Friday, August 25, 2017

are we "sinners"?

A Lifeway Research survey and this article (from Bob Smietana in CT) on "sinners" got me thinking...

The results:

75% answered and agreed that sin is a real concept. (15% did not want to answer; 10% said "sin does not exist"-- and apparently are allergic to that particular term for a universal idea.) So, from here, we'll ignore the agnostics, the cowards, and those with allergies.

Of the 75%...
a.) 8% said they are "not a sinner"; 67% said they are "a sinner"
b.) of the 67%, 28% said they "depend on Jesus Christ to overcome sin";
c.) 34% said they "work on being less of one"; and 
d.) 5% said they were "fine with that".

The survey allows for wiggle room by asking for the "best" answer. But based on my understanding of the Bible and theology, I could comfortably answer "all of the above". Like you, I am someone who sins frequently. And hopefully like you, I "depend on Jesus to overcome sin". Through the Spirit and a greater understanding of what God wants for/from me, I'm "working on being less of" a sinner. And because of the blood of Jesus, God no longer sees me as a sinner-- and I'm "fine with that". 

How is "sinner" used in the Scriptures? I did a little word study to categorize its uses. 

Probably the most famous reference is "sinner" as a pejorative-- or as it's echoed back as a pejorative by Jesus to his opponents (Mt 9:10 * 3, 11:19; Mk 2:15 * 4; Lk 5:30 * 2, 7:34 * 2, 15:1 * 2, 19:7). Likewise, Paul uses it as a sarcastic pejorative in publicly confronting Peter (Gal 2:15-17 * 2). And it's not always verbal; Lk 7:39 records someone thinking someone else is a sinner. 

All of the Gospels use the term, but Luke seems to use it most-- perhaps predictable because he's writing to Gentiles and shows the greatest interest in the Samaritans. John only uses it in chapter 9-- the remarkable passage where Jesus (who is called a "sinner" * 4) heals a man on the Sabbath who banters with the Pharisees.

Elsewhere, the Bible treats "sinners" as a real and a really serious category. Adam (Rom 5:19) and Eve (I Tim 2:14) were sinners and caused a ton of damage! Life happens to "sinners" and everyone else (Eccl 9:2, Luke 13:2). But sinners are compared to the ungodly and they will receive their "reward" (Pr 11:31; 13:6, 21; Eccl 2:26). Temptation will snare them (Eccl 7:26) and they cause a ton of damage (Eccl 9:18). They are not to be emulated (Ps 1:1), followed (Pr 1:10), or envied (Pr 23:17). Israel receives three warnings as sinners (Num 32:14's "brood"!; Is 33:14, Amos 9:10). Even Jesus uses the term once in a literal straight-up manner-- in labeling his crucifiers-to-be (Mt 26:45, Mk 14:41).

Without repentance, they are on a path to condemnation and destruction (Ps 1:5, 26:9, 37:38, 104:35; Is 1:28, 13:9; Rom 3:7, I Pet 4:18, Jude 15). Since God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (I Tim 2:4), "sinners" are repeatedly called to repentance (Ps 25:8, 51:13; Mt 9:13, Mk 2:17, Lk 5:32, 15 * 2, 18:13, I Cor 14:24; Jas 4:8, 5:20). Along those lines, Paul uses himself as a "chief" example (I Tim 1:15-16).

The Gospel? Jesus was "set apart" from sinners, so He could be the Perfect High Priest offering the Perfect Sacrifice (Heb 7:26). As such, "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God." (II Cor 5:21) And all of this was "while we were still sinners" (Rom 5:8).

So, we can say that being a "sinner" is a serious, deadly state. But God offers His amazing grace-- and extends it to bozos like us. Accept the gift. And either way: recognize that labeling "sinners" is apparently a dangerous move, fraught with a temptation to legalism, pride, self-righteousness, and other nastiness-- that itself receives God's judgment. 

I'm going to go outside the narrow word study to get to the punchline. Jn 1:12 says that believers are "given the right to become children of God." I Jn 1:8-10 says we fool ourselves, if we say we don't sin. But in I Cor 6:9-11, Paul argues that the identity of the Christian is no longer a "sinner" or a particular kind of prominent sin (e.g., an adulterer): "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..." 

So, it seems most accurate to say that believers were "sinners", but we are no longer known to God as sinners; instead, we are children of God who still commit sins.


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