What is sin?

[Jesus] said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” 

Matthew 9:12&13 

Dear members and friends, 

The word “sin” is heavily loaded in the Christian world. Sin is never used in a positive way. This becomes clear when we look at its definition: an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. This negative definition might have been influenced by the concept of Original Sin, which not only dominated the Christian theology for 2,000 years, but also created unresolvable fear among Christians forever. The trouble is that people understood “sin” as an act that God would never forgive, and thus condemn forever. 

However, if we read the Bible carefully, we discover that God did not use the word “sin” to mean a dreadful, unforgivable act as have many priests or pastors. The word sin in Hebrew is chatta’ah, meaning “to have done an offensive act against someone or some being.” If you take it in the ancient context, especially with the laws of Hammurabi in mind, you might understand why the ancient people were fearful when they incurred sin, an offensive act against someone powerful like a King or God. The common retribution of such an offense was written in the law of Hammurabi: eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth. The fact is that many acted out the law accordingly, claiming that they have the right to do so. What is different with God in the Old Testament is that God presented people ways to cleanse their sins instead of bringing the rightful punishment immediately! 

The Greek word for sin is hamartia, meaning “failing to hit the mark.” Hamartia could easily be translated as a mistake or failure. As we all know, both mistakes and failures are redemptive. In this context, Jesus proclaimed that “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” The matter that Jesus is emphasizing is not so much about how it appears to be as a mistake or failure to the eyes of people, but about how it is internally acknowledged by the person. Therefore, “the righteous” in this context means those who believe that they are righteous because they have lived according to the rules they created. Meanwhile, sinners are those who acknowledge their mistakes and failures to follow the law of God due to their human shortcomings.  

My brothers and sisters in God, let us embrace the truth about God who is ever forgiving and graceful toward humans. Also, let us accept the truth that we all make mistakes and failures. Wherever we are, let us just remember to ask our God for guidance and strength. 

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee