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 Dispensation. In the Millennial Kingdom they will not be under Grace as we of the Church are, they will be under the Millennial Kingdom Law which Jesus gave part of in the Sermon on the Mount. (Note: He says, “You have heard… but I say…”. He is changing the standard because the conditions have also changed. Where there is a change of the priesthood the law must also change, Hebrews 7:12).

If this concept were applied today, then it would be wise to take the whole context into consideration, because Jesus does not say to ignore your brother’s sin. Just prior to telling Peter he should forgive his brother seventy times seventy, He stated the process by which those living in the Millennial Kingdom are to seek restitution and the results if their brother will not cease his sinful actions against them. If your brother, after going to him privately, will not accept being reproved of his action, and you go before the assembly but he still will not listen, then he is to be cast out and treated as a Gentile. (Note: Jesus is specifically giving instruction to the Jews, not the Gentiles, and therefore this cannot be applied to the Church, which are not Jew or Gentile, 1 Corinthians 10:32)

Sin is always exterior to the body, 1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee the fornication. Every sin which, if perhaps, a man does is outside of the body, but the one fornicating sins against his own body.” Sin is always performed outside of the body, never within the body. Matthew 15:11 “Not that which enters into the mouth defiles a man, but that which comes out from the mouth, this defiles a man.”

 What is a transgression?

Transgression is going beyond a “do not” law set by God. It is a type of sin that involves breaking God’s law. The law is not restricted to the Mosaic Law, which only governed the Dispensation of Law; rather, it is any law that God has set for a household (dispensation) to live by. Adam’s transgression resulted in death passing on to all men, Romans 5:14. It was his sin that brought physical death into the world, Romans 5:12. Because Adam was instructed not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, when he ate, he transgressed the law, therefore sinning.

Since sin is the greater term, not all sin is a transgression, but all transgressions are sins[3].

The Hebrew languages does not have a specific word to differentiate between lawlessness and transgression[4] ; however, it would not have been necessary since committing a transgression would be an act of lawlessness and therefore sin because they had no concept of the grace that is provided to the Church; rather, they lived by law.

Since a Christian is not under any law, but under grace, there is no way to transgress[5], yet a Christian can still sin[6].

These passages of Scripture refute the practice of modifying the Mosaic Law and saying that it is a “standard” or “good moral compass” that Christians are to follow. Christ was very clear that no part of the Mosaic Law would be done away with until He brought it to its completion, which He did on the cross[7]. So the Ten Commandments are not a good moral law that can be separated from the remaining 603 rules and regulations under the Mosaic Law and then applied to Christians without also applying the penalties of the Law. And do not be so foolish as to think that a Christian can then do whatever he or she wants since a Christians is not under any quality of law[8]. Our standard is much higher than the Mosaic law and when walking by the Spirit and live according to who we are in Christ, we will never do anything that would be contrary to any quality of law[9]. Along with refuting the Mosaic Law as a standard for Christian living, it also refutes using the Beatitudes and the remaining parts of Matthew chapters five through seven, which were given to the Jews and is part of the Millennial Kingdom law.

What is a trespass?

A trespass is when we offend God. A trespass happens within the mind, because a mind set on the things of the flesh, not the things of the Spirit, is hostile towards God and will not subject itself to the standards from God, Romans 8:7. No action has been performed, yet a decision to go against God’s law[10]  has been made and only lacks opportunity to become a sin.

In Ephesians 2:1 Scripture reveals that a trespass is not a sin, “And you being dead in the trespasses and the sins,” By using articles with both words, according to the normal Greek grammar of this period, a trespass and a sin are distinguished from each other.

Sin is lawlessness, 1 John 3:4

Lawless is an act, Matthew 7:23; 13:41

A transgression is a sin that is a result of breaking a law from God, Romans 4:15

A trespass and a sin are different from each other, Ephesians 2:1

In Romans chapter five verses twelve through twenty-one, there are two deaths revealed along with two gifts that counter these deaths. The first death is a result of sin and is physical death, Romans 5:12-14. The second death resulted from Adam’s trespass, Romans 5:15. For physical death through Christ we are provided the gift of righteousness, which will result in the resurrection of our physical bodies[11] . For spiritual death we are given the gracious gift, which is eternal life[12] , which is God’s quality of life that has no beginning or end. Since physical death is a result of sin, and a trespass is not sin, there is only one other type of death man can encounter, which is spiritual death.

Because of this, just as through one man the sin[13] entered into the world and through the previously mentioned sin the death, thus also to all men the previously mentioned death passed through, on the basis of which all have sinned. For until a quality of law a quality of sin was in the world, but a quality of sin is not imputed where there is no quality of law. But the previously mentioned death reigned from Adam until Moses even against the ones not sinning on the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of the one about to come.

But not as the trespass thus also the gracious gift. For since by the trespass of the one the many spiritually died, how much more the grace from God and the gift by grace by the one man Jesus Christ unto the many abounded. And not as through a sinning one, the gift. For on the one hand judgment out from one resulted in condemnation, but on the other hand the gracious gift out from many trespasses resulting in justification. For since by the trespass of the one the previously mentioned spiritual death reigned through the one, how much more the ones having received the super abounding of the gracious gift and the gift of the righteousness in life reign through the one Jesus Christ.

Therefore then, as through one trespass unto all men resulting in condemnation, thus also through one righteous act unto all man resulting in justification of life. For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also because of the obedience of the one, the many will be constituted righteous.

Indeed a quality of law came along side in order that the trespass should abound. And where the sin nature abounded, the grace super abounded in order that just as the sin nature reigned by the spiritual death, thus also the grace should reign through righteousness resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Since a trespass and a sin are not the same we need to look at the process of how a sin comes about to understand when a trespass happens.

The Process of Sin

Every time we do something, or even choosing not to do anything, we begin within our mind. When it comes to sin, it is no different. We first have a desire, determine to do that desire, and then when the opportunity comes available fulfill that desire.

In the Book of James this process is laid out for us from beginning to end. First a desire (lust) has to present itself. Not all of our lusts come from within us. Outside influences present us with lusts that we must determine to make our own desires before we will consider fulfilling them. As Christians we have three enemies that seek to influence us in a negative way: Satan, the sin nature, and the world system. Each of these has different desires and attempts to persuade us that its desires are our own so that we act according to the way these enemies seek. Being tempted is a time when we are being drawn out of our safe place and baited into accepting the desire as our own. When we are bing tempted we have a choice to make, accept the lust and determine to fulfill it, or reject it. If we bite, we make the lust our own and determine to fulfill the desire. If we accept it as something we intent to perform, and that desire is contrary to the standards God has set for us, we trespass against God because we opted not to take the way of escape that He has made available to all Christians.

Take advertisement for instance. It seeks to tell you what you want. If it is affective, you may not even realize it is influencing your decision.

When we recognize that a desire is from one of our enemies, God has provided us defenses that will overcome each one of them so that we do not fulfill the desire and therefore sin. For Satan, God has given us the Armor from God, Ephesians 6:10-18[14]. For the World system[15], since we are in Christ we have died to the world system and need to act accordingly, Galatians 6:14. We use it, but do not abuse it, 1 Corinthians 7:31. For the sin nature[16], in Christ the sin nature has been rendered ineffective because we have died with Christ and have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life; therefore we are no longer slaves to the sin nature, but unto God and are to yield our members to righteousness, Romans 6:1-8:13.

When we determine within our minds to fulfill a lust, we have not sinned yet – remember, Scripture is very clear that sin is exterior; something that comes out from a man; however, we are unrighteous in our frame of mind and are trespassing because we have already determined to sin when the opportunity arrises. In James 1:15 this is referred to as conception. James intentionally uses the same words for what happens in the processes of the birth of a child to show the different between what is happening internally and what is happening externally. Conception is internal and does not guarantee birth. There are many things that can affect whether or not the child will be born. In a similar way, a trespass within the mind of a Christian does not guarantee sin will happen. In the normal course of the process it would, but the way of escape can still be taken, before any sin has been performed, and interrupt the fulfillment of the desire. However, if the Christian does not take the way escape the next step is sin. When a lust gives birth – always external to the body – it is a sin.

The Affect of an Unrighteous mindset

Since sin cannot happen within the mind that does not mean we can think unrighteous thoughts with no consequences. What we allow to stay within our minds ultimately affects our actions. We may not perform the sin we are holding in our mind which we are not willing to do because we know it is sin, but keeping that desire within our mind and not taking the proper defense against it will affect our frame of mind from one that is focused on Spiritual things, to one that is after the things of the flesh. Once this happens it is open season for any of our three spiritual enemies to attack.

What is Unrighteousness?

In Romans 1:29 – 31 we are given a rather extensive list of things that are unrighteous. In a description of one of the ways in which God’s wrath is manifested upon unrighteous men, Paul comes to a description of these people. “And just as they did not think it approvable to have God in experiential knowledge, God gave them over unto an unapproved mind to do the thing not proper, being filled ones with all unrighteousness: fornication, malignant evil, covetousness, bad, full of envy, murder, strife, guile, malice, gossip, slanderous, haters of God, violent, haughty, boastful, inventors of things that lack in character, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful,”

Actions are involved in this list, but also the mindset of an unrighteous person is revealed; haters of God, full of envy, guile, haughty, untrustworthy, and such. So unlike sin, which is an action, unrighteousness encompasses even the thought process that a person went through that ultimately was worked out to be a sin. It involves what a person retains in their thoughts and sets their mind upon that are contrary to God.

The Framing of the Mind

A Christian cannot sin within the mind, but does that mean we can think whatever we want, so long as we do not fulfill the desires? Within our minds we have the natural ability to maintain a general frame of mind by which we perceive and respond to the world around us. Although exterior elements can affect the mindset, ultimately we decide what our frame of mind will be set upon. Due to the fall of mankind and the resulting bent of our nature, all unsaved humans have a mind that is set on the things that relate to the flesh; how they can please their flesh. I am not referring to the basics of life: food, water, shelter, sleep. These things are natural requirements of our physical body for it to be healthy. A mind set on pleasing the flesh seek to fulfill other desires from the sin nature, which are perversion of the normal desires that come from our flesh. i.e. One is not pleased with having a nice house; rather, they have to have the best house. However, part of our salvation involves giving us a quality of the mind of Christ, that is, we are now able to receive the things from the Spirit, understand them, and properly apply them to our lives, therefore, the Christian can frame his mind on the things that relate to the Spirit, which result in righteousness.

But the soulish man does not receive the things from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he does not have the natural ability to know them, because they are Spiritually appraised, but the Spiritual man, on the one hand, appraises all things, on the other hand, is not appraised by anyone, for who has known a quality of the mind of Christ?, the ones who will be knit together with Him. Indeed, we have a quality of the mind of Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.

Since Christians are given the ability to receive the things from the Spirit, we can frame our minds on them. This would be setting your reflective thinking on who you are in Christ and as a result living according to God’s opinion of you in Christ. We are not talking self-esteem. This is knowing, understanding, and living according to God’s opinion of who you now are in Christ.

[1] The specific way in which that person throws so that the target is always hit.

[2] “Glory” means, “to have a proper opinion”

[3] Romans 4:15 for the law works out wrath, for where there is no quality of law there is not transgression.

[4] Romans 4:7 is a quote of Psalm 32:1. In Romans the Greek word “lawlessness” is a translation of the Hebrew word typically known as “transgression”. Upon further examination of the Hebrew languages’ use of “transgression” we see that it is not restricted to only the breaking of a law; although that is what is meant when used of violating the law, it is also used in a way that better fits the translation of lawlessness. i.e. Genesis 31:36; 50:17. This distinction is made by the Holy Spirit opting to use the Greek word “lawlessness” in Romans 4;7 when quoting Psalm 32:1 rather than “transgression” to so that Psalm 32:1 is referring to more than just sins which are transgression, but all sin.

[5] Romans 4:15;  6:14 for sin will not lord over you, for all of you are not under any quality of law, but under a quality of grace; Galatians 5:18

[6] 1 John 1:8; 2:1

[7] Matthew 5:17, 18 All of you do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. For truly I say to all of you, until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota nor one hook will not pass away from the law until all has come to be.

[8] Romans 6:1, 2 Therefore what will we say? Should we continue to feel at ease in the sin nature so that grace may abound? May it never come to be, how can we being dead to the sin nature still yet live by it?

[9] Galatians 5:22, 23 the Fruit from the Spirit … Against such is no quality of law

[10] This is not the Mosaic Law. In Context it is the Law of the Spirit, Romans 8:2

[11] Romans 5:17 For since by the trespass of the one the previously mentioned spiritual death reigned through the one, how much more the ones having received the super abounding of the gracious gift and the gift of the righteousness in life reign through the one Jesus Christ.

[12] Romans 6:23 For the wages of the sin nature are spiritual death, but the gracious gift from God is eternal life by Christ Jesus our Lord

[13] The sin nature did not enter into the world, it is a result of Adam’s innocent nature being bent due to his trespass and sin. Therefore this would be referring specifically to the act of sin that Adam did which resulted in both physical and spiritual death coming upon all mankind

[14] Satan’s Methodologies: Independence from God, Disappointment, Discouragement, Bitterness, Doubt, Spiritual Cowardice, Lying, Pride, An Unforgiving Spirit, Stealing, Corrupt Communication, Spiritual Laziness, Gossip, Busy Body

[15] Designed by Satan to keep unbelievers passive, 1 John 5:9; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4. Its lusts are the pride of life, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, 1 John 2:16. Christians are to recognize that the world system has been crucified to them in Christ, not direct love at the world, use it but not abuse it, 1 john 2:15; Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:31

[16] The corrupt nature that is passed on to all of Adam’s offspring as a result of his trespass. Romans 5:14. Its works are listed in Galatians 5:19-21 Adultery, Fornication, sexual Uncleanness, licentiousness – lavished lifestyle with no restrictions on behavior, Idolatry – contentiousness, religious superstitious awe, enmity, strife, jealousy, in burning anger, rivalry, dissensions, heresies, envies, murders, drunkenness, excessive partying, and such like