For years, and I do mean years, I heard teachers say that “sin” merely means, “missing the mark.” I had heard that from several of the top preachers of the day and presumed they knew what they were talking about. But I began considering this concept, and it troubled me. For sure, there is nothing new under the sun.
It is saying, “Oops. We all make mistakes!” The problem is, it is a highly narrow rendering of the Greek word for sin (“hamartano”). It makes you think of a kindly grandfather telling his 5-year-old grandson who just knocked his glass of milk over. “Oh, my! Don’t worry Billy, those things happen. All of us have boo-booed.” Indeed, Billy accidently spilling his glass of milk was an accident and not a sin! But that has nothing to do with “hamartano.”
Not only is it a very narrow interpretation of the word, it is also a distortion of what the Bible teaches on sin. Sin isn’t a failure to reach a grand intention. It is a rebellion against a loving, and just God. A kind of treason that would be unpardonable was it not for the cross of Christ. It is not an“oops” that is implied by this “missing the mark” argument. As Paul points out, sin is the power of death!
It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, then, who gives us the victory over these things through our Lord Jesus Christ! (I Corinthians 15:55-57)
The Bible does not teach that sin is “missing the mark.” Instead, it defines sin as an offense against God, either through neglect or conscious intent. I John 3:4 says, “Those who live sinful lives are disobeying God. Sin is disobedience!”
If you use the “missing the mark” interpretation, you give the idea that sinners are only trying their very best but, dang, somehow they just fell short. Oops. They goofed up. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: sinners are not doing their best, even by human standards. They are doing pretty much what they want to do, which is to live for themselves and couldn’t care less what Yahweh thinks.
Indeed, the verb “hamartano” (αμαρτανω) was used in pre-Classical and Classical Greek. For instance, Homer used it in the Iliad when he was talking about a man who failed to hit his opponent with a spear. In other contexts, you would see it when you were talking about someone who got lost on the road. More generally it meant, “to do wrong or sin.” By the time they were writing the New Testament, the average reader would never have heard the word as “miss the mark,” unless, as I already state, they were thinking about Homer’s Iliad (written 800 years earlier).
In the initial days of my faith, I was always taught to take people to Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Then I would ask, “Now, haven’t you made some mistakes? Is anyone free from wrong?” Of course, the correct, and easy answer was “No, of course not, all of us make mistakes.” Ah-ha! I got ’em! And then I would begin to tell them that God would save us from our sin.
Take a look at Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. The theme there is almost entirely about God’s “salvation” and needs a little explanation to our modern minds. You see, in Paul’s mind, God was pre-eminently the God of Righteousness and moral perfection. In our modern days, when the majority of people view God as a vague, easy-going, Grand-fatherly, Benevolence, it is hard to appreciate the force of Paul’s problem or the wonder of its solution.
To our modern minds, we don’t need to be “saved.” Saved? From what? Years ago someone began displaying signs, “I found it!” (referring to salvation), but the usual response was, “I never lost it!”
Well, as J.B. Phillips wrote:
“If we are prepared to grant the absolute moral perfection of God, eternally aflame with positive goodness, truth, and beauty, we can perhaps understand that any form of sin or evil cannot approach God without instant dissolution. This is as inevitable as, for example, the destruction of certain germs by the light of the sun.
“How then, asks Paul, can a man who has failed and, moreover, sinned deliberately, ever approach God or hope to share in His timeless existence?
“Well, the Father of Creation offered the Law as the first approach. If you could completely obey the Laws of God, then you would be free of all moral taint and would be able to approach Him safely and without fear of retribution. But unfortunately, as Paul explains quite plainly in Romans, and at some length, I might add, men have failed to keep either the Law revealed to the Hebrews or the universal moral law of human conscience.”
This is what the Creator wanted to prove to men. You see, not only have they broken those laws, there was absolutely nothing they could do to remove their guilt. The Law, which was supposed to be a “sign post” pointing the way to God, became nothing but a warning notice. This was the crux of Paul’s problem.
The heart of the Gospel is that God Himself meets this deadlock by a personal visit to this world. It is what He had in mind ever since Adam’s first act of treason. God, as Jesus Christ, became a man, and deliberately accepted the ultimate consequences of evil, namely, suffering and death. So, any person who sincerely entrusts their life to Christ can now be accepted by God—by God’s personal act of atonement. Salvation, or being safe from the horrible long-term consequences of sin and safe in the presence of God’s utter Holiness, now becomes a matter of “believing” and not “achieving.”
This is all worked out in Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Rome. Spend some time reading it.
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