For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
“All have sinned” (Romans 6:23): Paul’s declaration is clear enough, but far too often people wish to deny it or ignore it. Discussion of “sin” is very uncomfortable and distressing. The idea that sin exists and that we are guilty of it destroys the nice picture we often want to paint of ourselves as good, decent human beings. We want to focus on man’s better points, the more “angelic” part of his nature. The sin and evil elements of humanity are better off ignored or pushed to the margins.
It is almost as if there is a “phobia” about sin in our culture: everyone is afraid of talking about it! Some go so far as to deny the reality of sin, claiming that “sin” was the invention of a certain group of people who wanted to exert power over others or something of the sort. Condemnation of sin, especially the sins of others, is seen as intolerable, bigoted, and highly judgmental anymore. And yet untold billions of people today are suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually as consequences of their own sin and the sins of others! Whereas it used to be that sin was a given and salvation was difficult to believe in or accept, these days it seems as if people accept the idea of being saved, but deny the existence of the very thing from which they should be saved!
We can understand, at least in part, what has taken place over time. Our society promotes the idea that we have undergone a form of “cultural evolution,” and we have a much more optimistic and cheerful view of humanity and its potential than our ancestors. We have also inherited a view that evil is perpetrated because of a lack of knowledge and understanding, and therefore if we educate and illuminate, we can entirely vanquish evil.
Therefore, many people today look at themselves as “basically good.” They understand that yes, they have not always done well, and many times have thought or did something bad, but everyone does those types of things. “Real evil” is always what is done by the “other” people, either in society or in other parts of the world. “We” are the “good people”; it is “those others” that are the “bad people.”
But that is very easy, is it not? What if some of those “others” out in the world say the same thing– that “they” are the “good people,” and it is we who are the “bad people”? And what of the people whom we condemn even in our own society look at “us” and see our sins and our evil and thus condemn us?
Despite our pretensions, and in the face of our discomfort, we must come to grips with our own sin, our evil. Romans 3:23 equally applies to all: everyone has sinned, both “them” and “us.” We can consider many of the lists of sins in Scripture (Romans 1:28-31, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-7, etc.), and yes, the “bad sins” of murder and adultery and such are there, but so are sins like covetousness, foolish talking, fits of anger, lying, cheating, and so forth. And God does not speak of some sins as being more grave or serious than others; all who sin engage in lawlessness, and “all sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:3). We humans may focus on the “quality” of the sin, but in the grand scheme of things, it is all heinous, all terrible!
The Bible is equally clear about the nature and result of sin. Sin is what caused pain, misery, and death on this planet (Romans 5:12-18). It is because of sin that all suffers corruption and decay (Romans 8:20-23). The wages of sin is death eternal separation away from God with torment and misery (Romans 6:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
But this is not all about sin in some abstract sense; we have all sinned, we have all done evil, and therefore we all deserve misery, pain, death, and ultimately torment (Romans 3:9-20, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). We hear such a statement and part of us automatically wants to recoil in disbelief, as if this is not fair or that we, in fact, do not deserve such a fate. That recoil itself condemns us; it shows that we have not really come to terms with how horrendous sin really is, and we have not truly counted the cost of sin!
For sin millions of animals died; for sin the Son of God suffered unspeakable cruelty (cf. Leviticus 1:1-7:38, 2 Corinthians 5:21). We can easily see the effects of sin on ourselves and people we know, and when we see the evil of sin, we can only point the finger back at ourselves, for we too have sinned; we too have done evil. It must not be avoided or papered over; we must confront the ugliness of our sin and its terrible cost. What is the problem with the world? I am!