What Makes One a Sinner?
The law shows us how sinful we are.
This week the world is talking about war. The Assad regime in Syria used gas on its citizens. Of course, these citizens are of a different ethnic group so the regime does not consider them “their” people. The regime is fighting to put down a rebellion, and gas was the quickest way to get the rebels to give up. However, the Assad regime denies using poison gas, and Russia and Iran support Assad. Israel bombed the base from which the gas attack was launched. Britain and France joined with the United States and launched attacks in response to the gassings. The world is focused on this one conflict involving multiple countries. However, let’s consider a few other conflicts. The United States has treaty and military commitments in conflicts involving North Korea, China, Afghanistan and ISIS. In 2017, just less than 150,000 people died as a direct result of war.
These conflicts involve the leaders and rulers in our world, the ones we look to for answers, stability and responsibility. We could talk about human trafficking, sex trade, murders, rapes and organized crime if we wanted to delve into the problem of evil even more. We all agree there is evil in the world, even though our opinions may differ as to what is evil and what is not evil. Although we see it all around us, evil is a difficult subject for us to address. What do we mean when we say “evil”? The dictionary tells us that evil means: “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” The Bible teaches us that the Devil is the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2, KJV), and that he is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Certainly, we can blame the Devil for the evil in the world today; however, people are still responsible for their actions. People are the “profoundly immoral and malevolent” actors in the atrocities we see. The Bible tells us:
“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” ()
According to this, evil originates in the heart. However, most of us are not as bad as we could be. Therefore, we do not consider ourselves“profoundly immoral and malevolent,” and most of us do not fit that definition.
The Bible tells us, “Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart.” () Can we agree that murder is evil? This is why the New Testament teaches us that:
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” ()
It is not that we do not experience sinful passions and desires, but we have submitted those passions and desires to Christ. We have and are presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God. (Romans 12:1-2).
Nevertheless, God’s analysis of the condition of man’s heart was established in Genesis, where it says:
“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” ()
The Bible calls this evil that resides in people’s hearts “sin.” In general, people do not like to talk about sin. Going back to our definition of evil, most people do not want to think of themselves as being “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” We need to understand, the Bible does not teach that everyone is as bad as he or she could be. However, the Bible does teach that everyone is a sinner. What makes one a sinner? Why does the Bible say, “all have sinned?”
Romans 3:10-18 shows us three features of our person that reveal the evil in our heart and then names that evil. The three features are: 1) the heart, 2) the mouth and 3) the feet.
The first feature is the heart. Romans 3:10-11 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” The problem pointed out here is that no one seeks for God.
Why is this evil?
Why is this sin?
Why say no one is righteous and point out not seeking God as the problem?
When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said:
“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” ()
This is followed by the second commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” According to Jesus, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (). The problem of sin begins in the heart. We do not understand how not seeking God can be the root of our problems or the root of the evil in the world. Romans 3:11 says, “...no one understands.” This is what causes us to turn aside and become worthless as it speaks of in Romans 3:12. It all starts in our hearts and as Romans 6 teaches, we are all slaves, either to righteousness or to sin. As Bob Dylan said in his song “Gotta Serve Somebody:”
...Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
The heart as a feature of the person is where sin starts, but the heart reveals its contents through the mouth. The second feature Romans 3:10-18 speaks about is the mouth. Romans 3:13-14 says:
"Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” "The venom of asps is under their lips.” "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” ()
Jesus taught us, “What you say flows from what is in your heart.” () In grade school, my daughter had a teacher who liked to say, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.” What a clever way to say, “What you say flows from what is in your heart!” What causes the “slip” of the tongue anyway? We all say things in a poor manner from time to time. The meaning of what we want to communicate gets lost behind our choice of words. This is not what I am talking about as a slip of the tongue. The slip of the tongue happens when the wrong word slips out because that is what is really in our heart. The Bible warns us about our tongues and how much of a problem they are when it says:
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” ()
When the Bible says, “...no human being can tame the tongue,” it is not using hyperbole. Romans 3:13-14 speaks of mouths full of curses and bitterness, and this is the result of a problem in the heart. No one can tame the tongue because the problem starts in the heart. This is also true of a person’s feet. The feet are the third feature of a person that Romans 3:10-18 speaks about.
Romans 3:15-17 says:
"Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” ()
Another way of saying, “Their feet are shift to shed blood,” is to say, "They are eager to commit murder." In Ephesians 4:19, the Bible describes the human condition as:
“They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” ()
In this passage, we see that they are eager to practice every kind of impurity. The feet represent the decision of the heart. We refer to this when we say people vote with their feet.
Solomon was a very wise man, quite possibly the wisest man that ever lived (Jesus excepted, of course). After having examined life and seeking wisdom, he offers this as part of his conclusion:
Our feet (our actions) reflect our hearts. This is also, why the Bible teaches we will be judged according to what we have done. We do not send people to jail for the evil thoughts they have had, but for the evil deeds, they have done. However, the evil deeds are always preceded by evil thoughts. If every second and every action of your life were played on a movie screen before the whole world, would you be found faultless? According to the Bible, no one would.
These three features of our person, our heart, mouth and feet, convict us of sin. Romans 3:18 names the root of this evil when it says; “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) Sin in the heart is at the root of all the problems we see in the world today. However, at the root of sin in the heart is this accusation of Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is why we do not seek God, have evil mouths and are swift to shed blood.
This brings us to the conclusion that is expressed in Romans 3:19-20. The law does not fix our heart problem. It only serves to make apparent or obvious the problem in our hearts. According to Romans 3:20, “...through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
A sinner is not a person who is as bad as he or she could potentially be. Nor is a sinner a person who we might label as evil. What makes one a sinner is what is in that person’s heart. It starts with not having an appropriate fear of God.
The original temptation started with “...you will be like God...” (Genesis 3:5) This same drive or desire to be like God sets us against God and makes us His enemies. The good news is that while we were still enemies Christ died for us. (Romans 5:10). In order to be saved from the evil that resides in our hearts, all we have to do is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-10 puts it this way:
...because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ()