We must understand what the word "Sinner" means in our question before proceeding any further. Let's begin our examination of this word in Romans 3:23. Here we read words familiar to most, if not all, of us: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;". Before we go on, we must understand the word "all" used in this verse. We have examined in detail the doctrine of original sin, and shown it to be a false doctrine. Does Romans 3:23 refute our earlier study? Well, let's see. First, we must discover the reason(s) we sin. God has not left us "in the dark" when it comes to answering these issues. His word tells us all we need to know to be complete in Him (2 Tim 3:16,17). James shows us what is necessary for one to sin (James 1:13). First, one is tempted. But what must one have in order to be tempted? Lust (verse 14). Is lust alone enough to sin? No. Lust must "conceive" in order to bring forth sin. So, if one resists temptation and does not allow their lust to "conceive", they have not sinned. But Romans tells us that no one (other than Christ) has been successful in preventing completely the lust within them from conceiving, so all have sinned.
But are children included in Paul's statement in Romans 3:23? If they are, then they must have lust that they have allowed to conceive, bringing forth sin. If children have sinned, will they enter heaven should they die as children? No. Recall from our prior studies how those who die in their sins are absolutely unable to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 8:21). Did Jesus teach that children would enter the kingdom of heaven should they die? Yes. Consider Matthew 18:3. Jesus tells the disciples "except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Here Jesus tells us who will fail to enter the kingdom of heaven--those who fail to become as little children. What does this tell us about little children? They will enter the kingdom of heaven should they die. If adults must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, those who are already little children WILL enter heaven should they die in that state. Now, since we know little children will enter heaven should they die, are they sinners? No. Those who die in their sins are absolutely unable to enter the kingdom of heaven. Since they are not sinners, are they in a clean state because they were washed of their sin, or do they not yet have sin? Again recall from our prior studies what one must do in order to have their sin forgiven: They must hear the word, believe the word, repent of sin, confess Jesus' name before men, and be baptized for the remission of sin. Does the word "hear" in the preceding sentence refer to the physical act of hearing, or to the understanding of the word spoken? Both. We see in example after example recorded in Acts that other men taught those being converted. However, once they heard the word with their ears they had to understand, believe, and apply the word to their lives. Understanding the word taught leads to the type of belief necessary to achieve forgiveness of sin (again, the word is pisteuo and is comprised of three components: a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God's revelation or truth; a personal surrender to Him; a conduct inspired by such surrender. This is not mere credence that Jesus walked on this earth as a man 2000 years ago. It is a total surrender of one's will to His will. See Vine's for additional information.) How can a child be expected to fulfill these requirements if they cannot understand the word spoken, and are incapable of confessing from the heart their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? They can't. Therefore, is a child washed of sin or yet to commit sin? They have not yet committed sin. Since they have not yet committed sin, do they have no lust or have they not yet failed to prevent their lust from conceiving, bringing forth sin? I cannot say from the scriptures. It is a moot point anyway. We know a child has not committed sin; why they have not committed sin is irrelevant. We know they will eventually commit sin as they allow their lust to conceive and bring forth sin. It is only common sense that one must have lust before one can allow it to conceive, so the lust must come before the failure to prevent its conception. But what time lapses between the appearance of lust and the conception of such lust is unknown to me.
So we see from the scriptures that Romans 3:23 does not refute our prior study regarding original sin. Original sin is a man-made doctrine with no support within the Word of God. Romans 3:23 tells us that all who are of age to have lust and to allow such lust to conceive have done so, and thereby have committed sin. But we know that not all of these sinners will spend eternity in hell. So let's return to our evaluation of the word "Sinner." We know that all have sinned, but are all "sinners"? You're probably asking "What does this question mean, are all those who have sinned sinners?" Of course, all who have sinned were at one time sinners, but do they remain so? This is the question I wish to address now.
You recall how I decided to title my web site, "So you want to go to heaven...". Since you are reading these words I'm sure that is your desire. God in His mercy and grace has provided a way for sinful man to enter heaven and enjoy its glory for eternity. But we cannot pass through the gates into heaven with unforgiven sin. In our Sunday morning Bible class we are currently studying the book of Romans. The past two weeks we've discussed Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. "Propitiation" is a word I'm sure few of us have ever used in every day conversation outside a Bible study dealing with this word. The Greek word is hilasterion, and simply means "mercy seat." Remember from the old covenant how the high priest would enter the holy of holies once every year, carrying blood that would be sprinkled on the mercy seat (the lid covering the ark of the covenant) for atonement of the sins of the people? However, one great limitation to the old law was the fact that the blood of bulls and goats offered year after year could never achieve the forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 10:4). So Jesus, by the will of God and His own sacrifice, laid down His life for the sins of the world. His blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat for us. This precious sacrifice was so much superior to that of bulls and goats--by it we have true forgiveness of sin. What happened to the veil separating the sanctuary of the temple from the holy of holies at Jesus' death? It was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51)! No longer was access to God restricted by the veil. We now have access directly to the Father through the flesh of Jesus Christ, which he offered, for our forgiveness (Hebrews 10:18-20). See the powerful meaning of "propitiation"? Why would anyone wish to return to the religious practices of the old law with its manifold limitations? Each and every one of us may approach the throne of God, but only if we have submitted our lives and wills to Him!
Let's return briefly to Acts 22:16. Paul is recounting the events that took place on the Damascus road, and after he met Ananias. Ananias told Paul to "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." In an earlier study we've seen how Paul was still a sinner when he entered Damascus, blind from the glory of the light that shone round about him. Not until he submitted to the commandments of God were his sins washed away. Was Paul different after his baptism? He most certainly was! All the sins he committed prior to his baptism were washed away! Did he never again sin? Yes he did. Please turn to 1 John 1:8-10. John clearly states that the people to whom he was writing would sin. He went so far as to say that if they stated they have not sinned they make God a liar! But was John writing to Christians or non-Christians? To Christians! What pronoun did John use in 1:8? "We." Would John sin again? Yes! He included himself among those to whom he was writing when he said, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,". Turn now to verse 7 of chapter 2. How does he refer to the recipients of his letter? "Brethren." These were fellow Christians to whom John was writing this epistle. Clearly, John and those who had submitted to the will of God in obedience would continue to sin. But how did they differ from those who had never been obedient? They ceased committing "willful" sin. What is "willful" sin? Willful sin is that sin committed voluntarily or willingly. For example, if I as a Christian know it is wrong to steal but steal anyway, I have committed willful sin. I have voluntarily submitted my actions to serve the purpose of Satan. We read in Hebrews 10:26 that there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins for those who sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth. Since there no longer remains a sacrifice for such sin, these sins are not forgiven unless repented of. But, for those who don't sin willingly the blood of Jesus "cleanseth" us from all sin (1 John 1:7). The word "cleanseth" is a powerful statement of the magnitude of grace given to those who are obedient to the commandments of God. "Cleanseth" indicates an active and ongoing cleansing of sin committed by the Christian. Since these brethren continued to sin, but there remained a sacrifice for them, what can we say about the sin they committed? It was not voluntary (willful). None of us can live our lives free of sin. However, we can live our lives free of willful sin. If we have been obedient to the will of God the blood of Jesus actively washes us clean of the involuntary sin we commit.
Let's return to a consideration of the word "sinner." We see from the scriptures that there are two general groups of people living today who have passed the "age of accountability" (i.e. the age at which one is capable of understanding right from wrong): Those who have been obedient to the will of God and have had their sins washed away, and those who haven't. However, the group of obedient people consists of those who remain faithful, and those who resume committing willful sin. Those who never have been obedient and those who were obedient but resumed willful sin do not have access to the cleansing blood of Christ. They are "sinners" in the purest form of the word. However, those who are obedient and remain faithful have their sins continually washed by the blood of Jesus. In our original question "Does God hear a sinner's prayer", the word "sinner" refers to the group of people who have never been obedient, or who were obedient but resumed voluntary sin. Now, let's find the answer to our question.