Viewing Sin as a Misrepresentation of God’s Character
As most theologians have noted, God’s moral law is not merely some arbitrary standard He imposes upon mankind. The moral law of God is a reflection of God’s own moral character. This fact is underscored in Leviticus 19. Before God reviews the Israelites’ obligation to conform their attitudes and behavior to His law, He declares to them in verse 2: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” In other words, God is not just telling men to “do as I say.” He is telling them, “Be like me.” Jesus would tell His disciples after expounding the moral law, “Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (v. 48).
A Misrepresentation of God’s Character
This fits with our understanding of man’s created identity. God created man to be His image. As the image of God, man was created to be a visible replica and representative of God upon the earth.1 One of the primary ways man was to reflect God’s glory was in the sphere of his ethical character and behavior.
But man fell into sin (Gen 3:1-13). And though man continues to be the image of God in his fallen state (Gen. 9:6; 1Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9), he now is an inaccurate image of God. Man now misrepresents and slanders his Creator. For this reason, we may also define sin as a misrepresentation of God’s character. Sin is not just a failure to conform to God’s law, but it is a failure to live up to our identity. And we need not view the two ideas as mutually exclusive. Alec Motyer writes,
Man is the living, personal image of God; the law is the written, perceptual image of God…. The Lord longs for his people to live in his image and to that end he has given them his law.2
To conform to God’s law is to reflect accurately God’s character. Failure to conform to God’s law is to misrepresent and slander God’s character.
This is Paul’s point in Romans 3:23. When Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he does not mean men have fallen short of godhood, as if we’re supposed to be as glorious as God. Rather, Paul’s point is that sin consists in a failure to give God the glory due to His name. We are told in Isaiah 43:7 that we were “created for [God’s] glory.” We were made for the purpose of glorifying God by reflecting His character. But Paul says, we have all fallen short of God’s design. We have failed as his images to reflect His glory. That is sin.
What’s the practical relevance of understanding sin as a misrepresentation of God’s character?
Human Sin a Personal Affront to God
It reminds us that sin is much more than violating God’s ethical standards; it’s a personal affront to his holy character. Proverbs 28:7 tells us that “whoever keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.” We’ve not just broken God’s laws; we’ve disgraced our Father’s reputation.
Some of us can remember our earthly fathers. We may remember times when we made their hearts proud. We honored their reputation by the way we lived and by the good things we accomplished. But some of us can also remember many times when we did things that disgrace our father’s name.
When I was a teenager, my father was not a Christian. He cussed a lot. He was a drunkard. And he had many other faults. But I do remember that my dad was an honest hardworking man. Begging, borrowing, and stealing were contrary to his character. And I can still remember the disappointment on his face when he discovered that his son had been busted for shoplifting. It was a fearful experience to have to face the police. But it was a much more terrifying experience to have to face my dad and break the bad news. Not merely because I feared the punishment. I felt deeply ashamed of the disgrace I had brought to my father’s good name.
That’s the way we should feel about our sin before God. Every time we sin, we bring disgrace to our heavenly Father’s name. We misrepresent and slander His holy character.
In our next post, we’ll look at sin as a rejection of our highest good.
- I develop this biblical idea in more detail here: “Man’s Royal Status as God’s Image and God’s Son.” [↩]
- “Law, Biblical Concept of,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 624. [↩]