Trespasses and Sins

by Mike Ratliff

1 Καὶ ὑμᾶς ὄντας νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν, 2 ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας· (Ephesians 2:1,2 NA28)

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked according the world system of this age, according to ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:1,2 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

I was requested recently for input into a discussion between professing Christians that had begun about what is proper worship and what is not using some of the presentations from the recent Strange Fire conference, but had taken a “strange turn” between a few attacking the theology of those who held to the Sovereignty of God in all things, especially salvation and those who were defending it. By the time I got to the discussion the “back and forth” and become quite terse and there was one very intense person insisting that “Sovereignty” was not a Biblical word, but a man-made, theological word since it was not found her King James Bible. She was refuted quite well by several people so I didn’t get involved in it. However, I did send my friend an exegetical analysis of Ephesians 2:1-9 showing that those who insist on Salvation according to Free Will must be inconsistent with Ephesians 2:8,9. It was from that “experience” that I decided we should take a closer look at two words found throughout the New Testament, “trespasses” and “sins.” 

9 Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς· Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· 10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς· 11 τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον· 12 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· 13 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. 14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, ἀφήσει καὶ ὑμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος· 15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν. (Matthew 6:9-15 NA28)

9 “You, therefore, pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, let your name be hallowed, 10 let your kingdom come, let your will be done as in heaven also on earth. 11 Give to us our daily bread today. 12 And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you of your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

This is, of course, what many call the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount. Read it carefully and relate v12 with vv14-15. The word “trespasses” in vv14-15 translates the Greek noun παραπτώματα or paraptōmata, a compound word made up of παρα or para, which means “along side of,” and πίπτω or piptō, “to fall.” Therefore παραπτώματα pictures a deviation to one side or the other. In the New Testament it is always used to strongly emphasize a deliberate act with its serious consequences. The key to understanding this in our theology, therefore, is to realize that “trespasses” speaks of a willful deviation from God’s requirement.

In the Lord’s Prayer we are taught what? We sin against God and each other. When we sin, we “trespass” and become debtors to whomever we have sinned against. In the prayer we pray for God to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. Then in vv-14-15 we are warned that the mark of true believers are that they are forgiving while those who are not true believers do not forgive. They cling to that debt owed to them. Those in Christ must let it all go.

We find παραπτώματα again in Romans 5:15-21.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21 ESV)

Adam’s sin was a willful deviation from God’s command and through it came condemnation for mankind. All born of the flesh, that is, all mankind, are willful sinners. We sin because we choose to sin; we deviate from the commands of God.

The other word we will look at is “sins.” In Ephesians 2:1, the word “sins” translates the Greek noun ἁμαρτίαις or hamartiais, the Dative, Plural, Feminine case of ἁμαρτία or hamartia. This noun is derived from the verb ἁμαρτάνω or hamartanō, “to miss the mark.”
 This verb was used in ancient Greek of a spearman missing the target at which he aimed and threw his spear. It then came to be used in the ethical sense of not measuring up to a standard, or falling short of a purpose or standard.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23 ESV)

What is this sin and how is it different from παραπτώματα or is it different? This sin is missing the mark. What is the mark for which we shoot? It is the glory of God. In other words, the mark we shoot for is to be worthy of glory, but we miss it every time. I cringe when I see the news and hear of “innocent” people being killed or hurt or whatever. My brethren, there is no such thing. We may think we are not sinners because we are not criminals or drug addicts or whatever, but ἁμαρτία brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.

We believe that sin is something we do, but it is actually something we do not do. And what is the thing we do not do? We do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness. God is holy, perfect, absolutely pure while our sin, then, is not measuring up to that standard. All of the “sins” we do are the result of what we do not do. How far we fall short of the glory of God!

Man’s view of sin is greatly distorted and his sinfulness distorts his view of his sinfulness and guilt. However, God’s view is clear—man has willfully deviated from God’s law and has fallen far short of God’s standard of holiness.

Now, do you see why we need a Saviour who is Holy and Righteous and took our place, dying on the Cross for our Sins? We must thank God for His forgiveness, which is available to all who believe because of this.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Trespasses and Sins

  1. Mike this is very good and useful…Am definitely sharing it with our group…The Lord keep you strong!

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  2. Mike, man’s will is free. It is free to choose sin, for that is what it will invariably do, apart from the grace of God. Man freely sins, he chooses to sin for sin is his logical choice. He loves sin, it is his inevitable choice. He is free to sin, unless God intervenes and either brings him to repentance, or simply restrains his evil. Man’s will is NOT FREE to choose righteousness however, because man by nature is in bondage to sin. Yes, bondage, and this word does appear in scripture. see Acts 8:23; Romans 7:14, Galatians 4:3 Man is bound to sin. He is a slave of sin; he cannot help himself. Jesus Himself taught that man is a slave to sin see John 8:34 Only Jesus Christ can set someone free from the bondage to sin. Since man is a sinner, he is free to sin all he wants (again, apart from the grace or restraint of God). Even the good that the unsaved do is not righteous, because they do not do it for the right motive: the glory of God. They do it to be seen of men, they do it out of guilt, they do it as a matter duty. But they do not do it because they love and serve Christ.

    This ‘freewill’ argument one of those arguments in which people are not careful to explain exactly what they mean by the word ‘free’ and so they argue. Now some will still argue with whether man is in bondage to sin or not and those are arguing against God’s truth. What it really comes down to is the state of unsaved man and in our day of man-centeredness and elevation of man is so universal that even professing Christians don’t know the truth about the state of man without God. They think of people as basically good because they have bought this lie. But man is not basically good, man is at his core, evil. He cannot do good because his will is in bondage to sin. He freely does evil but he does not freely do righteousness because it is against his nature.

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