Millions of Christians believe that sin is playing cards, going to the theater on Sunday, wearing shorts, or drinking alcoholic beverages. While these things can be sinful, are they really what the Bible defines as sin? The fact is: What the Bible reveals is, that in the sight of God, many of the things people think are wrong are not, and many things that people think are all right are wrong. What, then, is the Bible definition of sin? Here is what the Bible says. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).

Sin, the transgression of the law, is also defined in the Bible as unrighteousness. The Apostle John wrote, “All unrighteousness is sin. . .” (1 John 5:17). If sin is unrighteousness, what, then, is righteousness? The answer: “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172). Unrighteousness, or sin, is defined as breaking the commandments of God. Who are the unrighteous? Notice what the Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Today, some of these very acts are touted as forms of acceptable conduct, all under the guise of diversity. There will be much for which some people will have to answer. An examination of the Ten Commandments will quickly reveal that many of these acts are condemned as violations of God’s Law.

The Law Is Spiritual

The Ten Commandments comprise a great spiritual law. We do not see gravity, but we quickly see the results when we violate it. In the same manner, we cannot see the Law of God; it is not visible to us. But, we can quickly see the consequences of breaking it. Thousands wonder why things always turn out bad for them; they never seem to get the breaks. The reason is clear. They are breaking the invisible, spiritual law God has set in motion. This spiritual law exacts a penalty, and this penalty is inexorable. One is judged not only by what one does, but by what one thinks. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). The Ten Commandments hold us accountable for the very thoughts in our minds. Even our most intimate secrets are scrutinized by the Law of God. Of this law, Paul tells us, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). He added, “For we know that the law is spiritual. .” (v. 14). Paul knew the great value of this spiritual law.

When Did the Ten Commandments Originate?

The common assumption today is that the Ten Commandments originated with the law of Moses. This view holds that since the law of Moses is “done away,” the Ten Commandments are no longer in force. But, did the Ten Commandments originate with the law of Moses?

The fact is: It can be clearly shown in the Old Testament that the Ten Commandments were being broken long before the time of Moses. The first commandments states: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Notice what Joshua said,

And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. . . . Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord (Josh. 24:2, 14).

Joshua’s statement proves the first commandment was being violated long before the time of Moses.

Take a look at the second commandment. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Ex. 20:4). During the time of Jacob, long before the time of Moses, we read, “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments. . . . And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem” (Gen. 35:2, 4). The worship of graven images was a sin long before the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai.

What about the misuse of God’s name? The third commandment states: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). Moses instructed Israel, “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do. . . . neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. . . . For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people” (Lev. 18:3, 21, 29). In Egypt it had been a common practice to misuse the name of God. The violation of this commandment was practiced for many years before Israel left for the promised land.

The Sabbath was given to mankind at Creation (Gen. 2:2-3). When Moses gave this command of God on Mt. Sinai, he wrote, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). He then continued, “. . . Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (vv. 9-10). God could say “remember” for two reasons. The Sabbath was given at Creation, and it was given to Israel again, two months before Israel came to Mt. Sinai. See Exodus 16:1, 4-5, 22-30. The Israelites were breaking the Sabbath before they received the law on Mt. Sinai. This is why they were told to remember it.

What about respect for parents? This is covered in the fifth commandment. It states: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). Genesis, chapter nine, gives us the account of Canaan and what he did when Noah drank too much wine. “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren” (Gen. 9:24-25). This act of disrespect toward an elder was worthy of a curse. Surely it was a violation of the fifth commandment.

There are plenty of people today who justify murder. What does the Bible reveal about murder? The sixth commandment states: “Thou shalt [do no murder]” (Ex. 20:13). Was murder a sin before the time of Moses? Notice the account in Genesis 4:8-11. “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.” Murder was a violation of the Law of God from the time of Adam.

One of the major causes of divorce today is adultery. Was adultery a sin before the Old Covenant was instituted? Notice what the seventh commandment states: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). In the days of Joseph we read, “And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:7-9). Joseph knew adultery was a sin long before the time of Moses.

In this present world theft is a major problem everywhere. The eighth commandments states: “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Did theft originate with the law of Moses? Notice Genesis 30:33. Jacob told his father-in-law, “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.” As early as the time of Jacob, theft was regarded as an offense that should not to be committed.

How large of a problem is untruthfulness in the world today? We are instructed in the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex. 20:16). Did the sin of lying originate with Moses? Notice the account in Genesis 20:2-3, 9.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife. . . . Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

Even Abraham under stress succumbed to the sin of lying. So, this command did not begin with Moses either.

The tenth commandment has to do with coveting, that is, longingly desiring the possessions of others. It states: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:17). In the book of Job we read, “If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door; Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her. For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges. . . . If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much. . . . This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above” (Job 31:9-11, 24-25, 28). Here we see coveting was a sin to be avoided, from the earliest time.

The above texts all show that the Ten Commandments did not originate with the law of Moses. They were in force from the beginning. What did not originate with the law of Moses cannot be nullified with its passing. When the Apostle John said sin is the transgression of the law, it is obvious what law he was talking about. Notice what James wrote.

If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law (Jas. 2:8-11).

The Ten Commandments tell us what sin is. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7).

Why the Order of the Ten Commandments?

James said, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). So, there is no partiality when it comes to the penalty for breaking God’s Law. Why are the Ten Commandments listed in the order they are? There are some important reasons. The first two commandments prohibit idolatry and idol worship. The third commandment prohibits the misuse of God’s name. The fourth commandment teaches us how to honor God by properly worshiping Him on the day He has set aside. What if one decided to keep the fourth commandment but not the first three? He would be observing a day in honor of a false god by bowing down to his image, while at the same time showing disrespect for the very name of the God of heaven. The fact is: It would be impossible to keep the fourth commandment without observing the first three.

Take a look at the last six commandments. One is forbidden to dishonor one’s parents, to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, to lie, and to covet. What if one decided to keep the tenth commandment not to covet, but continued to violate the fifth through the ninth commandments? Both adultery and theft are predicated upon coveting. Murder and lying are often predicated upon the same thing. The fact is: It would not be possible to keep the tenth commandment without keeping the previous five. The arrangement of the Ten Commandments is based upon the descending consequences of harm they cause-in the case of the last six, the descending harm done to others. Murder, for example, has a much more serious consequence than coveting another’s wealth. One may suffer from the consequences of adultery, theft, being falsely accused, or as a victim of covetousness. But he will not survive murder.

In the case of the first four commandments, a major consideration is the descending harm that is done to the one who violates them. While the penalty is the same for violating any single one, idolatry has a much greater consequence for the individual because it sets the stage for violating all of the commandments. One who is an idolater will have little respect for any of the commandments of God. In reality, it is impossible to keep any of the first four, or even the last six, when one is guilty of idolatry. So, in effect, the first four commandments comprise a unit, and the last six comprise a unit. Idolatry is first in order because its consequences are the greatest. Of the last six commandments, honor for one’s parents is first because the failure to observe this commandment sets the stage for violating the next five. One who has proper respect for one’s parents will demonstrate a proper respect for the law of the land and for the rights of others.

Why God Gave the Ten Commandments

For too many years people have viewed the God of the Old Testament-the One who gave mankind the Ten Commandments-as a harsh, stern, taskmaster. And that the Ten Commandments are a burden, certainly not suitable for man’s higher development. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is: The God of the Old Testament was none other than the One who became Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The Bible clearly reveals that the Ten Commandments were given for man’s good, for his best interest. Look at the consequences for breaking them. The world is full of violence, war, murder, adultery, divorce, theft, etc. What if all men kept the Ten Commandments? Would we find this going on? It is unrealistic, of course, to believe the world will pay any heed to the Law of God, but we can do so as individuals. God does not have to sit on His throne in heaven and punish each of us for violating His Law. The violation of the Ten Commandments brings a penalty because God has set in motion an inexorable law which exacts an automatic penalty. Those who would like to see their lives become meaningful and would like to ease the pain they are now presently experiencing can do so. They can begin to take this matter of sin seriously and start keeping the Ten Commandments. Those who fear God and keep His law receive blessings instead of curses (Deut. 28:1-14, 15-68).

What does the Bible say about the Law of God?

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: in keeping of them there great reward (Ps. 19:7-11).

My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness (Ps. 119:172)
Thou art near, O Lord; and all thy commandments are truth (Ps. 119:151).

What are the benefits to be derived for obedience to the Law of God?

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord . . . O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. . . . I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. . . . Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way (Ps. 119:1, 97, 99-100, 104).

Why did God give the Ten Commandments to mankind? The Ten Commandments are the Word of God. They define sin. They show us the right way to go. They give us spiritual enlightenment. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). For so many today who have no sense of purpose in life or spiritual direction, the Ten Commandments are the answer. They show us the standard of right and wrong. They give us that sense of purpose and direction. No wonder the Psalmist wrote, “Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:129-130). “. . . My heart standeth in awe of thy word. I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil. I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love” (vv.161-163). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (v. 165). In spite of what the rest of the world experiences, those who love God’s law and keep His commandments are not suffering from the consequences of their sins. They experience a sense of purpose, they have a goal, they know the meaning of calmness, assurance, and confidence in God. What a blessing to behold!

But what is the lot of the sinner-the man who transgresses the law?

The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them (Prov. 11:3).

Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard (Prov. 13:15).

Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed (Prov. 13:21).

And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed (Isa. 1:28).

Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it (Isa. 13:9).

And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible (Isa. 13:11).

Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth (John 9:31).

Man Needs God’s Direction

The Law of God, which God gave to mankind at the beginning, is the only true way to happiness. Adam and Eve disobeyed that law and the consequences have befallen all of mankind ever since. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14). Paul tells us that the Ten Commandments were in effect from Adam to Moses. The codified law given to Moses had no effect upon this great spiritual law, neither strengthening nor nullifying it. Adam and Eve were guilty of sin and were transgressors of the law (vv. 17, 19).

This law is immutable. “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8). “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). The violation of this perfect law has led to the unhappiness, misery, poverty, anguish, sorrow, and bloodshed so prevalent in the world today. Sin is the consequence of disobedience. Man needs a right sense of direction. How can he get this direction? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (Ps. 111:10). Notice what we read in the Scriptures. “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Ps. 119:5-6). Those who are ashamed for the situations in which they find themselves need to heed this text. Consider the following. “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. . . . It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. . . . Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed” (Ps. 119:67, 71-72, 80).

What is the result of sin?

“His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray” (Prov. 5:22-23). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).

Love Is The Key to Well-Being

When Jesus was asked which is the great commandment of the law, He said,”. . . Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39). In reality, then, the commandments of God can be summed up by the word “love”-love to God and love to one’s fellow man. The Apostle Paul adds:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).

In effect, love is defined as obedience to the Law of God. This is why the Apostle John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). The Ten Commandments reflect the entire principle of love. Jesus said, “. . . It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The way to avoid sin is to keep the Law of God. This law-the Ten Commandments-is a part of that very word.

Sin is the transgression of the law, the spiritual law of God that is perfect, holy, just, and good. It is summed up by the word “love.” This love is manifested in obedience to God and outgoing concern for one’s neighbor. The man who breaks even one point of that law is guilty of all. The Law of God reveals the only right and true way to happiness, peace, joy, and well-being. This law has existed from the beginning and its violation-sin-has been the cause of all the misery, sorrow, bloodshed, anguish, and suffering in this present world. Those who come to realize this can make the personal changes to bring about a more fruitful and happy life, but they need the help of God’s Spirit to be able to do so. This is why repentance and baptism are so necessary. Those who have not been truly baptized need to seriously consider this important step.