What is a "sinner?"

In order to be people whose lives are centered in the gospel of Jesus, we need to understand grace. And in order to understand grace, we need to understand sin and what it means to be a sinner. But what if we fundamentally misunderstand the word "sinner?" The trouble is, most people, both non-Christians and Christians, tend to think a sinner is a person with loose morals or a mean spirit or some other vice. But that's not at all what the Bible means by "sinner."

Eugene Peterson gives a helpful explanation of what "sinner" means. The word "sinner" is not a moral designation...
The word sinner is a theological designation. It is essential to insist on this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively "good" or "bad." It designates humans in relation to God and sees them as separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment. The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God.
To see a person as sinner, then, is not to see him or her as hypocritical, disgusting, or evil. Most sinners are very nice people. To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals. It is a theological fact that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace. (The Contemplative Pastor, 118-119)


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