Are We Really Sinners?
Regarding the forgiveness of our sins, which is only through the blood of Jesus, as the way to heaven - this assumes that one acknowledges that one has to have their sins forgiven if one desires to go to heaven. What would you say to those who feel that we are not innate “sinners”, that man is basically “good” and when we die, if we've meant well, then we'll be in heaven with God? I'm sure you've heard that line of reasoning from those who don't believe verses like Romans 3:23 - "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". I know many people who profess a belief in God and that through his love for us we can be with Him for eternity but won't /don't discuss the “wages of sin”. Just wondering where you would begin when addressing that issue?
Thanks for the question. This is a great topic to dig deeper into and hopefully I can help clarify the issue a little. The common misconception is that we address sin as an act of volition against a list of rights and wrongs that God has created. Sin is a condition more than it is an action. What I mean is that while we do act in ways that are against God’s will, which is called sin, these acts are only a manifestation of the bigger picture. "In the biblical perspective, sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God" (Elwell 1103). Because of the disobedience of Adam, sin has corrupted the world in which we live in. The issue, as I see it, is that we are born into a sinful world (original sin), not that we are born sinful (individual sin). This is a doctrine that is hotly debated, but my perspective is that biblical doctrine does not accuse a 1-day-old baby of being a sinner who is going to hell; we recognize there is a point in which we sin once we are alive. When this occurs, I don’t know, but that it does occur is certain. This is why Jesus was born as a human into a sinful world, and was able, through not sinning, to become a perfect, free from sin, sacrifice for us all (Hebrews 2:17–18). The point of Romans is to show us that "by the trespass of one, sin has entered into the world, and with it condemnation and death" (ISBE 4.519). So if someone believes they have not sinned, it would depend on who they believe is making that judgment. As you pointed out, according to the Bible, we have all sinned and it is only by Christ we are freed from sin (Romans 3:23–26). If someone believes “when we die, if we meant well, then we’ll be in heaven with God” – I would ask by what definition do they define “well”. Objective morality tells us there is a right and wrong, we may think we can decide where the difference is for ourselves, but the fact that we acknowledge the existence of right and wrong tells us that it comes from outside of us, not from within us. It existed before we were alive and so the question is, who determines right and wrong. As I said, it can’t be us because it exists outside of us. If it is God, then he has a judgment and the Bible states all of us are guilty. More importantly, the Bible states that all are capable of forgiveness, not based on what we do “well” enough but on what Christ did “well” enough. To think that we can reconcile the problem of sin ourselves is like putting a Band-Aid on the Titanic. Sin is against God and him alone, so he became human to settle the problem himself. This is why “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). I hope this helps and let me know if you’d like to discuss further.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
ISBE. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Edited by Bromiley, Geoffrey W., Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.