definesin02I received the following question:

I have a question for you.  We have recently been studying/discussing the meaning and definition of “sin.”  Does the definition change between the Old Testament, the Gospel Period, the Acts period, and now in the Dispensation of Grace?

The definition I’ve been given is “missing the mark.”  Appropriate, but kind of vague.

My main question has to do with Christ Jesus.  It focuses on sin, particularly referring to II Corinthians 5:20 & 21  –  (20. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.  21. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.)

Since Jesus “knew no sin”, it has been suggested that his only sin was the fact that he died.  Can the unavoidable reality of death be a sin?  I have a hard time accepting this concept.  I lean towards the belief that death is the consequence of the original sin, not a sin itself.

Good to hear from you! Very good question. I will answer as best I can.

First, let us consider the things the Bible specifically mentions as sins.

In the Old Testament, Sodom’s behavior was sin, Genesis 18:20, Isaiah 3:9. For Abimelech to take Sarah when she was Abraham’s wife would have been a sin, Genesis 20:6. For Joseph to take Potiphar’s wife would have been a sin, Genesis 39:9. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, that was a sin, Genesis 42:22. Pharaoh refusing to let the Israelites go was a sin, Exodus 9:27, 34, 10:16. To worship a god other than the true God is a sin, Exodus 23:33, Deuteronomy 20:18, Judges 10:10, 15, I Samuel 12:10. The golden calf was a sin, Exodus 32:30, 32, 34, Deuteronomy 9:16, 18, 21. To fail in the holy things of the LORD is a sin, Leviticus 5:15, 16. To find something that was lost and then lie about it is a sin, Leviticus 6:3. The Israelites refusing to enter the land at the LORD’s command was sin, Numbers 14:40, Deuteronomy 1:41. The complaints of the people against the LORD and against Moses was a sin, Numbers 21:7, Psalm 78:17, 32. Balaam going with the messengers of Balak when the LORD commanded him not to was a sin, Numbers 22:34. For a woman to return to her former husband after she has married another man is a sin, Deuteronomy 24:4. Achan taking from the things devoted to the LORD was a sin, Joshua 7:11, 20. The sons of Eli causing people to despise the LORD’s offering because of their inappropriate conduct was a great sin, I Samuel 2:17. For Samuel to cease to pray for the Israelites would have been a sin, I Samuel 12:23, 24, 30. To eat meat with the blood is a sin, I Samuel 14:33, 34. Rebellion and witchcraft are sins, I Samuel 15:23. For Saul to attempt to kill David when he was innocent was a sin, I Samuel 19:4, 5, 26:21. David’s actions with Bathsheba and Uriah were sin, II Samuel 12:13, Psalm 51:2, 4. David’s pride in numbering the Israelites was a sin, II Samuel 24:17, I Chronicles 21:8, 17. The golden calves of Jereboam were a sin to the nation of Israel when they worshiped them, I Kings 12:30, I Kings 13:34, etc. Manasseh’s idolatry was also sin, II Kings 21:16, II Chronicles 33:19. It would have been a sin for Nehemiah to lock himself up in safety in the temple out of fear when God had given him a work to do in building the wall, Nehemiah 6:13. Solomon sinned when he married foreign wives and followed their ways, Nehemiah 13:26. To curse God in your heart is sin, Job 1:5. To charge God foolishly is sin, Job 1:22, 2:10. To speak a curse against one who hates you is a sin, Job 31:30. To despise your neighbor is sin, Proverbs 14:21. To swear something you cannot fulfill is a sin, Ecclesiastes 5:6. To cause your sons and daughters to pass through the fire to Molech is a sin, Jeremiah 32:35. Satan’s trade and violence are sin, Ezekiel 28:16. To depart from the LORD’s precepts and judgments is a sin, Daniel 9:5. To make idols is a sin, Hosea 13:2.

In the New Testament, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin that cannot be forgiven, Matthew 12:31. Betraying innocent blood is a sin, Matthew 27:4. The actions of the prodigal son were a sin, Luke 15:21. Adultery is a sin, John 8:11. The religious leaders were sinners because they claimed to see, and yet still rejected Christ, John 9:41. The leaders who delivered the Lord to Pilate had greater sin than Pilate, John 19:11.

In the Acts period, the stoning of Stephen was a sin, Acts 7:60. Adam’s transgression was called a sin, Romans 5:14. Whatever is not of faith is sin, Romans 14:23.Fornication is a sin, I Corinthians 6:18. To wound the weak conscience of a brother by eating food offered to idols is a sin against him, I Corinthians 8:12. The behavior of the Israelites in the wilderness was sin, Hebrews 3:17. Showing bias towards people because of wealth or status is a sin, James 2:9. Sin is the transgression of the law, I John 3:4. All unrighteousness is sin, I John 5:17.

In the dispensation of grace, we don’t really have any specific sins listed, other than the “divers lusts” of silly women in II Timothy 3:6, and being a sectarian of Titus 3:11. If one counts II Peter as dispensation of grace, the angels sleeping with human women is called a sin in II Peter 2:4, and adultery is mentioned as a sin in II Peter 2:14.

Overall, I would tend to think that, other than some things that have to do with the law given to Israel, most things that were sin in the Old Testament still are sin, at least in principle, in our day. I do not think the definition of sin changed much between the past dispensations and today. What changes took place had to do with our position as believers “in Christ” today apart from Israel and her law.

I agree that the idea of “sin” is to miss the mark. If we want further information on that, I John 5:17a offers, “All unrighteousness is sin.” So I would say that the “mark” is righteousness. Everything that misses that mark is sin. To sin is to fall short and miss the mark regarding righteousness in the sight of God.

I agree that death is a consequence of sin, and not sin in and of itself. The fact that Christ was made to be sin does not refer to His death. It is not a sin to die, though certainly those who betrayed Christ to death were sinning by doing so. Yet surely His Own actions in dying were not sinful.

I believe this matter of Him being “made sin” is explained in Isaiah 53:4-6.

4. Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5. But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6. All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

The Lord Jesus was made sin when Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was not for anything He did (like dying) that He became sin, but it was by imputation, by those sins we have committed being laid on Him. It is the very opposite when His righteousness is laid on us when we believe. We are made the righteousness of God in Him. It is not for any righteous deed we did, but merely for the fact that we are “in Christ” by faith that His righteousness is imputed to us. This is a matter of identification (baptism). He was identified with our sin on the cross, and now we are identified with His righteousness as we are believers “in Him.”

Death (the first death, the one that we experience in this life) is a result of sin and death being in the world, and being in each one of us. It is not necessary even for us to sin specifically for us to die, as is shown by the many little children that die too young to have sinned a specific sin. They simply die because sin and death are in the world, and sin and death are at work in them. Death is a natural consequence of sin being in the world. It is not a sin in itself.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the good questions!