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What is Sin?

by Julia Glattfelt

A friend, a Christian, recommended we listen to their pastor’s on-line sermon.  Our friend doesn’t understand why we are Torah-observant, and we are trying to share and be respectful of each other.  Although the pastor spoke of the need to lead ‘godly lives in an ungodly world’ and urged all to follow the way of ‘obedience, faith, and commitment to God,’ there was very little practical advice on how to achieve that goal or what that looks like.  What is a ‘godly’ life and does it have anything to do with sin?

Is a ‘godly’ life one without sin, or is this another way to reinterpret the scriptures for today’s church?  Many things are lost in general, undefined terms or, worse, terms that have been re-defined from their original meaning.  Political-correctness has watered down our language; and Biblical terms (sin, grace, faith) are suffering the same fate.  They have been watered-down from their scripture-based meanings. It is impossible to discuss our perspective with others until we can agree on the definition of those terms.

One of those terms is ‘sin.’  What is sin?  After listening to the pastor, I came away with the impression that sin is loosely defined as living an ‘ungodly’ life.  The pastor tells his parishioners that they must be ‘obedient disciples of Christ’ but nowhere in his sermon does he describe what that looks like, or how to achieve it.  From his examples I might conclude that sin is watching pornography, not living a ‘godly’ life outside of the church setting, or ‘worldly passions’ that should be renounced.  Who decides what sin is?



What if we define the word, sin, as it is specified in the Scriptures, and as it was understood by the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary?

John tells us:

1Jn 3:4 Everyone who keeps living in sin also practices disobedience. In fact, sin is disobedience.  

1Jn 3:5 You know that the Messiah was revealed to take away sins, and there is not any sin in him.

1Jn 3:6 No one who remains in union with him keeps on sinning. The one who keeps on sinning hasn’t seen him or known him.  (ISV)

Another translation of the same verses:

1Jn 3:4 Everyone practicing sin also practices lawlessness—indeed, sin is lawlessness.

1Jn 3:5 You know that Yeshua appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.

1Jn 3:6 No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who sins has seen Him or known Him. (TLV)

According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary sin is (edited):

SIN, noun   1. The voluntary departure…from a known rule of rectitude or duty, prescribed by God; any voluntary transgression of the divine law, or violation of a divine command; a wicked act; iniquity. Sin is either a positive act in which a known divine law is violated, or it is the voluntary neglect to obey a positive divine command, or a rule of duty clearly implied in such command. Sin comprehends…all evil thoughts purposes, words and desires, whatever is contrary to God’s commands or law. 1 John 3:1. Matthew 15:1. James 4:17. … 2. A sin-offering; an offering made to atone for sin. He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin 2 Corinthians 5:21.

SIN, verb intransitive 1. To depart voluntarily from the path of duty prescribed by God to man; to violate the divine law in any particular, by actual transgression or by the neglect or non-observance of its injunctions; to violate any known rule of duty. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:9. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned. Psalms 51:2.

From these definitions, it is plain that Sin is only that which offends the Lawgiver (YHVH).  Sin relates directly to our Creator, Father, Lawgiver and Judge.  It is only defined by Him.  That many of the instructions from His law are applicable and easily incorporated into our secular law is evidence that His instructions are good, sensible and perfect…they cover everything!  It is not evidence that we intuitively know what obedience to Him looks like, or that we can choose which laws to regard and which ones to disregard.

Unfortunately, many in today’s ‘church’ have re-defined the nature of sin.  We can see that gross behaviors (like murder, theft, adultery etc.) are sinful, but when His instruction goes head to head with our flesh, we protest!  What do you mean I must rest on the Sabbath day?  What do you mean I cannot eat anything I want? (There was probably a similar question expressed by Eve.)

When any portion of His perfect Torah (Law/Instruction) is considered obsolete, we usurp His authority!  In essence, we think we have ‘evolved’ into enlightened beings that can pick and choose which laws apply to us, and which ones do not.  But, if sin is ANY rebellion to His ‘perfect’ Law, then the choice is to abide in His Word (obedience), OR we limit His instructions to only those laws that seem right in our own eyes (rebellion).

The pastor called it the difference between being ‘saved’ or ‘lost.’ He said that we are all in the condition of being ‘saved’ or ‘lost,’ but, he didn’t define those terms.  It is probably important to understand the difference!  The Bible says:

Do you not know that to whatever you yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to what you obey—whether to sin resulting in death, or to obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom 6:16)

Isn’t that the same as ‘lost’ or ‘saved?’  Paul is writing to the church in Rome that sin results in death, and obedience is righteousness.  How can that be if the Law was done away with at the cross?  How can we still sin if there is no measurement for how to evaluate that sin?  After all, if we can select the laws we want to follow of course we can be ‘righteous!’  But, in whose eyes do we need to be ‘righteous?’  Moreover, it implies that His ‘perfect’ Law is imperfect, and not only imperfect, but impossible to obey.

John had an addendum to the verses above!  He said:

1Jn 3:7 Children, let no one mislead you! The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Yeshua is righteous. (TLV)

So, if we truly wish to be like the Messiah Yeshua, shouldn’t we be practicing righteousness?  Can we expect to be like He is after death if we are unwilling to be like he was in life?


Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines it as:

RIGHTEOUSNESS, noun 1. Purity of heart and rectitude of life; conformity of heart and life to the divine law. Righteousness as used in Scripture and theology, in which it is chiefly used, is…conformity of life to the divine law. It includes all we call justice, honesty and virtue, with holy affections; in short, it is true religion.

2. Applied to God, the perfection or holiness of his nature; exact rectitude; faithfulness.

3. The active and passive obedience of Christ, by which the law of God is fulfilled.  [In other words, obedience fulfills the law.]


RIGHTEOUS, adjective 1. Just; accordant to the divine law. Applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice; as a righteous man. Applied to things, it denotes consonant to the divine will or to justice; as a righteous act. It is used chiefly in theology, and applied to God, to his testimonies and to his saints.

The righteous in Scripture, denote the servants of God, the saints.

2. Just; equitable; merited.

Are you beginning to see that we have a definition for sin and righteousness?  When we properly apply that understanding of sin, it speaks directly to our RELATIONSHIP with our Father.  Righteousness comes by understanding and being obedient to His Instruction (divine commands).  A righteous person does not sin.  Don’t we all want to be righteous in His eyes?  Can we be righteous in our mind and heart without walking it out in our behavior?


1Jn 3:5 You know that Yeshua appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.

How, then, do we understand this verse in light of our better understanding of sin?  What if this verse is one complete thought?  Instead of making sin disappear, he came to teach!  In short, he came to teach everyone how to eliminate sin from your life and was himself the perfect example of what that looks like!  He didn’t do it for us; he came to clarify, teach and encourage us all that it is possible from His example!

The second half of the verse is really important!  “And in him there is no sin.’ Everyone seems to ‘get it’ that Yeshua lived a sinless life. When we understand what sin is, we understand his total obedience to the Torah!  Without absolute obedience to Torah he could never have been sin-less or qualify as our Passover Lamb of God!

I know of no Christian denomination that rejects the fact that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Passover Lamb. We find evidence of his obedience to Torah throughout the New Testament: He went up to Jerusalem for the Feasts, he was circumcised on his 8th day of life, and he never said or did anything without the instruction of his Father! He fulfilled to the very day, hour and minute, the shadow-pictures that are found in the Feasts of YHVH (Leviticus 23)!

IF the law and the prophets all spoke of him, and we believe the Old Testament (that he is the one prophesied of by Moses, and foreshadowed in all of the Feasts), why would we set aside any of the Old Testament writings? If Yeshua was the perfect example for us to follow, a walking demonstration of how to live a sinless life, why would we imagine that the Law that defined Him as sin-less was ‘nailed to the cross’ and abolished?


The pastor I listened to urged his parishioners to live godly lives and renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.  He encouraged them that it was a process to become ‘godly.’  He instructed them to pray for strength against temptation and our ‘propensity’ to sin.  He said it was time to make decisions on who to be friends with, what web sites to visit, to renounce whatever doesn’t honor God, and that doing this might require a “change in the normal pattern of our day.”


“Think not that I came to destroy the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 5:17)

“Not one jot or tittle of the Law will pass until Heaven and Earth passes away.” (Matt 5:18)

“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)

Peter said:

“For you were called to this, because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in His footsteps:” (1 Pet 2:21)

Paul said:

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)

How can we Abide in, Follow, or Imitate Him if we do not Do what He Did?


As “The Prophet” of which Moses spoke (Deu 18:15, 18, Acts 3:22 & Acts 7:37) Yeshua came to remove the false teachings and faulty understanding of the Torah.  All of the amendments (adding to and taking away) from Torah were causing people to sin (not be Torah keepers) because they had corrupted the divine law.  Even when they thought they were obeying the Law they were not when the Takanot (man-made laws that take precedence over Biblical Law) trumped the Torah!

Yeshua was turning the people back (teshuva) to the divine law (Torah).  And so, if the people hearkened to his words, and returned to obedience (relationship) with YHVH, it would indeed ‘take away sins.’  Repentance (teshuva) would return the people to Torah, and if they followed YHVH’s Torah, sin would be ‘taken away.’ The caveat to that is it only applies to those who actually return and do as He instructs.

Jeepers, isn’t that awfully legalistic?  Following Torah takes away sin?  I thought Yeshua did that!  But, since sin is only defined in relation to the Father, if we abandon Torah there IS no Sin.  Does anyone think there is no longer sin in the world?

Yeshua didn’t remove sin from the world, he came to remove his disciples from the sin of the world (or as the pastor would say, “live godly in an ungodly world.”)  How?  By demonstrating by His sinless life the Way we need to walk!  He didn’t remove Sin! He removed the death penalty owed for our Sins (Transgression of Torah)!  The blessing is because he is now our High Priest (in all ways tempted as we are-Heb 4:15)!  He is our perfect advocate when we admit our failures and throw ourselves at His feet and resolve to ‘go and sin no more.’  But, how do we ‘sin no more’ if the law that defines sin is abolished?

If I were to paraphrase 1 John 3:5 and John 15:10, I would do it this way:

You understand that Yeshua came to instruct us in righteousness, and he demonstrated how to live a life free of sin by his example.  Follow him and demonstrate you love Him by doing exactly what he did.  Do what the Law instructs, because that is how we have a relationship with Him.

How then do we become ‘godly’ in an ‘ungodly’ world?  If we truly believe Him, we will walk as He walked – in Torah-obedience.  We can overcome the world of sin, but first we have to understand that sin is defined by Him, by His Torah, and always has been.  As Yeshua demonstrated, a sinless life is Torah-observant. That, my friend, is how to walk a godly life.



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9 thoughts on “What is Sin?

  1. Great article, Julia! I especially liked: “That many of the instructions from His law are applicable and easily incorporated into our secular law is evidence that His instructions are good, sensible and perfect…they cover everything! It is not evidence that we intuitively know what obedience to Him looks like, or that we can choose which laws to regard and which ones to disregard.”

    • Thank you! Yes, please share if you’d like! Would appreciate your including attribution to this site if you use it for a teaching. Thanks! I am flattered and encouraged by your request, and kind remarks. Shalom.

  2. Concise article, clearly it is easier to understand what is “godly” living, but going to the source of His teaching. It is easy to know what to do in this life, and not a foggy, unidentified requirement. He made it clear and you did a great job of pulling the pieces together.

    A thought came to me as I read this, your comment about Eve and her sin, and how powerful that food would be the first temptation for man, or the thought that “this” food was not good for us… me thinking.
    Thanks for your time and thoughts, it was encouraging. Bless you.