222. REPENTANCE. The need to repent of sin. But what is sin? Gaining a little understanding from some New Testament words for sin.

There is something missing in some of the preaching in today’s world! It is the call for people to repent of their sin and turn to God for forgiveness and for His help to turn away from sin. As we saw in my previous article, the call to repentance came from the lips of John the Baptist, from Jesus and also from Peter on the day of Pentecost. [Peter, Mat 3:2  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus, Mat 4:17 ‘From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.’  Peter, Acts 2:38  “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”]

To understand what it means to “repent of sin” we need to be reminded of the nature of human sin. If sin is seen as just a little irritant in the world then why would one have to go to the trouble of repenting of it. But if sin is seen as damaging those who indulge in it and bringing physical, emotional and spiritual damage to those who are the victims of it then it becomes a very serious matter indeed. It has to be repented of for the sake of the doers of sin and those who are harmed by the sins of other people.

To help us understand the horrific nature of sin I have looked at some of the main words used in the New Testament to describe human attitudes and behaviours that are seen to be sinful in the sight of God. As we examine them we will see how all embracing and widespread is human sin in history and throughout the world.

[The words are underlined in a selection of verses below. One thing to note is that some of the words begin with the letter “a” or alpha, “ἀ”. The reason for this is that in the Greek New Testament language to place an “a” at the beginning of a word changes it to the opposite meaning. We see that in Greek-English words like theist and atheist, gnostic and agnostic etc.  For the sake of busy people who may not have the time to do some research and for those who love words I have added some words in the New Testament Greek text. ]

1.]  Do Wrong, or to harm someone, adikéō, ἀδικέω. (Noun is adikia = unrighteousness]

To be guilty of injustice. (Here the word is derived from dikaios meaning ‘righteous’ but has an “a” added at the beginning to give the meaning ‘unrighteous’. The verb is found in the following verses.]

In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Jesus has the owner saying to one of the labourers who worked longer than some of the other workers, that he was not guilty of injustice by paying him only what they had agreed upon before work started. Those who started later received the same payment. The owner told the one who was complaining, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” Mat 20:13. It could look like a case of injustice, Rather, justice had been done, as the promised payment was made. To pass less than the agreed amount would have been an injustice or a case of wrong doing towards the labourer.

 To cause harm. Luke in Acts 7 uses the word several times in the one passage to denote physical harm. In writing about Moses he wrote of the striking down by Moses of an Egyptian who was causing physical harm to an Israelite. Act 7:24  “And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. … 26  And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarrelling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbour thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?

When Paul was being judged by Festus he pleaded his innocence of the charges the Jews had laid against him. He said he had done no wrong against them, Acts 25:10  But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer [Literally, “I do wrong”] and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death … .” Paul did not set out to do harm to the Jews.

Paul also wrote that he had never wronged anyone in Corinth using terms that explained what doing wrong involved.  2Cor 7:2  “Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.” Corrupting someone or taking advantage of them would indeed be a case of wrongdoing towards them.

2]. Lawlessness, wickedness. [Anomia. ἀνομία.]

Here the word is derived from the word for ‘law’ which is ‘nomos.’ To place the “a” at the beginning of the word changes its derivatives to the opposite meaning, so ‘lawful’ would be changed to ‘unlawful.’

Jesus gave a warning to those who gave the outward impression of belonging to Him but whose hearts were not right with Him, that they would be unmasked on the day of judgment. They had worked lawlessness and had not acted in righteousness.  “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.‘ Mat 7:22-23. Similar warnings are to be found in Mat 13:41, 23:28.

Humans are accountable to God for how they live. Sin is lawlessness because it is a rejection of God’s law and standards and ultimately a rejection of God Himself. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” 1 John 3:4.

The good news of the gospel message is that people guilty of lawlessness can be forgiven,  “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds [literally the plural “lawlessnesses”] are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Romans 4:7.

How are they forgiven? Because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”. Titus 2:14. [Setting people free from the penalty and power of sin.]

However forgiven believers have an obligation to keep on turning from evil behaviour to living righteously, “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” Rom 6:19. [The choice to always live righteously by the power of God.]

 3]. Disobedient, unruly, insubordinate, not subject to. (Anupotaktos, ἀνυπότακτος.)

This is another example of placing an “a” [in this case an “an” because the next letter is a vowel] in front of a word to give it the opposite meaning. The word derives from the verb [hupotássō] meaning to submit to or to obey, so that the opposite meaning is to fail to be subject to, or to be insubordinate or rebellious. That is seen in the following verses where some people were seen to be in rebellion to God’s laws or to Himself.

1Timothy 1:9  “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers”

Titus 1:6  if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.

Tit 1:10  For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.

Hebrews 2:8  “You have put all things in subjection under His feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.”

It has to be admitted that there is plenty of rebellion and insubordination in today’s world! [Having just witnessed the violent behaviour of the crowds at the G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany, one has to say that silent protesters were often swamped by crowds of insubordinate anarchists, disobedient and even violent towards the authorities.]

 4]. Rebellious. Disobedient. (Apeithes.  ἀπειθής.) (Noun = apeítheia, disobedience)

This word is found in the New Testament is its noun, verbal and adjectival forms, ‘disobedience’ 6 times, ‘to be disobedient’ 15 times and ‘disobedient ‘7 times.  There are a lot of warnings about disobedience in the Bible!

The words stem from the word [peíthō] to persuade. With the “a” in front means unwilling to be persuaded, or to be disobedient.  Perhaps a few examples from each form would give us some of its meaning.

Noun, ‘disobedience’.  Twice unbelievers are called “sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:2 “ in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—“ AND Eph 5:6  “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

 Verb. It is interesting to note that disobedience can be to the person of Jesus, to the word of God and to the gospel of God. John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

1Pet 2:8  and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

1Pet 3:1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,

1Pet 4:17  For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

 Adjective. Paul had a vision from God. He obeyed it. Act 26:19  “So King  Agrippa I did not prove disobedient  to the heavenly  vision,

Those in rebellion against God are disobedient to Him and to His representatives. Rom 1:30  slanderers,  haters  of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful , inventors of evil,  disobedient  to parents.

2Ti 3:2  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,

Paul wrote of his life before his conversion, Tit 3:3 “ For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

 5]. Sin. To miss the mark. (Hamartánō. ἁμαρτάνω.)   (Noun is hamartia,  ἁμαρτία.)

This is a common word for sin in the New Testament. The word can mean to sin, to miss a mark, to err in some way.

Judas Iscariot sinned, as he explained, Mat 27:4, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” 

People sin against each other in ways that needs to be forgiven. Mat 18:1  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Mat 18:21 ‘Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”’

Luk 17:3  Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,

The prodigal son confessed his sin to his father. Luk 15:21  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The origin of sin and death is seen in the disobedience of Adam. Rom 5:12  “Therefore, just as sin [noun]  came into the world through one man, and death through sin [noun], and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” [verb]

Sin is universal. 1Jn 1:10 “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us”.

Sin can be forgiven through Christ. 1Jn 2:1 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”.

 6]. To fall short. To be inferior or lacking something. [Husteréō, ὑστερέω.]

A sincere young man told Jesus that felt he lacked something.  Mat 19:20 ‘The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”’ Jesus told him what it was. Mar 10:21 ‘And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”.’

We fall short of God’s standards. Rom 3:23 “ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We are responsible for drawing on the grace of God lest we fail to do so and thus sin.  Heb 12:15  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” AND Heb 4:1 “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”

 7]. Transgression. Law breaking. Wrong doing. (Parabasis = παράβασις.) ( Verb is parabaínō = παραβαίνω = to transgress, go aside, break the law. ).

These next 2 words begin in the Greek with “para”. This means “to the side of” or “beside”. We use it in English for paramedic and many other words.

Examples of the word are found in the following verses.

Rom 2:23 “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law.”

Rom 4:15  “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”

Rom 5:14 “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

It was possible for people like Judas Iscariot to turn aside from what appeared to be God’s purpose for them. Act 1:24  “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25  to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Biblical history shows that transgressions in Israel’s history were punished, Heb 2:1 “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.”

However Jesus died to redeem people from their transgressions, Heb 9:15 “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant”.

 8].  To fall. To do wrong. To err. (Parapíptō = to fall, to err. Paraptoma = παράπτωμα = a fall beside.)

Some people certainly do us wrong but we are meant to forgive them in the same way we want God to forgive us, Mat 6:14 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

Paul wrote of the difficulty of bringing people back to repentance if they were to fall away from God’s grace, Heb 6:6 “and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

God loves to forgive and to bring about reconciliation. He has made forgiveness possible through the death of Jesus on the cross, 2 Cor 5:19  “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”.


In the above we can see that sin is varied in its forms but is universal throughout history and throughout the world.

Sin comes from wrongly using the freewill God has given us, to do our own thing, to pursue our own will, rather than His will. In our free will we choose to disobey His laws and to turn our back on the grace He can give us to help us turn from evil to fulfil His will and purpose for us.

BUT the good news is that all of us can be forgiven if we choose to repent of our sins and turn to Him for forgiveness. Forgiveness is available for all our sins in Christ alone.

The following verses remind us of His amazing love and grace in making forgiveness available to us in Jesus.

Eph 1:7-8, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.”

Col 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Acts 10:43, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

1 John 1:7-9, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Having understood [to a small extent] the various types of sin we can now look in the next article at why and how we need to repent of it.

Blog No.222. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 10th July 2017

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Forgiveness, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification, Temptations, TOPICS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 222. REPENTANCE. The need to repent of sin. But what is sin? Gaining a little understanding from some New Testament words for sin.

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