The Scriptural Meaning of Three Words: Sin, Sins, and Transgressions

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Generally speaking, the word sin is used for the evil nature from which sins—the actions, the fruit of that nature—spring, coming forth independently of any provocation by or resistance to the law.
Transgressions are sins which become such because of the positive infringement of 'a known command or prohibition—a stepping over the line laid down. It has often been pointed out how that Rom. 3:11What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? (Romans 3:1) to 5:11 deals with the question of sins and Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12) to 8:39, with sin. The first is met by Christ's dying for me; the second, by my dying with Him. Adam brought in the state of sin, in which Cain was born, but Cain murdered his brother, which was the fruit of an evil nature in this state. The one was sin (the nature), the other, the sinful deed produced by it.
We must have deliverance from the former, and forgiveness for the latter, before we can stand in God's presence in the light and be at peace. A sinner is not chargeable before God as a matter of judgment for what he is, but for what he has done.
We who are born in sin, have also sinned against God; and thus our practice and our state are both in ruin. Take a common case to illustrate sin, sins, and transgressions. My child has very evil habits; he throws stones and breaks the windows. His conscience tells him that it is wrong. Where did he get the mischievous nature that likes to do wrong? From his parents. That is sin. But the actions are sins, known, too, by his natural conscience. I send him a message forbidding this evil practice. Again he does it. This now is transgression or trespass. This was like the law given to sinners. It added the authority of God to what the natural conscience knows of good and evil, in forbidding the evil. But the law always assumed sin in the nature, though it did not reveal the fact of its existence. You could not forbid a person to do a thing that he had no intention or nature capable of doing. Hence, "By the law is the knowledge of sin"; that is, the nature which it has discovered. If when you go out you tell the children that there is something in that drawer, but they are not to know what is there, every child in the house is at once eager to know. The command provoked the nature which is opposed to it. This is what the law did. Paul says, "It was added for the sake of transgressions" (Gal. 3:1919Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (Galatians 3:19); J.N.D. Trans.), and "that sins by the commandment' might become exceeding sinful"; that is, it became transgression. Hence, too, in Rom. 5:1313(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13), "Sin is not imputed when there is no raw."