What is sin? How does the Bible define sin? Is transgressions and iniquity the same thing as sin?
A Definition of Sin
First John 3:4 “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”
I believe that this is the best definition of sin that there is in the Bible. When you see the word “is” think about working with mathematics. The word “is” is really an equal sign so you could say that “sin = lawlessness.” That is, sin is the breaking of the Law and so everyone who sins is breaking the Law of God, specifically the Ten Commandments. That leaves us all guilty for we are all sinners. One man once told me that he didn’t want to attend our church anymore because he didn’t consider himself a sinner. I told him, “I am so sorry…if you are not a sinner then Christ did not die for you because Christ died for sinners.”
The Law shows us What Sin is
Romans 7:7 “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
What Paul is saying is that the Law shows us what sin is. If it had not been for the Law, Paul would have never even recognized sin. I understand that we cannot be saved by keeping the Law and by the Law no one is justified but “the Law was our schoolmaster until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:28). In other words, the Law teaches us what is right and what is wrong and since sin is breaking the Law we now know what sin is in order to try and avoid it, even though we are saved by faith through grace and not of any works or law-keeping (Eph 2:8-9).
The Law Brings Knowledge of Sin
Romans 3:19-20 “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
The Law takes away our excuse for sinning because we have all fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and in fact, when we use the Law of God to show people their sins this drives them, hopefully, to the cross of Christ. In this way “the whole world may be held accountable to God” and the only way to be justified is by the blood of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). No one can be justified by keeping the Law for its humanly impossible to keep it. Since the Law stops the mouth and the Law shows that we are all guilty, we must plead the blood of Christ to atone for our sins.
The Wages of Sin
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Wages are what we earn from doing something and in this case, what we earn from our sin is death and rightfully so but that little and most powerful of words “but” saves us because even though we have earned eternal death by our sins, “the gift of God is eternal life.” This free gift is not earned by keeping the Law but in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary.
The Atonement for our Sins
First John 2:2 “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
We have a sin problem so our only hope is for an atonement for them. That atonement is Jesus Christ for God placed the wrath of God on Him that we rightly deserved so that we could get what we do not deserve and we call that grace. This is possible only because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). All that we can do is to “confess our sins [then] he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (2 Cor 5:21). That is the one and only way we can be cleansed from our sins and be seen as having Jesus’ righteousness. We must confess them to God and confess means that we agree with God about our sins because it is only “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph 1:7).
Sin, Transgressions, and Iniquity
Anytime you read the word “transgression, iniquity,” or “sin” you are essentially seeing the same problem. They are all sin. The word “sin” is from the Greek word “hamartia” which means “to miss the mark” and that mark is perfection. When you read the word “transgression” just think of it as intentionally crossing a boundary or border like when a sign says “No Trespassing” and you go past the sign anyway and enter private property. That is what trespasses are. Finally, the word “iniquity” is sometimes used when talking about sin and this means to make a premeditated choice and continuing in that choice without repentance. It would be like a robber going on a continual crime spree. Don’t let these different words confuse you as they are all sins against God. They are just categorized differently, that’s all.
Every single one of us falls short of perfection and we are commanded to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48) and so that presents a huge problem. That problem was solved in Jesus Christ’s death (John 3:16-17). If you have not yet solved that problem, then you have an unbridgeable gap between yourself and God and that gap will remain forever and you will be trapped with no chance to repent and be saved. Today if you will hear the voice of God, you can be saved (2 Cor 6:2). Your sins can be blotted out and your name will be found in the book of life and if it’s not, you’re in very serious trouble because your name must be in that book (Rev 20:11-15). Sin is an offense against a holy God but if you repent and trust in Christ, your sins can be placed on Christ on your behalf because as I mentioned before, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon