I decided that the "Clean and Unclean" post was interesting, but probably distracting from a booklet. I'll try to combine several things into one post called, "What is Sin?" Below is where I'm thinking it would go, although I think this will take two posts.
Where is God?
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
What is sin?
Does God tempt? 1
Does God tempt? 2
Perhaps the most popular definition of sin amounts to anything short of perfection. We say it is to "miss the mark" and the mark in question is often defined as any mistake or imperfection whatsoever. The picture of God behind this definition is a God of justice who must and wants to punish the slightest infraction. If we say we have no sin, 1 John 1:8 is quickly produced, we are deceiving ourselves.
There are immense problems with the preceding paragraph--and there would be troublesome implications for the problem of evil and suffering. For one, while we do find the category of unintentional sin in Scripture, it certainly receives little attention in the New Testament. To define sin as missing the mark is usually based on an atrocious word fallacy. This is arguably a misinterpretation of 1 John 1:8 and the father who represents God in the Parable Son knows nothing of this understanding of God's attitudes.
Sin in its most meaningful sense involves intention. We are defining evil as active intent against loving God or one's neighbor and the actions that follow. So sin in its most meaningful sense is active intent or action that violates love of God or neighbor. The two prove to be very closely related. An evil intent is a sinful intent, and evil done is a sin done.
What then of unintentional sin? To sin is to wrong another person or to do wrong defined as action or intent against God or one's neighbor. You can of course wrong another person accidentally. And you can do wrong out of ignorance. We can certainly find places in the Bible where these things are called sin.
However, these categories apply much more to the Old Testament than the New. It is the Levitical parts of the Old Testament that have the categories of clean and unclean. One can become stained simply by touching the wrong thing. In Numbers 15:22-31, clear instructions are given for a person who sins unintentionally, but there is no hope for the person who might sin defiantly and intentionally. We know from the stories of the Old Testament that God often did forgive such individuals. Our point here is that the function of sacrifice in Leviticus has to do with unintentional wrongs done and thus that the Bible does have a category relating to unintentional sins or wrongs done in ignorance.
But this is not the dominant category of the New Testament. In fact, this category is only discussed in the past tense. The Day of Atonement used to be about sins committed in ignorance (Heb. 9:7). From Adam to Moses people died because of their wrongs done, even though those sins were not technically charged to their account (Rom. 5:14). What is important for the New Testament is intentional wrong: "If someone knows the good to do and does not do it, it is sin" (Jas. 4:17). In perhaps the most helpful statement about sin in the New Testament, Paul says that "Everything that is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
This last statement is an excellent picture of what we are saying about sin and evil. It has to do with one's attitude and intention. Sin has do with why you do what you do and with what your intentions are toward God and others. This sense of God's interests does not only come in the New Testament. We find this same sense from 2 Samuel 16:7 where God tells Samuel not to focus on how the sons of Jesse look--God looks on the heart. In Mark 7:15, Jesus similarly was not worried about what made a person clean or unclean externally, but about what was in their hearts.
It is also important for us to recognize the standard by which these intentions were measured. The New Living Translation imposes later theological discussion on Romans 3:23 when it translated it to say that all have fallen short of "God's glorious standard," as if the problem is the fact that we cannot be perfect...