We live in a time in which words are redefined to suits the feelings and agendas of men. The word "sin" has all but disappeared from our vocabulary, but sin still exists and exerts its evil influence upon this world. Sin still has its blinding and binding power (Heb. 3:13; John 8:34). Sin still separates us from God (Is. 59:1-2), and its wages is still death (Rom. 6:23). We must take sin seriously, and part of doing this is accepting the Bible's definition of sin.
Sin is Lawlessness. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). "Lawlessness" is acting without regard for law. It is when man takes it upon himself to set aside an established and enforced standard of law and act upon his own authority. Sin occurs when God's law is ignored, held in contempt, or outright violated. Every sin is a violation of the law of God.
Sin is Transgression. Jesus was asked, "'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?'" (Matt. 15:2-3). To transgress is to go contrary to or to go beyond. God's law sets forth a boundary. We have transgressed when we step over this boundary.
Sin is a Trespass. "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). The Greek word for "trespass" is very similar to the one for "transgression." It refers to a false step; to lapse or to stumble. A trespass may be an unintentional violation of God's law, but it is still a violation. The end result is the same. Paul spoke of those "who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).
Sin is Unrighteousness. "All unrighteousness is sin..." (1 John 5:17). This word refers to a deed that violates law and justice; emphasizing the manner in which we treat others. Any injustice towards our fellowman is a direct violation of God's law and is a sin (Matt. 22:39).
Sin is Iniquity. While this word is found in the New Testament, it is primarily an Old Testament word. "Iniquity" is one of the deeper and more far reaching of all the words used by God to describe sin. It includes more than stepping beyond the boundaries of God's law, it also includes the guilt and inevitable punishment to be suffered for committing the sin. "Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day" (Ezra 9:7; cf. Ex. 20:5; Ps. 103:10).
Sin is Missing the Mark. In the New Testament, the word "sin" is often translated from a family of Greek words that basically mean "to miss the mark." If we use the example of an archer, we can understand the ways in which we sin. If the archer aims too high, the arrow will go too far and will miss the bullseye. We do this when we purposely go beyond the boundary of God's law. If the archer aims too low, the arrow will miss the bullseye because it does not go far enough. Sin is not just doing what is wrong, it is also failing to do that which is right (James 4:17). The arrow will also miss the bullseye if the archer aims off to one side or the other. We do not always walk the narrow path. These "off the path" thoughts, words and deeds are sins.
We are not doing ourselves any favor when we attempt to lessen sin's power or consequences by redefining the word. The Bible defines sin, warns us against sin, and tells us what to do when we have sinned. Let's learn to take sin seriously.