ARE YOU A SINNER?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my preaching life I have said and/or heard other preachers say something like this, “We are all sinners.” By that, it was usually meant that everyone has sinned, and none of us are so good that we never sin. However, as I meditated on the matter and thought of our proper little slogan that we call Bible things by Bible names, it seemed evident to me that the Bible does not use the word in that way. Let us notice some of the expressions used in the New Testament and the implications of the word in those passages.
Luke7:37″And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment.” If all in the city were sinners, as we usually teach, why was the woman picked out as if she were different? The same question could be raised about the statement of the Pharisee in Luke 7:39 “Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” Is it not evident that both the Pharisee and Luke indicated there was a difference in this woman who was a sinner and other persons, all of whom sinned occasionally?
Luke 19:7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” If all men were recognized as sinners simply because all have sinned, what is the significance of saying he is a guest of a sinner? If he were a guest of anyone, it would have to be of a sinner, if all were classified as sinners. One may reply at this point, “But Paul says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). That is true, and highlights the point I am making, namely that the fact that all have sinned is one thing and that all are now classified as sinners is something else. That is, in Bible terminology, a sinner is not simply one who has sinned, or who does sin at some time, but one who persists in a life of sin.
John9:24″Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.” Note that they did not speak as if all men were sinners, but as if only the ONE about which they spoke was a sinner. Paul suggests that not only did the average person recognize that there was a difference between a righteous man who may commit a sin from time to time and one who is called a sinner, for he said in Romans 3:7 “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” Peter plainly shows there is a difference when he says in 1 Pet4:18″And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Note carefully that the righteous are in one category, and the ungodly and sinner are in another, although both Paul and Peter recognized that all persons, even righteous ones, sin. The only sensible conclusion to which we can come seems to be that although all persons sin, not all persons are classified as sinners in the Bible.
In Luke 6:32, Jesus shows that he makes a distinction between his disciples who sin from time to time, and a person whom he calls a sinner, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.” John shows the same thing when he says in John9:31, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.” Are you a worshipper of God and doing his will? Then God does not classify you as a sinner, although you may fall into sin. By this time you may have discovered that the difference basically is that one may sin habitually, or one may “fall into sin.” Surely we already knew that there is a difference in wallowing in a mud puddle and stepping in a mud puddle occasionally as one walks.
If there is any one verse that highlights that thought, surely it is Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When he says, “while we were yet sinners” he distinguishes between what they were when they lived in sin and what they are now when they occasionally sin. At no place do I find that a person who sins as a devoted Christian sometimes sins, inadvertently and occasionally, is classified as “a sinner” in the New Testament. Romans5:19shows that there is a difference between the righteous and the sinner: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” 1 Tim 1:9 shows the same thing, “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man slayers.”
There are many other references that indicate these same truths, but these are more than enough to show that when we simply say, “All of us are sinners,” we are not using the term with as much discrimination as we should. We all sin and come short of the glory of God is a truth that cannot be denied by one who believes the Bible. But the difference in what the Bible calls “a sinner” and one who sometimes sins is the difference in one who lives in the practice of sin and one who sometimes fails to do what is right.