THE DEFINITION OF SIN
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 1 John 3:4:
"SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW."
(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 commandment: "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 for sin:
"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.
Harold and Donna Kupp