Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I Call Sinners, Well, "Sinners"

Some in the contemporary Church seem loathe to use sinner. It seems rather blunt, doesn't it? Old-fashioned? Impolite? Judgmental? Harsh? Puritanical? Legalistic? Yes, it can be used in all of those ways (and in the worst sense of those terms).

And yet "sinner" is biblical.

A quick check of the ESV—my preferred translation—with the e-Sword program reveals that "sinner" occurs 12 times in the New Testament and its plural, "sinners", occurs 29 times. Christ used, himself:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7 ESV)

And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
(Luke 13:2-3 ESV)
In the quotations above sinner/sinners is translated from ἁμαρτωλός which Joseph Thayer partially defines as:
1) devoted to sin, a sinner
1a) not free from sin
1b) pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked
1b1) all wicked men
1b2) specifically of men stained with certain definite vices or crimes
It's profoundly theological. Paul writes:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
The unknown writer to the Hebrews says of Jesus:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (7:26 ESV)
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, preaches:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (4:8-10 ESV)
The Apostle Peter warns:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:17-18 ESV)
Jude (Judah), another half-brother of Jesus, declares:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him." (1:14-15 ESV)
Don't be ashamed of the word sinner. It is biblical and descriptive of a person outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is it wrong to call sinners other things? No, lost is bibilical (Luke 19:10). The ESV has Paul using the word unbelievers 7 times and unbeliever 5 times (ἄπιστος). I have no problem with the Church talking about the unchurched or seekers, either.

I do have a problem, though, with the contemporary Church refusing to use the words sinner and sinners for fear people will get offended. Of course they will get offended! The only way for a person to become a Christian in the first place is to be offended! Paul reminds the Galatians:
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. (5:11 ESV)
Paul was telling the Galatian Christians, "If I were still preaching Torah (Law observance) to people then Jews wouldn't be offended at my gospel. But the cross stares them in the face and it shows them what they are and how The Law is helpless to save themselves!" Before a person can be saved he has to know he is lost. Before a person can become a Christian he has to know he is a sinner.

The gospel (good news) first shouts to all: "You are a sinner! You aren't right with God! He's angry with your sin! You're going to hell for it for all eternity and it's all your fault!" It's only when a sinner—broken down by the Holy Spirit's conviction—bows his head and admits that it's true that he is ready for the next part: "The Son of God died on a Roman cross to take the punishment for your sins! He was buried and rose from the dead, proving his claims about himself were true! If you will surrender your entire life to him and ask his forgiveness he will give it to you!"

The Church needs to stop fearing people's rejection and start fearing their souls going to hell. Just tell the truth. Yes, tell it in love but tell it!

That's why I call sinners, well, sinners.