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Defining Sin

Most people think of sin as a bad or evil thing that a person does. Others have a broader view, and define it as any behavior that is displeasing to God. Of course, sin is both of those things. But if you stop there, then your understanding is dangerously inadequate. Consider how James argues that not doing something is also sin ( James 4:17 ). So according to James, at its most basic level, sin isn’t about behavior at all.

This makes plenty of sense when one considers the Hebrew roots of the concept. Notice how the Hebrew term for sin is derived from a word that means “ to miss .” For example, see Judges 20:16 , where the word translated as “miss” is the Hebrew word usually translated as sin (Strong’s H2398). The term sin comes from a word that means to miss the mark. Whenever, we sin, we are missing the mark. What is the mark? It’s Jesus ( 1 Peter 2:20-22 , 1 John 2:6 , Ephesians 5:1-2 , 1 Corinthians 11:1 , John 13:13-16 ). We were made to be like Jesus, and we are expected to be like Jesus, and when we are not like Jesus, we are missing the mark, and sinning. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they missed the mark badly, and passed down their sinful state to each new generation of men and women. We all miss the mark ( Romans 3:23). This “missing of the mark” demonstrates itself in two primary ways. Both are spoken of by King David in Psalm 51 . David wrote this Psalm after the prophet Nathan called him out for the many sins he committed with Bathsheba. In crying out to God, David asks for his transgressions to be erased, his iniquity to be washed away, and for his sin to be cleansed (Psalm 51:1-2) .

Transgression is translated from a Hebrew word that means rebellion . To transgress means to cross a boundary, or break a rule. When we break one of God’s rules we are transgressing. Usually what makes us do that is David’s second sin problem — something called iniquity. Iniquity is translated from a word that includes elements of perversion or depravity. It is a condition of the heart in which we want to enjoy or experience something in a way in which God did not intend. It is a kind of moral evil. When our hearts have iniquity, we desire to do things opposed to God’s ways. We then transgress when we try to fulfill that desire. Iniquity happens in the heart and mind. Transgression happens in our behaviors, and both work together to make us sin, or miss the mark. But there is good news. God is loving, and his character is to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin ( Exodus 34:7, Psalm 32:5 ). In fact, he will even cause you to hit the mark solidly ( Romans 8:28-29 ).

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