I have found in my experience that most people, even unbelievers, are fine with admitting they are sinners (though they disagree on what constitutes sin), but few really want to define what that means. I wouldn’t expect an unbeliever to understand the depths of sin, but I would hope that we as believers could do better. Often we can’t. Too often we view sin in subtly wrong ways. We say we made a mistake, but this tries to deflect the willful nature of that sin and our culpability. We say Jesus washes away our sins and makes our hearts clean, which is true, but in doing so we think of sin as a substance, which it is not. More often than not I hear Christian’s talk about how Jesus saves us from our sins, but rarely do we talk about how Jesus saves us from sinning. Not that we can be perfect, but that there really, truly can be victory over our besetting sins. To say Jesus has forgiven me of anger or lust or dishonesty means more than repeatedly paying off our debt when we sin. It must mean that we continue to become less and less angry, lustful, and dishonest. It means that I am no longer a slave to sin. Our common perception of sin is like a slave who is given his freedom but remains in bondage, yet calls himself a free man. When asked, it is true that he has been bought out of slavery, but he lives as if he is still enslaved. But Jesus offers true liberty from sin; true freedom from the chains of sin. He offers us not only forgiveness from our sin, but victory over our sin!
But the question still remains: what is sin? If it’s not a sticky black substance that clings to our hearts like tar, how do we describe it? I think C. S. Lewis gets it right in Out of the Silent Planet when he describes sinners on Malacandra as bent. For example, when Ransom tries to explain that Weston and Devine are bad men, Lewis writes that “ ‘bent’ was the nearest hrossian equivalent.” Later on Ransom has a discussion with the Oyarsa and they discuss bentness, brokenness, and the Bent One who rules Thulcandra.
It may not surprise us, then, in light of Lewis’ helpful description, to learn that a Hebrew word for righteousness is yashar, which means “upright.” The righteous are upright; they stand tall and straight, bearing the image of their Creator. But the wicked are truly bent, turned away from their creator and turned horribly and twistedly towards themselves.
C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner, 2003), 68.