Sinner. Transgressor. Law-breaker.
These are not the most en vogue labels today.
Even so, the word “sin,” “transgression,” or “iniquity” occurs 1148 times in the NASB translation of the Bible in 906 verses. This is more, for example, than the word “love” (528 times), “lovingkindness” (138 times), and “grace” (133 times).
What does this have to do with me? Every one of us is individually accountable to the God of the Bible. We are morally responsible to our Creator. It is not your religious preference that tells you that, but your humanity. You are a creature, but you are supra-all-creatures.
You have a hard-wired conscience. In your soul is an effortlessly-existing moral smoke alarm. It may have been damaged. But it’s there. The beeping may have not sounded much since you jacked the cookie jar. But it has sounded. We cower.
You have a hard-wired knowledge. Man knows that there is a Creator. Archaeologists, for example, constantly declare the existence of him. Tools in hand, thousands of miles away from their university offices, they brush off an ancient wall. The archaeologist never says, “Wow! Look at this vertical structure, with 90-degree angle that arose randomly from Darwinian gradualism!” Instead, he effortlessly cries, “Look, what I found! Who made this wall?!” We know.
You cower. You know. You are human. But there’s more.
You are accountable. We know and we cower, in part, because we are accountable.
With accountability is inherent dignity. We often fight and protest for dignity these days. That’s needed here and there. But we’re fighting for a sub-dignity; dignity in flattery; in applause and praise; dignity in habits and vices; in melanin and passports; in degrees and titles.
But man’s inherent dignity is bigger than that. Humanity’s dignity is dignity consequent of culpability. That is part of what it means to be human and what gives every person dignity as a human. God gives us dignity through personal responsibility to him. We know and we cower because we have dignity. Not dignity in the sense of “deserving of worship,” but more like “unmatched, inherent, and assigned value.”
“Transgression” refers to the breaking of a law. God’s laws are the concern. And whatever a person’s spiritual persuasion, everyone would agree on one thing: zero percent of the population are morally-spiritually flawless. I did not grow up with Christianity or the Bible. I had a colorful time up through my twenties. So, when I first heard that I was a “sinner,” I chortled: “Heh, you got me.” But, I did not know the half of it.
God’s standard is much higher than I ever imagined. He is so good, that he is not relatively good, but absolutely good. Jesus came for clarity: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The spiritual-moral standard required for humanity is perfection that matches God’s.
Absolutely, a sinner is not someone who is like Stalin, but someone who is not like God. You don’t have to be bad to be a sinner. If we thought hard enough, or thought hardly at all, we could catalogue evidence for our guilt. But, the cookie-jar cower will suffice.
God takes sin seriously. We are “sinners,” “transgressors,” “law-breakers.” Often we take offense at that. We say it’s “demeaning” or “degrading” or even “hate-speech.” But it is no such thing. To be called a sinner is the second most dignifying label a human can have. It’s not hate-speech, but loving dignity-recognition. What is degrading is to spurn the label, “sinner.”
That God takes our moral violations so seriously does not demean, but dignify. God does not take the actions of other creatures seriously. When rats steal each other’s food, it’s not theft or coveting. When mosquitoes drank an Israelite’s blood life-blood, they were not guilty of serious sin and cut off from the Lord’s covenant people. If a chimpanzee kills a man, it’s not brought for trial before the justice system. Rats, chimps, and mosquitoes are not sinners. Why? They have a sub-dignity. God does not give rats the dignity that he gives humans. Humans are not rodents. Nor are we chimps. Not even the most staunch among the Darwinian religion insist on prosecuting a chimp or cancer cell or almost-homo-sapien. To be a sinner is to have unique dignity.
That we are sinners does not demean us, but dignify us. We are God’s.
We are culpable. We are held accountable for our thoughts, desires, our worship, words, and actions. To be offended that we are sinners is to be offended that we are dignified human beings. To take offense at the label “sinner” is to take offense at culpability. Therefore, to not want such accountability is the most demeaning thing.
If you are offended at the label “sinner,” you are offended at the highest human dignity. To hold to a view that has little emphasis on sin and the highest standard of human accountability is to wish for a system that demeans and dehumanizes humans. But God will do no such thing. We are accountable to him. And we all have failed God’s standard; his standard of love, truth, sexuality, gratitude, goodness, wants, and worship. Therefore, we are condemned and guilty before him. We are guilty because we have dignity. No condemnation, no dignity.
That’s not all. To be a sinner is colossally great news. Only sinners can go to heaven. You cannot go to heaven if you are not a sinner. The Savior of the world declared, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Fully man, Jesus Christ lived under the law. In doing so, he accomplished something amazing: Jesus was not a sinner because he was like God; he is God. Therefore, he was exclusively qualified to come under the consequences of our culpability. God the Father placed the full punishment for our guilt upon him at the cross. Jesus died to justly eliminate our guilt. He rose, demonstrating the satisfaction of his sin-bearing work. Now, he beckons sinners to himself for reconciliation to God. By faith alone in Jesus, sinners are eternally saved. In the last day, God will show the dignity of all humanity; whether in just judgment unto eternal punishment or in just judgment already transferred to Jesus Christ. But he will not let one remain undignified.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!
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