We confess that, beginning with Adam and Eve, humanity has disobeyed God, given way to the tempter, and chosen to sin. Because of sin, all have fallen short of the Creator’s intent, marred the image of God in which they were cre-ated, disrupted order in the world, and limited their love for others. Because of sin, humanity has been given over to the enslaving powers of evil and death.1
Sin is turning away from God and making gods of creation and of ourselves. We sin by making individual and group choices to do unrighteousness and injustice.2 We sin by omitting to do good and neglecting to give God the glory due our Creator and Redeemer. In sinning, we become unfaithful to the covenant with God and with God’s people, destroy right relationships, use power selfishly, do violence, and become separated from God. As a result, we are not able to worship God rightly.3
Through sin, the powers of domination, division, destruction, and death have been unleashed in humanity and in all of creation. They have, in turn, further subjected human beings to the power of sin and evil, and have increased burdensome work and barren rest. The more we sin, the more we become trapped in sin. By our sin we open ourselves to the bondage of demonic powers.4 Because of sin and its consequences, the efforts of human beings on their own to do the good and to know the truth are constantly corrupted. 5
The enslaving nature of sin is apparent in the powers of evil, which work through both individuals and groups and in the entire created order. These powers, principalities, and elemental spirits of the universe often hold people captive and work through political, economic, social, and even religious systems to turn people away from justice and righteousness.6 But thanks be to God, who has not allowed the powers to reign supreme over creation or left humanity without hope.
Gen. 2:17; 3:22-24; 6:11-12; Rom. 1:21-32; 6:23.
Rom. 6:12-18; Eph. 6:10-12.
Ps. 14:2-4; Rom. 3:9-18.
Eph. 2:1-3; Gal. 4:1-3.
- Sin is a reality, not an illusion. We cannot explain away sin by blaming it on illness or by claiming we are victims of circumstances or of evil. Sin involves personal responsibility and has real consequences. In Scripture, responsibility for sin and evil is ascribed not only to men and women. It is also ascribed to a personal power who is given various names: “serpent” (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:3), “tempter” (Matt. 4:3), “Satan” (Zech. 3:1), “father of lies” (John 8:44), the “evil one” (Matt. 6:13), and “the devil” (James 4:7).
- In addition, “powers,” “principalities,” “gods of the nations,” and “elemental spirits of the universe,” though not necessarily evil, are prone to distort God’s purposes for them. They can corrupt and enslave humanity (Isa. 42:17; 45:20; Gal. 4:9; Eph. 2:1-3; 6:12; Col. 2:15). Sin is thus not only an individual matter, but involves groups, nations, and structures. Such organizations have a “spirit” that can incite persons to do evil they would not have chosen on their own. Governments, military forces, economic systems, educational or religious institutions, family systems, and structures determined by class, race, gender, or nationality are susceptible to demonic spirits. Human violence toward each other, enmity between peoples, the domination of men over women, and the adverse conditions of life and work in the world–these are all signs of sin in humanity and in all creation (Gen. 3:14-19; 4:3-16; 6:11-13; 11:1-9; Rom. 8:21).
- People sin not only by breaking particular divine laws, but also by breaking the covenant God offers to all. A covenant is an agreement that establishes a relationship. In the Bible, God initiates the covenant with God’s people (Josh. 24:16-18; Jer. 7:23; 31:31-34; Hos. 2:18-23). Faith or faithfulness (English words used to translate the same word in the biblical languages) means living rightly within the covenant relationship. Thus, sin is fundamentally unfaithfulness to our relationship with God and disobedience to God’s will. Unrighteousness and injustice include all sin; the same word in the biblical languages can be translated with either English word. Hebrew and Greek do not divide (as English does) between the individual dimension of sin (unrighteousness) and sin’s social dimension (injustice).
- Sin is part of the human condition; we all participate in it. The sin of Adam and Eve affects all (Rom. 5:12, 19); at the same time, we are held accountable for our own behavior. As the Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck wrote, any heritage we have received from our first parents does not deprive us of our own final responsibility before God (Ezek. 18). Although human beings have free will, choice is limited. By the grace of God, we have been given the freedom to choose the bond of covenant relationship with God or to choose bondage to sin (Rom. 6:16-18), which leads to final separation from God. The Scriptures issue stern warnings that those who do not fear God, but persist in anger, lust, power mongering, and the like, face the destruction of hell (Matt. 5:22, 29; 18:9). See “The Reign of God” (Article 24).
- Human sinfulness affects the entire person. No one aspect of human beings, such as reason or sexuality or the physical body, should be singled out as the primary carrier of sinfulness. Giving way to the “flesh” is expressed in a variety of sinful attitudes and behaviors (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16, 24; 1 Cor. 11:18-30; Phil. 3:3-7).
- Just as sin has marred the relations between human beings, so the effects of sin and evil have distorted human work and rest. Work has not been cursed by God (Ps. 104:23-24), but neither should it be idealized. According to Genesis 3:17, God did not curse work directly, but the “ground,” that is, the conditions under which work is carried out in a world affected by sin and evil.