What is a trespass in the Bible?

In English to trespass means to go beyond the legal boundaries or to violate legal, moral, or social standards. In a biblical context, a trespass is going beyond the boundaries God has set. In other words, it is sin. In the Old Testament, there are several Hebrew words that have been translated as "trespass" depending upon the translation being used. All of the original Hebrew words carry the idea of sin, guiltiness, and wrong-doing. There are also two words in Greek in the New Testament that have been translated as "trespass." Both original Greek words carry the idea of error, missing the mark, or falling short. These same Greek and Hebrew words have also been translated into English as the word "sin," "iniquity," or "transgression."

So what does the Bible say about sin? Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." In other words, trespassing God's boundaries earns us death; we now owe God a life to compensate for our sin. In the Old Testament, God implemented a sacrificial system to allow the Israelites to pay for their sins using the life of an animal: "the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty" (Leviticus 6:7). Leviticus 16:30 expounds, "atonement [is] made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins." And Hebrews 9:22 explains, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

Lest we believe we could be capable of living without sinning, David remarks, "They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3). In his psalm of confession, David admits that he has existed in a state of sin since his conception (Psalm 51:5). When Paul claims in the New Testament "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," he confirms what David has written (Romans 3:23). Every person has trespassed God's lawful boundaries and now owes God a life. God so desired a relationship with His people that He first provided a substitutional sacrificial system to allow the people's sin to be paid for by the life of another, namely animals. But the sacrificial system was only a foreshadowing of God's ultimate plan.

Hebrews 9:13–14 says, "For if the blood of goats and bulls… sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience." God sent His son Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice to cover our sins. In preparation for His death on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Unlike the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, Jesus' sacrifice of Himself was so perfect that it covers all sins for all times and need not be repeated. Hebrews 9:26 says, "He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Every trespass we commit can be forgiven by relying on Jesus' shed blood on the cross.

But Jesus' sacrifice and His resurrection did more than offer forgiveness for trespasses. He actually frees all who put their faith in Him from the power of sin. Romans 8:2 declares, "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Romans 6:6 adds, "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." Because Jesus' sacrifice covers our trespasses, the Holy Spirit can now dwell within the hearts of humankind and enable us to stay within the boundaries of God's law. In Ezekiel 36:27 God promised, "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Paul explains the Spirit's work to the Galatians in this way, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). God's Spirit within us can actually help us overcome our sinful inclinations.

Trespasses are any sin we commit by overstepping God's boundaries or any way in which we fall short of living up to God's standard of perfection. Because these trespasses have to be paid for with death, God graciously provided a sacrificial system first with animals and then ultimately with the death of His own son to extend forgiveness to those who recognize their need for it and put their faith in Him. He then puts His Holy Spirit within us to enable us to avoid future trespasses. What a merciful and gracious God we serve!

Related Truth:

Is the death of Jesus Christ or His resurrection more important?

What is sin?

Does God hate sin? Why?

What is meant by being free from sin?

How do I receive forgiveness from God?

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