Growing up, for some reason my right eye became a target. I remember numerous times when objects struck it – metal toy gun, wiffle ball, tennis ball. As a result, I never excelled at activities that required keen eyesight. When your vision is something like 20/400 in one eye without corrective lenses, you don’t earn the nickname, “Eagle Eye.” So I avoided competitions that involved targets, like archery. However, you don’t need to be a skilled archer to understand the principles of the sport.
The target has a series of concentric circles, with the small one in the middle called the “bull’s-eye.” (I understand most archers prefer the term “the gold,” since that’s the color of the central circle on the target. But since I’m not an archer, I’ll stick with bull’s-eye. The objective is to shoot the arrow as close to the bull’s-eye as possible. If you hit the bull’s-eye, people might say you have a “good eye.” If you can hit the bull’s-eye multiple times, you’ll probably win the competition.
Do you know what they call an expert archer? A “toxophilite.” Remember that for the next time that question is asked on a tough crossword puzzle. Why do I mention this? Because, according to the Bible, no one is a toxophilite, spiritually speaking.
The Greek word “sin” literally means, “to miss the mark.” So when we read in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God,” it means because our actions, thoughts and words consistently miss God’s “mark,” we can never succeed in life on our own. In terms of personal performance, the only people who could earn their way into heaven would be those who hit the bull’s-eye every time, from their first breath to the moment they breathe their last.
When we sin – miss the mark – we start earning our “wages,” but these wages aren’t good. Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death….” Uh-oh. Bad news, right? If we stop there, we realize there’s no hope for us. The Bible teaches good intentions aren’t good enough. As someone has said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I try to love my wife as Christ loved the Church, and sincerely intend to do so, but I’m not always successful. I’ve made good progress at controlling my temper, but sometimes I fail. I definitely know I should be kinder, more considerate, more compassionate than I am. Do I wish I were better? No question. But too often when I take aim with my spiritual bow, the result is a resounding, “Sin!”
Fortunately, there’s a second part to Romans 6:23. After defining sin’s wages as death – eternal separation from God – it offers good news: “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Like any true gift, we didn’t earn it or deserve it. Nevertheless, it’s offered freely. All we have to do is receive it.
What if someone thinks, “Hey, I’m not a bad person. Quit talking about this sin stuff. Maybe I do sin, but not that much!” Our pastor recently gave an example putting this into perspective. He said suppose you’re a super-good person – people can find little fault with what you do. Let’s say you sin only three times a day. The rest of the time, your thoughts, words and deeds are, as they say, pure as the driven snow. Pretty good, right?
Well, do the math: Just three sins a day. Over the course of a 365-day year, that’s still well over 1,000 sins. And who do you know who truly sins only three times a day? Remember, Jesus said all the commandments boil down essentially to two things: Loving God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. How are you doing with those?
When the gravity of this truth finally hits home, there’s only one proper reaction: “Lord, have mercy!” Again, there’s good news. He does have mercy – and grace. Two foundational passages from the Scriptures tell us this. Ephesians 2:8-9 declares, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” And Titus 3:5 states, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Entire books could be written about this central, biblical doctrine. In fact, many already have. Just as my imperfect eyes prevented me from ever becoming an expert marksman – or toxophilite – our brokenness causes us to repeatedly miss the mark of God’s perfect standard.
Thankfully, His love and favor aren’t based on our capacity for hitting the bull’s-eye. Jesus did all that’s necessary: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We don’t need to hit the “bull’s-eye,” because Jesus has done it for us.