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The concept of sin from a Hebrew perspective

During a friendly “spiritual conversation” with another believer, he said, “I believe we can get to a place where we no longer sin.”

While some of us in the modern-day age have become used to thinking of sin as bad practices or actions taken against God’s law, the concept of “sin” is a much more profound and deep for me, than wrong doing or good deeds. Sin is something which affects, influences and impacts way more than we sometimes superficially understand.

Sin vs. Sin

When reading carefully through the bible, there seems to be many different ways in which the bible authors use the term “sin”. For example, sin can be referring to actions and practices, but also to a condition, a state or a power.

Below are a few examples of verses referring to sin not as actions, but as a power, a state or a condition:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5);
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29);
“for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9);
“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” (Rom. 5:19);
“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6);
“But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Rom. 7:8);
“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Rom. 7:14);
“through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12)

To sin (chet\chata) in Hebrew = “to miss”

In our Hebrew language, the word חֶטְא (“sin”) literally means “to miss”[1]. From which the Hebrew speaker understands that “to sin” means to “miss” the will of God.

Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, where to stay away from sin meant not to break laws (such as not to hurt your neighbor), under the New Covenant, that is no longer enough! You saw your neighbor in need and you did not help him? You have sinned – you have missed the will of God.

“To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

For Israel, the Mosaic covenant was like receiving first aid treatment. The Mosaic law limited the wrongdoings of our wicked hearts, which were heavily affected by the evil civilization all around. However, the New Covenant raises the bar much higher, setting the standard back as in the days of creation – the ultimate will of God.

NOT to miss the will of God (not to sin) therefore, goes much deeper and much farther than not to murder someone or not to rob a bank. We miss God’s will in more ways than we begin to realize – we miss God’s will in our lifestyle, in our cultural practices, in our ways of thinking, in what we say, in what we eat, in what we buy and in many other ways. We miss the will of God in simple everyday actions that we don’t even stop to think about – such as polluting God’s creation because of using electricity or driving a car (pollution which leads not only to diseases but also to natural disasters [2]). Or when we buy an iPhone, without realizing we support modern slavery as children as young as thirteen are forced to work in the mines for as little as $2 a day [3]. Or when we give our little ones sodas, pumping their body with sugars and artificial chemicals which cause obesity and other sicknesses. Or when our materialistic culture drives us into buying a $50k leisure boat while there are starving children on the other side of town.

There are endless other examples of realities, situations and things that we do, that are “missing the will of God”, simply because we live in a world which is in a sinful condition, many times even contributing to its condition without realizing.

Everything is tangled together, it is practically impossible for us to escape the infinite cosmic loop of sin we are all stuck in. The implication is that if we like it or not, we are an integral part of the butterfly effect caused by the condition of sin in the world – and in us.

What we do is who we are

Sin, of course, goes much deeper than the external actions we do, as the source of what comes out externally emanates from who we are inside. It has to do with our inner being, with our identity deep inside – and with missing the will of God in who we were created to be.

In his book, “The Reason for God”, Dr. Keller gives this definition of sin:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him. …So, according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.”[4]

Or as 19th century Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, beautifully and simply puts it:

“Sin is building your identity on anything but God.”[5]

Meaning that even loving our loved ones (which is a good thing in itself) more than we love God is to miss the will of God – to sin.

The swamp of sin

The condition of sin is like a swamp – the more we try to fight it ourselves, the deeper we sink. A cosmic swamp that all creation is affected by.

Due to the sinful condition humanity is in, no one can escape, we are all affected. No one can stand before a holy God, claiming “I had nothing to do with this”.

Just as being stuck in a swamp, there is nothing we can do but only to hope that someone from the outside will reach out to rescue us and pull us out – we need for God Himself to provide the way of justification for us.

Considering the fact that sin is a condition and not only an action, then moving from the condition of sin to the condition of being righteous is not something we can “do” on our own. It is also not a process or a procedure in which we slowly achieve or earn from God, nor it is something we can maintain in our own power – it is God who pulls us out of the swamp, not we who are climbing out, trying to grab onto him. Either we agree that He will pull us out or we reject his offer of rescue. It is simply a swapping of states – either you are still in the swamp because you rejected help, or you are out of it because you allowed God to take hold of you.

The world is divided into two: those who are justified and those who are not. There is no in between, there is no progress, nor a process of slowly climbing out of the swamp, as if completing the race successfully in order to win a computer game.

In other words, it is not your sins that keep salvation away from you, is it your deliberate rejection (disbelief) of the help of the Savior that keeps salvation away from you, and keeps you in the condition of sin (in the swamp).

The only way for you NOT to be saved, is by deliberately refusing to catch on the only life line being offered that can pull you out of the swamp. How do you take hold of the life line? By simply saying “YES” to the rescue God is offering in Messiah Yeshua (aka – the famous “Sola fide”; justification by faith alone through grace alone [6]).

Save me!!

Not being able to understand sin as first and foremost a condition is what I believe causes good hearted believers to fail in grasping this fundamental doctrine of salvation. A good example comes from the Pentecostal pastor and author David Pawson who holds that salvation is something you need to obtain and maintain yourself and by your own power, through a process of being able to stay away from sin: “Salvation is clearly therefore a process. And a process that is not yet complete for any one of us!”.[7]

Pawson’s statement is based of his lack in understanding the concept of sin as a condition from the first place: “Sins are the same in believers as unbelievers. For “saints” to think they will get away with it is a fatal mistake, when actually they are storing up wrath against themselves.”

The good news is that I have security in the new condition I have in Yeshua the Messiah – the condition of justification. And with all due respect to David Pawson, I can sleep at night knowing that it’s not even up to my abilities to maintain in that condition, but merely on what Yeshua did for my on the cross!

“It is Finished.” (John 19:30)

[1] Strong’s Concordance, 2398: chata: ‘to miss’ חָטָא
[2] Natural Disasters Tied to Unnatural Causes (Live Science, Apr 5, 2012)
[3] Apple admits child labour was used to build iPods and iPhones in Chinese factories (Daily Mail, Feb 27, 2010)
How the iPhone Helps Perpetuate Modern-Day Slavery (Huffington Post, Nov 10, 2014)
[4] Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” (Penguin Books; 2009), page 162.
[5] “Sickness unto Death” by Soren Kierkegaard
[6] One of the doctrines that most distinguishes between Protestant denominations and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church.
[7] David Pawson, “What We Believe About Salvation” (part of an 8-part series titled WHAT WE BELIEVE).
[8] David Pawson, “Once Saved, Always Saved?: A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance” (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), page 8.

This article originally appeared on One for Israel, August 22, 2017, and reposted with permission.

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Eitan Bar
Eitan is ONE FOR ISRAEL’s Media & Evangelism Director.

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