What is the difference between sin, transgression, and iniquity?

Sinclair Ferguson & R.C. Sproul
2 Min Read

FERGUSON: Sin, transgression, and iniquity are different words in the Old Testament. Most of us are familiar with the Greek term hamartia, meaning “sin,” which conveys the idea of falling short of the mark. We are made for the glory of God, but sin causes us to fall short of the mark. Transgression has the very basic idea of crossing the line. God has given us His law, and we cross the line. Iniquity has the sense in Psalm 51, for example, of “twistedness.” There is a twistedness in us as a consequence of this. All of these words are different angles of one and the same reality: our disobedience to God, our againstness, our hatred, our diversion from Him.

They say that the more important something is, the more words you’ll find in that culture for that something. And there is an abundance of vocabulary in the Hebrew Old Testament for sin. But the great thing is, there is also an abundance of vocabulary for the idea of grace. So there’s bad news, but there’s also very good news.

SPROUL: We’ve heard tonight about the last written words of Luther: “We are beggars.” This is true. When we talk about debt and transgressions, the Scriptures say that we are debtors who cannot pay their debts. God and God alone has the absolute right to impose obligations on His creatures. And He has done that. He has said, “You must do this, and you must not do that.” And we owe it to God to perform those obligations. If we don’t, we become debtors to the law—and debtors to the God of the law.

The problem we face, as we learn in the New Testament, is that we’re debtors who can’t file for Chapter 11. There’s no way we can pay the debt. It’s a hopeless task. It’s a fool’s errand to try to pay the debt that we owe. But we can’t stand that. We want to be able, somehow, to pay the debt and meet the obligation rather than to say, “I’m helpless; I’m a debtor who can’t pay my debts.”

The only way I can stand before a just and holy God is if somebody else pays the debt. And the only one who has earned the right to pay somebody else’s debt is the Son of God. That’s why we talk about justification through Christ alone. Christ alone has the merit to pay for us. He is the treasury of merit. Nothing could be added to or subtracted from the treasury that is in Him.

This is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s and R.C. Sproul’s answers from our Reformation 500 Celebration and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.