A week ago my pastor sent out a church-wide email to follow up on some key points from his sermon. I found the points helpful (since I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with his definitions) and thought-provoking. Below is a copy of the email followed by a few thoughts of my own. I hope you find this helpful in your personal walk with Christ.
Follow up from Sunday sermon… Beloved,
Sometimes when I preach I get going and it’s hard to write down everything you want to write down. I’m actually trying to get better at my pace but the Bible excites me so sometimes I get carried away. This past Sunday I was talking about the difference between iniquity, transgression and sin and some of you have asked about those descriptions so I thought I’d send them out with a little more unpacking around each one.
As I said on Sunday, when the Bible refers to iniquity, transgression and sin these are not three different words for the same thing. Each one refers to a specific posture of the heart towards sin. Here is some more granularity around what was shared on Sunday.
1. iniquity– this refers to a more deeply rooted posture of the heart, has to do with premeditated choice, iniquity continuing in sin without repentance. Iniquity left unchecked leads to a state of willful sin with no fear of God. Iniquity is bending or twisting of the law of God in our hearts and heads long before it expresses itself in our hands.
2. transgression– refers to presumptuous sin, the choice to intentionally disobey; willful trespassing. Examples of this are when we run a stop sign or red light or blatantly disregard an authority. We didn’t plan on it before hand but in the moment we “just did it.”
3. sin– literally means “to miss the mark,” doing wrong against God or a person, also includes failing to do what you know is right. Some people refer to sins of commission and sins of omission. Sins of commission are things that we’ve done that were wrong while sins of omission are not doing the right things we should have done.
Knowing the difference helps inform the way we pray for ourselves and those we love. It also reminds us to honestly assess what is deep in our hearts.
Thanks for thinking and for asking,
This was an interesting distinction for me, especially since the day after this email I read this verse:
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Psalm 32:5 (ESV)
Entering the above definitions helped clarify what David was trying to say. Rewritten it may sound more like this (definitions placed in brackets and bolded):
I acknowedge [the way I had missed the mark] to you, and I did not cover [the way I had willfully twisted the law of God in my heart]; I said, “I will confess my [willful and intentional choices to disobey] to the Lord,” and you forgave [the deeply rooted posture of my heart that causes me to fail in doing what’s right.]
Looking at the verse in this way, I began to realize how much Christ had forgiven me for on the cross. His sacrifice did not merely cover poor behaviors or inappropriate choices. Rather, he forgave me for posturing my heart towards Him in such a way that I twisted the truth of His law to fit my needs. All of the ways I explained to myself or others that it was okay for me to do a certain behavior or make a specific choice because this was a “special situation” or “extenuating circumstance.” How I rationalized that God’s love excused my willful disobedience, or how I insisted that even though I may have missed the mark, I didn’t miss it by that much. After all, I’m only human. Right?
This type of forgiveness is on a whole different level than merely excusing bad behavior. This forgiveness helps us examine the deep things beneath the flower and the soil that give our dark hearts life and the power to pull it up by the root. It is not enough to modify what we do. We have tried that throughout the years and every time our willpower has failed. This forgiveness gives us the power to do this specifically because it is NOT our power. It comes from God, the One who spoke and created order out of chaos. When Christ forgives, He transforms the entire man, beginning with the nature of the heart and rippling outward into actionable steps that make sense to the new mind and heart. He does not just set our feet in the right direction and hopes we make right choices thereafter. He changes us. He works on us. He directs us.
Iniquity, trespasses, and sin. They are not the same thing. But the blood of Christ covers them all and empowers us to live as an authentic testimony to the world of the change forgiveness can bring.