What is Sin?

Author’s note: I received a question on the web site not too long ago from an individual asking why we didn’t have more information on the subject of sin on our web site. I was a little at a loss as to the question because not a single article or outline is posted that doesn’t have something to do with the avoidance of sin in our lives, but then I realized that the individual probably had reference to the generic subject of sin. There are, I believe, a few things dealing with that subject, but I thought that another article wouldn’t hurt.

In 1 John 3:4, John writes, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law”KJV. The American Standard Version reads, “Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” So is sin “the transgression of the law” or is sin “lawlessness”? The answer is that it is both. Imagine if you would a circle. Name this circle, “the law.” Consider one who abides within the circle as one who is remaining within the law. Consider also that the person who steps outside the circle has transgressed the boundary of the law and is now outside the borders of law. Sin is both the transgression of that which is lawful and the exit from law into lawlessness.

In 2 John 9, the apostle writes, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son”KJV. Again, the ASV reads as follows: “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.” Here is another passage which is parallel with 1 John 3:4. Consider the same circle as in the above paragraph. Instead of writing “law” in the circle, write “doctrine of Christ.” When we step outside the circle, we transgress the doctrine and we go onward outside of Christ’s teaching.

Consider also James 4:17 “To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Here we have what many refer to as the sin of “omission” because the sin is committed by not doing something good as opposed to doing something that is right. But if you will once again considered our circle and inside the circle write, “doing that which is good,” you will notice that if you step outside the circle, once again, you have transgressed, gone beyond, and gotten into territory where “good” is not defined, lawlessness. This is yet another passage that sets forth the idea that sin is defined as not doing what God wants us to do.

Finally, consider Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Here is a passage that is just the opposite of James 4:17. Draw the circle again. Write inside the circle, “that which is in the name of the Lord,” in other words, that which the Lord wants us to do, authorizes us to do. When we step outside of that circle, once again, we transgress, go beyond, and enter into lawlessness.

Our conclusions regarding what sin is must be as follows: sin is going outside of the law of God, the doctrine of Christ, that which is good, and that which is authorized by Christ in our behavior, whether words or deeds. When I go beyond Christ’s authority regardless of what the matter is, I have sinned. Sometimes the Bible tells us where the line is and what not to go beyond. Sometimes the Bible simply says, “this is right behavior” and expects us not to behave in a different way. Regardless of whether the Bible says to avoid certain behavior or behave in a particular way, to go beyond what the Bible says is right is wrong.

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