He (the Spirit of TRUTH) will correct the world concerning Sin and concerning Righteousness and concerning Judgment… John 16:8
…Concerning sin, because they do not trust in (believe) me. John 16:9
A verse often cited as the Biblical definition of sin is found in John’s first letter:
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1John 3:4 (KJV)
According to the King James version (KJV) of the Bible, John wrote that breaking the law constitutes sin.
- Sin = Breaking the law
Most English dictionaries agree with this understanding of the verse as presented in the KJV, defining sin to be a violation or trespass of a divine law.
John had spoken about keeping God’s commands earlier in his letter. In the verse above, it is generally assumed that he was referring specifically to God’s law, not just any law, though John does not actually specify that distinction.
NOTE: There exists a curious redundancy in this translation, stating that ‘whoever commits sin is also breaking the law because sin is the breaking of the law.’
In more modern English versions of the Bible, the phrase sin is the transgression of the Law is often translated as sin is lawlessness.
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1John 3:4 (ESV)
- Sin = Acting as though there was no law
If lawlessness and lawbreaking are synonymous, then this translation also supports the general consensus on the meaning of sin, that being the breaking of the law. However, if lawlessness is understood to be the absence of law (specifically, God’s law as given unto Moses), then this opens up the definition of sin to additional interpretation. In this way some allege that John was trying to say that an act of sin is a violation of God’s law because sin is the absence of God’s law. They take this line of reasoning further, claiming that sin is the lack of torah observance. Thus, anyone not keeping the law of Moses is sinning. This would then indite all of mankind throughout the ages, but for the the tiny, tiny subset of the population that the torah had been given to: that subset of the population that were never instructed to share the torah with anyone else.
- Sin = Not observing the law of Moses
NOTE: This interpretation results in a similar redundancy: He who commits sin commits lawlessness because sin is the committing of lawlessness. Or, whoever commits sin does not observe the law because sin is the lack of observing the law.
As far as consequences go, failure to keep the law is equivalent to breaking the law. Being discovered on the wrong side of a property line clearly marked “Trespassers will be shot!” will likely produce the same results, whether the violation was deliberate or an oversight. The concept of intention is disregarded. Perhaps this helps to bring the following verse into perspective:
The wages of sin is death… Romans 6:23
The word sin (synne) appears to have come to the English language from the Latin sons or sont, meaning guilty. This definition also appears to support the popular understanding of sin: that of being guilty of having broken the law.
In the Scriptures, the English word sin is used to translate the Hebrew words חֵטְא (khate), חָטָא (khat-taw) and חַטָּאָה (khat-taw-ah) as well as the Greek words ἁμαρτία (hamartia) and ἁμαρτάνω (hamartano).
In modern Christian theology, these particular Hebrew and Greek words are generally interpreted to mean a missing of the mark or straying from the path.
…for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God… Romans 3:23
According to this reading, and using this interpretation, Paul’s statement to the Romans is declaring that everyone has missed the mark; everyone has strayed from the path.
- Sin = Having missed the mark or strayed from the path
Do not ignore the fact that to miss implies one had first aimed. What, exactly, is this mark that all have aimed for and, subsequently, missed? Is it even possible for a man miss a mark he wasn’t aiming for? How does that work? To stray implies one was on the path to begin with. Which path were all on prior to straying? Can a man be rightfully accused of straying from a path he was never on?
This interpretation, the idea of missing the mark and/or straying from the path, is actually quite distinct from breaking the law. It alters the understanding of sin being either lawbreaking or lawlessness, implying one has tried, but failed. There is an inference that the effort is somehow supposed to have mattered.
NOTE: Even if we change the definition of sin from that of lawbreaking to missing the mark, the redundancy of John’s statement remains: all have missed the mark because sin is missing the mark, or all have strayed from the path because sin is the straying from the path.
Are we any closer to understanding what sin is?
Is sin missing the mark and/or straying from the path?
Is sin breaking the law and/or failing to keep the law?
Is sin all the above?
Is sin any of the above?
The Aramaic word for sin is חטיתא (KhteeyThaA), very similar to the Hebrew חַטָּאָה (khat-taw-ah). An English translation of that same verse from John’s letter in the Peshitta presents a simpler understanding of sin:
Whoever commits sin commits evil, because all sin is evil. 1John 3:4
All unrighteousness (or, every evil) is sin… 1John 5:17
CONTEXT: In his letter, John was explaining that while there certainly is sin that will not result in the immediate termination of one’s life, all sin is evil (or unrighteousness), and all evil (or unrighteousness) is sin (see 1John 5:16-17).
- Sin = Evil/Unrighteousness
The Peshitta offers more insight into Paul’s statement, from earlier:
Because all of them have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
Men are deprived of God’s glory because of sin. This understanding paints a picture other than falling short, missing the mark, straying from the path or even breaking the law. We have arrived at the true definition of sin, as presented by Paul to the Romans:
Everything that is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23
- Sin – Whatever is not of faith!
Jesus had told His disciples that the Spirit of TRUTH would correct the world concerning sin. Instead of continuing to insist on and cling to a wrong understanding of sin as though it was a mere a set of rules that must never be broken, accept the Spirit of TRUTH’s correction, “sin – because they do not trust in (believe) Me.” Whatever is not of faith is sin.
…Concerning righteousness, because I will go to my Father’s presence and you will not see me again. John 16:10
There is a righteousness that is the result of my doing right things and/or living rightly. This is the kind of righteousness attributed to Job:
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless (perfect) and upright (righteous), one who feared God and turned away from evil. Job 1:1
Paul, in recounting his life prior to encountering the Messiah, wrote:
I did have trust in the flesh, for if a man has hoped in his trust in the flesh, I have more than he:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the family of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew, son of a Hebrew, in the Law, a Pharisee. In zeal, a persecutor of the church, in righteousness of the written Law I was without indictment. Philippians 3:4-6
As noble as it may sound, it is of this type of righteousness, our own righteousness achieved by our own right efforts, that Isaiah wrote:
…all our righteousness is like the patch of cloth of a menstruous woman. Isaiah 64:6
Regarding having achieved his own righteousness, Paul continued:
But these things that were advantages to me, I have accounted losses for the sake of The Messiah. I also consider all these things a loss for the majesty of the knowledge of Jesus The Messiah, my Lord, him for whose sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all as a dung heap, that I may gain The Messiah, and be found in him, while I do not have my own righteousness, which is from the written Law, but that which is from the faith of The Messiah, which is the righteousness that is from God. Philippians 3:7-9
Job was a good guy, the kind of fellow anyone would have wanted for a neighbor. Job would become famous for his endurance during affliction. As significant and valuable as endurance is, Job had lacked one thing, one critical thing… until God, in His mercy, bestowed it upon the man (see James 5:11). Job’s response to this encounter with the Most High:
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:5-6
For more on Job see my article titled, The Book of Job – Study Guide.
All Job’s uprightness and blamelessness; indeed, even his patient endurance did not spare him the sound rebuke from God, a rebuke that might be summarized in the question ‘just who do you think you are?’
I recall a conversation with a young man who had told me, “It was easy for sinners such as yourself to repent, as you had so much wrongdoing to repent of. I, on the other hand, was without reproach all throughout my life. I had to learn how to repent of my righteousness!”
All my righteousness amounts to a dung heap, as Paul put it.
True repentance has nothing to do with our notion and definition of right and wrong, or of good and evil. True repentance has everything to do with your coming to terms with the fact that God Is Who He Is.
Job said, “I despise myself, and repent.” This is the response of faith! Not unlike Job, Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, also demonstrated his faith in God after he beheld Jesus alive from the dead. Having seen the risen Messiah with his own eyes, Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20:24-28)
Jesus responded to Thomas:
Now that you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me and have believed. John 20:29
What is the significance of this believing?
Without faith, no one can please God… Hebrews 11:6
Contrast Job the upright with a man who was most certainly not upright. He was, in fact, an idol worshipper from Ur of the Chaldeans named Abram, a man who also had a life-transforming encounter with God. It was not this man’s years of right living or his patient endurance that earned him the title of the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11).
And Abram believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:6
There is a righteousness that is not the result of our doing right things and/or right living. It is the righteousness of God.
…the righteousness of God has been revealed without the written Law… Romans 3:21
…that which is from the faith of The Messiah, which is the righteousness that is from God. Philippians 3:9
But how is it obtained?
…the righteousness of God is by the faith of Jesus The Messiah unto every person, also upon every person who believes in Him, for there is no distinction, because all of them have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God, and are made right by grace without charge and by the redemption that exists in Jesus The Messiah. Romans 3:22-24
The Scriptures contrast sin, that which is not of faith, with righteousness – never my own righteousness; rather, the righteousness of God which is of faith.
The righteous shall live by faith. Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38
The verse, above, does not say that those who do right things believe God, otherwise it would have been written, “The righteous shall live by works.” What it says is that those whom God considers righteous, righteous by His decree, live as a result of faith. Jesus explained it this way: “The Spirit of TRUTH will correct the world concerning righteousness, because I will go to my Father’s presence and you will not see me again… Blessed are those who have not seen me and have believed.”
…Concerning judgment, because The Prince of this world is judged. John 16:11
John quoted Jesus on two separate occasions saying:
For God did not send his Son into the world that he would condemn the world, but that he would give life to the world by him. John 3:17
I have come, not to judge the world, but to give life to the world. John 12:47
Approximately two to three years later Jesus had come to Jerusalem where people had gathered to celebrate the Passover. Men from among the nations had asked Phillip if they could see Jesus. Phillip conveyed this request to Andrew who, in turn, told Jesus. Along with His reply, He prayed:
“Father, glorify your name.” And a voice was heard from Heaven: “I have glorified and I am glorifying it again.” And the crowd that was standing there heard, and they were saying, “It was thunder”, and others were saying “An Angel spoke with him.” Jesus answered and said to them, “This voice was not for my benefit, but for your benefit. Now is the judgment of this world; now The Ruler of this world is hurled outside.” John 12:28-31
Just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus said that the Ruler, or Prince, of this world is now cast out. He did not say that one day thousands of years in the future the Prince would be thrown down; He said NOW.