What the Bible says about
Sin as Missing the Mark
(From Forerunner Commentary)
One's blindness does not excuse his guilt. The person is still guilty even though he did not know.
Unintentionally, thankfully, includes more than one might think at first glance. It means "to turn aside, to wander, to err, to make a mistake, to miss the mark." The person misses the real objective in life, which is to obey God and to be holy as He is holy. It includes sins done with a degree of consciousness, that is, an awareness of what one is doing, as well as sins done willingly out of weakness, but not sins done deliberately.
For example, the Bible clearly differentiates between manslaughter and murder. Manslaughter is the taking of a life accidentally. There is no plan to do it—it just occurrs. The head flies off a hammer, hits somebody in the head, cracks his skull, and he dies. Nobody deliberately plans to do that, though there may be some carelessness involved in it.
Murder, however, includes a measure of deliberateness, lying in wait, planning, setting one's mind to do it. It may be a situation in which one burns in anger against someone for a period of time. Though he has plenty of time to bring himself under control, he does not. Then, reaching the boiling point, he murders his "enemy."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
This verse defines guilt as breaking God's commandments. Guilt is a condition, a state, or a relationship. It is the result of two forces drawing different ways. At one point stands righteousness, and at the other, sin. In the Old Testament, the ideas of sin, guilt, and punishment are so interwoven that it is impossible to describe one without mentioning the other two. Sometimes one word is used interchangeably for the others.
The apostle John writes, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4). The Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, an archery term for “missing the mark.” We could say that sin is not just making an error in judgment in a particular case, but missing the whole point of human life; not just the violation of a law, but an insult to a relationship with the One to whom we owe everything; not just a servant's failure to carry out a master's orders, but the ingratitude of a child to its parent.
The state of sin is a surrender of freedom; it is like being enslaved to a drug. Like a chemical addiction, sin can become an unshakable habit, so that every next time makes it easier to absolve ourselves of guilt. Even petty sins, if numerous enough, can immobilize us until they completely harden our hearts.
A couple of examples of guilt will help clarify its effects. One is Cain's despondent complaint to God after he had slain Abel. “Cain said to the LORD, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear!'” (Genesis 4:13). The word “punishment” includes both the sin committed and the guilt attached to it. Guilt assures us of eventual misery.
Another example is that of Joseph's brothers, who were late to recognize their guilt in selling Joseph into slavery. They probably felt their guilt in varying degrees all along, but it was not until they felt threatened by receiving the consequences that they admitted it. “Then they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us'” (Genesis 42:21). Their guilt had separated them from God, their brother Joseph, and even from their father, Jacob.
In the Psalms, it is apparent that willful and persistent sin can never be separated from guilt or from consequent punishment. Notice Psalm 69:27-28: “Add iniquity to their iniquity, and let them not come into Your righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” David writes of the wicked in Psalm 109:7, “When he is judged, let him be found guilty.”
Ignoring guilt does not make it go away. A penalty of sin must be paid. Unless we submit to God and accept Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we will pay the ultimate price—our lives!
Martin G. Collins
Should We Ignore Our Feelings of Guilt?
This is a sobering conclusion. We do not like to think of ourselves as loving death, but consider this in relation to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." A person who wanders and makes no conscious effort to get back on the track—no effort to repent—is drifting with the current. Because he is not really taking advantage of the great gift he has been given in understanding the purpose of God, he loves death.
The Bible consistently shows that those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives toward obedience to God in reality love death rather than life. Christ came to give us life. He gave us a way that we are to follow. He expects that we will make the efforts to do so. If we neglect it, can we say that we are really following His way? If we just drift, can we honestly say that we really love His way? The conclusion, from God's point of view, is that those who are just drifting—neglecting—in fact, love death.
We should not feel comfortable with this at all. God intends that we take the admonition and begin to do something with our lives. When this happens, in reality, human nature has deceived the person about his purpose in life. His drifting is evidence of what the person really loves.
In light of this, it is interesting that the words most commonly used both in the Old and New Testaments to indicate sin are defined as "missing the mark." That does not sound as though someone has deliberately aimed in the wrong direction but that they have generally aimed in the right direction but missed the target.
Another word that is also translated as "sin" means "to slip, to fall, or to wander from the path." There is no indication of deliberateness at all, but that either out of weakness or ignorance, somehow or another, a person unconsciously turns aside. Nobody slips and falls on purpose, nor does anybody wander out of the way on purpose because he might become lost.
God understands human nature, that it has a tendency to want to hold itself steady, deceiving a person into thinking that things are okay the way they are.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
The apostle John declares that sin is the transgression of God's commandments (I John 3:4, KJV), including the two great commandments Jesus spoke in Mark 12:28-31. The word translated as "sin" literally means "to miss the mark." Combining these principles gives us a very broad definition of sin: Sin is imperfectly loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and imperfectly loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Romans 3:23 declares that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, all have sinned in the past, and in the present all fall short in reflecting God's love, which is a major part of His glory. Godly love does not have to grow cold for it to be shown imperfectly. It will be shown imperfectly when it is demonstrated by God's still-imperfect children. We all are in this state.
This is not to say that we should give up trying to perfect God's love. On the contrary, we have every responsibility to do our utmost to perfect it (I John 2:5; 4:12, 17-18). At the same time, it should not shock us when our spiritual brothers and sisters show God's love to us imperfectly, for we are guilty of the same toward them—and toward God.
Perhaps we find ourselves in a situation where it appears that God's love in others is growing cold. Maybe we see God's standard of holiness being ignored or compromised, and some form of lawlessness is beginning to show up. We may see little evidence of sacrificial love, and relationships are beginning to be strained. What should we do?
There are two possibilities. The first is that our discernment is correct, and what Jesus Christ foretold in Matthew 24:12 is coming to pass, perhaps not in its ultimate fulfillment, but at least in type. The second is that our discernment is incorrect, and that God's love is actually present and not growing cold, but we are having trouble seeing it.
If our discernment is correct, and we truly are in a circumstance where agape love is waning, Jesus has already indicated what He wants us to do. Matthew 24:13 says, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." When many are letting their relationships with God deteriorate, the emphasis is on patient, active endurance.
I Corinthians 13 gives a beautiful description of agape love, which parallels Jesus' exhortation to endure in several points. Verse 4 says that godly love "suffers long." It displays patience and endurance, even in the face of being loved imperfectly. Verse 7 adds that godly love "bears all things" and "endures all things." However, if we are not showing patience or endurance in response to imperfect love, then we are simply responding with carnality rather than with God's love.
Similarly, verse 5 says that godly love "thinks no evil." True love pays no attention to a suffered wrong, nor takes account of the evil done to it. It does not keep a running list of all the ways it has been offended or loved imperfectly. That, again, would be responding to imperfect love with carnality. So, if we find ourselves in the midst of a fulfillment of Matthew 24:12, we really have our work cut out for us because we will have to endure patiently and continue to display God's love rather than allow our own agape to also grow cold in response.
Conversely, God's love may be present, but our discernment may be incorrect, and we are missing it by looking for agape only in one application. We may be continually waiting for a specific type of sacrificial love, and if we do not receive it, we may suppose that God's love is absent. However, we are not all the same in how we show love or how we recognize it. We may need to take a step back and look for facets of God's love that are present, rather than focusing on what may be absent.
In addition, given that human nature is still present within us, we also have to remember that nothing inhibits or damages our ability to see things clearly like focusing on the self. That is, we tend to evaluate whether God's love is present based on how we feel or how we are affected, rather than on objectively looking for God's spiritual workmanship in the overall situation.
David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?
The basic concept of sin is failure—failure to live up to a standard, failure to hit the bull's eye, failure to stay on the path. The slavery Jesus speaks of is bondage to a pattern of thinking that produces failure. This is what God wants to deliver and convert us from. All who come out of the world have been addicted, held in bondage, to ways of thinking that produce failure, mental illness, physical disease, and death. God desires to give us freedom through applying truth in faith and love for the Father, His Son, and the brethren.
He has revealed Himself, His way, and His truth. Do we believe it? Will we discipline ourselves to use the truth? This is the responsibility that faces us. It has been done, and we can do it. Will you?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
The Bible displays the Father's and the Son's standard in a multitude of word-pictures that reveal their nature and characteristics in word and deed. Just in case we have difficulty understanding clearly what sin is from the word-pictures of God's attitudes and conduct, He provides us with specific and clear statements. For instance, Romans 3:20 reads, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." He has made it even simpler by inspiring I John 3:4 (KJV): "Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."
At its simplest, sin is a deviation from what is good and right. However, within any given context, the deviation and especially the attitude involved in the conduct are often revealed more specifically by other terms. It helps to be aware of these terms so that we can extract more knowledge and understanding.
The most common verbal root in Hebrew for the noun sin literally means "to miss, to fail, to err, or to be at fault," and it is often translated by these terms depending upon context. It is chata' (Strong's #2398). Job 5:24 does not involve sin, but chata' appears in the verse: "You shall know that your tent is in peace; you shall visit your habitation and find nothing amiss." Here, chata' is translated as "amiss": Nothing is wrong; the habitation is as it should be. Chata' is also used in Judges 20:16, translated as "miss." Again, no sin is involved.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 8:36, "But he who sins against me [wisdom personified] wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." Here is a context that involves moral or ethical issues, requiring chata' to be translated as "sin." The person is failing to live up to the moral or ethical standard.
Genesis 20:9 also contains it:
And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done."
The word "offended" is translated from chata', and "sin" is translated from a cognate. Abimelech charges Abraham as having missed the standard of behavior against him and his nation.
Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 5:7, "Our fathers sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities." Here, the fathers missed achieving God's standard, that is, the level of conduct He would have exhibited were He involved in the same situation as they. "Iniquities" is translated from the Hebrew avon, which suggests "perversity."
Leviticus 4:2 presents us with a different situation: "If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them. . . ." Chata' appears as "sins," but it is modified by the Hebrew shegagah (Strong's #7684), which means "inadvertently, unintentionally, unwittingly, or by mistake." It can also indicate that "wandering" or "straying" is involved. These suggest weakness as the cause of missing the standard. The descriptor defines the sin more specifically, helping us to understand that God's judgment includes more than the bare fact that a law was broken. It more clearly delineates the deviation.
David writes in Psalm 58:3-4: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear." Also, Ezekiel 44:10 reads, "And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity." In both contexts, the people sinned through ignorance, wandering, and other weaknesses. Even so, it in no way tempered the effect of them as minor. The sins wreaked destructive results, even though they were committed by simple carelessness, laziness, indifference, or not considering the end.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
Sin is missing the mark of what God wants us to do. II Timothy 3:7 speaks of "always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." This verse is the negative way of phrasing the same concept. We have all the knowledge about what to do and how to live righteously, but if we fail to do it, to put it into practice, it is sin to us. It becomes a selfish pursuit of knowledge, and we are missing the reason that God gave it to us. The word sin is hamartia: missing the point, missing the mark. James 1:27 says, "Pure and undefiled religion . . . is . . . to visit orphans and widows in their troubles, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Notice what he puts first: Pure religion is helping those who are in need, showing your love to them, and then it is keeping oneself pure. Remember, the knowledge God gives us is predominantly and ultimately practical, useful, helpful, outgoing.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church
1 John 5:16-17
The concept in these two verses provides a foundation for showing that the Bible clearly categorizes sin in a number of different ways.
First, we must define a few terms. Psalm 119:172 says, "All Your commandments are righteousness." What does the word righteousness mean? It is an Old English word that we still use today, especially in religion. It is slowly being replaced by the word rectitude. Righteousness is a combination of two words, right, meaning "correct," and wise, although it is not spelled anything like our modern word wise. Wisdom is "right application," that is, "right doing." Righteousness, then is "right doing." "All Your commandments are right doing." All unrighteousness—all wrongdoing—is sin.
I John 3:4 reads, "Sin is the transgression of the law." We need to define transgression. Transgress means "to go beyond the limit," "to violate," giving us a broad foundation for understanding this. Sin, then, can be defined as "going beyond the limit of what the law allows." Righteousness is applying the law's letter and/or its intent!
Quite a number of words—Hebrew and Greek—are translated into this single English word sin. A general element that is present in all sin, regardless of which word is used, is failure. Sin equals failure. It is failure to apply or to live up to the standard of what is right. This is why John says that all wrongdoing is failure, but some failure is much more serious than others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 16)
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