Traditional legal Model – a sinner is someone who commits a sin as in “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4) However, many people would call someone a sinner only if they were particularly bad and significantly worse (in terms of visible acts) than themselves.
Biblical Healing Model – the Bible says that “all have sinned” (Rom 3:23) therefore all are sinners by nature even before they are sinners by action. A sinner is not a sinner merely because of an action. They are already sinners by inherited nature. However, that nature can change upon repentance, (a change of heart) at which point the person (while perhaps not sinless) has a different attitude towards God and could be referred to as a saint.
From a Modern Dictionary
1. a person who sins; transgressor.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
1. One that has voluntarily violated the divine law; a moral agent who has voluntarily disobeyed any divine precept, or neglected any known duty.
2. It is used in contradistinction to saint, to denote an unregenerate person; one who has not received the pardon of his sins.
Sinner Definition; What Does the Bible Say?
To many people, a sinner is just someone who commits more or worse sins (in their minds) than themselves. But the Bible says:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Rom 3:23)
If all have sinned, it is logical that all are sinners. But doesn’t “all” include young children, even babies? Have they sinned? Here is a similar verse:
“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;” (Rom 3:9)
What does “under sin” mean? Perhaps under the guilt of sin or under condemnation for their sins? But what about a newborn who can’t be said to have committed an act of sin? Scripture is clear that a person is not held guilty for the sins of another:
“… The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Eze 18:20)
So “all” cannot be considered guilty of having consciously committed a sinful act. But all are under the effects of the sinful nature they had no choice in receiving.
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Pa 51:5)
That verse is not saying that the act of conception is sinful but that the nature of that which is conceived is sinful. “In sin” could be “with a sinful nature.” With that fallen nature it is very easy to yield to sin with this result:
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)
As death is contrasted with “eternal life,” the death being referred to is the eternal or second death. [Refer to The Lake of Fire and the Second Death ebook]
So in Romans 6:23 (“… the wages of sin is death …”) the death is not punishment for sin but the natural effects of having inherited a fallen, weakened nature making us more prone to sin leading to eternal death unless that nature is changed.
And note that the wages are not paid by God but by sin itself (as a consequence) as stated in this version:
“For sin pays its wage–death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23, Good News Translation)
So, sinner, don’t think you are any better than someone else who has committed worse sins. We are all sinners – contaminated from conception with a sinful nature. What we all need is not simply more effort to stop from committing acts of sin (which is still good to do) but more effort to behold the glory and goodness in the character of God which will lead to repentance (Rom 2:4) and the change in nature from sinner to saint that we all need.
Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary