What is Sin (Romans 3:23-24)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

(Romans 3:23-24)

As you may have seen already, the title today is “What is sin.” I once wrote a letter to someone in order to evangelize him. And the letter’s content was mostly saying, “You are a sinner.” Later, I found out that he was quite offended after reading my letter. He was offended because I called him a sinner, and of course no person would be happy to hear that.

But in his instance, he was greatly offended by it. Not long before receiving my letter, he had gone through a divorce. For a long time, he and his wife had a hard time, although they did earn a fair amount of money, but they divorced. When I wrote to him, I had no knowledge of that, but he thought I was criticizing him about his divorce. However, just because a person is divorced does not deprive him of his right to come to church, nor does it make him a worse sinner than others.

The reason I said he was a sinner was not because he had committed something wrong. If we were to pick on every wrong doing and expose it, no one would be able to say to anyone “You are a sinner!” Even if you might think you are innocent and sinless in your own eyes, person more righteous than you will still see you as a sinner. In that sense, it is a very subjective way of judging a person as a sinner.

While such judgment is subjective, who’s subjective judgment is the most important? It is God’s. In the eyes of God, he is a sinner. Thus, when I wrote to him, declaring he was a sinner, it wasn’t about expressing my personal viewpoint, such as “In my point of view, you are a sinner. Divorce is wrong.” Instead, I was telling him, “You are a sinner before God”.

A sinner before God. This is a serious matter. Because if we are sinners before God, we cannot go before God. We cannot meet God. God Himself is pure and holy and perfect. Therefore, He cannot meet sinners at all. Sinners won’t be able to go before His presence.

In the old days, sinners were not allowed to stand before the king. If anyone had to meet the king, the individual’s sins had to be pardoned first. Moreover, since a commoner could not meet the king, they had to be given an office. If the king has to meet a man deserving of death, he first needs to pardon the man of his trespass, appoint him into office, and then clothe him appropriately for the meeting. It was impossible for a lowly sinner to directly face the king in the same space.

How then could we, utterly lowly sinners, possibly meet with God? It is impossible. So, what happens next? We are unable to receive the good things God intends for us. The purpose of our faith life is actually this: striving to receive the good things God has. This is also God’s will.

God is full of virtue. If He has anything good, He wants to share it with us. Though we are sinners, He wants to share them with us. This is God’s nature. It’s very different to man’s nature, isn’t it? When a person has something good, he wants it all to himself. If he is willing to share it would be only his family or close friends. People don’t want to share it with others they don’t know. But with our God, whatever good thing He has, He wants to give us, even to sinners. However, sinners are inherently unable to meet God, and therefore, are unable to receive what He offers.

There are many things God gives. While we are living on earth, we can receive various kinds of help and abundance from God. But more important than them is God’s life. The life that God has is called eternal life. Eternal life belongs to God. That’s what we need to receive. Yet sinners cannot. They cannot receive the eternal life God is giving them. This is the greatest problem.

If we fail to receive eternal life and depart this world, where does our spirit go? It will face eternal death. When we think of death, we think it is the end. However, the spirit doesn’t disappear. So eternal death means the spirit suffering in hell, the lake of fire. Hence, God called us in order that we don’t perish in this way but have eternal life.

To receive that we first have to realize we are sinners. That was why I wrote to him, “You are a sinner!” However, he took it the wrong way. He was offended by it, and although our relationship has been mended, he still doesn’t have faith. Later on, he said, “Is there anyone who doesn’t sin?” But when I say “sinner” right now, I’m not saying that one is a sinner because he committed sin. Even if he didn’t commit sins, he is a sinner. Anyone separated from God is a sinner.

So, when you come before God and go to church, there is a first condition before you can lead your faith life. This condition is that you admit, “I am a sinner!” Anyone that says, “I’m righteous and lack nothing”, will not be able to meet God. Regardless of how zealous he might go to church, he can’t meet God. First you must acknowledge, “I’m a sinner!” I’m not saying you should be confessing every single sin you committed. I mean you are a sinner before God. You are sinner who has no right to receive anything God is giving, who has no right to meet God.

What is the reason that you’re a sinner? It is not because you sinned, but because the first man God made sinned and betrayed God. Therefore, everyone born thereafter who belong to him is all sinner. All the people born in North Korea are North Korean, regardless of their kindness. No matter how virtuous their lives are, they can’t live in South Korea. Sinners means someone who cannot meet with God.

Yet, God wants to meet us. He aims to give us life. Why has this life been granted to me? What is the meaning of life? How should I live from now on? God holds the answers to all these questions. To obtain these answers, we must meet God. For that, we must first acknowledge, ‘I am a sinner!’ and go before Him.

However, imagine a person approaching God, admitting, ‘I’m a sinner!’ How would God respond to that? You should listen carefully to the second step. If you just say, “I’m a sinner” and go before God, you the sinner would need to be punished because God is righteous and just. The wages of sin is death. There is only death. Therefore, you must know what comes next. God doesn’t want us to be in death which is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ. The works done by Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God when He came was that He took up your sins.

Why did the Son of God suffer and die on the cross? He is the beloved of God. So why did He have to face such a wretched end and be crucified? It wasn’t for His own sins. Remember we just said we are sinners? He carried the price of our sins and was crucified for them. People think He was a sinner, yet it was not His sins but ours as a matter of fact. Thus, Jesus’ death penalty was for our sins, which He carried and died. That’s what you need to acknowledge.

Jesus’ death took place 2000 years ago. But you may have two different approaches to it. One approach is that you don’t believe Jesus is God’s Son and that it was of His own sins He was condemned and died. The other approach is this: “Jesus is God’s Son. But He was given the death sentence. Why? The sin He bore and died was not His own but mine!”

Thus, if you confess to God, “I am a sinner!” you are saying, “Jesus is without sin!” Otherwise, if you say, “I’m not a sinner!” you are in turn saying, “Jesus is a sinner!” It’s one or the other. It’s either that Jesus is a sinner or I am. He died because of sin, but if you claim not to be a sinner, you are making Jesus a sinner. But if you confess you are a sinner, He died being without sin.

Our God has already made the decision. “Jesus is without sin!” So, He raised Jesus from the dead three days later even though men killed Him. God proved that He was sinless. But if we still say, “I’m without sin”, we make God’s judgement wrong and that He is a liar. How can God meet with someone who says to Him, “God You’re a liar. You’re wrong!”? How can God even communicate with such a person who despises God? God already proved that Jesus is without sin and that He died for our sins, and thus He raised Him from the dead. Yet if we claim to be without sin, we are making God out to be a liar. So, how can we have any fellowship with Him? Then how can we receive anything God is trying to give us?

Therefore, the first step to meeting God is admitting this: “I am a sinner. Jesus is without sin”. Christians are those who testify Jesus’ innocence. The world accuses Jesus as a sinner and makes up rumors of what He didn’t even do. Some people even say that Jesus has a secret child somewhere living in the world. They make up these stories. And many people have misunderstandings of Jesus as a result.

But we, Christians, are those who clarify these misunderstandings and advocate for Jesus. Why? Because we have recognized the truth that Jesus is righteous, and as a result, we have obtained eternal life. Furthermore, we received the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of God, possess God’s happiness, receive answers to prayers and get to use all the heavenly resources. We have such amazing experiences which is why we can boldly testify. “Jesus is without sin. He died for my sin! Jesus did not deserve such a fate!”

You now probably understand the meaning of confessing “I’m a sinner.” This is not something to be ashamed of before God. To confess you’re a sinner before God is something that actually pleases God. Why? Because you are acknowledging that Jesus is without sin and standing by God’s side.

You must confess this. “I am a sinner. Thank You for sending Your Son to redeem me from all of my sins, to pay the price of my sin. God, I desire to meet You. I no longer want to just hear about You through others; I want to actually meet God. Inspire me God!” Pray in this way. When you pray, God will not only give you intellectual understanding but will truly meet you. You should meet God.

For that, you must understand that you, not Jesus, are the sinner. It is you who should face death and eternal destruction, not Jesus. However, Jesus died. Because of this, you no longer face eternal perishment. This is what we give thanks for.

We are no longer sinners who are to perish; we are sinners who received grace. Sinners who received grace. People inside the church are not just “good people”. The church is not a gathering of saintly people. The church is not an assembly of noble people. Don’t be mistaken. The church is where sinners gather. Those who acknowledged they are sinners and surrendered gather in the church. The church is a place where sinners who received grace come together. So, everyone, even if you haven’t received grace yet, confess “I’m a sinner” and receive grace so that you will be sinners who have received grace. I bless you in Jesus’ name. God will accept you as His children. He will no longer treat you as sinners. I’ll pray.

Father God, I pray for those who are here, if anyone hasn’t met God yet, if anyone wants to receive God’s eternal life but doesn’t know how to, help them to confess that our God sent Jesus Christ to pay the price of all our sins, and that Jesus is without sin. Help them to confess that the sin He died with is theirs. Help them also to receive the Lord’s grace and live a new life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center