics of God, including their definitions, biblical support, and implications and applications.
  • In this lesson you will gain insight into the Bible's clarity, sufficiency, and authority, and the Canon.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp a deep understanding of God's character. His foremost quality is compassion, like a mother's love. He's gracious, patient, loving, faithful, and forgiving, extending favor even to the undeserving. Yet, He's just, not sparing the persistently rebellious. This lesson dispels misconceptions, urging contemplation of God's profound blend of love and justice.
  • This lesson delves into holiness via Isaiah 6, emphasizing dedication over separation from sin. It challenges misconceptions and calls for church reform.
  • This lesson delves into the fundamental characteristics of God, particularly the Trinity, emphasizing God's essential relational nature within Himself and its biblical implications, while also addressing theological controversies and highlighting the complexity of the Trinity.
  • This lesson explores different approaches to knowing God, inspired by Thomas Aquinas, discusses the doctrine of immutability, and highlights how God can change in his attitude and actions based on biblical evidence, emphasizing the value of in-depth Bible study and open dialogue in understanding God's nature.
  • This lesson covers key theological concepts: sovereignty, election, and free will. It explores differences between Calvinist and Wesleyan-Arminian views on God's sovereignty, impacting God's plan and human responsibility. Emphasis on defining terms to prevent disputes. Speaker is a "Calminian," blending Calvinism and Arminianism for a balanced perspective. Valuable insights into theological complexities and scripture interpretation.
  • Exploring various theological views and problematic issues surrounding the concept of providence, we will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of prayer in providence, as well as the compatibility of God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • You will gain knowledge about anthropology and its biblical foundations, creation of human beings and the image of God in humans, fall and sin and their implications on human nature, redemption and sanctification, and human destiny and eschatology, including views on heaven and hell and the return of Christ.
  • This lesson offers valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of providence and its profound implications for our comprehension of God's role in the world.
  • The lesson touches upon various types of suffering, categorizing them into six different types: moral evil (e.g., rape), natural evil (e.g., cancer), persecution, sharing the suffering of another, punishment for sin, and suffering caused by the devil.
  • Learn to discern God's will by cultivating a Christ-like character, living by moral principles, seeking counsel, embracing uniqueness, and praying. It's about aligning with your long-term happiness and godly desires, offering a balanced approach to life decisions.
  • Explore Jesus' nature and incarnation. Learn how He balanced divine and human attributes, challenging traditional views. Reflect on His mission and ours, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bridging divinity and humanity.
  • This lesson delves into the incarnation of Jesus, explaining his dual nature as both God and man during his earthly mission, supported by Old Testament, Gospel, and epistle references. It acknowledges the complexity of his divinity and humanity, even after his ascension.
  • This lesson explores Jesus' dual nature, divine and human, delving into emotions, knowledge, sin, and his role as the Second Adam, offering theological insights.
  • Learn about Jesus' life and mission, challenging traditional beliefs like the virgin birth. Explore his spiritual journey, resurrection, and more, fostering critical thinking and alternative perspectives.
  • This lesson provides a comprehensive examination of atonement, its various dimensions, and the theological concepts surrounding it.
  • Learn about the Holy Spirit, baptism, and its role in Christian faith. Understand diverse perspectives on its workings in believers' lives, emphasizing its incorporation at conversion and empowering influence, supported by biblical insights.
  • Gain insight into the relationship between spirit baptism and conversion, the various terms used in Scripture, and the importance of ongoing fillings with the Holy Spirit for special ministry tasks, character, and as a command for all believers.
  • This lesson explores the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. It challenges traditional definitions, proposing that any ability empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in ministry is a spiritual gift. The primary gift is the Holy Spirit himself.
  • Learn about the theological debate on spiritual gifts like prophecy and miracles. Explore four perspectives: cessationism, continuationism, functional cessationism, and word of faith. The instructor, a continuationist, emphasizes discernment and scripture while promoting respectful dialogue among believers with differing views.
  • This lesson explores the Bible's view of humanity, emphasizing humans as God's unique creation, made from dust and breath, in His image. It delves into human origins, our role as covenant partners, and the interaction between spirit and body, supported by biblical passages, offering a holistic perspective on being human in God's eyes.
  • This lesson redefines humans as image-bearers of God, emphasizing the role of reflecting divine attributes in all work, gender equality, and growth in Christ-likeness. It promotes dignity for all, with potential for deeper reflection as faith matures.
  • In this lesson you will explore the origin of sin, rejecting dualism in favor of a Christian perspective where sin arises from the choices of morally responsible creatures. The lesson introduces the idea of a pre-creation rebellion by Satan, emphasizing that humans are called to engage in spiritual warfare by doing good and promoting Shalom in the world.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the nature, marks, purpose, structure, and sacraments of the Church and learn about the different views and definitions used to define it.
  • This lecture discusses the leadership offices of a church, including eldership, deacons, and church members, and how they function according to biblical principles of polity, which prioritize following what the Bible prescribes, closely following what it describes, and using wisdom and being Spirit-led in matters it is silent about, all with the aim of effectively sharing the Gospel and achieving unity and focus.
  • In this lesson, you will explore baptism's significance, modes, and theological perspectives, and learn its role in church membership, unity, discipleship, and spiritual growth.
  • This lesson provides an overview of the historical, biblical, and theological aspects of Communion, including practical considerations for its practice.
  • You will gain a good understanding of death and its theological implications, including the biblical view of death, consequences of death, and resurrection and the afterlife. The lesson covers the definition of death, cultural views, and the portrayal of death in the Old and New Testaments. You will also learn about the physical and spiritual consequences of death, as well as the Bible's teachings on resurrection and the afterlife.
  • From this lesson, you gain insight into the biblical concept of God's Kingdom, its significance in Christian theology, and its impact on eschatology, social justice, and the Church's role.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into eschatology, examine biblical perspectives, explore key events like the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium, and Final Judgment, and learn the significance of eschatology for today's believers.
  • By studying the eternal state, you gain insights into the new heaven and earth, resurrection, judgment, and eternal life, deepening your understanding of Christian hope and assurance.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the crucial role of church leaders, their essential qualities, and the challenges they face, while discovering the importance of support and encouragement for their growth and effectiveness in ministry.
  • In this lesson, you gain an understanding of the nature of Scripture and learn to interpret the Bible within its historical, literary, and canonical contexts while addressing challenges in biblical interpretation.
  • This lesson delves into the structure and authority of a church, examining different leadership models and emphasizing the overarching role of scripture as the final authority, while also highlighting the need for congregational involvement in decision-making processes and the unique nature of the apostles in early church leadership.
  • Learn Dr. Breshears' local church leadership principles: focus on equipping, inspiring, empowering, unifying, exemplifying, caring for, overseeing, and shepherding members. Rooted in biblical teachings, emphasizes servant leadership. The lesson discusses congregational decision-making, women in church leadership roles with respect for differing views.
  • Learn about church leadership principles, roles of elders and deacons, active membership, mutual commitment, gift utilization, and clear processes in this comprehensive lesson.
  • This lesson explores sacraments, focusing on baptism and diverse theological views. Baptism signifies a profound commitment to Christ within a believer community, emphasizing understanding and promptness post-conversion.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the essence of baptism, its questions, and debates. Discover belief's role, its confession, and the link to repentance and faith. Explore diverse views on baptism performers, methods, and locations. Gain insights and wisdom for informed baptism decisions in your faith community.
  • From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Communion, also known as the Lord's Supper or Eucharist. It will provide you with insights into the controversy surrounding its terminology and the theological background of Communion, primarily focusing on 1 Corinthians Chapters 10 and 11. You will learn about various theological perspectives on the real presence of Christ in the Communion elements and explore different viewpoints on the frequency, leadership, eligibility, and practical aspects of Communion. Overall, this lesson will equip you with the knowledge to better understand and participate in the Communion meal.
  • This lesson delves into two ends: individual death and the end of the age. It explores human death, material and immaterial aspects (Ecclesiastes 12:7, Genesis 3), fear, loss of autonomy, cremation, death determination, rewards, and urges preparation to meet Jesus, facing the undeniable reality of death.
  • Learn about the Kingdom of God, its aspects, Christ's return interpretations, and key concepts like inaugurated, Messianic, and millennium kingdoms. Emphasizing humility and mission in theological debates, it prepares you for insightful discussions on Christ's return and tribulation.
  • Learn about Christian views on heaven and hell. Hell is punishment for those who reject Jesus; heaven is eternal bliss with Him on a renewed Earth. Explore differing views respectfully.

Understand the core topics of systematic theology, from what we know about God to the future state of humankind. Special emphasis is given to such topics as Christ, salvation, the church, and the future.

A Guide to Christian Theology
Dr. Gerry Breshears
Definition of Sin
Lesson Transcript

Well, one more part here as we talk about sin, there's so much more we could do. But one of these is really important and it's that what's the definition of sin? This is a place where you get theological tribes with different definitions. In a Calvinistic tribe, sin is anything that falls short of the level of God in act, thought or character. Let me do it from the handout here. Calvinistic view, any falling short of God's standard in act, thought or character. So if I act against God's character, that's sin. If I fantasize but don't act, so to be lusting, I don't go and put my hands on her, but I think about it, that's still sin. But they step one further, in character. And so something that is different from the character God has defined for us that is sin.

Where this comes out in point of significance is the current controversy with same sex attraction stuff. If you're keeping track of some of the stuff that's going on, there's a famous conference that's happened about four times called Revoice. Revoice.us. And it's a group of same-sex attracted Christians who are saying, "Yes, we're same-sex attracted." Some will define themselves as gay Christians who follow the sexual ethic of Jesus. And they're saying, "Yes, we're same sex attracted. Our attractions are disordered but not sinful. They're disordered desires, but they're not sinful desires." Others, and I won't name names here, maybe I should because I have an opinion in this, but I won't are saying, "No, no, no. If your attraction is not for an opposite sex person, that's not just a disordered desire, that's a sinful desire."

And if you accept that and gather together in the Revoice conference and say, "Yes, I'm a same sex attracted, but I follow the ethic of Jesus therefore I do not fantasize or act on it, that same sex attraction," then they're saying, "No, the desire itself is sin." And that's where the controversy comes out. If you're in certain circles, and I work in those circles, it's a hot topic. Is the same sex attraction itself sinful? Or put in other sex, this isn't particularly me, but I'm a man, I've got some levels of that. If I find myself attracted to women other than my wife in a romantic sexual kind of way, is that attraction a sinful attraction or is that a disordered attraction?

And the many Calvinists say, "Well, that attraction is sinful even though I don't fantasize it. Even though I don't act on, it's still sinful because I've got the attraction." I'd say, "No. If I don't fantasize and don't act on it. The attraction itself is disordered but not sinful." So that's a controversy that goes on. It's about the definition of sin. Calvinist definition is anything that falls short of God's standard in act, thought or character. Wesleyan theology says, "No, no, no, no, no. Sin is a willful transgression of the known law of God. Sin is the willful transgression of the known law of God." This is Wesley's famous definition. It's the willful transgression of the known law of God. Now, that's not encouraging ignorance because we always should be pursuing holiness, certainly from Wesleyan perspective, but it's not sin if I do it out of stupidity. It's stupid, but it's not sinful.

Now there's a whole debate behind that, but it's the definition of sin. Is sin going against God in act, thought or also character? Is sin only willful transgressions of the known law of God and other things can be stupid but not sinful? And there's a big long debate. Is sin rule breaking or is it also violation of relationship? And I think sin is more fundamentally violation of relationship and the rules come as a result of the relationship. So where I would come out on that kind of definition, remember I've already said that sin is defining for myself what's good, bad as a fundamental definition of sin. And I think attraction or character is a disordered desire, not a sinful desire. But when I start fantasizing it quickly becomes that way.

So I'm going to be doing a premarital session right after our recording session today with Eric and Cynthia. And they're just a short distance from their wedding and I'm delighted to have a piece of their wedding. I'll get to do a prayer blessing over this marvelous couple. They're both friends and then they've met each other and made eyes at each other and I get to with them their pre-marital. I love it. Love it, love it, love it. Eric, guy, sat with me recently and said, "Gary, what do I do with my lustful thoughts towards Cynthia?" And I said, "Don't act on them." "Oh, no, no, no, I'm not going to do that." And he won't because I'll kill him if he does. So would Cynthia. No, he's not even going that direction. He's a good man.

"Don't fantasize." But I said, "Eric, that's a good desire out of time because your wedding is September 24th and it's going to be amazing. At that point it'll be in every sense a blessable desire. Right now it's a good desire, but out of time. It's a disordered or dis-timed desire. So when that comes up, what you say to yourself, 'Good desire, not now.' And know and to Jesus, you see her as your fiance, not your wife." And he totally bought it. So he likes the idea. "I'm deeply attracted to this woman and I want to have sexual relations with her and I will, but not now. And I'm not going to fantasize it now because I want to build a beautiful thing." See, that's a good way to do things seems to me. And James, I think, does that and he talks when desires are hatched they become sin.

So it seems to me that there's a difference between attraction or character, desires and actual sin which you start fantasizing and acting. So I try to come out on that. I do think there's a difference between willful sin and stupid thing. So one of the things I talk about is degrees of sin. And for many, many, many Protestants, they're going to say there are no degrees of sin. All sin is sin. And they go to Matthew chapter 5, which is a good place to go. Matthew chapter 5, and they go to verse 27. "Have you heard it said you should not commit adultery? Well, it's one of the 10 commandments. I tell you, anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." They feel right there Jesus saying that lust and adultery, same thing. And I say, "Do you really believe that?" So we should like...

No, I don't think you believe that. I don't have to unpack it. I don't think though what Jesus saying. What the Pharisees are saying, "I'm not committing adultery so I'm okay." He's saying, "Yeah, that's true. You're keeping the 10 commandments. You're not keeping the Abrahamic righteous behind that. You're not respecting women. You're objectifying and fantasizing." So when you stop there and with your tongue dragging the ground in lust, that is sin. You're not okay because you didn't commit adultery. He's saying it's sin. He's not saying it's the same sin. So where in the world would I go to say that sin has degrees? Well, I'm glad you asked. Did you ask? Matthew 11, 20?

Well, actually further, go to 23. Matthew 11:23 on, "And you Capernaum, will you be lifted to heavens? No. You'll go down to Hades for if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom it would've remained to this day. But I tell you, it would be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." So Capernaum is a center of Jesus's miracles in the early part of His ministry and they reject Him and He says, "It's worse for you than for Sodom," which is the epic bad guys, one of them in the Old Testament. That's degrees of punishment. And I think it's because of degrees of sin. They have rejected Messiah. Sodom did not do that. So I think it's degrees of sin.

I've got other things, your hand up, but look at one more. If I go to John chapter 19, John 19 is Jesus before Pilate and He won't talk to Pilate. Pilate gets ticked, "Don't you realize the power to free you or crucify you?" And Jesus gives a profound answer, "You'd have no power over me if it not given to you from above. I'm here by God's commissioning. Therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin. The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." Okay, who handed Jesus over to Pilate? It wasn't Judas. Judas handed Him over to Caiaphas. Caiaphas handed Herod, Herod sent Him back to Caiaphas and Caiaphas handed Him over to Pilate.

Why is Caiaphas guilty of a greater sin than Pilate who's crucifying a man he knows to be innocent against the advice his wife who's seen a vision from heaven for minor political survival thing? Has he committed a great sin? Horrific sin. And He says, "Caiaphas has committed a greater sin." Why? He rebelled against office and knowledge because he's a higher priest. Yeah. And He didn't say greater consequence, He says greater sin. So I will suggest to you that there are absolute degrees of sin. Now, all sin is sin and that's Jesus' lesson of the Pharisees. You can't say, "I'm okay because I don't," or, "You do really bad things and I don't, so I'm a better guy than you are." That's not the way to do it. But there are degrees of sin and I think we need to do that because frankly adultery's way worse than lust.

And I'm not saying lust is okay. The guy's doing porn and all the stuff associated with that in his basement is a terrible sinner. But the guy who's gotten grabbing women and do it to him is worse sinner in my judgment. And I can go through all the categories, but I think there are degrees of sin and I think it's important that we say that in our pastoral ministry. But we also say all sin is sin. The other question is how sinful are fallen humans? And this ends up being a pretty significant question when it comes to salvation and what's going there. So I've got a couple of categories here. One of them is pervasive depravity and pervasive or total depravity means everything I do or am is tainted by sinfulness.

Depravity, and then the Calvinist says its total depravity but better pervasive depravity. Anthony Hoekema, profound Calvinist said this, "Everything I do or am is tainted by sinfulness. My best actions," if you believe in total depravity, "My best actions still have sinfulness is a part of them." That's not debatable. Pretty much everybody in evangelicalism believes that though the degree of depravity may be debated. The second was more so and that is spiritual total inability. This is a debated thing. And what's happening here is when we say spiritual inability, what we're saying is everybody would agree, "I cannot save myself. I can't change my fundamental preference for sin or self and restore my relationship with God." Everybody agrees on that. I can't repair the relationship with God from my side.

In that sense, spiritual inabilities universally agreed to. But there's another lesson where it's not agreed to. And that is if I hear the gospel and the call to repent and believe, do I need a prior work of God before I can say yes? So I hear the gospel, "Will you accept Jesus as your Lord? Will you repent and believe and join the community of Christ?" Calvinists are saying that we have spiritual inability. We cannot do that unless God does a prior work of grace in my heart. Wesleyans will agree that I cannot respond positively to the gospel unless God does a prior work of grace in my heart. Classic Arminians are going to say, "God doesn't have to do a prayer work. I already have that level of freedom and I can say yes to the gospel and God doesn't have to do anything to make that possible." It's a theological debate and it turned to be fairly significant in how we understand the gospel.

Calvinist says, "You can't respond to the gospel and you need grace. And what they say is you need effectual grace. You need transforming grace." Wesleyans say, "You need grace and God gives you enabling grace. In fact, He gives everybody enabling grace." Arminians say, "You don't need a special grace, you already have sufficient ability to say yes to the gospel on your own." It's an insider's debate, but it ends up being a place where people throw stones at each other. Let me say it one more time. Calvinists believe in spiritual inability in the sense that I can't say yes to the gospel. Everybody believes I have spiritual ability in the sense that I can't repair the relationship with God from my side. But Calvinists say, "I cannot accept the gospel without a prior work of God."

Wesleyans say, "I cannot accept the gospel without a prior work of God." So they agree with that, but they disagree with the nature of the grace. Calvinists say that, "Grace is effective for the elect." Wesleyans say, "It's enabling for everyone." And we talk about, so triology unpack that a little bit further. Arminians say, "I don't need a special work of grace because I already have enough ability in myself by God's common grace that I can say yes and receive the gospel. God doesn't have to do anything in me prior to me being able." So they deny spiritual inability in the sense I can't say yes to the gospel. So it's a complex insider argument that has surprising level of hostility associated with it. And that's how sinful are we.

Calvinists have a more negative view of the fallen person than Wesleyans who have a negative view. But our meanings have not quite as negative view, but everybody agrees everything I am and do is tainted by sin. Everybody agrees that I cannot, from my side of the house, repair the relationship with God. It has to be an initiative of God. But we disagree on does God need to do something in me before I can say yes to the gospel. Arminians say, "I don't need anything." Wesleyans and Calvinists say, "I do." But then Wesleyans and Calvinists disagree on what's necessary. And we can disagree on these things. Please do it charitably and recognize and then open your Bible. But we'll do that. And you smile and say, "I think I disagree." Can we talk? Okay. Questions, comments?

So you mentioned that there's a degree of sin. Do you think that there's a degree of consequence related to that sin or-

Not necessarily.

Is there, for the one who denies Christ, hell or a degree of consequence or no?

Are there degrees in hell?


Yes, I think there are. Yeah. It's worse for Sodom in the day of judgment. Sorry, worse Capernaum than Sodom in the day of judgment. I think there are degrees of punishment and hell. I really believe that.

Do you think there's degrees of reward in heaven?

At least in the millennium, yes. And I'm pre-millennium. Progressive dispensational pre-millennial. I think there are different levels of reward at least in the millennium. I don't know about the new heaven, new earth to say anything about that. Yeah, I do believe that. The idea we're all equal, that's an American thing. It's not a biblical thing in my judgment. So yeah, if I disagree with some of the details of Dante, I think he was on the right idea. And he had courage enough to put the current Pope in the very pit of hell, which he probably deserved to be in.


That gets you dead, by the way.


Log in to take this quiz.