The image is fresh in my mind, because it just happened last night (23 April 2012). Donna and I were walking down the street, and I saw it first. I said, “Ah Ma, look at that guy’s shirt.” Here came a young man, probably in his late-20’s, walking toward us and wearing a shirt which had these words printed on the front of it in large, bold type: “BE A SINNER, NOT A WINNER.”
Perhaps this fellow thought that it is “cute” to wear such a shirt, or maybe he was just wearing a free shirt that someone gave him; I do not know. Here is what I found ironic. At the time when we saw this gent’s shirt and its slogan, my gracious wife and I were both carrying our Bibles. We were on our way to a Bible study, hoping to go against the shirt’s slogan and turn a sinner into a winner. This all brings some thoughts on sinning, winning, and clothing.
When it comes to “sinner” versus “winner,” there are some biblical principles to consider. For one thing, it is certain that sinners – those who willfully remain in sin, are losers in the spiritual realm. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yes, sin kills, causing its practicers to be described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). What about sinners’ relationship with God? The Bible says that they are “alienated and enemies” (Colossians 1:21); or, as we read in Isaiah 59:2, iniquities “separate” people from Jehovah.
The ultimate consequence of sin, of course, is eternal loss – the loss of the soul. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). If a soul is eternal in nature, then in what sense is a person’s soul “destroyed” in hell? The Greek word for “destroy” (ἀπόλλυμι/apollumi) means “not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” [Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, word no. 622].
Clothing that says, “Be a Sinner, Not a Winner” may bring a smile to one person’s face and cause another to laugh out loud, but let me assure you that God sees no humor in such a blatant statement. No, sin is not a laughing matter. If you are tempted to disagree, then consider this Bible truth: “Fools make a mock of sin” (Proverbs 14:9). Sin damages the physical body, hardens the conscience, ruins marriages, destroys reputations, separates families, alienates friends, and closes the door to heaven forever to its slaves (Galatians 5:19-21). Surely a right-thinking child of God would never even consider endorsing a slogan that in any way encourages people to “Be a Sinner.”
The sinner-loser connection is clear. What about being “a winner” in God’s sight? Remember, the observed T-shirt also advertises the idea, “Not (Be) a Winner.” In fact, being a winner in life is what matters most of all. And who are the true winners in life? Those who are on the Lord’s side! Our great God makes His people victorious. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). It is written also, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ . . .” (2 Corinthians 2:14). Again, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4; all emphasis mine, rdc). Those three highlighted words tell it all: victory – triumph – overcome. For such victors, there is “an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25) reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). Let us never be ashamed to try and teach the gospel to sinners in order to help them become winners with us!
Never would I conclude that the man wearing the “Be a Sinner, Not a Winner” shirt is a Christian. Yet, some members of the church wear clothing that is just as disappointing, distasteful, disturbing, and disgusting. As Christians, we need to be very cautious in the clothing that we wear, including clothes that have various forms of writing on them. Our clothing and our words combine to send a message about our true character. A godly person shuns clothes that would bring shame on the name of the Lord or His church. Any words that are sexually suggestive, filthy (or euphemisms, which stand for profanity), disrespectful to God, or in any way incite improper thoughts in other people’s minds – none of these are appropriate for God’s people to adorn. Clothing that advertises alcohol or tobacco products, has images of immoral people, or in any fashion salutes or supports any form of unrighteousness is off limits for God-fearing people. Brothers and sisters, we are to set forth light in society, not darkness (Matthew 5:14-16). We are to set forth words that build up (Ephesians 4:29), not those that lead to lustful thinking and sinful actions.
— Roger D. Campbell