The Definition of Sin

The definition of sin has become so elusive today that there are so called “sins” in many churches that cannot be found in Scripture. How do you know what a sin is? True, we see very well defined sins in Scripture such as adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, murder, etc., but what about the things that are not revealed in Scripture. Is it a sin not to give ten percent of your wages to the Church? Is it a sin for a husband to ignore his wife? What about which movies you watch, what you wear, what friends you hang out with, going to a party…, how do we know if they are sins?

“Missing the mark” as a definition of sin is very predominate in teachings today. However, there is a problem with this definition. First of all, what mark are we missing? When we start asking this question we will find that the answer is a moving target. Secondly, this definition is so generic it allows for really anything to be put in as the mark missed. The mark could be, not living up to God’s glory; having a ruined character; not abiding by God’s law; and they go on and on. Lastly, where this definition comes from is an issue. In the book of Judges the word normally translated as “sin” from the Hebrew is used to describe men who are so good with a sling that they do not miss their targets. The meaning “missing the mark” comes off of a miss understanding of how this word is used in this passage and also requires ignoring other passages of Scripture that specifically define sin. These men are so good with the sling that they do not error in how they cast the stone; one could say that they stay in line with the rules

[1]  for throwing to such a degree that they always hit their mark.

Scripture is actually very clear on what sin is and the course by which it is produced. To properly understand what sin is, how a person sins, and the process by which a desire becomes a sin we will examine how Scripture uses sin, transgression, and trespass; the process of how sin is produced; how the mindset affects our actions; and how to use what God has proved for us to overcome the rule of sin within our lives.

What is Sin?

Scripture defines sin as an act by one who lives as though God has no standard for his or her life. 1 John 3:4 “ Everyone doing the sin is also doing the lawlessness, and the sin is the lawlessness.”

This verse may sound a bit odd in English with what we would consider to be extra articles in front of sin and lawless; however, in the Greek these are serving a very specific purpose. By using the articles, Scripture is giving us a definition of what sin is before God according to the normal use of the Koine Greek grammar. This is important because in order to know when we sin, we have to know what sin is. It is not “missing the mark” or “coming up short of God’s glory”, it is acting as if He has no standards for our life.

Many who use the definition of sin as “missing the mark” also use Romans 3:23 to set the mark as God’s glory. However, the issue with this is that man has never been expected to live a life that is equal with God. This is impossible. This passage states, “ For all have sinned and lack in God’s opinion[2] ”, which actually lines up with 1 John 3:4 rather than a miss understanding of the Hebrew’s use of “sin” in Judges, because this lack of God’s opinion is a result of their actions that are contrary to God’s expectations.

These articles are important to show that this is a definition not a description. If Scripture was simply stating a characteristic of sin being lawlessness there would be no articles. For example: In 1 John 5:17 it is stated that all unrighteousness is sin. Although we cannot see this in the English translations, because the lack of the

article does not have the same significance as it does with the Greek language, Scripture is not stating that sin and unrighteousness are equal, one and the same, like it states that sin and lawlessness are; rather, it is expresses the fact that all that has a quality of sin also has a quality of unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is the bigger term and, as we will go over in more detail later, involves what is going on in the mind, which is not sin,  along with the actions resulting from an unrighteous frame of mind, which are sins.

Lawlessness is always an action that results from an unrighteous mindset. In Matthew 7:23 Christ will not accept into His kingdom those who work out lawlessness. During the Millennial Kingdom, the angels will gather all that scandalize along with all that are doing lawlessness and cast them directly into the lake of fire, Matthew 13:41. Both of these passages clearly state that lawlessness is an action, not a mindset.

Sin can only be done against God, because He is the one who sets the standards. Psalm 51:4” Against You, against only (separately) You I have sinned. And the evil in Your sight I have done. In order that You are righteous when You speak. You are pure in Your judgment.”

The action that results in sin can and often is directed at others, but it is still only a sin before God.

In regard to the Millennial Kingdom, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his brother if he has sinned against him. Even though sin is before God, Peter is referring to when he is the recipient of this brother’s actions, which are sins. Matthew18:1-35.

Taking this passage and applying it to today is often done in error because Jesus is referring to the Millennial Kingdom; the next D