There are two parts to this title and each reflects some common rhetoric I hear among Christians. I think the entire statement needs to be hammered into people’s skulls. Yes You’re a Sinner and No It’s Not “Okay.” It’s such a basic truth that I wonder why it needs saying, but we have to address the issues as they arise. Let’s look at the first half first.
“Yes, you’re a sinner”
Christians today usually fall into one of two camps on this, either they refuse to ever acknowledge sin, or they never get off of sin to talk about grace. We need some clarity in the church. We need the church to loudly affirm this truth: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Being a sinner is exactly the end of the world. Humans being sinful is what 99% of the Bible is about. If the fact of human sinfulness were left unaddressed, then hopelessness, despair, depression, suicide, and hell would be all that awaits us. We HAVE GOT to affirm the fact that humans are innately sinful. What does it mean to be sinful? To be a sinner?
It means that, left to his own devices, every human being has a heart, an attitude, a will, an existence, that is continually directed against the heart, attitude, will, existence of God. Sin literally means “missing the mark” (as you probably know if you’ve ever attended a youth retreat at a Bible church). In certain contexts, the Hebrew word for sin was used to describe an arrow that missed the bullseye mark in a target. I.e. the archer “sinned” because he “missed the mark.”
In the context of humanity’s sinfulness it means continually falling short of God’s perfect standard of holiness. It means never being quite “good enough” to meet God’s minimum requirement to be called “good.” If you have a problem with God setting the minimum requirements, you can argue but you won’t get very far. God made everything. He gets to set the standard. Arguing about that fact is the subject of another blog post for another time. He says all humans are sinful, all humans aren’t living up to His standard of “good.” That means all humans are sinful.
ALL humans are sinful. I am, you are, he she it is, we are, ya’ll are, they are. Every human, first second or third person, singular or plural, it makes no difference, every human is a sinner.
Have I made it clear enough yet? Yes, you’re a sinner.
“and no, it’s not okay”
Unfortunately another problem in the church is that even the people who do affirm a correct doctrinal understanding of original sin, still come up short in communicating the message of human sinfulness. I hear this a lot as a way of communicating the gospel. “Yes, you’re a sinner. But it’s okay.” This is a bad place to start, even if you follow it up with, “because Jesus saves.” You are down-dressing the condition by saying it’s okay. It’s not okay.
“Okay” is a word that made its way into our language via slang in the 1830’s. It was originally a comical abbreviation of the phrase “oll korrect.” Okay literally means “everything is right” and that is the exact opposite of what the message of human sinfulness conveys. Everything’s not right. In point of fact, everything is the exact opposite of right. Everything is wrong. Everything is sinful.
If we communicate the gospel by telling people they are sinners, and immediately telling them that it is okay that they are sinners, we are sending mixed messages . We are telling them two opposite things at the same time. We’re breaking the law of non-contradiction.
Worse, the need for a solution to the problem is immediately diminished.
Stop telling people it’s “okay” that they’re sinners. It’s not. It’s not at all. The penalty for sin is a serious one. The cost of sinfulness is not cheap.
All of humanity is running up a bill that we can’t pay. In our sin, we’re stuck down a well with no ladder; we’re on the Titanic with no life-raft; we’re in a jail cell with no key; we’re in District 12, our name’s just been called, and we’re headed to the Hunger Games. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. Do not diminish the condition, or you WILL diminish the solution.
The essential assumption that can’t be left assumed
If both parts of the title statement are clear I HAVE to continue to the final point, to the climax of the story. Here’s the error I often catch myself in: even if we get both halves right, we can’t forget to finish the story. But, if we do have both halves right, the story will be begging for a resolution.
Yes, we are sinners and no, it’s not okay. We can’t become non-sinners on our own. That would be impossible. Ever tried to pay a bill with no money? How’d that work out for you?
What’s not impossible is for someone else to make us non-sinners. Someone with cash has to pay the bill. The gospel can be summarized in four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Resurrection.
Creation: we were created good, without sin, way back in the beginning, on day 6 of the earth.
Fall: we became sinful, all of humanity, all together, with no hope of saving ourselves, on day 8 of the earth.
Redemption: God became a man and didn’t sin, then willingly died in our place.
He accepted the penalty we deserved. He drowned himself and let us use his body as a life-raft. He jumped into the well and pushed us out. He “volunteered as tribute.” Since he didn’t sin, he actually had some cash on hand and was able to pay the fine we couldn’t pay. He became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God.
How is this redemption, this solution, actualized? Believe that it works. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the seed promised from the beginning (Gen 3:15) then your debt gets paid. By grace, through faith you can have your debt wiped clean. Don’t miss that beautiful 5 letter word. Grace. It is purely an unprompted act of goodness, graciousness, selflessness, love, that God redeemed you. He is under no obligation to get anyone out of the mess of sin we’ve gotten in. He would be completely justified in leaving us alone in our sin and letting us pay the penalty. But he didn’t, and that’s amazing. All you have to do is believe and you get to experience…
Resurrection: The problem of death and sin is finally and ultimately solved. You die once, but you don’t die twice. Death’s sting is assuaged, and hell’s grasp is unclasped. You will live forever, by faith.
We have to preach the whole gospel and we can’t downplay any part of it. This is THE greatest story ever told and we Christians get the honor and responsibility of telling it.
So don’t tell it wrong.
Don’t ignore or downplay the problem. You are a sinner, and it’s not okay. If it were “okay” Jesus wouldn’t have had to die for your sin.
Stop calling sin “okay.” It’s not.
And then remember the rest of the story. This terrible, unthinkable, not-okay problem has been solved by Christ. That message should be the most glorious, smile-inducing, joy-generating news anyone’s ever heard in their life! Christ fixed this huge problem we created and he did it for free! As a gift!
Once you get the whole story right, you wonder why people have such a problem with it… then you go and read Romans and realize why. But that’s another post for another time. For now just remember the gospel. Creation, Fall, Redemption, Resurrection. Yes you have a problem, no it’s not okay, but your problem can be remedied.
I realize that once you have the solution on the table, then busting out the “okay” phrase isn’t as bad. “Okay” is an acceptable way of describing the state of a believer. A believer is okay, they’re covered, they’re effectually made all correct by the blood of Christ. A non-believer can make no such claim and so it is not “okay” for them… yet. Using the “okay” phrase before a person actually believes is an egregious error, and it even runs the risk of softening the merit of Christ’s sacrifice in the mind of the believer, so I consider it best not to run the risk. Don’t call sin okay, ever. It’s way too confusing. There’s better language out there to communicate the same idea, which begs the question, “Why settle for language that is just ‘okay’?”