In language, numerous words can be used to describe one thing. I’ll never forget the first home my wife and I owned. Doing repairs and keeping up with yard work were daunting feats. Fortunately, there were plenty of older men in my church who were willing to help. I quickly learned that these men often used different words in reference to a single tool, a common rodent, or a particular weed. The titles they gave to various domestic things were descriptive words which they, or someone before them, had created. For example, a common weed was called “henbit” by one, and “snake grass” by another. Such naming conventions sometimes help us, but they can also confuse. When it comes to the topic of sin, God uses many words. He does so for good reason. Near synonyms point to different aspects of sin’s insidious nature. By understanding such terms, we can be more appreciative of God’s grace.
The most common moniker for sin is the word “sin.” It has often been said that it refers to the act of “missing the mark.” The word contains a picture of an archer bending a bow and releasing an arrow which sails away from its intended target. Such is a fitting picture of sin. All of us have said, thought, and done things which miss God’s perfect mark of perfection. Scripture says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Seen in this way, sin isn’t a mere violation of a code of conduct. Instead, it involves a failure to meet God’s standard. None of us have hit the bullseye of perfection. We all deviate from God’s character.
is another concept the Bible frequently uses in relation to our moral error. The term conveys the idea of crossing over a boundary. Growing up, my family lived near a neighbor who didn’t like it when boisterous boys ran across his lawn. In his eyes, such an offense was off-limits. My brother and I often said goodbye to footballs and baseballs that sailed into his yard. We were scared to step on his property. The word “transgression” involves the idea of such an offense — the crossing of a boundary which has been erected. In life, all of us have broken one of God’s commandments at one time or another. The Bible says, “For our transgressions have multiplied before you” (Isaiah 59:12). We need reconciliation with God! Thanks be to God that Christ was “pierced because of our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).
In Romans 4:7, the Bible says, “How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered!” In the first part of the verse, the underlying language of the text uses a word that is often translated as “iniquities.” The concept involves a breach or violation of a given law. Such is the nature of our sin. From the beginning of time, God has given clearly defined parameters for what’s right and wrong (Genesis 2:17). All of us have violated His laws at one level or another. Because of this, we deserve separation from Him and eternal punishment (James 2:10-11). I’m thankful that God punished Christ “for the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). In Christ we have forgiveness for all the ways which we have broken God’s law!
Dr. Patrick Latham