Words Associated with Sin

Text: 1 John 3:4

There are several words in the New Testament that refer to sin. Sometimes these words can be used interchangeably and there is a lot of overlap in meaning between them. But there are also some subtle differences in their meanings. We will consider some of these words here in order to get a better understanding of sin.

Sin (Romans 14:23)

  • Greek (hamartia) – to miss the mark; it is the idea of aiming at a target and missing the bullseye
  • This was what Paul meant when he said we “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – we have a standard in God’s word (2 Timothy 1:13); we sin by failing to live up to that standard
  • Also, we have an example to follow in Christ (1 Peter 2:21-22) – He lived a sinless life; He is the target we are aiming for; when we miss the mark, we sin

Trespass (Ephesians 1:7)

  • Greek (paraptoma) – to fall aside; similar to transgression (Acts 1:25); depending on the translation, paraptoma may be translated either trespass or transgression (or even sin)
  • Often we turn away from following the Lord – we were following, but sin (Hebrews 3:12-13); this is what apostasy is about; we turn away from following Him (1 Timothy 4:1)
  • This should remind us that Christians can sin (1 Corinthians 10:12) – when we sin, we need forgiveness (Acts 8:22); God does not tolerate sin just because we are Christians (Romans 11:20-22)

Iniquity/Lawlessness (Matthew 7:23)

  • Greek (anomia) – acting as though there is no law; includes the idea of contempt for the law
  • This could be a blatant act of rebellion – stubborn refusal to be bound by God’s law (Psalm 2:1-3); the man of lawlessness displays himself as being God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
  • This could also be a failure to follow what has been authorized in God’s word (Matthew 7:22-23) – we cannot simply do whatever we want in service to God; we must act with authority (Colossians 3:17); His word shows us what is good (2 Timothy 3:16-17); we are not to act as though His law has not been given

Debt (Matthew 6:12)

  • Greek (opheilema) – that which is owed; through a failure to pay or fulfill an obligation, a debt is incurred
  • In what way is sin a debt? – we need to be careful not to confuse this with the wages of sin [next point]wages implies something that is owed to usdebt implies something that we owe to someone else
  • When we sin, we owe a debt to God and we need Him to forgive us of that debt – sin is a debt because of our responsibility to Him; we have a divinely-given purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:13); when we sin, we deprive God of the honor and service that we should be giving Him
  • We can never pay back this debt – we can be sorrowful and penitent (2 Corinthians 7:10), but that does not undo what we did; this is why we need forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-27); we cannot make up for it on our own

Wage (Romans 6:23)

  • Greek (opsonion) – a soldier’s pay; payment received for work performed; the other words we have considered are words for sin; this is associated with sin; it is the result of sin
  • Many scoff at the idea of works being necessary for salvation – they think we’re trying to “earn” salvation; but our obedience doesn’t earn us anything (Luke 17:10); salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), despite the necessity of obedience (Hebrews 5:9)
  • The only thing we earn is what we earn for our sins (Romans 6:23) – this death is spiritual death resulting in eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9); contrasted with the eternal life available through Christ (Romans 6:23)
  • When we commit sin, we are the slave of sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16) – we earn wages for that service


  • Regardless of the word we use for sin, we need to remove it from our lives and avoid it in all that we do
  • We can be forgiven – but we must meet the conditions the Lord gave for forgiveness

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