Sunday, June 21, 2009


by John D Ramsey

When Christians contemplate sin we tend to conjure lists of actions such as the seven deadly or the Ten Commandments. Likewise when we think of righteousness we tend to applaud ourselves for refraining from which ever of the seven deadly or Ten Commandments that we have not yet violated. We think we gain or lose God’s favor based upon what we do or do not do.

The Galatians were confronted by men teaching this, and Paul called it a different gospel and a distortion of the gospel. Fast forward nearly two millennia, and the distortion is pervasive. We think that sin is a list of don’t-do-this and righteousness is a list of do-do this.

I recently had to explain to Claire to be cautious when listening to a do-do preacher. When someone asserts that the Christian life can be summarized by a list of do-do or don’t-do, then they are preaching another gospel – even if their list sounds good.

If sin is not a list of don’t-do-this, what is it? It is hamartia. If fact, the English word hamartia is a direct transliteration from the Greek. Moreover, the word “hamartia” still carries the original intent of the word whereas the meaning of the word “sin” has become distorted.

Hamartia is a flaw. In theater, hamartia, is the tragic flaw that undermines the protagonist. Othello’s flaw was not that he murdered his wife, Desdemona. Othello’s flaw is that he lacked the same faith in Desdemona that he also required from her. Hamartia is a condition, not an action. When Othello declares, “My life upon her faith [faithfulness]!” the audience should infer, her life upon his faith [trust].

What Christians tend to call sin is rather the consequences of hamartia, or what Paul calls the fruit of hamartia in Romans 6:21. Behavioral modification may successfully reform the expression of hamartia without healing the underlying cause. When Christians whitewash their lifestyles, the world can smell the hypocrisy. Jesus told the Pharisees, who emphasized external observances, “You are like tombs being whitewashed, one which outside indeed appear beautiful, but inside are full of bones of the dead and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27 (AB) Is it ever surprising when a glitzy TV preacher or self-righteous politician is found guilty of hypocrisy?

False religions and false gospels, try to reform the body by declaring rules such as, “touch not, taste not, handle not.” In Colossians 2, Paul tells us that these things seem wise, but do nothing to reform the flesh. The human condition is flawed. Paul says of the first man, Adam, “By the disobedience of the one man, many were established as sinners.” Romans 5:19 (AB) Our bad actions do not make us flawed, rather our bad actions flow from our flawed condition. Consequently, changing behavior cannot make us whole again.

Our best behavioral modification techniques are only fig leaves loosely bound together in such a way as to disguise our shame. In fact, many of the actions Christians consider shameful, are manufactured from rules they feel willing or at least able to keep. The false standards of righteousness are established to please men, but they do not impress God.

Paul began as a Pharisee. He was blameless according to all the external observations of the law. Even as an infant, he was circumcised on the eighth day, according to the law. In Philippians 3, Paul says that all his righteousness, he considers to be excrement. The righteousness that we can obtain by behavioral modification cannot alleviate our hamartia. In fact, the hope that by effort we can reform ourselves may be the most tragic flaw of all.

Paul told the Galatians, who had put their hope in the Law, that they were “rendered useless from the Christ” and that they “fell from favor [grace].” Galatians 5:4 (AB) There is nothing we can do to remediate our hamartia. Trying to is hopeless and finds disfavor from God.

The consequences of our hamartia is separation from God. It is death. Yet Hebrews 9 tells us that we can receive an eternal inheritance by the death of the Christ. Christ was offered once as a sacrifice for all our hamartia. By his death, we can inherit his life through the resurrection of the dead.

True righteousness is not a set of actions. It is a condition. The condition of righteousness is having received God’s favor. Paul longed for the righteousness that is “through belief of Christ, the righteousness of God unto the belief; to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformable to his death; if by any means I should arrive at the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:9-11 (AB)

We cannot make ourselves whole again. But we can receive the wholeness that comes through Christ. This is nothing we can earn; rather, it comes only by faith to the favor that God has displayed toward us.

The result of Christ’s life and righteousness being attributed to us, is our sanctification. We grow to become more like him. The fruit of our hamartia becomes less appealing and more appalling. We don’t learn to live by rules, we begin to live through the Spirit.

When a preacher teaches that as a Christian you must do this or do that. Remember that Paul considered such do-do to be excrement. Christ’s righteousness in us will not even look the same as the do-do lists we create. It won't look the same, and it won't smell the same. In fact, through faith we become the aroma of Christ to the world despite our human weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:12-17). Remember human righteousness is like whitewashed tombs. It looks good, but smells bad. Christ’s life through us is freedom; however, His freedom does not gratify the hamartia that still resides within our mortal bodies.

As we grow in Christ, then our mortal lives begin to reflect the reality of His righteousness. Just as hamartia results in behavioral choices; so Christ’s life in us will alter our lifestyles. Yet even so, this is Christ’s work through us, and not our own.


  1. Thank you for responding to my question about "whats it mean not finding repentance" I was reading your blog about hamartia, my other question is do you know or have an idea what the sin unto death is in 1 John 5:16? in the same letter he says if we confess our sins or our missing the mark, and then he says if we see a brother sinning a sin not unto death, pray for him and there is sin not unto death, so what will be the nature of this sin unto death? By they way I am growing alot from your blog articals, thank you so much.

  2. Thanks for your comments. You've raised some great questions.

    Attempt to answer the above questions can be found here: