Sin: Sin is the general term for anything that “falls short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It can refer to doing something against God or against a person (Exodus 10:16); or, doing the opposite of what is biblically right (Galatians 5:17); or, failing to do something you know you ought to do (James 4:17). At its root. sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4); sin is ultimately rebellion against God, and there will always be negative consequences for sin (Romans 6:23; Isaiah 66:24; Proverbs 24:33-34). We all have a sin nature that we have had passed down to us from our common ancestor, Adam (Romans 5:12-21); and, that sin nature leads to trespasses.
Trespass: To “trespass” is to cross the line, to go beyond one’s right by violating a boundary or law. We trespass when we violate God’s moral law, or the rights of other people. When we trespass we sin, and when we sin we have trespassed.
Transgression: A transgression is like “sin 2.0,” as it refers to presumptuous sin. To transgress is to choose to intentionally disobey; transgression is willful trespassing. Samson intentionally broke his Nazarite vow by touching a dead lion (Numbers 6:1-5; Judges 14:8-9), and allowing his hair to be cut (Judges 16:17). In doing this, Samson was committing a transgression. When we knowingly and intentionally run a stop sign, speed, tell a lie, or blatantly disregard an authority, we are transgressing. In short, transgression is to make a personal choice to intentionally sin.
Iniquity: Although iniquity is still sin, it is even more serious than transgression. It is more deeply rooted in a person. Iniquity refers to a premeditated choice. To commit iniquity, is to continue to sin without repentance. Micah 2:1 says, “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on the beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in theor power to do it.”
As we examine these biblical terms, let’s not think about people we know who exhibit all of these, who are perfect examples of them. We all know people like that, but seriously speaking, we should not think ill of them, but rather sincerely pray for them, and present the gospel to them. The true and undiluted gospel. Anything less does them a disservice, and it dishonors God.
Instead, we should look at these biblical terms, and apply them to our own lives, just as God has told us to do in His holy word (2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:12-13; Lamentations 3:40; 1 Corinthians 11:28-32). If we are honest to ourselves, and to God, especially in asking the Lord to reveal to us any sin that is in us, then when we repent of those sins, we are progressing in our sanctification, and becoming more and more holy, just as God has commanded, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-17; Leviticus 19:2 cf Hebrews 12:14).