The concept of sin is being lost in our culture’s vocabulary and consciences. However, not only has the world lost the knowledge of sin, many Christians also have an incomplete understanding of what is sin.
Lawbreaking (1 John 3:4; Matthew 7:21-23)
There are many places in the scriptures where God gives us a clear picture of the meaning of sin.
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 ESV)
God defines sin as lawlessness. Too often sin is defined as doing something bad based on society’s definition of what is “bad.” God defines sin as acting without his law. Lawlessness is breaking the law or acting without the approval of the law. Sins are not defined by society’s laws. Sin is defined by God’s laws. It does not matter what people think are deadly sins or define to be as immoral. Notice that Jesus taught this point.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:21–23 ESV)
Jesus is describing the person who will enter the kingdom of heaven. Notice that there are many people who will have done many works in the name of the Lord Jesus. But Jesus says that he will not know who they are because they were workers of lawlessness. How can they be workers of lawlessness when they were doing mighty works in the name of the Lord? The answer is found in the word, “lawlessness.” They might have been moral people according to the world’s standards. But they were not acting with the authority of God’s law. They were not doing what God told them to do. This is where we get the concept of sins of omission and sins of commission. What is meant by these terms is that sin is not just breaking God’s law. Sin is also not doing what God’s law says to do. Jesus was condemning the people for not doing what the law says. They looked like they were doing the will of the Lord. But they were not doing what God’s law told them to do. Therefore, they were “workers of lawlessness,” that is, working outside the boundaries of God’s law. Therefore, we must not merely think of sin as lawbreaking. We need to also think of sin as acting outside the authority of God’s law.
Sin Is An Offense
The definition of the Greek word hamartia (the word translated “sin” in the scriptures) is “an offense” (Strong’s), “missing the mark” (NAS Greek), and “a departure” (BDAG). Understanding that sin is an offense is a concept that we need to explore further. Sin is an offense against another. When the law is broken, we do not apologize to the law book but to the people who have been wronged. We see this in our own law system today. When a defendant stands trial, who is the prosecution? It is not the law book, but the people. The case is called, “The people versus the name of the defendant.” The reason for the trial is not because some arbitrary rules have been broken and the law book has taken offense. Rather, the reason for the trial is because an offense has occurred against the people. The law asserts what is a violation but the offense is against the people. The law code has not been offended. The people have been injured or harmed by the sin. The law simply expresses the acts that cause the offense.
We have far too often taken a clinic view of sin. We have taught sin and thought of sin as merely breaking the law. We act as if there is no offense but that we have merely stepped outside the boundaries of God’s law. Such a view of sin misses the whole point of what sin is about. Thinking that sin is about breaking rules misses the impact and the gravity of sin. Breaking the law does not bring out our sorrow or emotions like understanding that we have hurt another person. When we sin, we are wronging God. Sin is offending God. Sin is an offense against God as a person, against everything that he is and everything that he stands for. David understood that sin was offense against his God and not against a law book.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:4 ESV)
If we do not see our sin as an offense against God, an offense of his character and his nature, then we will not be affected by our sin. There will not be a godly sorrow that leads to repentance because we have failed to see how our sin has injured God. One of the rationalizations we make in committing our sins is that nobody is getting hurt. We think that our sin is just about ourselves and no one else is getting hurt by what we are doing. But God is the one who is injured by our sins. We do not realize all the people we are hurting by the sin we are committing but we definitely fail to see that we are offending God. We need to see that our sin is a personal affront to God. Our actions are offending God.
The prophet Hosea became intimately aware of the pain that God suffers from our sins. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute who would commit adultery against Hosea. God did this to help us understand what our sins are like. We are like prostitutes, casting our desires out to everything and everyone but God. We refuse to show love to God but love everything else in this world. God describes this as adultery against him. It is important to consider that God uses a sin that is so significant and so damaging to the heart that it is the only sin that God allows for a married couple to divorce. God does not merely describe our sins as covenant breaking or law breaking. God calls it adultery against him. Notice how God is insulted by our sinful living.
Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? (Jeremiah 2:5 ESV)
“O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:3–4 ESV)
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! 9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. 13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! (Psalm 81:8–13 ESV)
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29 NKJV)
God’s call for people to weep, wail, and mourn over their sins is not because the book of the law has been violated but because God has been offended. We have wronged God. The consequence of our sin is separation from God. In Genesis 3:22-24 we see that the sin of Adam and Eve required their removal from the presence of God. Our sorrow over sin is because we have offended the Almighty God and are now separated from his glorious goodness and kindness. At the beginning of the lesson we read Matthew 7:21-23 we see that the workers of lawlessness do not enter God’s kingdom but must depart from the presence of God. Sin demands our eternal separation from God.
We need to be crushed by our sins. We need to show godly sorrow. We need to be upset that we are offending our Lord. Then we see to see what God has done for us through Jesus. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). Our sins have not ended the relationship that we can have with God. Rather, God sent his Son to die for our sins so that grace could be extended to those who come to Christ and seek a relationship with him. Those who recognize the burden of their sins and want to be forgiven so that they can have an eternal relationship with him, God saves. God does not save those who are content to break his laws and insult him through their actions. God saves those who turn away from their sins and approach God in humility seeking forgiveness. Will you be saved from your sins?