“It is not the absence of sin but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors [of faith].” — A.W. Pink

How seriously do you take your sin?

That may be one of the most spiritually invasive questions any professing Christian can be confronted with. The reason it is so penetrating is that it goes straight to the heart in search of an answer.

Make no mistake. Sin is a heart issue.

Any doubts about that are categorically negated by Christ Himself in Mark 7:18-23:

18 And He *said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”[1]

In Nothing But the Truth: Upholding the Gospel in a Doubting Age[2], John MacArthur expands on those deprecatory words of Christ, saying, “When we enter this world, we are already sinners. Sin is in our natures, woven into the very fabric of our lives (cf. Ps. 51:5). Adam’s sin clings to each one of us, just as Naaman’s leprosy clung to Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27). And we who are believers know from experience that even after one is saved, the deep-seated nature of sin is still present.”[3]

I consider the doctrine of sin, called hamartiology[4] in theological terms, to be the most crucial yet most neglected doctrine in the pulpits of many evangelical churches today.

As increasing numbers of pastors yield to the seductive allure of evangelical pragmatism and boastful self-admiration, to mention the word sin, let alone preach an expositional sermon about it, has proven to be unprofitable to those ends. Consequently, the word sin has been replaced by less objectionable terms, such as broken, to describe humanity’s spiritually iniquitous condition. I find such hermeneutical pillow-talk interesting, particularly when one considers that it is our sinfulness, not our brokenness, that estranges us from God in the first place (Isaiah 59:2).

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”John 15:22, NASB

The word sin occurs more than 420 times in Scripture. The first is in Genesis 4:7 where an omniscient God, being fully aware of Cain’s murderous intent toward his brother, Abel, warns him that, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”[5]

That God speaks metaphorically of sin as “crouching” and having “desire” tells us that sin is not to be understood merely in terms of the volitional acts we commit against God, but that it is an active and intentional power within the human heart that possesses a nature and constitution all its own, and whose nature is unrelenting in its quest to entice believers into carrying out its diabolical bidding.

Yes, sin is diabolical—and destructively so. As the seventeenth-century Puritan theologian John Owen remarked, “The part of man in which the law of sin has intrenched itself and taken up residence is the heart. In so doing it has invaded what should have been the throne of God. The heart, then, is the dwelling place of . . . sin. Here dwells our enemy; this is the fort, the citadel of this tyrant, where it maintains a rebellion against God all our days. Sometimes it has more strength, and consequently more success, but it is always in rebellion while we live. It is like an enemy in war, whose strength and power lie not only in numbers and the force of arms, but also in the unconquerable for that he possesses. And such is the heart to this enemy of God and our souls.”[6]

So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. — Romans 7:17

Note that Owen describes sin as “the enemy of God and our souls [emphasis added].” Owen’s use of those words is significant in that, as Christians, we tend to recognize sin as the enemy of God, if we acknowledge sin as an enemy at all, but we are far less inclined to view sin as our personal—and mortal—enemy (Romans 5:12). That is to say when we, as believers, think of sin, our default posture is to regard it primarily in terms of the acts of disobedience we commit. Rarely, if ever, do we regard sin as being a dynamic and powerful entity through which are formed the motives and intentions behind those disobedient acts.

The apostle Paul fully comprehended that distinction as evidenced in Romans 7:19-20, where he confessed, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me [emphasis added].” Notice that Paul said sin not sins “dwells in me.” Paul used the prepositional phrase “in me” as a proxy, if you will, for his heart. And such is the case for each of us—believer and unbeliever alike (Romans 3:23).

Sin is what produces sins; and sin resides in the heart.

Sin in the heart is why husbands and wives commit adultery. Sin in the heart is why people lie to one another, and cheat one another, and steal from each other. Sin in the heart is why ethnic prejudice exists. Sin in the heart is why children rebel against their parents. Sin in the heart is why elected officials, and others in trusted positions of authority, act unjustly. Sin in heart is why people celebrate having the legal right to murder unborn image-bearers of God.[7]

“Sin is never our master—until we consent to have it so.” — Daniel Burgess

There are myriad reasons why believers in Jesus Christ must take their sin seriously, not the least of which is that sin defiles the heart, the very place from which our worship of and service to God originates (Psalm 37:31; 40:8; 51:6; 86:12; 119:11; James 4:8-9). As the Westminster Confession of Faith instructs, “This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”[8]

It was the nineteenth-century Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who rightly said, “The heart is the main spring of the man, and if it be not in order, the entire nature is thrown out of gear. If sin were only skin deep, it might be a slight matter; but since it has defiled the soul, the case is bad indeed.”[9]

It should go without saying that Spurgeon is right. In fact, so “bad,” as Spurgeon put it, is the case for the human heart that Scripture declares that person to be a fool[10] who would dare acquiesce to its base and vicious inclinations (Proverbs 28:26).

Believer, your obedience matters to God.

As Jesus said, rhetorically, in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

I’ll leave it there as there is nothing more to be said.

Is there?

Soli Deo Gloria!



“What is Sin?” — John MacArthur, Grace to You

[1] The John MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation


[3] pp. 91, 95 (Crossway, paperback)

[4] From the Greek word hamartia which, according to The Moody Bible Handbook of Theology (p. 324, hardcover) means “miss the mark.”

[5] The John MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation

[6] Indwelling Sin in Believers, The Banner of Truth Trust, Puritan Paperbacks, pp. 14-15


[8] Chapter VI, Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment Thereof, paragraph V.



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Author Broken-Over-Sin-More

Darrell B. Harrison

Lead Host Just Thinking Podcast

Darrell is is a native of Atlanta, Georgia but currently resides in Valencia, California where he serves as Dean of Social Media at Grace To You, the Bible-teaching ministry of Dr. John MacArthur. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell studied at the undergraduate level at Liberty University, where he majored in Psychology with a concentration in Christian Counseling. He was the first black man to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. He is an ardent student of theology and apologetics, and enjoys reading theologians such as Thomas Watson, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin. Darrell is an advocate of expository teaching and preaching and has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.