By David Dann
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, we know for certain that everyone who has ever lived on the earth, with the exception of Christ, has sinned against God. However, we sometimes have trouble distinguishing between who is a sinner and who is not.
While most would agree that someone who is practicing sin is a sinner, what about those who have stopped sinning, but have not done anything further? Some seem to believe that if they cease the practice of a certain sin, then they can just keep silent about it and the problem will eventually go away on its own. Is this what the Lord expects of us? Is a person no longer considered a sinner just because he has stopped the practice of whatever sin he may have been involved in? Or, is a person a sinner until he is forgiven by God and released from the guilt of his sin? Who is a sinner? According to God’s word, a sinner is:
One Who Is Practicing Sin
1. This involves sin of any form. Paul writes, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lascivious- ness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21). It makes no difference which particular sin one may be involved in. Any involvement in sin of any kind makes one a sinner.
2. This involves any degree of involvement in sin. Many seem to think that just a little bit of sin won’t hurt anything. However, John writes, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Therefore, even in- volvement in so-called “little sins” would make one a sinner according to the Scriptures.
One Who Has Stopped the Practice of Sin
1. A person continues to be a sinner until he is forgiven for his sin. Ceasing the practice of sin is not enough. One must obey the gospel of Christ before they can have their sins removed. With regard to this very situation, Peter instructed sinners to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Although he had ceased practicing sin, Saul of Tarsus was told to “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
2. A person must be freed from the guilt of his sin by the blood of Christ. A sinner must come in contact with the cleansing blood of Christ through baptism in order to be freed from sin. With regard to this, Paul says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” and, “For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:3, 7). It is only at this point that one ceases to be a sinner.
One Who Does Nothing
1. It is not enough to refrain from doing what is wrong. The truth is that a person continues to be a sinner until he does what is right. James says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). Those who believe they are justified simply because they are not engaging in certain sins are actually sinning themselves by not doing the things that should be done.
2. We must walk with Christ. Jesus says, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). We cannot “ride the fence” or sit idly by expecting to be considered righteous because we have abstained from sin. Instead we must actively do what is right, as much as we are able. The fact that we are not doing anything wrong does not mean that we are doing anything right.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Are you a sinner?