Missing the Mark

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

- James 4:17

Guilt as an objective reality has been the focus thus far of our study of what the Bible has to say about guilt and forgiveness. We have seen that although the subjective feelings of guilt may not be present in us every time that we break the law, guilt feelings have no bearing on whether we are objectively guilty. Law is a concrete standard, and regardless of how guilty one might feel, one has either kept the law or has not.

The universal sense of guilt is one important point of contact that provides an opening for us to share the gospel with those who are not yet saved. Some may object, however, when we mention Scripture’s teaching that all people are guilty before God for breaking His law (Rom. 3:9–20). If they reject the authority of the Bible, they will protest that Scripture’s teaching is not enough to convince them. It is fairly easy to respond to this, however, because we do not need to rely on Scripture alone in order to point out humanity’s collective, objective guilt. Besides the feelings of guilt that people experience and to which we can appeal, there is also the proverbial wisdom of mankind that includes within it a recognition that something is objectively wrong with people. Think of the familiar saying “nobody’s perfect.” Although in itself this phrase does not acknowledge the law of the Lord, it recognizes that there is an ideal that no one meets. It recognizes that there is some kind of objective rule of perfection known to all people but that no one has ever actually fulfilled this standard. (As Christians, we of course understand that there actually is one man who has lived a perfect life, namely, Jesus Christ.)

That people know there is some objective standard that no one has fulfilled is evidence of God’s general revelation, His witness to Himself that is accessible to all people via their consideration of the world and the voice of their consciences. Moreover, it is interesting that one of the words for sin in the New Testament is the Greek word hamartia, which originally meant “to miss the mark.” It was first used to describe archers whose arrows missed the target. Although “missing the mark” does not exhaust the meaning of sin in Scripture, it offers an important perspective on transgression. Sin is not only crossing the line and breaking God’s law (such as in stealing when theft is forbidden), but it is also the failure to do all that the Lord requires. No matter how obedient we have been to God, we always lack something. Nothing we do is ever good enough to fully meet His requirements.

Coram Deo

Human beings have a universal sense of oughtness. We know that we ought to meet certain standards. We know that we ought to be better than we are, and so we are always trying to improve ourselves morally, physically, spiritually, and so forth. This oughtness testifies to the universal knowledge that there is a transcendent standard that we fail to meet. As we share the gospel, we should point to this sense in order to help people understand their guilt before God.

Passages for Further Study

Nehemiah 9:34
Matthew 5:48
Matthew 21:28–32

Matthew 25:14-30
Luke 6:49

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.