To define a word we use this formula:
(word X = word or phrase Y)
We express this by using the verb IS, for example:
Black IS a color
(X = Y)
HOW TO DEFINE THE WORD SIN
The apostle John used the formula (X = Y) to give us an explicit
definition of the word SIN (Greek hamartia) when he wrote:
"SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW." 1 John 3:4
(X = Y)
A GOOD ANALOGY
If I wanted to define the word "crime" I would say:
CRIME IS THE BREAKING OF THE LAW.
(X = Y)
Here "CRIME" is the generic term which includes all specific types
of civil law-breaking such as fraud, blackmail and so forth.
In the same way when John said: "SIN is the transgression of the
law", he meant that SIN is the generic term which covers all
specific transgressions of God's Ten Commandment law, such as
stealing, murder or sabbath breaking.
And yet most teachers refuse John's simple definition and say that
sin cannot be defined that easily. As proof they offer a verse like:
"WHATSOEVER IS NOT OF FAITH IS SIN" Rom 14:23
However, when we apply the formula (X = Y), we know
immediately that instead of defining sin, this verse is defining the
phrase "whatsoever is not of faith".
Since we already know that "sin is the transgression of the law" we
know that Paul was saying:
"WHATSOEVER IS NOT OF FAITH IS SIN."
(Transgression of the law)
When we look at that phrase in its context it is clear that Paul was
not trying to define sin. Instead, he was saying that a person is
guilty of sin (transgression of the law) if he eats food which he
believes God has forbidden him to eat. Here is the complete verse:
Romans 14:23 "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he
eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
The person who deliberately eats food he believes God has
commanded him not to eat has committed sin by breaking the first
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me". If a person willfully
does something that he believes to be forbidden by the word of
God, then he has in effect made himself a "god" by refusing to
accept the rule of the Creator.
ANOTHER MISUSED VERSE
Now let's look at another verse that is wrongly used as a definition
"TO HIM THAT KNOWETH TO DO GOOD, AND DOETH IT
NOT, TO HIM IT IS SIN". James 4:17
When we apply the (X = Y) formula to that verse we quickly see
that James (like Paul) is not defining sin, rather he too is saying
that a person is guilty of sin (transgression of the law) if he
KNOWS to do good and refuses to do it. For example if a
Christian knows he should keep the sabbath holy and does not do
it, he is COMMITTING sin.
Conversely, the Christian who does not yet know to keep the
sabbath is not held to be guilty of COMMITTING sin - for in order
to commit sin one must deliberately break a known law of God. If
you take a moment to look up the word "commit" you will find it
means: to perpetrate. If a person unwittingly breaks God's law he is
not actually committing sin. It is a sin of ignorance and covered by
the blood of Christ.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
We must understand John's definition of sin ("Sin is the
transgression of the law) in order to comprehend the true meaning
of three other verses found in the same passage which describe
those who "commit" sin.
1 John 3:6 "WHOSOEVER ABIDETH IN HIM SINNETH NOT"
1 John 3:8 "HE THAT COMMITTETH SIN IS OF THE DEVIL"
1 John 3:9 "WHOSOEVER IS BORN OF GOD
DOTH NOT COMMIT SIN"
If we do not correctly define "COMMIT SIN" as the deliberate
breaking of the Ten Commandments, we will not be able to know
who is born of God and who is of the Devil.