What does it mean to be a sinner? The Webster Comprehensive Dictionary – encyclopedic edition defines sin as, “A lack of conformity to, or a transgression, especially when deliberate, of a law, precept, or principle regarded as having divine authority. 2) The state of condition of having transgressed; wickedness.” This definition tells us two important things: 1) To sin is to be in deliberate violation of divine law, and 2) to be in such a state of non-conformity is to stand in a state of wickedness. Therefore to be a sinner is to be one who deliberately violates Gods law and because of this is reckoned wicked. Such is the state of man.
Because our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, transgressed by deliberately violating God’s command in the Garden of Eden, sin entered God’s perfect creation and the nature of man was changed. Scripture tells us, “…then the eyes of both of them were opened…” (Gen. 3:7a). Our first parents willfully crossed a line over which they could not retreat. They, and we, would pay the price for this wickedness by being separated from the relationship with God for which humans had been created. There was nothing they could do to fix the situation and they knew it.
There was something, however, that God could do, and He assured his unruly children that, in His own good time, He would fix what they had put so wrong. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God told the serpent in the garden, “and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Adam and Eve many not have understood exactly how God would work out His plan to restore creation to the perfect state it was in before the fall, but they trusted Him and His promise. And, while they may not have understood the details, we can – through the New Testament, which shows us the completion of God’s plan in Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world,” Scripture tells us, “that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The really amazing thing though, is that God undertook and completed His plan of salvation before we humans did any “good” thing to earn God’s love. While God was still sorting things out in the Garden of Eden with Adam, Eve and the serpent, He already had a plan. I imagine that Adam and Eve were probably trying to come up with something else to say to God – some explanation or excuse – while he was talking to the serpent. But, before He even talked to them again, God announced His plan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and hers…” God would save mankind, not because of anything we could, would, or even promise to do. He would save us out of His own divine goodness.
According to St. Paul, we were “dead” in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Just as a corpse cannot do anything to make itself live again, so we can do nothing to resurrect ourselves spiritually. God had to do that for us all by himself. Scripture says:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2: 4-7).
How then do we respond to God, who has kept His promise to save us, in Christ Jesus? Surely our response cannot be to act and live the way we did when we were “dead” in our sins. St. Paul tells us in Romans, chapter eight:
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Romans 8: 12-14).
We need to live according to the Spirit, and by the power of God, cultivate the fruits of the Spirit. St. Paul tells us to test our actions, in Galatians chapter six:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load (Galatians 6: 4-5).
We need to take care not to gratify the desires of our sinful nature and live according to something that we no longer are, for in Christ, as St. Paul says, we are a new creation. The sinful nature is hungry – we should starve it. In place of the food we would give it, we should feed ourselves, by God’s power, with His Word, His Holy Supper and regular worship and fellowship with other Christians. As a result, God will cultivate in us the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – and by these fruits we will not only be a blessing to others, but God will also use us to show others His saving Grace in Jesus Christ.