In Hebrew word for spiritual offenses is chayt. The word has alternate forms of chata' or chatta'ah. They are typically translated as "sin" but this translation has two problems.
First, some spiritual offenses are not from wrongdoing but from a lack of wholeness. For example, Leviticus 12 and 15 discuss how the loss of bodily fluids counts as a spiritual offense.
Second, many people only consider a physical action such as theft or murder as "sins". Yet, in some cases (such as the last of the Ten Commandments), thoughts can count as spiritual offenses.
The concept of spiritual offenses is legalistic. Wrong actions would "count as offenses". There were even actions which could "count as offenses" not as the act happened, but at the time someone felt the wrongness, such as Deuteronomy 15:9 and 24:15:
|"Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be an offense for you."|
|"You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he may not cry against you to the Lord and it become an offense for you."|
In Romans 5:13 Paul adds a second way offenses are legalistic: an act may be contrary to God's standards but would not have counted as an offense until people knew God had instituted a commandment against it.
Unfortunately, Biblical Greek has only one word, hamartia, used to refer to both offenses and iniquity. Please refer to the essay about iniquity for more information about this potential confusion.
With respect to spiritual offenses, an ancient Israelite was in one of two states. Either he or she had not broken a commandment since the last time he or she offered the appropriate covering offering and was in a state of no offense, or he or she had broken a commandment, was in a state of offense, and needed to go offer another covering offering.
Because offense is legalistic and offenses could be covered it was possible for an ancient Israelite to follow the law completely. This was even expected by God. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 explains that the ancient Israelites should normally be in a state of no offense:
|"For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it."|
Yeshua had the authority to pardon offenses against God even before his death (Mark 2:1-12).
Duing his death he was hurt by every sin ever (Isaiah 53:12, First Peter 2:24, Hebrews 9:28). Since all sin is now against him personally he has gained the right to pardon any offense (Matthew 26:28, First Peter 3:18, Colossians 1:20).
Simply because Yeshua can now pardon any offense does not mean he does. It is necessary and important to be repentant and ask for this pardon (Luke 11:4, 24:47, First John 1:9-10) because Yeshua must actively grant it (Hebrews 2:17, First John 2:1-2).
Yeshua told his followers that they can pardon offenses (John 20:23). However later scripture shows that his followers do not pardon directly, but rather by introducing people to Yeshua (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 10:43, 22:16, 26:18).
What was once legalistic becomes relational in many aspects of Yeshua's covenant. This happens with offenses as well; Yeshua, during his Sermon on the Mount, provided examples of how a few specific offenses (murder, adultery, oathbreaking, etc.) should now be treated relationally instead of legalistically. Yeshua's followers elaborated, teaching that any acts against faith are offenses (Romans 14:23); for example, neglecting to do what is known to be right is an offense (James 4:17).
Currently there is widespread confusion about how God will judge people. Perhaps the most crucial application of a proper understanding of offense is in how it relates to judgment.
In scriptural imagery, the heart is where a person's temperament, disposition, inclination, and loyalties reside. Scripture explains how God will judge our hearts. Only someone whose heart is filled with self-sacrificing love will be judged favorably. For example, Hebrews 4:12-13 teaches:
|For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.|
(Also refer to Jeremiah 11:20, Ezekiel 18:21-30, Micah 6:8, and Psalm 94:15 for other verses describing God's judging the heart.)
Because we cannot see a heart as God does this judgment seems vague. Thus scripture also speaks of how our deeds are judged. The context is not about good and bad actions in balance but how good deeds are evidence of a heart full of self-sacrificing love. For example, in Jeremiah 17:10 the prophet writes:
I, the Lord, search the heart;|
I test inner motivations
in order to give to everyone
what his actions and conduct deserve.
and in Romans 2:6-8 Paul writes:
|[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.|
(Also refer to Daniel 12:1-3, Matthew 12:36-37, John 5:28-29, Acts 10:35, Romans 2:14-16, Revelation 20:12-13, and Matthew 25:34-40 for other verses describing judging deeds.)
To summarize, God actually judges the iniquity in our hearts, but explains his judgments to us through our offenses.
Early Christian writers agreed with scripture that God's judgment was based on a person's goodness.
"We hold this view, that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions".
-Justin (~150 C.E.), "The First Apology", chapter XII
"He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send 'spiritual wickednesses', and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning, and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory".
-Irenaeus (~180 C.E.), "Against Heresies", chapter X
"Let them beware of doing ought which is displeasing to the Creator of this universe, of the soul and its intelligent principle; and let them rest assured that punishment shall be inflicted on the wicked, and rewards shall be bestowed upon the righteous, by Him who deals with every one as he deserves, and who will proportion His rewards to the good that each has done, and to the account of himself that he is able to give. And let all men know that the good shall be advanced to a higher state, and that the wicked shall be delivered over to sufferings and torments, in punishment of their licentiousness and depravity, their cowardice, timidity, and all their follies".
-Origin (~200 C.E.), "Against Celsus", chapter LI
"Again, we affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man"
"By the award of the judgment, we say that the wicked will have to spend an eternity in endless fire, the pious and innocent in a region of bliss".
-Tertullian (~220 C.E.), "AD Nationes", chapter XIX
It was not until the fifth century that Augustine the Bishop of Hippo instituted a different doctrine called "absolute depravity". This claimed anyone who faced God's judgment without having accepting the Good News would be judged negatively (Augustine, "The City of God", Book XX, chapter VI). Misled by gnosticism (the nonscriptural, Hellenstic belief that our spiritual self can be separated from our physical self, and that the spiritual self is good and the physical self is evil), Augustine interpreted Paul's figurative use of phrases such as "live by the Spirit" and "live by the flesh" not as speaking of life empowered and sustained by either God's Spirit or by the flesh but literally as declaring that God's Spirit was good and human flesh was evil. The human spirit was ignored. That interpretation of Paul's writings allowed a position that only those who accept The Good News (and thus have God's Spirit) could enter heaven.
Scripture never teaches that only those who have accepted the Good News can pass God's judgment and enter the World to Come (Romans 2:14-16). However, living as a genuine follower of Yeshua is the only demonstration of self-sacrificing love that provides assurance that a person's heart will pass judgment.
This is because the Good News, when presented correctly, simulates the Day of Judgment. Some people hear the Good News and then wish to have heaven come to them immediately, even at the cost of considering their old self dead. These people get to experience God's kingdom in their lives and have the assurance that on the actual Day of Judgment they will continue within God's kingdom.
Other people value independence more than the presence of God and are not willing to live in self-sacrificing love. These people do not get to experience God's kingdom in their lives before death, and have no assurances for the Day of Judgment.
Not only is living as a followe of Yeshua the only way to have assurance of the World to Come, but after death no one will enter heaven without Yeshua's assistance: even after someone's death pays their "atonement for one's life" only Yeshua can remove their iniquity (John 14:6). Just as Yeshua is the aspect of the divine that creates us, he is the aspect of the divine that recreates us.
(Note that humbly becoming a follower of Yeshua is a cost (necessity) of entering God's kingdom, not a price (purchase) for doing so. God's kingdom is like any kingdom: to entering it a person must kneel before the King and swear fealty.)
In scripture, especially the psalms, judgment is seen as a desirable time when good people will finally be rid of predatory, wicked people. Not only does God explain his judgment through offenses, in judgment he will protect the righteous from offenses. Psalm 7:8-9 is an example (see also Psalm 35:24, 43:1, and 72:4).
The Lord shall judge the people:|
judge me, O Lord,
according to my righteousness and according to mine integrity that is in me.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end;
but establish the just:
for the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
It is interesting how many translations replace "judge" with other words such as "vindicate" or "defend" because the translators do not understand how the psalmist could desire judgment!