Many articles have been written about the meaning of sin, yet few people know what sin is or how the Bible defines it. Do you know what sin really is?
The clearest biblical definition of sin is found in 1 John 3:4: “Sin is the transgression of the law” (King James Version). To sin is to transgress the law. But what does it mean to transgress the law?
The meaning of transgression
The Bible discusses the concept of transgression and sin many times.
The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language and the Hebrew words for transgression and transgress reveal a clearer understanding of what is sin. For example, consider 2 Chronicles 24:20, “The Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, ‘Thus says God: “Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper?”’”
The Hebrew word for transgress in the above verse is abar, meaning to “cross over.” It can also mean to “turn away” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #5674). The Hebrew word for transgression is pesha, which means rebellion or a revolt or sin (Strong’s, #6588).
A very encouraging scripture states: “Blessed is he whose transgression [rebellion, sin] is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). The Hebrew word for sin here is chataah, which means an offense (Strong’s, #2401). So when our transgressions and sins are forgiven, that means our rebellion and revolt against God is removed from us.
The New Testament was written in Greek. The word for transgression in 1 John 3:4 is anomia, meaning lawlessness (law breaking). The word for sin is hamartia, which literally means “missing of the mark” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1997, pp. 1045-1046, 1161).
The apostle John defines sin (the missing of the mark) as transgression (lawlessness, law-breaking). So, the Old Testament and the New Testament words define sin as being an offense and rebellion and off the mark, all of which violate the law.
What law defines what is sin?
Is the law in reference to sin a specific law? Does Scripture mean any laws or traditions or civil institutions? Sin is not defined by human laws but by God’s law. So 1 John 3:4 rephrased states that sin is violating the law of God.
Sin can refer to a general condition of living apart from God and His law either in ignorance or unbelief. Sin also refers to specific acts of disobedience. Both the condition of sin and committing specific acts of sin bring undesirable consequences.
God’s law was given to show mankind the best way to live in harmony with God and others. God gave the law as a blessing and intended it to guide mankind into an abundant way of life (John 10:10). He wants all people to have prosperity, peace and joy in their lives.
Jesus and the law
Did Jesus uphold the law of God or did He do away with the commandments? He upheld the law! He explained it, preached it, referenced it and made an emphatic statement of support: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Fulfill” means the opposite of “destroy.” He gave full meaning to the law and summarized it into two overall great commandments.
A man asked Him, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:36-39).
A time is coming when Jesus Christ will break into history. He will return to rule the earth and to end moral confusion. He will establish God’s law as the law of the world. All people will understand the law. They will know what sin is and what the consequences of lawlessness are. These two great commandments are a synopsis of God’s 10 Commandments. The first four commandments state how we are to love God. The last six commandments state how we should treat one another. Breaking any of these commandments is sin.
Blessings for obedience
From the beginning, God established blessings for obedience and penalties for disobedience (Deuteronomy 5:4-5). Sin is ultimately against God Himself. God has designed human life to work best when it is aligned with His law. He envisioned ancient Israel modeling obedience so that other peoples would obey and be blessed. But ancient Israel sinned—they did not obey God just as modern nations today do not obey God. The world exists in a state of sin and continues to write a sad, violent history.
A time is coming when Jesus Christ will break into history. He will return to rule the earth and to end moral confusion. He will establish God’s law as the law of the world. All people will understand the law. They will know what sin is and what the consequences of lawlessness are. Nations will no longer sin but will enjoy moral and upright government, righteousness, peace and joy.
Everyone will love the law and the rewards for obeying it. In the future government of Jesus Christ, the prophecy of Jeremiah will be fulfilled: “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:23).
Does this apply to you?
Jesus Christ died for us. “Who Himself bore ours sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). We have the opportunity to receive God’s gift of eternal life, but we must believe. That belief includes understanding that sin is breaking God’s law. Sin is against God, and it brings the death penalty. God provides a way of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Sin and obedience to the 10 Commandments have an effect on everyone. The Bible states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a result of our sins, everyone deserves eternal death (Romans 6:23). God, in His mercy, provided payment for the death penalty through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
We can experience a great measure of peace and stability in keeping God’s law today. “Moreover by them [the law, testimony, statutes, commandments and judgments] Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11). “But let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you” (Proverbs 3:1-2).
You need to learn more about God’s law and about how to overcome sin. Download our free booklets God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today and Change Your Life! They will give you a concise, easy-to-read guide to what the Bible teaches on these vital subjects.