Appendix E: God’s definition of sin

What is God’s definition of sin? This is a very simple question, but the answer is not so simple. The following paragraphs are an attempt to answer this question.

In 1 Jn 5:17 we read that all unrighteousness is sin. Righteousness is something that is right. So unrighteousness is something that is not right.

So how does one know what is right and what is wrong? This is where a moral law comes in. A moral law tells us what is right and what is wrong. If a moral law is not defined, righteousness and unrighteousness are not defined either. Righteousness and unrighteousness are tied to or related to a law. When you say that a person is righteous you are saying that the person is righteous with respect to a law.

One can be unrighteous in two ways. One way is to know that something is right and not do it. The other way is to know that something is wrong and do it.

Jas 4:17 tells us that to everyone who knows the right (or good) thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. It describes one way of doing unrighteousness and thereby sinning. This is a sin of omission.

Rom 14:23 tells us that whatever is not from faith is sin. That is, if you believe that something is wrong, and you do it, then to you it is sin. It describes the other way of doing unrighteousness and thereby sinning. This is a sin of commission.

Thus we see that Jas 4:17 and Rom 14:23 are summarized in 1 Jn 5:17 – all unrighteousness is sin.

Notice how both Jas 4:17 and Rom 14:23 indicate that sin is relative. If you know something is good and you don’t do it, then to you it is sin, says James. The implication is that someone else may not do the same thing and yet it may not be sin to him because he did not know that it was a good thing to do.

Similarly, Rom 14:23 indicates that someone else may have faith to do something, and to him it would not be sin, but if you do not believe that what you are doing is right, and you do it, then to you it is sin.

It is true that God does have an absolute moral law. But the above verses teach that God does not judge everyone by the same moral law. There is further evidence that this is true, as we see below.

In 1 Jn 3:4 we read that sin is lawlessness (i.e. disobeying some law). That is, in order to sin you have to break a law. You cannot have sinned unless you have broken a law.





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