Holding to Truth

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The Difference Between Sin and Sins—Two Problems with Two Solutions

Difference between sin and sins

Have you ever done something you knew was a sin, confessed it, and quickly found yourself doing it again? I know I have.

What’s the solution to this problem? It begins with seeing the difference between sin and sins and then applying the proper remedy to each.

“Sin” and “sins” in the Scriptures

Concerning sins, 1 Corinthians 15:3 says , “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”  Later, 1 John 1:7 says, “…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from every sin.” These two verses speak of our sinful acts and their remedy.

In contrast, Romans 6:6 says, “Knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be annulled, that we may no longer serve sin as slaves.” In this verse we see “sin” as a powerful master that enslaves us and makes our body, the “body of sin.”  But we can also see a wonderful remedy.

Sadly, a lack of understanding concerning the difference between these two—sin and sins—has been a source of real frustration to many seeking Christians.

So what are we missing?

The underlying problem involves a lack of spiritual sight. But there definitely is hope. The apostle Paul both diagnosed and treated the problem in Romans 1-8.

First, we need to see the fundamental difference between “sin” and “sins.”

“Sin” singular refers to the powerful nature of sin within us. It’s like a tree that produces its fruit—“sins.” It follows then that “sins” plural refer to countless acts of sinning as the fruits of this sinful nature within us (Rom.7:8-19).

We need to be clear on this distinction because the two refer to two strikingly different problems with two different solutions.

God’s remedy for our “sins” is forgiveness by the blood of Christ.

In the first two chapters of his classic book, The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee addresses these two problems—sin and sins with their two respective solutions.

We must be clear that no amount of tears, time, penance, or good deeds, can remove the record of our sins before God. Nor can it remove the stains of guilt from our conscience.

Only the blood of Jesus can deal with our sins. First John 1:7 says,

“…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from every sin.” Then verse 9 continues, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

To apply God’s remedy to our “sins,” we simply need to believe God’s word and receive the effectiveness of Christ’s blood by confessing our sins to God.

God’s remedy for “sin” is deliverance by the cross of Christ.

After we’ve received the forgiveness of our “sins” by Christ’s blood, we may come to a further discovery, that is, that  “sin” dwells within us. Watchman Nee said, “The Blood deals with the sins, but the Cross must deal with the sinner…In [Romans 5] a sinner is said to be a sinner because he is born a sinner; not because he has committed sins.”

So it’s important for us to see that we’re sinners not because of our behavior, but because of our sinful heredity. In Romans 5:19, Paul said, “For just as through the disobedience of one man [Adam] the many were constituted sinners…” I can compare this heredity of sin to my allergies. My allergic reactions are due, not to something I’ve done, but to my birth, my heredity.

The only solution to our problem of sin  is to “change our parentage.” We got into Adam by birth. So the only way out of Adam is by death. Romans 6:3-4 show us how we died to Adam. We were baptized into Christ, and into His death. In such a union with Christ, we died to Adam, with our heredity of sin. Now, as those joined to Christ in His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life.

Deliverance from sin by the cross of Christ, is ours simply by remaining in Him. Since Christ is now a life-giving Spirit in His resurrection, we can be in Him and He in us. This is just like our being in the air and the air being in us. As we remain in union with Christ, all the effectiveness of His cross is ours and sin has no dominion over us.

May we enjoy such freedom in Christ by seeing the difference between sin and sins. May we also daily apply this vision by practicing to confess our sins to Him and to remain in  Him by breathing His name—“Lord Jesus! O Lord, I love you”—to be in His Spirit.

If you’ve been helped by seeing the difference between sin and sins please confirm it in a comment.

For a more complete covering of this topic you enjoy reading from The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, especially Vol. 43, Chapter 4 at ministrybooks.org.

About Tom Smith

Hi. My name is Tom Smith. I'm the writer behind Holding to Truth in Love, and I love the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Please feel free to send me an e-mail through the contact page if you have any questions. I hope you'd take a moment to subscribe to the Holding to Truth blog. THen you'll be sure not to miss a post. Thanks!

21 Replies

  1. Phil Watson

    How does “practicing to remain in Him” save you from that same sin again?

    1. When we’re remaining in Christ, the effectiveness of His cross is automatically applied to our sinful nature. However, to experience the fact of being “in Christ” in Romans 6, we need to practice being “in spirit” in Romans 8. When we’re in spirit, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ frees us from the law of sin (Rom. 8:2). Then the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled IN us who walk according to the spirit (v. 3). We don’t try not to sin, we simply enjoy and are one with the sinless One.

    2. Michelle

      As you become “born-again”, receive Jesus as your Savior and invited Him to live inside you (want to change your life for the better) you are now made righteous (right standing with GOD). Your spirit, which is Christ living inside you will not want to sin. We still struggle by still having the old stuff (the reason we wanted a change) so we commit sin (acts). As the spirit of Christ continues to grow (read Bible, follow laws, do right) we will not choose to sin. Eventually, we will say, “I am not doing that again”. Another way to look at it is this, When you said, “I am not gonna curse anymore. We still continue to curse. When the Spirit of Christ starts convicting us of our speech, we will on purpose stop using profane words. We will on purpose, not curse. That is what happens. It is step by step, little by little, The more you read the Bible and strive to do what it says, the more you will not choose to sin. The Spirit CANNOT sin. I hope this helps. If not, email me.

      1. Tom Smith

        Michelle, thank you for your comment on HTL post, The Difference Between Sin and Sins. As you mentioned in your comment, we are born again when we receive Jesus as our Savior. (You may also enjoy reading my post on What Does it Mean to be a Born Again Christian?“)

        God considers our believing in His Son the real righteous. By this we are justified before God. This gives us a right standing with God. As a result, God regenerates our spirit, imparting Christ as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45) into our spirit, to make our spirit life (Rom. 8:10).

        It is by the Spirit of life in Christ that we are freed from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:2), the indwelling Sin in our members (Rom. 7:17-18).

        As those living in this sinful flesh, we still commit sins (sinful deeds) occasionally, due to some weakness. For this we need to confess our sins to the Lord Jesus and receive the cleansing of His precious blood (1 John 1:7-9). In this way, we can continue to enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with Him and grow in His divine life, unto maturity in Christ.

        Yes, when we say, Amen! to the convicting of the Spirit of Christ in us, He has the freedom to infuse us with more of Himself as the obedient One. By His continuous operation within us, we gradually lose the taste for the things that displease Him and become willing to submit to His will in our lives.

        It is only this One, the Spirit with our spirit, that can overcome Sin, and that can live the normal Christian life in us.

  2. Godbee

    I have enjoyed reading from this website

  3. James

    This article is very illuminating. I have been a Christian for sometimes but never knew the difference. I am blessed by this site

    1. Tom Smith

      James, it is a real deliverance to see the difference between “sin” and “sins.” To see that sin and sins are different problems with two different solutions is a big encouragement to us who find ourselves trying to overcome sin and repeatedly failing. The sinful deeds require our confession and the cleansing of the Lord’s precious blood. However, the sin nature within us requires the working of the cross by the operation of the Spirit of life. It is only the law of the Spirit of life that can save us from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:2). But praise the Lord, that this powerful, overcoming law of the divine life is in Christ. Whenever we abide in Christ, living and walking according to His Spirit of life in our spirit, we transcend the powerful law of sin in our flesh. Be encouraged to call on the Lord, to converse with Him, to sing His praise and enjoy the automatic operation of this higher law freeing you in Christ!

  4. James

    Tom, once again thank you. I praise God for this site. Tom, it may interest you to know that I am a Nigerian and live in the North Eastern part of the country where our government has been battling with the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group known as “boko haram”. Praise God for the increase in knowledge at this end time that one can be encouraged by somebody far away (I suppose the US). Your site is a blessing to the body of Christ.

  5. Thank you so much for the truth that sets one free…Question: Romans 10:9 -10…Most churches leads people to Jesus Christ through confession of salvation! Are sins and sin not forgiven and eliminated after such a prayer?

    1. Tom Smith

      At the moment we believe in Christ our sins are forgiven based on Christ’s accomplished redemption. Our faith is simply to receive what Christ has already accomplished for us. Our sins were forgiven and our sinful nature was crucified with Christ. This fact still requires our present application by the Spirit. For example, after believing, we may commit sins, so we still need to confess those sins so that the Lord’s blood may cleanse us (1 John 1:8-9). We must also apply the effectiveness of Christ’s death now in His Spirit to the practices of our body, our fallen natural being (Rom. 8:13). When we contact the Lord, calling on His name and praying to Him with our spirit, we enjoy the operation of His Spirit applying Christ’s death to the sin in our old nature. We simply need to live and walk according to the Spirit with our spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16, 25). Much grace to you. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Paul Dogbatsey

    Pastor Tom Smith,l love your explanation so much,you know l am the up coming minister of the gospel and now doing my degree in one of thought of bible school in Ghana,so as time goes on l shall be seeking knowledge from you and l know for sure that you will make yourself available to me ,so please l need your personal email address.thanks may Jehovah continue to bless you with His realma words.hope to hear from you.

    1. Tom Smith

      Send any direct communication via the Contact page on the right. It comes directly to me. Thanks.

  7. please sir’ what is the two(2) different between “sin” (sin nature) and sins

    1. Tom Smith

      Florence,

      Sin (singular) refers to the nature of sin. Whereas, sins (plural) refer to our sinful deeds. Because of the fall in the garden, all of mankind inherited the sin in Adam. Romans 5:12 tells us, “through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin, death…” We did not need to do anything wrong. We are simply sinners because we were born in sin. As sinners, we are a “sin-tree” that brings forth sins, as fruits. Christ, on the one hand, “bore up our sins in His body on the tree (the cross), in order that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). On the other hand, “Him who did not know sin (Christ)He (God) made sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

      Christ has solved both problems by His death. Now we must experience their application on by: 1) confessing our sins (1 John 1:9) and 2) on the other hand, walking according to the spirit so that the law of the Spirit of life can free us from the law of the indwelling sin (Rom. 8:2-4).

  8. In Chinese Bible, the same character is used for both sin/Sin and sins, absolutely no difference. Through years of studying English Bibles, I have seen the difference, but your explanation is truly enlighting, thanks. May God continue to overfill you with His Spirit to bless His people to His glory.

    1. Tom Smith

      John,

      The distinction between sin and sins is a great one. It is like comparing the difference between a tree and it’s fruit. Our sinful nature is something we’ve inherited in Adam. Whereas our sins, our sinful deeds, are the many fruits of this sinful nature. Just as no one needs to train a child to tell a lie, we commit sins unconsciously. Christ’s redeeming blood cleanses us from these sins, whenever we confess (1 John 1:9). However, it is only Christ’s powerful resurrection life in His Spirit that can free us from the law of sin in our nature (Rom. 8:2). When we’re abiding in Christ, this overcoming law of life in our spirit, conquers the sinful law in our flesh. May we learn to remain in His spirit by means of calling on the Lord, praying, singing and enjoying God’s word. Thanks for the encouraging comment.

      1. KT

        Sin meaning imperfection is natural we are all born with but as we grow we get better .. love Forgiving compassion gratitude humility area all something we learn as we grow.. we will never become 100 % perfect.. that is OK.. with each failure Jesus makes us to get up and walk again.

        1. Tom Smith

          Hi KT,

          Thanks for your comment saying,

          “Sin meaning imperfection is natural we are all born with but as we grow we get better .. love Forgiving compassion gratitude humility area all something we learn as we grow.. we will never become 100 % perfect.. that is OK.. with each failure Jesus makes us to get up and walk again.”

          Actually, according to Romans 7:8, 11, 17, and 20, we can see that “sin” is personified. Sin deceives us and kills us (v. 11), and dwells or makes home in us (vv. 17, 20). It is much more than sinful deeds, transgressions or offenses. “Sin” (singular) is a person. It is the embodiment of Satan, living and acting within us.

          As Jeremiah said, “Can the Cushite change his skin, / Or the leopard his spots? / Then you also may be able to do good, / Who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer. 13:23).

          The skin and the spots are something related to the nature of a certain life, something that can not be changed. Hence, we should not look for self improvement but for “organic salvation” by the dispensing of the divine life with the divine nature into us.

          Yes, “forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, and humility are all something that issues from Christ growing in us. They are the issue of God’s divine attributes filling, saturating and being expressed through our human virtues.

          Because we still carry the “flesh of sin” (Rom. 8:3), we must give up hope of arriving at some kind of human perfection in ourselves. Instead, we should give up all hope in ourselves and live in dependence on the resurrected Christ who is living in us. That is we should live and walk according to the spirit–His Spirit that is one with our spirit.

          Galatians 2:20 says,

          “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me…”

          Every time we fail we simply need to turn to the Lord, confess our sins and continue to contact Him and enjoy Him, living by faith. As the rest of Gal. 2:20 says,

          “…and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

          We walk in Christ, by faith, by breathing Him as the Spirit, moment by moment, calling on His name and feeding on His living Word.

          May the Lord bless you as you seek to grow in His life by a living in one spirit with Him.

  9. After last comments, it remind me of Watchman Nee, a Chinese Spiritual leaderback in 40`s and his profound spiritual insight on this subject and others. Sadly most of Chinese churches will not touch his writings.

  10. Hello Tom, what a wonderful blog and article on difference between sin and sins. God starting show me this a long time ago and it made me realize how that in my years growing up in church, there was this “cycle” of never enjoying salvation because of the sense of condemnation. Part of this was as you say, not understanding the difference between sin as being in Adam, and sin as a “power” versus believing God’s Word that through faith we are now in Christ, the Living Person and He is the power of God. The “eye-opener” of “reckoning myself dead to sin” (and its power according to Romans 6) and only alive to Jesus Christ now living my heart” is my hope every single day. This is God’s way for every child of His – not exclusive! This to me, is the definition of “abiding.” That I am to never struggle through my fleshly effort to “attain” His fruitfulness in my walk, but continually turning to the One Who lives in me as the Life and Glory of God. And this again to me is the definition of living by faith in Him all the days of our lives. And lastly, another thing I realized was that “faith” in His blood cleansing ALL the sins and blunders (even after I was a Christian) was going to cleanse my conscience too of those things. I believe a lot of Christians sin more because of the ignorance of God’s Truth – that they really do not want to sin but don’t understand like you have shared as to what and how to apply the glorious Truth. So thank you for sharing and keep on keeping on holding forth God’s wonderful words of life. The Church needs this – we’ve been stuck too long!

    1. Tom Smith

      Sue,

      Realizing the difference between Sin in our fallen nature (Romans 7:8, 11, 13, 17-18)) and sins (1 Pet. 2:24) is a big help to our Christian life. For the forgiveness of our sins we need only to confess and receive the cleansing of the Lord’s precious blood (1 John 1:7, 9). However, to be delivered from the Sin in our nature is a matter of putting into operation a higher law–the law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). When we come to the Lord as the Spirit of life in our spirit, we enjoy this higher and more powerful law freeing us from law of sin in our members. It is so practical to switch on this life-law by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:12-13), praying (1 Thes. 5:17) and feeding on His word (1 Tim. 4:6), as well as speaking and singing His word (Eph. 5:18-19). Thank you for your comment.

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