A Definition of Sin

The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV), a failure to act by anyone “who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it” (James 4:17, NIV); and according to the Apostle Paul, “whatever is not from faith” (Rom. 14:23) is sin. Essentially, sin is “Any deviation from the known will of God, either of neglect to do what He has specifically commanded or of doing what He has specifically forbidden” (“Sin, I,” SDA Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 1042).
Sin in the Old Testament
It is to be noted that reference to sin is not just found in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament. The most commonly used word for sin is chata’ which in its most literal sense means “to miss the mark,” as in Judges 20:16: “Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men left-handed; everyone could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss (chata’).” However, in matters of morals, “missing the mark” refers to the fact that God’s law is the standard of ethical behavior at which one must aim. For example, when Joseph said: “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin (chata’) against God” (Gen 39:9), basically, he was saying, “how can I do this great wickedness and miss the standard of God’s law” (Some Thoughts on Original Sin -- Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D).

Sin is not Neutral
A further look at sin and its meaning shows that sin knows no neutrality. According to Christ, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matt. 12:30). As such failure to believe in Christ is sin (John 16:9). “Sin is absolute in its character because it is rebellion against God and His will. Any sin, small or great, results in the verdict ‘guilty.’ Thus ‘whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all’ (James 2:10)” (Seventh-day Adventists Believe, p. 102).

Sin Involves Thoughts and Actions
Additionally, sin involves thoughts, as well as actions. Reference for this can be seen in the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:21-22 where He teaches that murder begins in the heart before it is acted out. Says Jesus, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.”
Similarly, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus points out that adultery begins in the heart or with a thought. Christ explains, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Sin’s Remedy

Sin affects the entire universal family and produces guilt. According to the Bible, guilt implies that one who commits sin is liable to punishment. The Bible also explains that guilt left unchecked has the ability to destroy one physically, mentally and spiritually, ultimately resulting in death (Psalm 51:10-12; Rom. 6:23).
Equally important in defining sin is the need to show that the only remedy for sin is forgiveness that comes through a relationship with Christ. He, Christ, can empower one to overcome any and all sins through a life of total dependence on Him. Says the Apostle Paul, while “the wages of sin is death the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 6:23).