At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the United States’ best marksman was a man named Matthew Emmons. He won a gold medal in the men’s 50 meter rifle prone position competition, and was on the precipice of winning another gold medal in the men’s 50 meter rifle three position competition. With one shot remaining, he was in the lead and only needed to hit the target in order to secure another victory. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, but in what was described as “an extremely rare mistake in elite competition,” Emmons fired at the wrong target. He was standing in lane two and mistakenly fired at the target in lane three. As a result, he received zero points for the shot and dropped from first place to eighth place.
Matthew Emmons unfortunate mistake of aiming at the wrong target is a good analogy for sin because the Greek word for sin is hamartia, and it literally means “to miss the mark.” In other words, sin is definable as failing to correctly hit the target for which we are instructed to aim, and there are two ways we “miss the mark” spiritually.
First, we “miss the mark” when we do what God has forbidden. This is sometimes referred to as the sin of commission because it is sin that occurs when we commit an offense against God. Such sin is described in 1 John 3:4, which says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” In this passage, John draws a comparison between sin and breaking the law. A couple of chapters later, John expounded on this definition of sin when he wrote, “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17). Thus, John identifies sin as doing what we are instructed not to do, and David epitomized this type of sin when he broke God’s law (Exodus 20:14) by committing adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4).
Second, we “miss the mark” when we fail to do what God has commanded. This is sometimes referred to as the sin of omission because it is sin that occurs as a result of us omitting a God given responsibility. Such sin is described in James 4:17, which says, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Thus, James identifies sin as failing to do what we are instructed to do, and Jonah epitomized this type of sin when he blatantly disobeyed God’s instructions to go to Nineveh by fleeing to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-3).
Now that we have identified how we “miss the mark,” we should consider why we “miss the mark.” To understand why we “miss the mark,” we need look no further than to the Garden of Eden because the failures associated with the very first sin are failures that routinely lead to our own sin.
One reason we sin is because we fail to distance ourselves from temptation. Such was the case with Eve because she engaged in conversation with the serpent instead of removing herself from its presence (Genesis 3:1-4). Had she responded to temptation by distancing herself from its source, she might have been able to prevent herself from sinning. Such was the case for Joseph when he fled the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:11-12). Scripture seems to indicate that distance is one of the most effective strategies for defeating temptation because on multiple occasions the Bible instructs us to flee from temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).
Another reason we sin is because we fail to know God’s word. When you compare Eve’s rendition of God’s rule against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you’ll discover some variation. When Eve quoted God’s instructions to the serpent, she referred to it as a statement rather than a command (i.e. Eve indicated that “God said” this instruction in Genesis 3:3 while Genesis 2:16 indicates that “God commanded” this instruction), she added the phrase “neither shall you touch [the tree]” (compare to Genesis 2:17), and she identified the consequence of death as a potentiality rather than an actuality (i.e. she said “lest you die” as opposed to God saying, “you shall surely die” in Genesis 2:17). In other words, she did not demonstrate an accurate knowledge of God’s word on the matter. Such ignorance can create an opportunity for temptation to succeed. Maybe that is why Jesus combated each temptation in the wilderness by quoting God’s Word (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
A third reason we sin is because we fail to keep God on the throne. It was a desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” that enticed Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:5, emphasis added). Way back then Satan was trying to convince the first humans that they could dethrone God and replace Him with someone else. Many temptations find their root in the desire to replace God with something else whether it be a person, an ideology, a material object, a passion, a feeling, or an experience. As a result, Jesus indicated that discipleship mandates sole allegiance to God. Such is evident from statements like “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:38).
Still another reason we sin is because we fail to hold one another accountable. Adam failed to prevent Eve from sinning despite the fact that he was “with her” (Genesis 3:6). Additionally, Eve failed to prevent Adam from sinning by encouraging him to participate when she offered him the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). If both parties had been holding one another accountable, they may have prevented this sinful scenario. That is why accountability between believers is presented as an expectation of God throughout the New Testament (Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:16, 19-20). When we hold one another accountable, we help each other avoid sin.
A final reason we sin is because we fail to take ownership of our actions. Both Adam and Eve blamed someone else for their sin. When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree that he was expressly told not to eat from, Adam blamed “the woman” that God gave him (Genesis 3:12). When God asked Eve the same question, she blamed “the serpent” (Genesis 3:12). Blaming others is simply a way to avoid responsibility for one’s own actions when it comes to sin, and the Bible clearly indicates that the forgiveness of our sins is contingent on our willingness to accept blame for our sins through repentance (Acts 2:37-38) and confession (1 John 1:8-10).
When it comes to sin, Scripture asserts that all of us have done it (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8), that it possesses dire consequences (Romans 6:23), but, most importantly, that Jesus can remove it (1 John 1:7, 9; Acts 2:38).