ACST 26. Sin: The Causes



Sin is a very complex thing, and so are its causes. In fact, Paul complained that the law of God itself caused him to sin. By pointing out the possibility of sinning in a certain area, the law became an unwilling partner with the sin nature that existed inside Paul, so he “was alive once, apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life.”[1] Based on this experience, Paul argued in Romans that the law is not the solution to the sin problem, faith in Christ is.

Christians need to be aware of the causes of sin in their lives. This knowledge can be like knowing where the snares and traps and wild beasts are in the jungle. It can keep us out of the danger zones. After all, snares and traps are not things that just happen. Someone has set the traps with the specific intention of catching something. Wild beasts are there to eat their prey. To ignore the causes of sin in one’s life is like going into the jungle blindly, hoping not to be caught or devoured.

One of the obvious causes of sin is that inherited sinful inclination mentioned in chapter 25. The important truth to grasp is that often the traps are within us. Most of our sins cannot be blamed on our society, or our parents. Sin is (as it was for Paul) within us. But the sin within us takes advantage of things which happen to us, and things which are around us, and then “springs to life.” Knowing when and why that happens can help believers overcome when tempted.

Internal Factors

In a sense, all causes of personal sins are both internal and external. The choice to sin is a personal choice. Yet every sin involves some external factors. Therefore, the categories of internal and external factors causing sin are approximations.


Rebellion begins as a lack of appreciation for the boundaries God has placed on the sinner’s life. The choice that our ancestors made to rebel against God’s prohibition in Eden is a useful example. It did not seem like a major act of rebellion. Logic concluded that a fruit which was desirable and had the potential to make one wise was a fruit worth eating. Sinners make choices like that every day. We weigh the options, and calculate the risks, concluding that the potential benefits outweigh the possible disadvantages.

In rebellion, the mind is functioning as God intended it to. There is usually no psycho-somatic aberration that causes people to transgress God’s limits. The human mind is intended to make value judgments, and does so – without sinning – constantly. The problem with instances of rebellion is that the sinner makes value judgments where God has already established which is the right choice, and which is the wrong one. Usually, the sinner knows that God has promised to bring negative consequences upon her if she chooses to transgress.

Regardless of the specific nature of the boundaries, then, rebellion is at heart caused by an internal thing: defiance of God. There usually are numerous consequences to rebellion, affecting the lives of the sinner and all those around her. But the primary consequence is the damage done to her relationship with God.

Tradition- Idolatry or Change – Idolatry

The prospect of some kind of change that could happen in the sinner’s life is often a catalyst for choices that could involve sin – particularly the sin of idolatry. One example of this is conflict that can ensue when an organization is considering a change. The reason is that “if people are so attached to the old way (or the new way) that they are willing to fight for their position, they have idolized their desire.”[2] Usually both sides of the conflict have good arguments for their positions. The problem is that both sides are committed to an either-or solution, and are willing to sacrifice their relationships with each other for their position.

This happens because human “hearts are idol factories and sometimes our desires escalate into sinful demands, or idols.”[3] When the heart of the sinner is against the threatened change, he sets up a tradition-idol. When the heart of the sinner is for the proposed change, he sets up a change-idol. There may not be a clear winner in the battle that results from these choices. The organization usually is the clear loser. It sometimes dissolves, and often loses members whose demands were not met by the organization as a whole.


The Bible exposes greed as a particularly dangerous cause for personal sin. Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees because they made efforts to look pure and clean on the outside, but inside were filthy with greed and self-indulgence.[4] Paul warned the Corinthian believers not to associate – or even have a meal with a person known for his greed.[5] Both he and Peter had encountered those whose “ministries” are merely a pretext for fulfilling their greed.[6] It had become a means of evaluating whether or not a first-century preacher was or was not a false prophet.


Both apostles had also warned believers to stay away from lustful passions. Paul instructs the Thessalonians “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”[7] Peter speaks of “those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion” as being kept by God “under punishment until the day of judgment.”[8] Neither of these men of God sought to prohibit legitimate sexual relationships, but both were profoundly troubled by the damage that is done when people transgress those legitimate boundaries.

Lust has always been a problem for human beings, but free and easy private access to sexually explicit materials has turned that problem into an epidemic. Such materials (now made even more accessible through the internet) trap men into bondage through images and stories that promise the pleasure of sex without the intimacy of relationship. Similarly, women are lured away from their spouses through chat rooms and social networks where they are convinced that their current partner does not understand or deserve them. Pornographers usually hide behind the “freedom of speech” excuse. The irony is that the motivation for such websites and other media has nothing to do with free speech or sex or pleasure. The sex industry is built on greed. Porn is a multi-billion dollar “industry” that creates only addiction and destruction.[9]


Numerous other forms of selfishness could be added to the list of things that cause human beings to sin. Some of these can be so subtle that it might take some time in counseling to convince the sinner that his motivation was wrong. The human heart is creative, and unfortunately that means that a sinner can be very creative in how he defends his own sinfulness. God calls sinners to repent even when they do not understand all the factors that have brought them under condemnation.

External Factors

Each sinner is individually responsible for every sin she commits. However, it is still possible to objectively identify a number of factors that contribute to her making that choice. Eden, for example, contained more than two people and a commandment. It also contained a tree, and a snake.

The choices sinners make cannot be defended on the basis on the basis of external factors. Adam and Eve tried the blame game, and it did not get them very far. But knowing about the external factors can help people avoid putting themselves in an environment where they will be likely to sin. Also, knowing where an enemy is hiding is a good defense against his attacks.


The devil is real and he can really tempt people to sin. It may seem simplistic to say that, but it is important, because an increasing number of people appear to be confused on the issue of Satan’s existence. Not only is there an actual person called Satan, but he also has an enormous army of other persons – called demons –whose purpose in life is to tempt people to sin. Most temptations do not involve a physical manifestation of the tempter. That is as planned – because demons work best when they have convinced the one being tempted that they do not exist.

Temptation can involve taking a natural desire and convincing the victim that having the thing desired is more important than avoiding the consequences of getting it by means of sin. The more confused the victim is on the theology of sin, or on the existence of tempters, or on God’s holiness – the more likely the temptation will work. Conversely, the more aware a person is in these areas the more likely he will be able to resist.

Societal Pressure

The world around the victim also seems to conspire to lead her to sin. She knows people who have sinned in this way and have not suffered any immediate punishment. Thus, she is more likely to follow suit. Societal mores can be helpful in curtailing certain kinds of immoral behavior. Unfortunately, societies are made up of sinners, and every society has holes in its moral structure. A society can be quite determined to overcome environmental evils, for example, and yet turn a blind eye to human trafficking or abortion.

Societal mores also constantly change, and the difference between right and wrong does not. Right and wrong are based on God’s definition, not that of the latest opinion poll. Both Peter and Paul warned believers not to be conformed to societal pressure, but encouraged them to strive for God’s holiness.[10] Sometimes sinners are convinced to participate in sin because it appears to be the loyal and faithful thing to do. In this way, governments and societies can contribute to the sinfulness of their members.


High on the list of things which cause sin is deception. In a sense, all sin is committed because of deception. Since every sin must be punished by a holy God, the victim must be convinced that either that is not true, or that what he is being tempted to do is not sin: both are forms of deception. Eve argued that Satan (through the serpent) had deceived her. She was right, but that did not excuse her sin. Likewise, there will be billions of sins committed today, and the victims will have been convinced to commit those sins by means of lies whispered in their ear of taught in the streets.

The source of those lies may be subtle (like an invisible demon or like a science textbook that boldly claims that humans are nothing but evolved animals). The result may not be that the victim is convinced, but perhaps a seed of doubt is planted. The source may be covert, like a theologian who convinces his readers that God is love and could never send people to hell, or the teacher who convinces his followers that God wants them to commit some act of violence.

Ultimately, all these deceptions are orchestrated by demonic beings. In many cases, violence occurs when one human society attacks another based on its perception of truth – taught by demons. The other side responds with the same kind of violence, based on its view of truth – taught by demons. Both sides are being played by invisible hands.

[1] Rom. 7:9 (LEB).

[2] Peacemaker Ministries, The Leadership Opportunity: Living Out the Gospel Where Conflict and Leadership Intersect. (Billings, MT: Peacemaker Ministries, 2009), 56.

[3] Peacemaker Ministries, 69.

[4] Matthew 23:25; Luke 11:39.

[5] 1 Cor. 5:11.

[6] 1 Thess. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3, 14.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 .

[8] 2 Pet. 2:9-10.

[9] For more information, see Gary R. Brooks, The Centerfold Syndrome. (Jossey-Bass, 1995), Richard D. Land, “Porn profits reflect its potency versus even Hollywood, rock music,” Baptist Press (Nashville, May 4, 2001);; dangers.php;

[10] Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:14.