Isn’t Sin Just “Missing the Mark?”

Questioning Evangelism

During Sunday’s Gospel Conversations class, I quoted a bit from a great book I read over the summer: Questioning Evangelism. The title does not mean the author questions the value of evangelism — rather, he advocates evangelism that is characterized by asking lots of questions. If you want a smart, fresh take on evangelism, I highly recommend this book. (Also see the review at 9Marks.)

Here’s the quote I read during our class, which focused on the gravity of sin and the fact that we can’t really understand the Gospel until we come to grips with the fact that sin is no small matter:

That answer [to the question about Jesus being the only way] must include both of these nonnegotiable truths of the gospel:

  1. God is more holy than we think.
  2. We are more sinful than we think.

…The second aspect of the answer, the depth of our sinfulness, needs clarification… Although most people are quick to admit that “everyone makes mistakes,” they can’t see what difference in makes. We must show that making a mathematical error in a checkbook is not the essence of sin; cooking the books or cheating someone is!

It doesn’t help that some Christians have tried to illustrate sin as an archery term.

“Sin is simply missing the mark,” they say. “The same Greek word for sin is used as an archery term, so we’re all just ‘target-missers.’”

Well, the same Greek word might be used, but the two concepts couldn’t be further apart. When the Bible describes the nature of our rebellion against God, it paints an uglier picture than our simply missing a bull’s eye (see Rom. 3:10-18). Rather than aiming carefully at God’s target, we turn our backs and shoot arrows everywhere else. Wanting to please ourselves, we ignore the true bull’s eye and set our affections on seductive targets that cannot satisfy, sanctify, or save. We are not primarily target-missers; we are self-centered false-target worshippers.

I wouldn’t suggest saying any of that to a non-Christian, but I would avoid the archery illustration. Following such faulty reasoning, a thoughtful seeker might wonder why God would go to all the trouble of the Cross simply because we aren’t spiritual Robin Hoods. (pp. 81-82)

About Hugh Williams

Hugh Williams is one of the Connections teachers at Grace Fellowship. You may notice him playing bass with the music team on Sunday mornings, too, when he works hard on smiling while reading music and keeping rhythm at the same time. A native of the New York City area, Hugh and his wife, Krista, have lived in the Atlanta area since 1997.

Comments

  1. says

    While I can understand the concern you are addressing, I think you are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

    I don’t know about the Greek word for sin, but in Hebrew, where the concept of transgressing God’s Law originates, the fact is that the word translated as miss in Judges 20:16 is the word sin. To sin is to miss the mark. The point in understanding this concept is not to capture the consequence of sin. The point is to capture the breadth of sin. We don’t only sin when we break one of the big 10 (murder, adultery, etc.). We sin any time we miss God perfect standard. So, while “sin is no small matter,” the slightest deviation from God’s standard, even small ones, is sin (see James 2:10).

    The consequence of “missing the mark” is another matter entirely. Here it depends on the standard violated. Missing the target in archery practice is one thing. Transgressing the commands of an almighty God is quite another.

    To say that “two concepts couldn’t be further apart” is simply not true. The author only sees it this way because he has conflated the concept of transgressing or missing with what is being transgressed or missed. Maybe this point is too subtle for many people and they get it wrong, but that doesn’t make the underlying concepts unhelpful.

    • John says

      First off, I know I am writing to a post that is several years old.

      The definition of “sin” as an archery term to miss the mark is not only accurate but is also explains a concept that is difficult for Christians and non believers.

      One may be shooting arrows in the opposite direction, thus doing evil, even turning one’s back on God’s will and his purpose. However, the point is that one may aim at the target, but the target, perfection-which is required by God, is something, that despite the best effort of man, is missed. Thus, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The real illustration which is clearly missed by this post is that missing the mark by a small margin or missing it by 180 degrees (shooting the arrow in opposition to God’s target) is still missing the mark.

      “I am good person and God wouldn’t send me to Hell…” This fallacy become clearer when understanding the similarities in the archer definition of Sin. No matter how good one is one is not perfect and thus one has missed the mark, the standard set by God to enter heaven. One may turn his back, do evil or one may try to do only good works without faith. Both missed the mark, both came short. Man may be deprived and sin worse than just missing a mark, but that is exactly why sin is sin. Lying is a sin, theft is a sin. Many ask “how can a sin in the heart be as bad a committing adultery, theft, murder. This better understanding of the word “Sin” helps explain it.

      To your point about the checkbook. A mistake in mathematics is not the same as a mistake like loosing one’s temper, lusting, cooking the books, etc… It is the struggle between good and evil not forgetting to carry the one.

      • Mack says

        Another very belated comment to this post. After reading several comments regarding the archery analogy, most seem to miss (pardon the pun) the greater point and that is the magnitude of the Holiness of God. We consider it to be significant whether we just barely miss the target or are aiming 180 degrees from the target. Most would not consider a prolonged glance at a woman that inspired a brief lustful thought to be that serious when compared to mass murder. However the difference in magnitude of sin from a brief lustful thought to mass murder is far, far less than the difference of just one brief, lustful thought and the perfect holiness of God. (The first step is a doozy!) God is perfectly holy and He doesn’t grade on a curve. He demands perfection and the difference between one sin and perfection is far greater than one sin to a million sins. That’s the point of James 2:10–break one rule and you might as well have broken them all. That’s why we need a Savior and only the Christian faith recognizes this fact. Thank you Jesus!!!

  2. says

    Eric, to your point, any sin, any imperfection, merits the full measure of God’s judgment against it. In that respect, I’ll concede that the statement about the “two concepts [miscalculations and embezzlement] couldn’t be further apart” should be taken as hyperbole, but I still think it is offered in the service of a good point.

    Newman’s criticism of the archery illustration stems from the fact that it is frequently used to make the idea of sin more palatable. It’s greasing the tracks for people to admit that they’re “sinners.” But that sense of the word “sinner” is likely to be very dilute: nobody really associates a swing-and-a-miss with cosmic treason. The point I’m after is that cosmic treason is the essence of sin — no matter how small.

    Another problem with it is the archery analogy lets people appeal to the idea that “they tried their best,” which just doesn’t hold water biblically (Rom. 3:11, “no one seeks for God,” etc.) The biblical picture is that we don’t even want to do the right thing. We’re taking careful aim at the wrong targets in direct, willful defiance of God’s commands.

    In the ears of the lost, handing out death sentences for missing the target of a bulls-eye sounds inappropriate and extreme. My point in joining Newman in advising against the use of the archery analogy is that it makes God seem petty; we need to help people see the facts of the matter when it comes to our sinfulness and God’s holiness. Sin is not simply a faux pas on par with setting a table with a dirty fork (though that still counts as sin). Rather, the contours of sin have not come into focus until we recognize it as a grotesque, rebellious lust for self-satisfaction and a defiance of the perfect standard that God has made plain in the creation and the Bible. Only then does our self-serving verdict about God’s “pettiness” give way to the knee-buckling awe that Isaiah felt when he announced that he was “undone.”

    • Maggie hancox says

      Interesting to hear your views on explaining sin as missing the mark. While you appear to critique the explanation, your further explanation of what sin is, actually seems to validate the term, as you go on to clarify what sin is, using the very same terms. I dont feel the termionology is necessarily wrong. Just that it should never be half said..missing the mark…for gods standard…missing the mark on what holy means, and therefore who god is, and therefore missing all god has for you, as you shoot off in the wrong direction…in order to hit the target, you have to know the target you are aiming at! We shoot at objects of our desires, that we believe will satisfy. We believe ourselves to be our own god. Not knowing god, means not knowing that he is the one and the only one whom can fill our every need. It is when we can not deny his goodness that brings us to our knees. When we see we have so sorely missjudged him, as he reveals to us through his holy spirit how we each have missed who he really is…holy, just, righteous, graceous, mighty to save. The giver of all good things, who has inspite of our missjudgement of him given his rain on both sinner and saint. In hosea it was spoken of an adultress that the gifts she was given were in fact given by god. Yet in all this she failed to see it.amazingly god had faith that the woman, isreal would see! Who will fail to see it? I am passionate about this as my salvation came when god revealed these things to me alone in my lounge, into my heart. It was his goodness that drew me to my knees. As i realized i had missjudged him, and that indeed he was good and right, and i was the one who had not seen i,t and was not like him. Condemnation i did not feel. Condemnation is judgement alone, and i had felt that many times before. Not once has condemnation ever changed my heart. It wa conviction that ripped through my heart. Conviction is gods revelation of our missjudgement of him and his heart for a matter, it is his invitation to restored relationship. My lover came to me, took me in my rags and shame, and dressed me in white.

    • says

      I just wanted you to know that this blog post was cited by an anti-Christian ranter who wanted to argue that religious people can’t even understand the word “sin” among themselves, and that “sin” therefore is obviously a false concept, like “religion.”

      As a person who has spent a good portion of his life studying scripture and history, it is very frustrating to see a well-intentioned believer make linguistic assertions about an established and frequently-used word that are intentionally contrary to the evidence, especially when it makes the religious community look confused and divided about what is, in reality, a pretty basic definition.

      You might not like how petty the word’s origins makes “sin” or “God” look in your eyes, but that doesn’t mean you should try to rewrite linguistic history and redefine the word to make it severe enough to suit your theological tastes. I don’t argue that we can’t use the word “judgment,” for example, just because it makes God look “judgmental,” a word that has fallen out of favor. Sin against God is bad, sure–but the word itself is also used in the sense of “sin” against your fellow man, or in a military situation, or in a legal context–sin is simply an error, often against an authority, usually connoting unintended consequences (ie, the ‘wages of sin is death’ — oops!). Don’t screw around with an ancient lexicon to support contemporary theological arguments.

      This post might be four years old, but it is floating around in cyberspace, where the uninformed can quickly Google it and get just enough information to hurt themselves.

  3. O'Ryan says

    Missing the mark looks like a fallacy to me. The root word of sin in Greek and Hebrew is miss, but the word for sin is different, so the linguistics don’t say that sin is simply missing.

    I don’t think I would explain sin in terms of what the law is but who is offended. I would explain that all sin is the de-godding of God or idolatry. It is worshiping creation in some form and not creator, in that I think Newman got it right.

    Further, it is not what the sin is that is so offensive but who is sinned against. It is not the breadth of the sin that make it so grievous but it’s the height. I have been working on this analogy. If you were to hit one of my dogs, it would run away. If you were to hit me, I would hit you back. If you were to hit a lion, you would be picking your head off the ground. The sin is the same, but the power of who is sinned against is different(Luke 12:4-5.)

  4. says

    O’Ryan, what did you mean when you said “the word for sin is different?” I agree with Eric that this is the word used in scripture…

    For example, Rom. 3:23 (“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) uses the Greek word hamartano, which is defined as “1. To be without a share in; 2. To miss the mark; 3. To err, be mistaken; 4. to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong; 5. to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin.”

    So I don’t think the dictionary definition is what’s in play here… it’s more a matter of connotation and the way it sounds in the ears of our neighbors. “Fallacy” might be too strong of a word for this.

  5. says

    Just thought of another way of looking at this…

    Suppose somebody asked you if you were “gay.” They explain that “gay” just means “happy.” Are you happy? Yes? OK, then you’re “gay.” You shrug your shoulders and go off telling everyone that you’re “gay.” One day, to your horror, you’re going to find out that “gay” doesn’t just say something about your cheerful condition.

    In the same way, you ask someone if he is a “sinner.” You explain that “sin” just means “miss the mark.” Does he miss the mark? Yes? OK, then he’s a “sinner.” He shrugs his shoulders and goes off confessing that he’s a “sinner.” One day, to his horror, he is going to find out that “sin” doesn’t just say something about his ineptitude.

    In the first case, a graphic description of what “gay” means would probably keep you from using that word to describe yourself. In the second, a graphic description of “sin” would either A) repel someone from using that word because he’s “not that bad,” or B) resonate with the convicting work of the Spirit in his life. Option “B” is what we’re after in evangelism.

  6. says

    I must not have communicated my point very well. When O’Ryan says “Further, it is not what the sin is that is so offensive but who is sinned against. It is not the breadth of the sin that make it so grievous but it’s the height.” This was the very point I was trying to make. I suppose I missed the mark.

  7. says

    For the record, if explaining the original language leads your listener to conclude that sin against God is simply missing the mark (i.e., nobody’s perfect, no big deal), then I agree that you shouldn’t do it.

  8. O'Ryan says

    I went OT since Eric sited a passage in the OT. Gn 4:7 as well as Gn 18:20 use Hamartia and the Judges passage uses Hamartano. The Lexicon used said the latter was the root of the former, though looking at the definition it seems they are equivalent. My bad.
    The Hebrew for the same passages is still a valid point. Chatta’ahis derived from Chata’ so I don’t know, but that is what I found out.

    I am with you guys on the sentiment whatever the words mean.

  9. Jason Parry says

    Using the Greek or Hebrew terms to describe sin as “missing the mark” is a fallacy called illegitimate totality transfer. Any given word has a range of meaning. The range of meaning of the Greek/Hebrew words spans a continuum from “missing the mark” in a literal sense to the more abstract concept of sin. The context in which the word is used in a particular text signals to the reader/listener which precise meaning is intended in each case. The problem with grounding the archery analogy in the “meaning” of the Greek/Hebrew terms is that it collapses this entire range of meaning into one narrow meaning. The archery analogy might be useful and valid to some degree (all analogies break down in some respects), but it is nonetheless fallacious to ground the analogy in the “meaning” of the Greek or Hebrew terms.

  10. Bro. Allen says

    There are many words that the Bible uses for “sin,” including the Greek noun harmartia and the verb harmartano. The most basic meaning of harmartia/ano historically, before the word group came to be used for “sin,” was the idea of missing a target or mark. From this idea, the use expanded to mean such things as “going astray.” It also came to be used metaphorically for “missed” intellectual “targets,” such as for being in error. It was when people began to apply this vocabulary to “moral” targets that the idea of sin came into play. For example, one may aim at honoring one’s parents, but fail to do so. In that failing, one has fallen short of the goal or “missed the target” of honoring his/her parents. In the case of sin, “missing the mark” is probably best thought of as “failing to meet the standard.”

  11. Jason Parry says

    There is a danger in using past meanings of a word in order to establish later meanings of a word. For example, the English word “nice” used to mean “foolish, stupid” in the 13th century. This meaning of the word “nice” is completely obsolete among modern English speakers. To understand what “nice” means today, one would be much better off to look at how “nice” is used in modern contexts than to study the history of the meaning of the word.

    Similarly, it would be preferable to study the usage of the harmartia word group in the NT and in the Septuagint in order to arrive at an accurate definition of “sin” than to study the history of its meaning. This is not to say that “failing to meet the standard” is a poor definition of the word “sin,” but rather that we cannot assume that this definition is accurate or complete simply because of its apparent connection to an older meaning used in archery contexts.

  12. James OMalley says

    I have used the archery term and after reading this article from both view points. I will countiue to use the archery term but with a greater understanding. The archery term missing the mark of God is correct but can not be left. The conseqences of missing the mark (Sin) be revealed. I thank each one who has commented and I can feel passion. God Bless each of you.

  13. Tim says

    I think Bro. Allen said it best when saying:

    ‘In the case of sin, “missing the mark” is probably best thought of as “failing to meet the standard.”’

    The most important thing to be considered here is that the ‘archer’ is actually shooting at the bullseye. That he missed is very relevant but the fact the he is actually working towards improvement is extremely relevant.

    It’s when we choose not to try at all or simply direct our fire at other targets that we become perverse.

  14. Marty says

    This whole “archer trying to hit the bulls eye” analogy seems very askew to me. I’ve read all the comments and find only one to be germane: “it is not what the sin is that is so offensive but who is sinned against.” This leads to another comment that struck me as golden: “Missing the mark” means “not knowing who you really are”

    When you don’t know who you are (according to the Scriptures) you will miss the mark always because you have no understanding of who is offended.

    The archery analogy is very deceptive, IMHO, because it places enormous emphasis on the archer doing something. In the case of sin, the archer is not important at all. In fact, just being an archer means he is a sinner. He was born into it. He can try all he wants, he can even hit a bulls eye every now and then (“even a blind monkey…”) but he still sins just by his very nature as an archer. And this is why the archery analogy breaks down.

    The problem here really is that we are trying to put too much of an academic emphasis on a very simple concept. Sinners know what sin is. I’ve been in many jails and prisons–trust me, they will tell you all about sin. They know it is sin. They know what it is and why it’s sin. They don’t need some bright-eyed evangelical telling them “Hey, no big deal, you just missed the mark!” Hey buddy, they didn’t just miss the mark! Everyone know what sin is–we don’t need some watered down, mushy-headed liberal evangelical telling us what sin “historically” has been defined as….

    God told Cain “Sin is crouching at the door, ready to devour you. You must master it.” Why did God say that if sin is JUST missing the mark? “The devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Sin may be personified. Sin may be genetic. Sin may be more than doing…sin may be an identity.

      • anne says

        It is the goodness of the heart that God looks at, not which doctrines or creeds you believe 1Cor13:1-13,Matt25:31-46,Ja2:14-26,1Cor4:6.
        Seminary and theology are human perversions. I’m glad I have been able to shrug all that dross off too.

      • Hugh Williams says

        Anne, you say “It is the goodness of the heart that God looks at, not which doctrines or creeds you believe,” but then you say “Seminary and theology are human perversions.”

        Isn’t your first statement an expression of your theology?

        But in any case, I agree with you to this extent: it is the goodness of the heart that God looks at. The problem is that not one of us has a heart that’s good enough to please him. Thank God that he sent a Savior to rescue us from the consequences of our own rebellion against him!

  15. Jason Parry says

    I don’t know all of the contributors to this thread personally, but as far as I know, none of us are “watered down, mushy-headed liberal evangelicals.” I believe that we are all trying to understand the concept of sin from the Bible’s perspective. I prefer to allow Scripture to shape my understanding of sin rather than to presume that I know everything about sin intuitively.

    I think that Hugh rightly warns against using the archery example because the analogy is reductionistic. On the other hand, I think that Eric’s warning not to throw the baby out with the bathwater is also helpful, because sometimes a simple example can have pedagogical value as a starting point. The problem is when that starting point becomes the ending point and the archery analogy becomes the essential meaning of sin in one’s thinking.

    My earlier comments were only intended to suggest that it is methodologically invalid to ground the archery analogy in the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew words. I may sound ridiculous, but I am only trying to follow the Lord by allowing the usage of the word “sin” in Scripture to shape my understanding of the concept, rather than prisoners or analogies.

  16. says

    Hugh’s basic point is absolutely correct: hamartia does NOT mean “missing the mark,” period, unless someone is using it of archery. Or, in Homer, of throwing a spear. I’m not sure I follow why someone says “I have used the archery term and after reading this article from both view points. I will countiue to use the archery term but with a greater understanding.” The best thing to do is to toss out the archer’s use of term entirely.

    The problem is that we have heard so many preachers use the “miss the mark” definition that it has become burned into our minds as the literal meaning of hamartia. This is not something that needs finer tuning, it is simply and purely mistaken. It means “missing the mark” only in contexts of archery, spear throwing, etc. When it is used in the context of one’s relationship to God, it MEANS “offense against God”, period. Bringing in archery language does not illuminate, but confuses and detracts from the truth.

    I have an article on hamartia on my blog, justinofnablus.wordpress.com

    Blessings!

  17. says

    By the way, concerning your main point, Hugh: I find this sort of “questioning evangelism” to be particularly useful when it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses and other individuals who are coming at me with their own agenda. Arguing with them that “John 1:1 does not say that the Logos is ‘a god’” will lead to a dazed look and a promise to bring someone from their Hall who understands these things better.

    More useful is to use questions in a sort of judo move – use their momentum to throw them off balance (and I say this with all love, and I then go and pray for these people).

    Jehovah’s Witness: “People are anxious these days because of wars, earthquakes, confusion, and we want to tell you how you can find the truth from the Bible.”

    Me: “I know what you mean! [I repeat back to them what they have said, to show that I really am listening]. But…the Lord gives me peace and joy, despite the bad things that happen. DO YOU HAVE THAT KIND OF JOY? IS YOUR GROUP FILLED WITH JOYFUL, HAPPY PEOPLE? WHAT IS IT THAT BRINGS YOU JOY?” Etc.

    Our Lord used questions to very good effect (Nicodemus, Samaritan woman, others).

  18. Mark says

    The idea of sin and why it translates so well from the archery term is that what Jesus was really teaching was that life was an opportunity to connect with the infinite divine. He, as all great spiritual teachers, spent his 40 days in the desert seeking revelation. That experience enlightened him, he was saying that that experience was available to you too and that all other endeavors in life were sin because they missed the mark, they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that life offers.

  19. says

    Hey Mark, thanks for the comment.

    I’m sure that a 40-day no-expenses-paid desert getaway experience is available to everyone–just walk out into a desert–but I’m not sure that’s what Jesus was saying is available to us. You say that his desert experience enlightened him, but it seems that Jesus thought that God the Father enlightened him. I don’t think that he intended us to believe that being the Son of God and one with the Father was an experience available to all.

    Failing to gain enlightenment through some sort of experience is not missing the mark–failing to call upon Jesus for the forgiveness of sin is.

    I hope you see that Jesus didn’t really leave us the option to believe his message was as ephemeral as seeking a spiritual experience. He called us to repentance of sin and faith in him alone. All other endeavors but following Jesus are, indeed, missing the mark.

  20. Bobby Carter says

    Analogies, stories, jokes, illustrations and many different examples from physical life are all very useful in conveying great spiritual truths and helping others understand. JESUS, Paul, and most biblical authors used these methods continuously in teaching…and if we wanted to we could find some way to take any analogy out of context or explain how it isn’t serious enough to depict a more serious matter such as a relationship with GOD. A runner running a race, a man boxing, a farmer sowing seed…are all used to give us visual depictions of how something in the Kingdom of GOD operates. Thats all!

    I have read that in old English times when archers would shoot their arrows at targets and miss a score-keeper who was in a pit at the target would wave a spotter back and forth in front of the target yelling “sin”…”sin”…to signify he had missed the target entirely. I heard that illustration more than twenty years ago and it has stayed with me all these years because it helped me understand that GOD does have a standard and I miss it in my own efforts and score-keeping. The good news of the gospel is that JESUS steps in and does something that we are powerless to do by forgiving all our sins and restoring us into rightness with GOD!!! We cannot boast in the fact that JESUS hit the target for us nor should we be ashamed anymore that we couldn’t hit it. However, if we truly met JESUS and have a relationship with the living GOD, it will be our desire to please HIM in all we do. After salvation do we ever have wrong desires…do we ever think wrong thoughts…do wrong things…etc???? Yes!! That to me is where I find this analogy useful.

    As long as we are alive we will be shooting at the target = GOD’s best/standard (in this analogy). It is my desire to hit the Bullseye (not through my efforts or works), to do the right things, think right thoughts, speak the right words, act in the right way all the time…in essence to be more like CHRIST. But, sometimes I/we miss…right? Right! That’s our sin as Christians or not shooting at all sometimes…LOL! GOD knows how to work with us and HE is praise HIS name! HE is a gentleman though in that HE will do in us only what we allow HIM to do.

    I would say that those who have been referred to as aiming at their own desires, etc…are not even really trying to hit GOD’s standard and therefore this analogy doesn’t even apply at all (to me). Sin is sin but there is a difference in the condition of peoples hearts, minds and souls, desires and motives after salvation which makes this analogy a good one. If this archery analogy is used with pagans…I agree, that the “missing the mark” picture is inappropriate to say the least.

    GOD bless you all!

  21. Jon Burton says

    During the process of One-on-One discipleship the “Archery
    Illustration” has always been a useful tool. The title of this blog, “Isn’t Sin JUST Missing the Mark” fuels discussion by inserting the word, “JUST”. The Archery illustration is not found invalid as long as the word “just” is omitted. Sin is missing the mark! Missing the mark is failing to live by FAITH (trusting obedience) in regard to those things the Spirit communicates to us….corporately and/or personally.

    “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors! Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

    * “The righteous man shall live by Faith.”
    * “…what ever is not of Faith is sin.”
    * “…we have an obedience that comes form Faith.”

  22. Wilson says

    Marks of Our Hearts
    By Wilson Montgomery

    Sin is a shot by an archer’s arrow
    That misses the mark of any target
    The “mark” is God’s irrefutable truth
    The center of which God never harbors
    Hitting it is oftentimes too painful
    It can be so unbearable
    That archers will avoid it at all cost
    Thinking the pain perpetual

    Sins are honest delusions that peace resides outside the mark
    Pride touts the arrogant proposal that image is the mark
    Envy grapples the jealous notion that yours is the mark
    Sloth lies on the complacent idea that later is the mark
    Greed buys the voracious idea that more is the mark
    Gluttony imbibes the delectable figment that food is the mark
    Lust pictures the satiating fantasy that sex is the mark
    Resentment replays the angry fabrication that judgment is the mark
    All are honest desires for inner peace
    But all they offer is minor relief

    The wages of sin
    Is the shame that archers impart
    In pointless angst
    For missing aim of the true mark

    Shame is but a whip for flagellation
    That we turn on ourselves and others
    Hoping to correct our aim through fear
    Buy lashing ourselves and our brothers

    Grace is God’ quiver of unlimited arrows
    He wants us all to hit the mark
    Because His desire is our inner peace
    There’s no sin in the marks of our hearts

    To all: I feel sad for all who tout God in a fearful/angry light. I pray that they might find a larger torch to find their way to an infinitely forgiving, loving, kind, compassionate God. This is copyrighted, however,I give all who care to permission to share this with whomever.
    God Bless, Wilson Montgomery

  23. Dave says

    The point of that illustration is that even when we are shooting our arrows at the right target, we still continually miss. Exactly for the reason that we are not spiritual Robin hoods! The only reason we can have a relationship with God is through the perfection of Jesus and his death and resurrection. Only because Jesus spent his time shooting arrows at the target and getting the bullseye every time and therefore not missing! You further compound the quality of the archery analogy in your own criticism by talking about shooting our arrows all over the place, that is exactly the point. Often we are not even aiming at the right target!

  24. Fred W says

    I have to agree with Eric on this one, both on his take on the subject and the fact that it may be too subtle for some folks.

    Sin is in fact missing the mark of God’s standard of perfection. It is what separates us from absolute pureness. How we deal with sin is what makes a difference. Non-believers either reject the notion altogether and/or spend their lives justifying whatever is sin and calling it anything but sin. Perhaps in part because they don’t really understand the concept. Believers on the other hand (should) acknowledge sin, repent, and ask God to help them overcome it.

    This is the difference between being a slave of sin and being born again. The difference between lost and saved.

    A misunderstanding of what sin is may well be the reason we are unable to reach many; they can’t get past the aggressive and arrogant bent of so many who seem to enjoy pointing fingers and saying things like “you’re living in SIN”. While technically accurate, it hardly works to the advantage of adequately sharing the Gospel. Whereas a different approach might work wonders.

    Let’s take an example. Let’s say you run into some bitter, atheistic homosexual and you get into a discussion and he asks “Do you think homosexuality is a sin”? After answering yes, and then explaining that so is heterosexual sex outside of marriage, and so is adultery, and so is envy, and so is greed, and so is being angry with your brother . . . you might try pointing out that sin is simply missing the mark of God’s perfection and that that is precisely what Jesus came to deal with, not only dying for our sins, but equipping us to overcome sin by confessing and repenting, rather than justifying or ignoring.

    As for the author’s ending challenge, he is basically putting forth a logical fallacy: challenging us to disprove a faulty assumption. Scripture says nothing about Robin Hood or that sin is some kind of game; nor have I ever heard anyone making the archery analysis ever reduce the gravity of the word “sin” to infer that it is some minor thing akin to a game. In any event, there is nothing wrong with the analogy as a starting point for explaining sin.

    If the last sentence were worded honestly it would read more like this: “… why God would go to all the trouble of the Cross just because we are separated from Him by virtue of missing the mark of his perfection.” And the answer would be because he loves us and wants to have eternal fellowship and communion with us, his creation.

  25. Dave Bowen says

    awesome string!
    I was reading that sin “was a miss” in the
    book “the soul factor”.
    I liked the idea but wanted to make sure it was truth.
    I checked the dictionary and it didnt agree.
    I checked strongs, commentaries, etc and didnt like
    what I found. It seemed to many orignial words and meanings.
    I went to wikipedia and it stated from christian prospective:transgression. I checked the wiktionary.
    Everything stated the same thing.
    “The Soul Factor” stated that it was greek origins…
    I wanted to beleive it was this simple but couldnt find anything to validate my want.
    I googled and found this blog
    via the weavings of the thread I found understanding
    of the hebrew:
    transgression…

    understanding means to have the right information AND BE ABLE TO RECIEVE IT….thankyou
    for allowing and responding to different points of view.

  26. Tim says

    Before salvation, sin is not something I do, it is what I am. Before salvation, I am dead in sin. It is my condition. The archery illustration has no usefullness before salvation.
    After salvation, sin is not what I am, it is something I do or omit. The archery target is very useful after salvation.
    Perfection has two meanings. One is flawless perfection. The other speaks of legally fulfilling all requirements. In Christ, I am perfect because His sacrifice has fulfilled all legal requirements. But while I am perfect in God’s eyes (legally speaking) I am not perfect in practice – I am maturing – being made perfect.
    The archery illustration fits perfectly here. For in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, my practice of the Christian life and disciplines leads me to more accuracy when aiming for holy perfection. In the meantime, I will miss the mark. But if the archer has been made perfect legally, in time his aim will be closer and closer to perfect. And as his aim gets closer, the distance between the bullseye of perfection and where his arrow hits will always be called “sin”. As such, it needs to be confessed and forgiven.
    This conversation is frustated by many of the comments trying to use sin to cover those before salvation and after salvation. It can’t be done. It’s two different worlds.

  27. vickie says

    If greek says missing the mark.. i feel love in the statement not judgment. To me I can see the analogy. It simply means draw near to my God and he’ll draw near to me. It’s admonishment I can do better. His love brings me to repentance, not his judgment. Preachers love to control and dominate and make people fear thru the word SIN and it’s disgusting.

  28. Hugh Williams says

    First of all, let me say how pleasing and humbling it is to have people commenting on a nearly four-year-old post.

    But Vickie, a preacher who doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of people when he talks about sin is not doing his job. Sin is a bigger problem than you (or I) think it is. It is such a huge problem that only the death of the Son of God could make it right.

    And yes, there is judgment. I know it’s no fun to go there, but to deny the reality of judgment is to go around whistling in the dark. Only when you confront the reality of the righteous, perfect justice of God and the fact that sinners stand guilty before him is it possible to understand why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. If sin and justice and judgment are no big deal, then all this stuff about Jesus dying on a cross and laying your life down to follow him is just nonsense.

    Either sin is so colossally huge that we will never comprehend the depth of it, or it is no big deal and we shouldn’t concern ourselves. You obviously concern yourself enough to post a comment here, so I encourage you to consider just how much trouble unforgiven sinners are in before a holy and righteous God.

  29. Nick E says

    Look at it another way i.e. perhaps God does not judge, lets say God just IS (is pure unconditional love) and when we leave this earthly plane the shackles of our own ego’s are released and we are left with only our own unique spirit which during life has engaged with and been effected by our released ego’s. Our spirits in contrast with or in the extremely felt presence of God (i.e love) will judge itself, not God….although our earthly intellects and thought systems may interpret God as actively judging. Such an overwhelming all loving, all forgiving power has no need to, we will have the clarity in truth to feel and judge ourselves in the absence of our ego-selves. Our way to truth lies in our defenselessness.
    In other words, no more illusion, we are all one. If God has given us the gift of life perhaps our gift to Him is to change….. which would mean becoming aware of our ‘sins’ and own defects of character and failings. We can then try again and make some progress. Missing the mark seems a good concept to me in the presence of this ultimate power called God which is all loving and all forgiving.

  30. Hugh Williams says

    As you say, “perhaps,” but you have to throw out the Bible to go there. If you’re going to maintain the Bible as your authority on these matters, none of that is going to hold up.

    Do you have an authority you appeal to for your “perhaps?” Or is it just a wild guess?

    • John says

      First off, I know I am writing to a post that is several years old.

      The definition of “sin” as an archery term to miss the mark is not only accurate but is also explains a concept that is difficult for Christians and non believers.

      One may be shooting arrows in the opposite direction, thus doing evil, even turning one’s back on God’s will and his purpose. However, the point is that one may aim at the target, but the target, perfection-which is required by God, is something, that despite the best effort of man, is missed. Thus, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The real illustration which is clearly missed by this post is that missing the mark by a small margin or missing it by 180 degrees (shooting the arrow in opposition to God’s target) is still missing the mark.

      “I am good person and God wouldn’t send me to Hell…” This fallacy become clearer when understanding the similarities in the archer definition of Sin. No matter how good one is one is not perfect and thus one has missed the mark, the standard set by God to enter heaven. One may turn his back, do evil or one may try to do only good works without faith. Both missed the mark, both came short. Man may be deprived and sin worse than just missing a mark, but that is exactly why sin is sin. Lying is a sin, theft is a sin. Many ask “how can a sin in the heart be as bad a committing adultery, theft, murder. This better understanding of the word “Sin” helps explain it.

      To your point about the checkbook. A mistake in mathematics is not the same as a mistake like loosing one’s temper, lusting, cooking the books, etc… It is the struggle between good and evil not forgetting to carry the one.

      • Gary Shogren says

        John, please show us in ancient texts or in a reputable lexicon, proof that it is an archery term pet se. This is a myth that refuses to die.

  31. says

    I must confess that I only made it through about half of the comments. It seems there is an “all or nothing mindset” in regard to the accuracy of the term in relation to archery and Biblical sin. Keep in mind that the Bible often utelizes the termonology of a profession or trade to a Biblical concept. We are not really sheep nor are we fish; however, both terms were used as an illustration to give perspective and therefore understanding. This illustration is just that-an illustration to help a group of people (bowmen/archers) gain understanding. I agree that, often, important matters like sin and salvation are explained in a too simplistic nature, and therefore, misunderstood or regarded as inconsequential. Sometimes, however, simple illustrations are necessary to open minds to the greater Truth.

  32. says

    The truth is that sin is an archery term and using it as such is a perfect illustration as how we have all fallen short and missed the mark. Christians like to pick and choose which sins are worse and thus so becoming legalistic – where God says if we live by the law we will be judged as so, thus breaking ONE law constitutes breaking ALL. Whereas living by grace, we are to be led by the Spirit using the law as an x-ray machine and letting Christ rule us through His Holy Spirit – sin is missing the mark, which we ALL have done, but Christ came not to cover our sin as in the OT but to remove it – to erase it, Some like to pick and choose which sin is worse (like homosexuality) and doing so they don’t teach that – that sin is also wiped away. This is wrong teaching.

    • Dr. Gary Shogren says

      Sin is NOT per se an archery term, as a review of any standard Greek lexicon will show. It was a few times, and only those few times, used in the context of archery or (the Iliad) spearthrowing, but only in certain passages.

  33. matt says

    The point is that some sin is venial and some is abominate. A venial sin includes eating pork in the dessert… God is not offended but your belly is. If you manage to overcome the pathogenic aspect of pork eating, then you are no longer sinning. We are all sinners… but not every biblical use of the word is a crime against god… some of it is just solid worldly advice.. Some sin is dangerous to you but not a problem with God… Some mistakes and mark-misses are GOOD, in the sense that if you never make ANY mistakes, you have not been doing enough… for example, it was a sin for mother theresa to deny medicine to non-christians… she missed the mark… and learned a valuable lesson… then changed it… but it was good that she was trying… no sin = no mother theresa… and some sin is bad… some sin a just plain against God. People have been using the bible to terrorize and manipulate. Some of the greatest antichrist moments have been forged in this confusion. The problem with fundamentalism the whole world over… I think Jesus would have said something about homosexuality if it was such a big deal. Also the apostles. Also the commandments… It IS a mistake. It IS a mark missed… But it’s nothing to murder a guy over.

  34. Larry says

    “I think Jesus would have said something about homosexuality if it was such a big deal.”

    @Matt…so by that logic rape, incest and whole host of other things we don’t have direct quotes from Jesus on are also not a “big deal” either – right?

  35. Gary Shogren says

    The error that many of you make is this idea that hamartia “really” or “basically” means missing the mark. In fact, that is incorrect. Some Greek authors, many centuries before the Greek Scriptures, used the word to refer to archery, but missing with a spear or arrow is not the word’s meaning. To argue otherwise is the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer, as described in Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies.

  36. Jason Parry says

    I don’t have anything new to add to my comments on this thread from 2008 and 2010, but I thought I’d try to post some links to standard Greek and Hebrew lexicons for those who are wishing to check these resources for themselves.

    Greek verb “to sin” in LSJ:
    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Da(marta%2Fnw

    Hebrew verb “to sin” in BDB:
    http://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/306/mode/2up

    The advice of Sir Edwyn Hoskyns is apt: Bury yourself in a lexicon and arise in the presence of God!

  37. brotherjim says

    If the Holy Spirit is the teacher why do so many christians have so many different interpretations of words in scripture and how to follow Christ. Pick any word in scripture and any translation and the doctrines that flow out of this, how can any of this be helpful to people new to the body of Christ. However hard we try we are all sinners and that is why we have Christ. Whatever the sins are in our lives I feel sure the Holy Spirit will convict us of them in His own special way and will change our hearts from within and eventually we will be gradually nudged round like a large oil tanker with Him at the helm. If we simply relax and put down the striving and gulit trips put on us by satan we just might be able to experience the joy Christ came to give us. You could drive yourself up the wall with all this in depth study of language. x

  38. Stephen Legendre says

    Sin as to miss the target means missing the point of human existence. What is our goal in life? who are we? Spirits in human bodies for a few decades. What is the purpose? To get in profound touch with our higher self and experience it in the human flesh which means to elevate ourselves in the divine spirit that we are. Some like E; Tolle call it consciousness Because we are consciousness, awakening means becoming conscious of our own consciousness, it’s the vertical dimension aimed at the skies, growing in his dimension is the purpose as opposed to growing in the horizontal dimensiion, the mental, or the lower mind which most people tend to do.

  39. Usmar Padow says

    Well, oviously the bible translators of the king james version thought “targget missers” was a good-enough translation. so it is a good enough meaning for me….

    We all miss the target…. nobody is perfect…. don’t make people feel gulty for not being perfect please.

  40. Usmar Padow says

    I disagree, being imperfect is totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

    The reason Christians make people feel guilty for imperfection is because of the doctrine of “the fall of man” which is not even explicitly taught in the bible. It was invented after the bible was written by apologists.

    I for one think the bible is a fictional book too.

    If we observe nature we will realize that it is not perfect (stars burn out, disease exists, asteroids hit earth). We are part of nature and thus cannot be expected to be perfect.

    Not even Jesus was perfect. He said he came to put wives against husbands and father against son. He said he came not to bring peace but a sword.

    Please don’t make people feel guilty. Make people feel good about themselves So they can live happy lives

    • Stephen Legendre says

      I agree with Usmar
      We are all Buddha’s nature, Buddha in Sanskrit means “The awakened spirit”) we just forgot about truth because of our two disynchronized brain hemispheres which makes us see the world in separation, the good/ the bad, perfect/imperfect, interresting/non interesting… which can be very violent for some and can lead to violence,wars, prejudice, mental disease…because they work in negativity producing the wrong brain waves making us see the world in separation.
      The true spirit is at one with everything and everyone, we are from the same body and just as the arm is different from the leg a body couldn’t work properly without both.
      The idea of separation has been spread to better control humanity in a low level of spirit. If we returned to the truth that we are, the earth would be transformed, no more violence (violence comes from separation), no more greed, no more pollution the true wise heart would be elevated to such consciousness that everything would be sacred (100% aware respect) for, the soil, the air, water, big companies working only for the sake of profits would collapse, banks would close down, people would return to their inner spirit and would stop looking for happiness outside of them which is the big illusion that everyone adheres to because they are not conscious of their higher being and some unconscious people and the system manipulate them.
      I believe that we are about to see major changes on earth, awakening is occurring in the background of material collapse (money, currencies, jobs, pollution, misery, wars, fanatism…)
      I believe that this change has already started, it’s speeding up, showing a bleak picture because there’s resistance from the unconscious part of the earth but beauty will end up blossoming everywhere.
      For me, there’s no perfection, but transformation, this is a material world awakening through the higher spirit that we are when we elevate ourselves. But the material world, material bodies will never meet true perfection as they will all die, Build the most beautiful ice castle during the winter, it will be a piece of art that will only survive for a while on pictures and videos.
      We are here just to contribute to this piece of art to make it look as close as what we truly are, moissing the point is about not being aware of this creative purpose.

    • says

      The comment , ” Not even Jesus was perfect…” suggests that either He
      was not God Incarnate or that God Himself is not perfect. The
      Bible clearly states in many verses that Jesus is without sin. To be without
      sin is perfection. If His conduct appears to be against anyone’s moral values
      it can only mean the one finding fault with Him is not standng in the truth.

  41. Usmar Padow says

    This flavor of Christianity just makes people feel bad about themselves all the time, and the people that believe it will never be happy unless they stop the guilt trips

    Try to be as happy in life as possible!

  42. Hugh Williams says

    Five years ago I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be fielding comments on this post, but it’s a nice surprise.

    Usmar, I agree, we don’t need a savior… under certain conditions:

    1) If there’s no God, we don’t need a savior because there’s no one we need to be saved from.

    2) If there is a God, but he doesn’t have a transcendent moral law that we’re supposed to uphold, then we don’t need a savior because there’s no law to have broken.

    3) If there is a God, and he does have a transcendent law that we’re supposed to uphold, but we’ve upheld it perfectly, then we don’t need a savior because we haven’t broken any laws.

    However, the way the Bible paints the picture, there is a God, he has given us moral responsibility, and we have run afoul in a mighty big way.

    Given that state of affairs, then yes, we do need a savior.

    Fortunately we have one. :)

  43. Usmar Padow says

    But the bible is just a book written by people. And God is just an idea invented by people.

    And. Even if there were a perfect God then why worry? His solution to our problems should be perfect too. He will be perfectly just. So everyone will be rewarded or punished to a degree that is suitable to his “sins”.

    So, we should “be excellent to each other” as bill and Ted would say.

    Your way seems to say “we canot avoid doing bad things, so lets give up on trying and wait for Jesus to save us from our sins”

  44. Rick Crompton says

    Sin is not the basic condition of fallen humanity. Our unregenerate state is one of innate corruption, out of which elicits the human proclivity to sin : sin that is the common, inherent result of seeking to serve/please self. This corruption is inherited in Adam and there is no hope of escaping that corruption and the resultant bondage to sin apart from experiencing the new birth.

    We should all recognize that the regenerate soul who is free from the bondage of sin continues to “miss the mark.” Even while we exercise sincere effort to please God, can it truly be stated that our level of obedience to the Great/New Commandment through the elicitation of love (in what we think, say and do) always matches the perfection of love that the Lord Jesus Christ displayed and for which He was commended of His Father cf. Matt. 17:5 ; John 8:29? Even in our good works, we technically sin because we fail to measure up to the Divine standard that was demonstrated by Jesus Christ in perfectly fulfilling the moral law that humans born of ordinary conception can never fulfill. I think that is the message of ” For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

    But we should properly reflect that while we are always deficient before God (missing the mark/sinning ), we are no longer condemned by Him in and through our faith in the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood.

    • Stephen Legendre says

      I believe that if the Bible is holy, why not, it is just a dust in the universal truth that noone on earth can touch because life is an experience of growth. For me, no Church on earth is holy, they’ve all transformed the initial writings, they killed in the name of God and because of that none of them is legitimate in the divine purpose.
      I don’t want to hurt anyone here, it’s just my poiny of view and I still enjoy reading everyone’s opinions.

      • Rick Crompton says

        I would agree that the Body of Christ falls far short of what
        it should be or could be : both in its service to God and to
        mankind.
        Yet the Church is “holy” — in the sense of being separated and
        consecrated, according to the election of God cf. Eph. 1: 3-6 ;
        1 Pet. 1:2,3 . It is distinguishable to the world, being the object of
        derision and scorn because it stands by faith in Jesus Christ and
        it desires to obey His Great Command of love cf. John 14: 15 ;
        Mark 12: 29-31, being so led of the Holy Spirit to walk in love.

        God does uses the Church to fulfill His purposes — chiefly to spread
        the gospel as per the Great Commission. Thus the Church is indeed,
        legitimate “…in the divine purpose ” despite its inconsistencies.

  45. Rick Crompton says

    The account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus the Messiah or Christ) is revealed to mankind through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” The Gospels are not a collection of fanciful “stories,” fictitious legends, allegories, fables etc. The New Testament Gospels are the verifiable historical accounts that were penned by four different authors and which have been preserved for time and eternity. There are other 1st C. writings that relate incidents in the life of Jesus Christ but they are not considered canonical by orthodox Christian groups.

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