"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin ..." (John 15:22)

"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin." (John 15:22)

What does Jesus mean by 'sin'?

Jesus is continuing his discussion with his close disciples following the last supper. Jesus is discussing those who will be persecuting him.

The word "sin" here is translated* from the Greek word ἁμαρτία (hamartia). This word has a broad scope of meanings, depending upon its context. The Greek means, according to the lexicon, "to be without a share in; to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor; to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God; violate God's law; that which is done wrong; an offense; a violation of the divine law in thought or in act; collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many."

Many sectarian institutions teach a rigid definition of the word "sin". This contrasts with the use of this word throughout the Bible, where it is often used within different contexts.

The institutional definition of "sin" typically relates within the narrow context of committing acts that cause someone to go to hell.

That is not what Jesus is referring to. Jesus utilizes ἁμαρτία (hamartia) or "sin" as the wandering from the way of God as mentioned in the lexicon definition above. He is using the word specifically as, "an offense."

The context of Jesus' statement is that he has been discussing how 'the world' hates them because 'the world' hates Jesus. Then he discusses how they will persecute them just as they will be persecuting Jesus.

In other words, Jesus is referring to those who have been critical of Jesus, and who will be instigating Jesus' arrest and persecution.

This is not a simple case of sin. This is an act of extreme offensiveness in their criticisms of Jesus and being part of the push to persecute Jesus.

This is no ordinary offense, mind you. Jesus is God's representative and messenger. It is a grave offense to interfere with the activities of God's representative.

Why is offending Jesus so bad?

Yes, a better translation* in context is offense. "Sin" doesn't make sense here because how could Jesus' speaking to them have caused them to "sin"?

One must typically have to have contact with someone in order to become offensive.

Those who heard Jesus and thought of him as an ordinary person became offensive. They offended not just Jesus, but they offended the Supreme Being.

Jesus is God's representative. Jesus was on a mission to spread the message of love for God, in order to bring us home. And those of Jesus' disciples who also accepted that mission also became representatives of the Supreme Being.

Just imagine if a president of a government were to send an ambassador to a foreign country to carry that foreign government an important message. Imagine how that president would feel if the foreign government murdered the ambassador after he delivered the message. The president would be more than just offended by such an act.

Now extend this offense within the context of love. While a president typically is not engaged in a loving relationship with an ambassador, the Supreme Being and Jesus were indeed engaged in a loving relationship. Jesus was performing loving service on behalf of his Beloved, the Supreme Being.

Just consider how offensive the act of not just considering Jesus an ordinary person, but of murdering his physical body on a cross. This is the worst offense in the history of humanity.

And just consider how offensive it is to continue that persecution of Jesus on the cross as some do to this day in order to attempt to relieve the consequences of their self-centered activities.

Is it offensive to use Jesus' suffering to cleanse our sins?

To use the torture and suffering of God's beloved servant and messenger to relieve our sins could also be considered offensive. Why? Because such an activity continually persecutes Jesus for our own benefit.

This is precisely the offense of those Jesus is referring to.

What if, in a war, a friend came to help us. While he was helping us, he gets ambushed and murdered. Should we then use that friend's sacrifice for our own benefit? Should we begin a collection for our friend and pocket the money for ourselves? Using such a friend who died while helping us is grotesque. 

Is this much different than using the murder of God's beloved messenger for our own purposes of cleansing our sins? Or how about wearing the instrument of the murder of his physical body around our necks as a fashion statement?

Then after celebrating Jesus' torture on the cross and how it relieves our sins - going out to continue those self-centered activities and coming back to church the next Sunday to try to wash our sins off on his crucified body again?

To these Jesus made a very clear statement:
"Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:22-23)
Those sectarian teachers who conduct these very activities - supposed healings, driving out of demons, and supposedly cleansing peoples sins with grotesque rituals of drinking Jesus' blood in the form of wine and eating his body in the form of crackers - are doing precisely what Jesus is describing here. And despite their fanaticism, Jesus never knew them.

These are the very same teachers and their followers that promote materialistic celebrations surrounding Jesus' appearance and disappearance - Christmas and Easter. On Christmas, they worship materialism represented by a fat man in a red suit. On Easter, they revel in the Easter bunny and chocolate-covered eggs, as if Jesus' life and teachings were just a sideshow.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)
"My Father who is in heaven" is obviously not Jesus, especially since Jesus said this when he was walking the earth, and especially since saying "Lord, Lord" to Jesus is being differentiated from doing God's will.

Doing God's will is the opposite of self-centeredness - the basis for all forms of sin and offensiveness.

The cure for self-centeredness - and thus sin - is love. Jesus gave us a simple recipe that will ultimately save us from self-centeredness:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)

*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement from the Lost Gospels of Jesus:
"If I had not appeared and spoke to them they would not have offenses. But now they have no excuse for their offenses.” (John 15:22)