The Fact of Sin and Sinners – Romans 3:23

 
The gospel is the wonderful, miraculous story of God’s remedy for our sin. Elsewhere Paul wrote: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Earlier in this epistle Paul said that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” The gospel was his purpose in life; the great means by which he was called to bring glory to his Saviour. So he said that he was “ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The good news – the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – is the most important information that ever be shared with another human being. It is absolutely essential in the preparation of human beings for death and eternity.

The term “gospel” is used by just about ever kind of sect, cult and denomination within Christendom, and I suppose that it’s used in other religions as well. But the gospel of Catholicism isn’t the same as the gospel of the 7th Day Adventists. In fact, neither are the good news of the Bible, because they are both filled with the ideas of sinful men. Likewise, just because someone says that the gospel is all about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, that man may not be preaching the gospel either. Because the gospel is predicated on – it is built and established on – the reality of SIN. If sin is not properly understood then the gospel is not going to be understood either. And I am not sure that even 25% of professed Christians understand the meaning or the depths of sin.

For nearly three chapters now, Paul has been providing proof that “there is none righteous, no not one.” He has declared that the Gentiles who have forsaken the worship of the Lord are all sinners. And then he goes on to say that the Jews, with the law of God in their hands, aren’t any more righteous than the non-Jews – the Gentiles. Because, he says, the law of God was never designed to make unrighteous people righteous. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” – Galatians 3:24.

Now we come to one of the most powerful and succinct statements in all the Word of God. The Bible is filled with statements as sharp and to the point as this one in speaking about a hundred different subjects, but this one is about sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This may not be any more correct than the statement, “There is none righteous, no not one.” But it is more powerful, elemental, and unavoidable. I dare say that there are millions of people in the fires of Hell at this moment who could quote this verse from the age of six – just as many of you can do it. But obviously those damned souls never grasped the import of these dozen English words. In Greek there are only seven words here, and every one of them are as simple as 1, 2 and 3. Why didn’t all those millions learn the meaning of “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God?” BECAUSE … they were all sinners and far short of the glory of God. It’s not a lack of education, the ability to read, or the ability to follow a logical argument, which keeps people from understanding this statement – or from understanding the gospel. The problem is the sinful depravity which has so corrupted their hearts. This morning, I am asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand. Let’s think about “The fact of sin and sinners” as I chop this verse into four parts: Here we see sin’s designation, definition, description and desolation.

What we are talking about is DESIGNATED as “sin.”
As I was meditating on our subject, last Thursday, something occurred to me. As I have said, we’ve had nearly a hundred verses thus far in Romans proving that we are all sinners. But Paul has avoided using that specific word until earlier in this chapter – and even then he makes no direct, personal accusations. The word “sin” in all its forms – “sin,” “sinner,” “sinful,” and so on, are found more than a thousand times in the Bible – that shouldn’t surprise us at all. And our scripture text this morning is the 851st occasion.

But in the first two chapters of Romans – used to prove that we are sinners – Paul didn’t use that word. In his first reference it was to himself – Romans 3:7 – “why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” Then his next two references are to sin in general, again making no specific charges of sin. Romans 3:9 – “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” Verse 20 – “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

There is something noxious or at least obnoxious about calling someone “a sinner.” Very few people, except Christians, want to hear that they are sinners. Gospel preaching would be a lot easier, and a lot better received, if we could use a nice euphemism for sin. But, as I see it, the power of the gospel would be decimated if we did that – “You have made terrible mistakes before God, so you need to be saved.” That kind of preaching makes a travesty out of the gospel. “You are less than perfect, thus you need to be born again.” “You are corrupt and dying, proving that you need the eternal life of God.” There may nothing wrong with comments like these two, but they are only weak half-truths at the very best. No, what the world needs to hear is: “For all have SINNED and come short of the glory of God.” And “the wages of (your) SIN is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In these words we have fuel for preaching the true gospel that Christ can meet our needs.

The Biblical designation for our problem is sin.

And what exactly is sin? What is it’s DEFINITION?
Every good theological dictionary has lengthy definitions, descriptions and discussions of sin. For example there is Easton – “Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of law of God in the inward state anf habit of the soul, as well as in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission. It is not a mere violation of the law of our constitution, nor of the system of things, but an offence against a personal lawgiver and moral governor who vindicates his law with penalties. The soul that sins is always conscious that his sin is intrinsically vile and polluting, and that it justly deserves punishment, calling down the righteous wrath of God.” Then it quotes several scriptures, including I John 3:4 – “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”

This is an adequate definition, but some others are over-adequate, driving everyone but theologians crazy. Generally, I usually like to stick with the simple outlines that Strong provides in his concordance. “Hamartia” (ham-ar-tee’-ah) – to be without a share in … to miss the mark … to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin; that which is done wrong, sin, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act.”

I am as guilty as most other preachers, in making the word “evil” a synonym for “sin,” but that is a mistake. Every sin is evil, but not all evils are sin, or even directly caused by sin. For example, when Jacob’s wicked sons brought the blood stained coat of Joseph to their father, he said, “It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.” If Jacob was picturing a devouring lion, it’s not really true that it was committing sin. And when the wicked were tormenting David, they said that he was suffering from an evil disease. The curse which made lions carnivorous and man-killers, and which caused the diseases which plague us, both were certainly the result of man’s sin, but they aren’t sin in themselves. Poverty is an evil, and so is stupidity, but they aren’t necessarily sins. They may stem from sin, and they may lead to sin, but they aren’t sins in themselves.

The Easton dictionary made a statement which I like very much, and I hope that you heard it. Sin “is not a mere violation of the law of our constitution, nor of the system of things, but an offence against a personal lawgiver and moral governor who vindicates his law with penalties.” This takes us back to what I have been trying to teach for the last month or so. The Law is an expression of the heart of God; it is not just an arbitrary list of rules that He created. And the thing to keep in mind is that to break one of those laws is not the real crime. Sin is an offense against the Lord Himself. There are may be a hundred thousand laws in these United States – maybe even a million. They don’t all carry the same weight or importance. But there is one which is almost always considered to be a capital crime by the citizens of this country. When someone commits treason against America itself, the crime is against every man, woman and child of this nation. The thing to keep in mind when it comes to sin, is that every sin whether you think that it is large or small, every sin is treason – it is a personal affront, offense and attack upon the Lord Himself. Yes, sin is the transgression of the law, but the law is the written expression of the soul of God, if we can use that term in that way.

Included in most of the theological dictionaries’ definitions is the statement: “to sin is to miss the mark.” Some will say that this is the basic or root meaning of the word “hamartia.” When our Hank Little was in basic training recently, he had to demonstrate his ability to shoot a rifle. Even though many army personnel will not be in the infantry, every army man has to learn to shoot. From what I hear, Hank scored quite high – higher than the average and close to the best. But despite all the good things which could be said about our friend Hank, he was not perfect. What if perfection was an absolute requirement for admission into the United States Army? How big would our army be? It might be possible to shoot a perfect score one week and then miss a shot the next. What sort of army would that give us? As we keep saying over and over again, the Lord’s demand is absolute perfection. Anything less than that perfection is not just “imperfection,” it is “sin.” And it’s not just with a 22 caliber long at 50 feet, or with an M-16 at a 100 feet or a 100 yards. Pushing our illustration forward, the Lord’s demand is perfection with a dozen weapons, a dozen skills, in a dozen sciences and with a hundred other mental and physical faculties. Failure at perfect perfection is sin and means a failure to stand in the presence of God. “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.” “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” And where I Peter 1:15 says, “manner of conversion,” the apostle was talking about our total life, behaviour, conduct and deportment.

The Biblical definition of sin might be simply put: “transgression of God’s law.” Once again we see that God’s law was not meant to make us holy, but to describe the Lord’s standard. After that the deeper definition of sin is “missing the mark that God has established.” And “all have missed the mark and come short of the glory of God.” Therefore we all deserve to die, because the “wages of missing that mark is death.”

Moving on, this verse improves the definition by giving us a DESCRIPTION.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Missing the mark and coming short of the glory of God are not two things – they are the same thing. The target to which we must compare ourselves is the absolute glory of God.

One of my books suggested this is talking about our failure to give God the glory that is due unto His Name. I had never considered that idea before, and although it makes some sense. I don’t think that this was what Paul was saying, and yet, consider that it for just a moment. The Lord spoke to Adam and said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Adam should have said, “I love you, Lord, and you are sovereign over all things. Your ‘law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.’ I will glorify you in my obedience. I will not eat this fruit.” But neither did he say such a thing, nor was he obedient – he sinned. Every sin is an offence against the heart of God, and is therefore the antithesis of glory to God. Every sin is a kind of act of blasphemy against the Lord. “For all have sinned and come short of giving God the glory due unto His Name.” But, I don’t think that this was exactly Paul’s message right here.

He was telling us that the mark at which we must bring ourselves towards is the Shekinah glory of God. In Judaism “Shekinah” is the word used to speak of the visible manifestation of the Divine Presence. Some theologians like to use the word “ineffable” – the inexpressible glory of God.

Not only is that glory ineffable, but it is unapproachable. As Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the law (that verbal description of the holiness of God) “the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” And when the workers finished first the Tabernacle and later the Temple of God, all the sacrifices had been finished, and the Lord approved of the work and the worshipers – “When the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.” No sinner can endure the presence of the glory of God. Let that thought sink into your heart. No sinner can stand in the presence of the glory of God, and yet that is the standard that we’ve been given. We are doomed – we are doomed.

For the most part that glory is ineffable, except that it has been expressed in the person of Christ. In speaking of our Saviour, John said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” And Jesus Himself in the Lord’s Prayer asked, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Would you like a description of sin for reference purposes? You can see it in whatever is outside the shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything in the shadow, in the face, and in the life of Christ was absolutely sinless. As a two-year-old, as a teenager, as a young adult, no one could convince him of sin. “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He “knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

The definition of sin is “missing the mark.” The description of sin is “coming short of the glory of God.”

And that brings us to the DESOLATION of sin – “All.”
Who can claim that he is holy enough to stand in the presence of the glory of God? Who is as perfect, sweet, morally and spiritually strong and holy as the Lord Jesus Christ? Who can say that he has perfectly kept the expressed law of God from the first day of his life to this day? “Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The desolation of sin is universal.

But …. there is a wonderful verse which ties our sinfulness to God’s glory. Again, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer of John 17 he said – “The GLORY which thou gavest me I HAVE GIVEN THEM; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” The Son of God didn’t become incarnate – he didn’t become a man – merely to reveal God’s glory. Although He did, the law had also done a reasonably good job of that. Christ came into this world in order to give God’s glory to sinners like us. Jesus’ death on the cross, was the means by which He could be just and still justify sinners – declaring them righteous – giving to them His glory.

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Have you repented of your sins before God? Have you received Christ by faith, loving and serving Him out of thanksgiving for your salvation?