'Saints' not 'sinners'
I was surprised on two occasions this year when preaching to what I will call ‘conservative evangelical constituencies’ and declaring the joy of our freedom in Christ, to encounter the response that followed.
On the first occasion I had been speaking about the glorious freedom proclaimed in Romans 6. On the second I was expounding Ephesians 2 and celebrating the fact that we are new creations, created in Christ Jesus. We are called ‘saints’, holy ones, and are certainly no longer regarded as ‘sinners’.
In Romans 6, Paul celebrates the truth that, whereas we used to be slaves of sin, God has made us ‘slaves of righteousness’ (Rom. 6:18). I deplored the fact that I had seen a poster when in the USA saying that a Christian is one sinner telling another sinner where to find bread. It saddens me not only to see Christians failing to accept the new identity that the gospel provides, but even fighting to defend their ‘right’ to be called ‘sinners’ when God has called those who are in Christ Jesus ‘saints’!
Such were some of you
Paul provides a horrific list of the evils that had formerly characterised the believers at Corinth, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards and so on, but clearly adds, ‘Such WERE some of you, but you were washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:16). Surely he is telling them (and us) that they are now set apart saints of God.
When Christians deplore their sinfulness to the degree that they actually argue that their essential identity is ‘a sinner’ they shoot themselves in the foot!
He who has died is freed from sin
I took him to Romans 6:6, ‘Knowing this that our old self was crucified with Christ … that we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin’ (Rom. 6:6-7) and reminded him that Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Clearly this was a truth that this young man did not know.
I then led him on to verse 11 where Paul tells us what our attitude should be to ourselves, namely to ‘consider ourselves to be dead to sin’. We must line up our thinking correctly and eagerly adopt our new relationship with sin, namely, dead to it.
Finally, I underlined his responsibility not to allow sin to reign in his members (Rom. 6:12-13). As a new creation he has the power to rule his members. He was called to live free from slavery to sin because he was not a sinner but a saint. After our chat his countenance changed, his eyes looked brighter and I think a flicker of hope had replaced the inevitability he had felt that as a sinner he was still bound to sin.
Sadly, as I turned from him a girl was waiting to speak to me and she asked exactly the same question and received exactly the same 15-minute Bible study as my answer.
In the second meeting that I addressed, I was challenged that if I don’t regard myself as fundamentally still a sinner surely I would not value the Cross. But my amazement and huge appreciation for the Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure!
As I consider the eternal God living in everlasting bliss and mutual delight within the Trinity, the incarnation amazes me! That God should become a man! And not only that, but should also experience death, and what a death! Death on a cross in bloody agony and imputed guilt, separation and rejection.
I don’t always have to bring me into the picture! The Cross amazes me and fills me with wonder and worship, praise and thanksgiving!
To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel. The Greek word which we translate ‘to proclaim the gospel’ was not originally a religious word; it is borrowed from elsewhere and actually means the announcement of good (great!) news. The original ‘Marathon Runner’ ran his 26 miles and proclaimed the Good News. We won the battle! We triumphed! It was a victory!
Has anybody got some better news?
If I insist on teaching that Christians are still essentially sinners, what is the Good News? Has anybody got some better news?
To quote John Bunyan:
Run John run the law demands
But gives me neither legs nor arms
Better news the gospel brings
It bids me fly and gives me wings!
To quote Paul again, ‘If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.’ The great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones added, ‘A new principle of life has been put into the Christian. He has a new disposition – the life of God in the soul of man! That is Christianity!’
‘Terry, are you saying that you never sin?’ Sadly in this age of conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil I do, but I sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it – not as a sinner with all the inevitability that that suggests.