“Evil is simply badness. Sin, though, is altogether more serious because it sets up human badness in relation to God. It is not just the absence of good, or corruption, brutality, oppression, and nastiness, but it is all these things, and many more besides, as they are understood in relation to God. They are acts of moral defiance of him. They are a rejection of his authority over all of human life. That is the Bible’s perspective.
Our perspective in America is different. Only 17 percent of Americans define sin in relation to God, so for the overwhelming majority sin has become a trivial matter, no more serious than having violated some church rule about something quite inconsequential. For most Americans the more serious word by far is ‘evil,’ though when postmoderns lift it out of a moral world, it has no more than a passing emotional significance. I believe ‘sin’ has far more gravity than ‘evil’ because of the standard by which sinfulness is exposed.
Sin, biblically speaking, is not only the absence of good. It also entails our active opposition to God. It is, then the defiance of his authority, the rejection of his truth, the challenge to his sovereignty in which we set ourselves up in life to live the way we want to live. It is the way we wrench ourselves free from obedience to him, cut ourselves off from his grasp, and refuse to let him be God. It is therefore all the ways we live life on our own terms, to our own ends, with accountability to no one but ourselves.
This really is the point of the biblical language. Sin is described as missing the target (Rom. 3:9; 7:5), falling short of a standard, or transgressing boundaries (Rom. 2:23; 5:20; Gal. 3:19). However, the target missed, the path abandoned, the authority defied, the law transgressed are in each and every case God’s. Sin is all about taking issue with God, defying him, refusing to submit to him, and displacing him from the center of existence. We are now disaffected with his rule, resent his claims on our lives, are hostile to his truth in the biblical Word, and are determined to pursue our own values, goals, and pleasures in defiance of what he has said.
This ‘freedom’ from all that God is, and all that he has said, turns out to be an illusion. When we freed ourselves in these ways, beginning with the fall, we fell headlong into dark captivity both to our own selves and, beyond that, to the powers of darkness.”
–David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 101-2.