Category: (1) What is the definition of sin?


No sin is greater than another sin in the eternal sense. All sin separates us from God, and all sin needs to be atoned for. Also, there is no “greatest sin” in the sense of “mortal” and “venial” sins, as the Catholic Church teaches. All sins are “mortal” sins in that even one sin makes the offender worthy of spiritual death and eternal separation from God. At the same time, the Bible does state that on the day of judgment some sins will merit greater punishment than others (Matthew 11:22, 24; Luke 10:12, 14).

Jesus also referred to one sin being a “greater” sin (although not the “greatest”) in John 19:11. Speaking to Pontius Pilate, He said that the one who had handed Him over to Pilate was guilty of the “greater sin.” He meant that the guilt of the person who delivered Him to Pilate, whether Judas or Caiaphas, was greater than Pilate’s because of the deliberate and cold act of handing Jesus over after seeing the overwhelming evidence of His miracles and teaching, all pointing unmistakably to Him as the Messiah and the Son of God. That sin was greater than that of those who were ignorant of Him. This could indicate that those who have been given knowledge of Jesus as the Son of God and still reject Him would be subject to a greater punishment than those who remain ignorant of Him: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41).

These incidents, however, do not prove that one sin is the “greatest sin” of all. Proverbs 6:16–19 is a catalog of the seven sins God hates and are detestable to Him: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” But none of the seven are identified as a greater sin than any of the others, and none are identified as the greatest sin.

Although the Bible doesn’t name any one sin as the greatest sin, it does refer to the unpardonable sin, which is the sin of unbelief. There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. The Bible is clear that, in His love for mankind, God provided the means of eternal salvation—Jesus Christ and His death on the cross—for “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:16). The only condition under which forgiveness would not be granted concerns those who reject the only means of salvation. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), making it clear that He and He alone is the path to God and salvation. To reject the only means of salvation is unpardonable and, in that sense, is the greatest sin of all.

To remit is to forgive. Remission is a related word, and it means “forgiveness.” The “remission of sin,” then, is simply the “forgiveness” of sin. The phrase used in eight places in the King James Version of the Bible.

Matthew 26:28, for example, says, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Modern translations such as the English Standard Version render the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke has three examples of this phrase. Luke 1:77 says, “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” John the Baptist “came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He said that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

In Acts, Peter tells a Roman named Cornelius that “whosoever believeth in [Christ] shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Cornelius and those in his home did believe, and they received forgiveness in Christ.

God remits sin on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (Romans 3:24-25). The teaching of Scripture is that remission only comes by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In Psalm 32:5, the psalmist says, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’” In this one verse, “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression” are all mentioned. Basically, the three words communicate the same idea: evil and lawlessness, as defined by God (see 1 John 3:4). However, upon closer examination, each word also carries a slightly different meaning.

The word sin and its cognates are used 786 times in the New International Version of the Bible. Sin means “to miss the mark.” It can refer to doing something against God or against a person (Exodus 10:16), doing the opposite of what is right (Galatians 5:17), doing something that will have negative results (Proverbs 24:33–34), and failing to do something you know is right (James 4:17). In the Old Testament, God even instituted sacrifices for unintentional sins (Numbers 15:27). Sin is the general term for anything that “falls short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Sin leads to a downward progression that, without the restoring power of the Holy Spirit, we all tend toward. The sin nature is present in every human being born since the Fall of Adam (Genesis 3:6–7; Romans 5:12). If left unchecked, continual sin leads to a “reprobate mind,” spoken of in Romans 1:24. Our sin nature causes us to gravitate naturally toward selfishness, envy, and pride, even when we are trying to do good. The apostle Paul alluded to his propensity to sin when he wrote, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18).

The sin nature leads to trespassing. A trespasser is someone who crosses a line or climbs a fence that he should not cross or climb. A trespass may be intentional or unintentional. Trespass can also mean “to fall away after being close beside.” Peter trespassed when he denied Jesus (Luke 22:34, 56–62). We all “cross the line” in thought, word, or attitude many times a day and should be quick to forgive others who do the same (Matthew 6:15).

Transgression refers to presumptuous sin. It means “to choose to intentionally disobey; willful trespassing.” Samson intentionally broke his Nazirite vow by touching a dead lion (Numbers 6:1–5; Judges 14:8–9) and allowing his hair to be cut (Judges 16:17); in doing so he was committing a transgression. David was referring to this kind of sin when he wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1). When we knowingly run a stop sign, tell a lie, or blatantly disregard an authority, we are transgressing.

Iniquity is more deeply rooted. Iniquity means “premeditated choice, continuing without repentance.” David’s sin with Bathsheba that led to the killing of her husband, Uriah, was iniquity (2 Samuel 11:3–4; 2 Samuel 12:9). Micah 2:1 says, “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.” In David’s psalm of repentance, he cries out to God, saying, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2).

God forgives iniquity, as He does any type of sin when we repent (Jeremiah 33:8; Hebrews 8:12). However, iniquity left unchecked leads to a state of willful sin with no fear of God. The build-up of unrepentant sin is sometimes pictured as a “cup of iniquity” being filled to the brim (Revelation 17:4; Genesis 15:16). This often applies to nations who have forsaken God completely. Continued iniquity leads to unnatural affections, which leads to a reprobate mind. Romans 1:28–32 outlines this digression in vivid detail. The sons of Eli are biblical examples of reprobates whom God judged for their iniquities (1 Samuel 3:13–14). Rather than repent, Eli’s sons continued in their abominations until repentance was no longer possible.

The biblical writers used different words to refer to sin in its many forms. However, regardless of how depraved a human heart may become, Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to cover all sin (John 1:29; Romans 5:18). Psalm 32:5, quoted at the beginning of this article, ends with these words: “And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The only sin that God cannot forgive is the final rejection of the Holy Spirit’s drawing to repentance—the ultimate fruit of a reprobate mind (Matthew 12:32; Luke 12:10).

Sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion  against God (Deuteronomy  9:7; Joshua  1:18). Sin had its beginning with Lucifer, probably the most beautiful and  powerful of the angels. Not content with his position, he desired to be higher  than God, and that was his downfall, the beginning of sin (Isaiah 14:12-15).  Renamed Satan, he brought sin to the human race in the Garden of Eden, where he  tempted Adam and Eve with the same enticement, “you shall be like God.” Genesis  3 describes Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and against His command. Since  that time, sin has been passed down through all the generations of mankind and  we, Adam’s descendants, have inherited sin from him. Romans 5:12 tells us that through Adam sin entered the  world, and so death was passed on to all men because “the wages of sin is death”  (Romans 6:23).

Through Adam, the inherent inclination to sin entered the human race, and human  beings became sinners by nature. When Adam sinned, his inner nature was  transformed by his sin of rebellion, bringing to him spiritual death and  depravity which would be passed on to all who came after him. We are sinners not  because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. This passed-on depravity  is known as inherited sin. Just as we inherit physical characteristics from our  parents, we inherit our sinful natures from Adam. King David lamented this  condition of fallen human nature in Psalm 51:5:  “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived  me.”

Another type of sin is known as imputed sin. Used in both financial  and legal settings, the Greek word translated “imputed” means “to take something  that belongs to someone and credit it to another’s account.” Before the Law of  Moses was given, sin was not imputed to man, although men were still sinners  because of inherited sin. After the Law was given, sins committed in violation  of the Law were imputed (accounted) to them (Romans  5:13). Even before transgressions of the law were imputed to men, the  ultimate penalty for sin (death) continued to reign (Romans 5:14). All humans, from Adam to Moses, were  subject to death, not because of their sinful acts against the Mosaic Law (which  they did not have), but because of their own inherited sinful nature. After  Moses, humans were subject to death both because of inherited sin from Adam and  imputed sin from violating the laws of God.

God used the principle of  imputation to benefit mankind when He imputed the sin of believers to the  account of Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for that sin—death—on the cross.  Imputing our sin to Jesus, God treated Him as if He were a sinner, though He was  not, and had Him die for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). It is important  to understand that sin was imputed to Him, but He did not inherit it from Adam.  He bore the penalty for sin, but He never became a sinner. His pure and perfect  nature was untouched by sin. He was treated as though He were guilty of all the  sins ever committed by the human race, even though He committed none. In  exchange, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers and credited our  accounts with His righteousness, just as He had credited our sins to Christ’s  account (2  Corinthians 5:21).

A third type of sin is personal sin, that which  is committed every day by every human being. Because we have inherited a sin  nature from Adam, we commit individual, personal sins, everything from seemingly  innocent untruths to murder. Those who have not placed their faith in Jesus  Christ must pay the penalty for these personal sins, as well as inherited and  imputed sin. However, believers have been freed from the eternal penalty of  sin—hell and spiritual death—but now we also have the power to resist sinning.  Now we can choose whether or not to commit personal sins because we have the  power to resist sin through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, sanctifying  and convicting us of our sins when we do commit them (Romans 8:9-11). Once we  confess our personal sins to God and ask forgiveness for them, we are restored  to perfect fellowship and communion with Him. “If we confess our sins, He is  faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all  unrighteousness” (1 John  1:9).

We are all three times condemned due to inherited sin, imputed  sin, and personal sin. The only just penalty for this sin is death (Romans 6:23), not just physical death but eternal death  (Revelation 20:11-15). Thankfully, inherited sin, imputed  sin, and personal sin have all been crucified on the cross of Jesus, and now by  faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior “we have redemption through His blood, the  forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).