One of the major reasons, if not the major reason, for any wrong conception of salvation is an inadequate conception of sin. There are two words in Ephesians 2:1— And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins—that require careful study, for in these two words we find God’s view of sin.
First, the Apostle Paul calls sin trespasses. The Greek here (paraptoma) pictures a deviation to one side or the other. It was used at times by the ancient Greeks to describe an error, a mistake in judgment or a blunder. But this idea is never even implied in the New Testament. Rather the New Testament usage strongly emphasizes a deliberate act with its serious consequences. In fact, the key to understanding this is to realize that trespasses speaks of a willful deviation from God’s requirement.
Romans 5:15‑20 uses the word “offence” (paraptoma) several times to describe clearly Adam’s sin as a willful deviation from God’s command: “…through the offence of one many be dead…by one man’s offence death reigned by one…by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
There is a similar word used in the Old Testament Hebrew that speaks of a conscious act of treachery. A vivid example appears in Joshua 7:1, where it is used of Achan’s sin: “Did not Achan, the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on the congregation of Israel?” Again, we see here a deliberate act along with its consequences. The same is true with Saul (I Chron. 10:13), as well as many other illustrations (Lev. 6:2; 26:40; Num. 5:6; II Chron. 12:2; Ezek. 14:13; 20:27; 39:23, 26; etc.).
What then is the application of all this? Simply that we are all willful sinners. We, just as Adam, Achan, and Saul deliberately disobey God’s commands. We do not just make mistakes; we do not just commit indiscretions; we do not just “trip up;” we are willful sinners. We don’t sin because “the Devil made us do it,” not because it’s our spouse’s fault, not because we had a bad childhood; we sin because we choose to sin, we deviate from the commands of God.
Second, as if trespasses were not enough, Paul uses the term sins. The graphic idea in the Greek here is “to miss the mark.” The verb form 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. The pivotal verse on this principle is Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” What is sin? Missing the mark. What then is the mark for which we shoot? The glory of God; that is, the mark we shoot for is to be worthy of glory, but we miss it every time.
Commentator William Barclay offers these fitting words: “We commonly have a wrong idea of sin. We would readily agree that the robber, murderer, the razor-slasher, the drunkard, the gangster are sinners, but, since most of us are respectable citizens, in our heart of hearts we think that sin has not very much to do with us. We would probably rather resent being called hell-deserving sinners. But ‘sin’ brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.”
Man’s view of sin is indeed distorted, and rightly so; his sinfulness distorts his view of his sinfulness and guilt. But God’s view is clear—man has willfully deviated from God’s law and has fallen far short of God’s standard of holiness. The outlook truly is bleak, but we shall soon see the answer to this problem of sin.