Sinners or saints – Can we Be Both?
Is it possible to be sinners and saints simultaneously?
Sinners or saints? Can we be both at the same time? If sinners are of the world and saints are of God, then can they both be the same thing? Are people of the earth differentiated as being sinners or saints? Can they be sinners and saints? Is there such a Christian state as being a “sinning saint” or even a “saintly sinner”? To the world it sounds conflictingly absurd, but how does God view it?
What have you heard?
You may have heard it taught that we are “sinners saved by grace.” Some even teach that the more we sin, the more grace is applied to us, using Romans 5:20 to support their claim.
By these same teachers we are led to believe that “we will continue to sin every day” and that we will never be set free from the bondages of sin in this life. But was this the eternal plan of God – to save us from the penalty of sin, but to leave us in its clutches, trapped in bodies of sin until death do us part? Are we compelled to wear the label “Sinner” all the while branding the banner of “Saint”? Or, has God, through His infinite loving kindness, supplied sufficient grace for us to be set free from the slavery of sin so that we can walk in the purity of love, and the freedom of holiness?
The meaning of the word – “Saint”
The word saint comes from the Latin word – sanctus which means – holy, consecrated, or, as some will teach, – “set apart”. However, what are saints set apart from if it is not the world? And you cannot be set apart from one thing without being set apart for something else which, by reason, means a separation from the one to be joined to the other. In essence, this is the meaning of “saint”.
What is God’s view?
To the Israelites the word sinner was applied generally to all those who were excluded from the commonwealth of God’s people Israel, either by race or by neglecting the written Law (1Sa 15:18). Paul testifies to the same when he said: “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles (Gal 2:15). Nevertheless, scripture gives hundreds of examples that show a clear division between the sinner and the true people of God. To demonstrate this here are a few examples:
- How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Psa 1:1)
If you don’t stand in the path of sinners then you cannot be classed a sinner.
- My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.(Pro 1:10)
You cannot be instructed not to join sinners if you already are one. (See also Pro 23:17)
- “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luk 5:32)
For those who have repented from sin are the righteous (saints). Christ did not need to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance. Those who come to the light of the gospel and repent of their sin are not sinners any more but are counted as being sanctified – or saints. Even those who lived before the gospel, God counted as righteous because of their faith in Him. Abraham, David, John the baptist were examples.
Scripture calls Christians saints, not sinners
The scriptures never address God’s true people as sinners – not once; but as saints.
- As for the saints who are in the earth, They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.(Psa 16:3)
- ‘But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.'(Dan 7:18)
- to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.(Rom 1:7)
- To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:(1Co 1:2)
- Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: (2Co 1:1)
These scriptures are among scores more in the Old and New Testament that identify God’s true followers as saints and not “saved sinners”. The truth is that we were once sinners (Rom 5:8), but are now saints of God.
Listen to Paul
“But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ (through faith), we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor (sinner).(Gal 2:17-18)
And what was it that would be rebuilt, but the old man – our previous sinful state? Paul said that if we rebuild that state we will prove ourselves to be transgressors – i.e. sinners!
Living by faith in the Son of God and receiving our justification, we need to be crucified with Christ. For it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20).
What makes a sinner?
It is our sins that separate us from God (Isa 59:2). It does not matter by what name we wish to call ourselves; whether it be Christian or not, if we sin we separate ourselves from God. Please note that the Bible does not say that He separates Himself from us, but that we separate ourselves from God.
God desires to unite us in love. He doesn’t want to be parted from us. But He loves righteousness supremely and no unrighteousness can come into His presence. It is then always we who separate ourselves from Him. Therefore, a sinner is someone who chooses to abide in sin. He rejects the way of righteousness and consequently rejects God.
What makes a saint?
A saint is one who has received the truth of the gospel and repented from his sin. He considers himself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11). He does not let sin reign in his mortal body (Rom 6:12) and does not go on presenting the members of his body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but presents himself to God as being alive from the dead, and uses his members as instruments of righteousness to God (Rom 6:13). A saint is not one who has lost the possibility to sin, but through loving obedience by faith in the very real presence of Christ, he has lost the propensity to it.
But wait! What about grace?
Surely the more we sin the more grace we receive? (Rom 5: 20)
I will go into depth about the truth of God’s grace in another post. But for now, I will share a little story to demonstrate that we cannot take a scripture out of context to support our selfishness.
I was talking with a pastor of a large church about the grace of God not covering perpetual sin. He, arguing for it, quickly pointed me to Romans 5:20 that seemed to indicate the more we sinned the more grace God applied. Now reading Romans for what it says, instead of what we might want it to say, would have ruled this thought out completely in all the previous chapters. However, the secret to quenching false doctrine, or even to explain a scriptural verse is simply to read on to enable you to put the verse into context.
Two verses later we see Paul saying: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1).
Paul’s answer: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2). And a little further in the same chapter he says: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Rom 6:15).
Insulting the spirit of grace
Scripture warns us not to use (insult) the grace of God to cover our sins because in doing so incurs His judgement (Read Heb 10:29 in context)
- For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
- but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
- Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Heb 10:28)
- How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:29)
Let us rather use the grace of God to come to our senses, turn from our former way of life and learn to walk in communion with Him. By doing so we will perceive the greatness of His nature and obtain the peace which surpasses all understanding.
Who can set us free from the body of this death?
If we are to be free from sin who can free us? For if we could have freed ourselves would we not already have done so?
The whole purpose for Jesus coming to earth (including His atoning sacrifice) was not to save us from hell primarily, but to save us from our sins (Matt 1:21). The name Jesus means Savior, i.e. He saves us not only from the penalty of sin through His atonement, but also saves us from the power of continued sin in our lives through His indwelling Spirit. (See Dr. Albert Barns commentary on Mat 1:21).
It is our indulgence of sin that separates us from God. If we could be freed of our sins then there would be nothing to separate us from God. We would then be free to live a life in Christ, enjoying His presence and become partakers of His kingdom. This, in a nut shell, is the whole purpose of Christ and the gospel.
Paul impersonates the example of a convicted believer under the bondage of sin and cries out: “Wretched man that I am. Who will save me from the body of this death?” Then quickly gives the answer: “Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus!” (Rom 7:24)
For those who still believe that Paul confessed to his own sinful state in Romans 7 go here.
Learn to walk in the Spirit and live
So, it is those who, through faith, walk in the Spirit of Christ that do not carry out the deeds of the flesh (sin) (Gal 5:16). The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and is not able to subject itself to the law of God and produces death. But those who set their mind on the Spirit of Christ live in righteousness, which results in life and peace (Rom 8:5). For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, (Rom 8:6) because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, (Rom 8:7)
and those who are in the flesh (living in willful sin) cannot please God (Rom 8:8).
The difference between the sinner and the saint is infinite in results, but at the same time very simple.
The sinner chooses to live a selfish life caring for the temporal pleasures of this world. The saint recognizes the infinite importance and holiness of almighty God. Therefore, he chooses to use the grace God has offered in the atonement of Christ, to surrender to God’s claim to his life. He repents of his sins without regret (2Cor 7:10) and follows after Christ.
The sinner engrosses his heart in self; but the saint gives up his heart to God and contributes to the eternal benevolence of His kingdom. He regards God and His interests as supreme, and as a result becomes a partaker of heaven.
I explain how saving faith works, and how we can tell if we are saved or not in my post How do we know if we are saved?