Sin as a Disorder of the Good

Being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–28) functionally means human beings were created to be lovers and worshipers of God their Creator and Lord. Jesus taught his disciples to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27) and to Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8).

However, as fallen sinners human beings channel their love and worship away from God and toward other things. So while creation makes humans lovers and worshipers, our fallen condition makes us idolaters. 

The apostle Paul describes that fallen and idolatrous human condition in his letter to the Romans: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). 

St. Augustine (354–430) described these sins as reflecting “disordered loves.” Fallen human beings love temporal things more, and eternal things less, which leads to a deep-seated discontentment and unfulfillment in life. These disordered loves, in turn, disrupt the natural order of people’s lives. Augustine and the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) described the sinful condition as incurvatus in se—Latin for the person being “curved in on himself” rather than outward toward God as intended in creation.

Three Common Disordered Loves1
The deep irony of the fallen condition is that the sin one often commits is actually the misuse of things that are in and of themselves good. Let’s consider three such sins of disorder and their virtuous biblical counterparts.2

The sin of gluttony can be described as the excessive love or overindulgence or lack of self-restraint when it comes to food and drink. Of course, food and drink are good, necessary, and enjoyable things. So gluttony is the misuse of the good. 

The contrasting biblical virtue is temperance or self-control. In the context of sexual immorality, the apostle Paul’s general injunction can apply: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1Corinthians 6:19–20).

The sin of greed or avarice is the excessive love or concern for money. It is seen as a common vice of the sinful nature and is compared to idolatry (Colossians 3:5–10). The apostle Paul states: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). 

The contrasting biblical virtue is generosity. Jesus teaches that God is generous in giving us his grace, mercy, and love. God promises to provide for his children’s needs and we should also be generous in our giving in return (Matthew 6:19–34). The author of the book of Hebrews states: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).

The sin of lust is described as a strong craving or inordinate desire or love for sexual relations. While sex is also a good thing, lust and sexually immoral actions spoil God’s good intended plan for sex. Lust begins as a thought in a person’s mind, but, as Christian thinker David Naugle notes: “Adultery is the offspring of lust.”3 And as Jesus warned: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). 

The contrasting biblical virtue is sexual purity. Paul says: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5).

The perverse nature of sin is that it isn’t just doing bad things but also misusing good things. Thus, the sinful condition is reflected in disordered loves or affections.

Grace: Unmerited Favor and Power
If you feel convicted by the content of this article, recognize that as the writer I do as well. As a Christian teacher, I never talk about human sin without also talking about God’s grace. Sin disorders our lives and separates us from God. But God’s saving grace in Christ reconciles us back to God and motivates and empowers us to live a godly life.

Here’s what the apostle Paul reveals about God’s saving grace in our Savior Jesus Christ:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:4–8)

Here’s the Scriptural pattern of salvation:4

  • Saved by grace
  • Through faith
  • In Christ 
  • Not by works
  • Saving grace motivates good works

As divine image bearers we were initially created with the end or goal of loving and worshiping our holy and benevolent Creator. However, our common fallenness before God has led to the catastrophe of becoming idolaters who are now separated from him. That fallen and disordered state often causes us to misuse the temporal and finite good things in our lives—food, money, and sex.

But the good news of the gospel is that we have been rescued from our sins by the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and that God’s grace through the Holy Spirit has begun the sanctifying process of reordering our moral lives.

Be encouraged by what Paul states in Ephesians 2:4–5: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”



1. For a discussion of divine grace and human sin as disordered loves, see Kenneth Samples, “God’s Grace Is Greater Than the Seven Deadly Sins.”

2. Concerning the sins of gluttony, greed, and lust, see David K. Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 72–77.

3. Naugle, Reordered Love, 65.

4. For a discussion of salvation by grace and living the Christian life of sanctification, see Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989).