Is It True that “All Have Sinned”?
HAVE you ever wondered why, in spite of all the efforts of sincere people, man has so far failed to solve most of his pressing problems? Why is it that, although having a fairly clear vision of what he wants—peace, prosperity, happiness, freedom from sickness—he seems to be getting farther and farther from these desirable goals?
A major reason is found in these words of the apostle Paul: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Yes, most of mankind’s endeavors have been frustrated by human sinfulness.
Some may question the apostle Paul’s remark. They may say: ‘How can you believe that I am a sinner? I don’t do any harm to my neighbor. I live a quiet life and don’t cause any trouble. What sins do I commit?’ The truth is, however, that sin involves more than merely hurting our neighbor or causing trouble. Yes, these things are sins, and to avoid them is commendable. But the word “sin” has a wider application. Paul associated it with ‘falling short of the glory of God.’ Hence, it has to do with our relationship with our Creator, Jehovah God.
The words translated “sin” in our modern Bibles originally carried the thought of “missing the mark” of perfect obedience. Obedience to what? To God’s will. Hence, a modern Bible dictionary says: “Sin is both a falling away from a relationship of faithfulness towards God and also disobedience to the commandments and the law.” Since this is the case, only God himself can authoritatively tell us what he views as sin, and this he has done in the Bible.
Some Examples of Sin
First of all, many things that are coming to be acceptable in the modern world really are wrong. The Bible says: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Yes, adultery, fornication and homosexuality are sins. And so is stealing.
True, many people avoid immorality and stealing, and this is fine. But there are other sins. Our speech, as well as our actions, can be sinful. Lying is a sin. So is slanderous gossip, angry speech and reviling. (Col. 3:9; Ps. 101:5; Eph. 4:31) Additionally, Paul said: “Do not grumble, as some of them grumbled and perished by the destroyer.” (1 Cor. 10:10, The Bible in Living English) James condemned bragging, while Paul advised us to avoid foolish talking and obscene jesting. (Jas. 4:16; Eph. 5:4) Can any of us honestly say that he has never sinned in at least one of the foregoing ways? It is doubtful. James, the brother of Jesus, said: “If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (Jas. 3:2) Can any of us claim to be perfect? No.
This same disciple cited another way that we can sin. He said: “If one knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him.” (Jas. 4:17) How could this be? Well, imagine a man walking along the sidewalk when suddenly a child dashes out of a garden in front of him and onto the busy street. What if the man is in a position to save the child from being run over but just ignores him and walks past. True, he does not do anything wrong. But the fact that he fails to do something to help the child would be a sin for him. How many times have all of us failed to act in a really loving way toward our fellow humans, or toward God? Each time we fail, it is a sin.
Wrong attitudes can also be sinful. Haughtiness and arrogance are condemned by the Bible, as is cowardice. (Prov. 21:4; Rev. 21:8) Even wrong thoughts are sinful. The last of the Ten Commandments states: “You must not desire your fellowman’s house. You must not desire your fellowman’s wife, nor his slave man nor his slave girl nor his bull nor his ass nor anything that belongs to your fellowman.”—Ex. 20:17.
How can we prevent wrong desires from entering our mind? Perhaps by getting preoccupied with something healthful. But if this does not work, we just have to recognize them for what they are and fight them. (1 Cor. 9:27) These wrong desires are sins in God’s eyes.—Prov. 21:2.
Finally, false religion can lead us into sin. Apart from such wrong practices as idolatry and spiritism, which are expressly forbidden in the Bible, merely belonging to a false religion is shown to be sinful. Describing false religion as a great worldwide city called Babylon the Great, the last book of the Bible says: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4) False religion is guilty of great sins. She has misrepresented the only true God, persecuted God’s true servants and mixed in with politics. All of those who belong to false religion share in those sins in that they support the organizations that commit them.
Why Are We Sinful?
Reference has been made to only a few of the ways that we can fall into sin. Many others are outlined in the Bible. After considering them, you may come to the conclusion that it is impossible to avoid sinning in one way or another. You probably agree with King Solomon, who said: “There is no man that does not sin.” (1 Ki. 8:46) God himself noted: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Gen. 8:21) Yes, many things cause us to sin, but especially does the weakness of our own flesh.
Why should this be? It is a matter of inheritance. Originally, our first parents, Adam and Eve, did not have this problem. They were perfect and could make balanced, reasonable decisions as to sin. But they made a wrong choice, decided to rebel against God, and, hence, fell from perfection to imperfection. Because of this, they left to all their children a legacy of sinful, wrong tendencies. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Rom. 5:12.
Hence, even with the best motivation in the world, we cannot avoid sinning. Why? The apostle Paul himself confessed: “The good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice”! (Rom. 7:19) We all have the same problem.
The result has been disastrous for humankind. Man’s best intentions have been frustrated by his own fallibility. Selfishness and greed result in pollution, poverty and injustice. Suspicion and mistrust cause instability in international relations as well as in families. Corruption and crime hinder the efforts of countries to make progress. And there is little that man can do about it.
Additionally, in view of the inherent sinfulness of humans, the rule stated at Romans 6:23 hangs like a sinister cloud over our heads: “The wages sin pays is death.” There is nothing we can do on our own to avoid suffering the death penalty for our sins, since there is nothing that we can do to avoid sinning completely. We are largely at the mercy of our own imperfection.
Is that all there is to it? Will man always be prevented by his own weaknesses from realizing his highest dreams and aspirations? No. For there is One who can help us. The apostle Paul, having confessed his personal inability to avoid falling into sin, goes on to say: “Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death?” His answer? “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24, 25) Yes, the realization of just how much we are under the power of sin and our helplessness to rescue ourselves make us appreciate the great love and consideration of God who has helped us. But how has he done this?