To trespass is to go beyond one’s right by violating a boundary or a law. When we trespass on someone’s property, we violate the physical boundaries they have in place. In a similar way, we trespass when we violate God’s moral law or the rights of other people. Ephesians 2:1 shows how serious it is to trespass against God’s commands: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The words trespass and sin can be used interchangeably, and it is possible that Paul uses both terms here for emphasis’ sake or to refer to all sorts of sins. It could also be that the thought in Ephesians 2:1 is that, while all are guilty of inherited sin through Adam (Romans 5:12), we are also guilty of individual trespasses against God’s law. However we interpret it, Scripture says we are all trespassers.
The Greek word most often translated “trespass” in the New Testament literally means “a false step.” It implies a falling away after being close beside. It is a tripping up, a deviation of course, a stumble away from the truth, or a falling over of some kind. Trespasses can be intentional or non-intentional. The trespass offering (or guilt offering) in the Old Testament was offered by those who realized they had inadvertently committed a sin against the sanctified items of the tabernacle (Leviticus 5).
“We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). We all trespass. A husband can trespass against his wife by dealing harshly with her, causing her to pull away (Colossians 3:19). A friend can trespass against another friend by breaking a trust or betraying a confidence (Proverbs 18:19). Trespasses have a way of catching us as if in a trap (Galatians 6:1).
Jesus taught us how to deal with trespasses and offenses in Matthew 18:15–17. He also taught that we are to forgive those who trespass against us so that our Father will forgive us (Matthew 6:12; 18:23–35).
We all trespass against God because we are all sinful (Romans 3:23). God posted His “No Trespassing” signs, and we violated His boundaries. But God is willing to forgive our trespasses when we confess them to Him and place our faith in Christ (1 John 1:9; Acts 3:19). Jesus took our trespasses upon Himself on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). His death and resurrection removed the barrier that our trespasses and sins created between us and God (Colossians 2:14). When we repent of our sin and receive Christ by faith, His blood cancels our trespasses, and God pronounces us righteous.