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THEOLOGY > Sin > The Character of Sin > Sinful State and Sinful Acts


Two unlike and yet related facts must be maintained when considering the evil that is characteristic of man: one, man’s state is a state of sin; and two, man commits sinful acts.

Sins flow from sin, that is, sinful acts arise from a sinful heart or state. In reference to man, corruption is a condition as well as a practice; this means that evil acts arise because of an evil nature. A bad fountain yields polluted water—man commits sins because he is sinful. And for both he is guilty (see: Guilt).

This two-fold tragic situation of man is clearly taught in the Scriptures. Numerous passages suggest the difference between man’s condition and his conduct, or between his state and his deeds. These verses are just a sample of those that teach the two aspects of man’s existence:

Passages speaking of the State of Sin – Man’s Condition, the Principle of Sin

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5);

what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, . . . (Matt. 15:18-19);

the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil (Lu. 6:45);

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29);

Both Jews and Greeks are under sin (Rom. 3:9);

by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners (Rom. 5:19);

that the body of sin might be brought to nothing (Rom. 6:6);

but sin . . . produced in me all kinds of covetousness (Rom. 7:8);

I am of the flesh, sold under sin (Rom. 7:14);

but sin that dwells within me (Rom. 7:17).

Passages speaking of the Acts of Sin – Man’s Conduct, the Practice of Sin

for there is no one who does not sin (I Kin. 8:46);

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities (Ps. 51:9);

He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21);

the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil (Lu. 6:45);

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23);

Be angry and do not sin (Eph. 4:26);

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (I Jo. 1:9).

Without controversy these verses teach a principle of sin and a practice of sin. Man is characterized by a condition, or a state, that is sinful and is also characterized by actions, that are sinful.

The relationship of the two is that the practices arises out of the principle, the conduct out of the condition, the actions out of the state. Man does what he does because man is what he is—he sins because he is sinful. It is not that his sins make him sinful, but that his sinful condition causes him to commit acts of sin.

Man is sinful and commits sinful acts. Sin, therefore, is inward and outward; initially, it is an inward disposition of rebellion that manifests itself in an outward display of evil. Both the inner musings and the external deeds are evil.

Man is accountable to God for who or what he is and also for what he does, which means that man in his total existence must stand before God. And before God man is condemned for both his condition and his conduct, for both are deserving of punishment because man is guilty on both accounts (see: Guilt).

Neither the state nor the acts can stand alone, meaning that where there is the one dimension there is the accompanying dimension. Where there is the condition there is the conduct. And the truth is that the two are so closely connected that they cannot be separated; where there is the one there is the other: if there is a state there will be an act, and if there is an act then it indicates a state. There is such unity between the two that there can be no disconnection between the two; they are so intricately related that they are one.

This private and public display of evil are foreign to the original creation of God. Man was created good with no inclination toward sin (see: A Very Good Creation and Morally Upright).

Calvin commented:

On account of the corruption of human nature, man may be justly said to be naturally abominable to God (Institutes, II, Ch. 1, 11).

For our nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle (Institutes, II, Ch. 1, 8).

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