A question that comes up quite often today is “are Christians sinners ?”
Many have sat in church and heard the preacher say in humble sounding tone,
“I'm just a Sinner saved by grace.”
Ringing his hands, looking up in despair, he unknowingly equates his life before the cross, to the same as after the cross. There has been, forgiveness, or so they believe, but no transformation. Such a person has misunderstood forgiveness for salvation. The goal of the cross is not just forgiveness of sin, but also freedom from sin. The law of sin and death is literally that your sin will cause you to die, eternally, but the gift of God is to be free from the law of sin and death.
Many misread and therefore misinterpret Romans chapter 7 as the condition of a believer. They understand that the believer is in turmoil to those things listed, “that which I wish I do, I do not do, those things which I do, I don’t want to do.. oh what a woefull man am I” and then they stop reading.
Many don't understand that Romans 7 and Romans 8 were not divided up into chapters during the writing of the scripture. The Bible, in its original form, did not have any chapters or verses. There are no sectional headings and very little of what we understand as punctuation. The book of Romans is written as a letter and originally was in what we would understand to be letter form. It was later divided into chapter and verse to give a point of reference for instruction and study purposes. This has confused some of it’s readers.
The description that the author of Romans is writing is a description about a person who has not received the Holy Spirit, and who has not given their life to Christ. The turmoil of a sinner is what Paul is describing. Sadly, many leaders combine this false teaching on Romans 7, with a false humility and a low standard. In doing this they, unintentionally, lead many astray. They mold in them a “sinner saved by grace” identity instead of a “son saved and transformed by grace, with a new life and a new lifestyle to show for it.”
So in keeping with those false precepts, the wrong teaching continues and says ‘we're all sinners.’ “I'm a sinner, you're a sinner but thank God Jesus is a Great Savior.” That sounds pious, that sounds like somebody who appreciates Jesus’ work on the cross, that sounds humble and good. However, when we look at scripture, we find these concepts are far from the biblical teaching, the standard of Jesus or the heart of the Father.
The scripture says that while we were “yet” sinners, Christ still loved us.
The understanding in that text is that we were at one time ‘sinners.’ The implication is clear that our status and identity of being ‘sinners’ is past tense. We are now in a state called righteous or right standing with God. Those who have truly been born again are not “sinners” but categorically “saints.”
The bible teaches that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. He came to call sinners and lead them to a state of righteousness. The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive, but to transform. In scripture there is a clear distinction between sinner and saint, between the righteous and unrighteous .
Important to this discussion are a couple definitions. What is a “sinner”? What is a saint, or a righteous person?
The New Testament uses several Greek words that we simply translate as “sinner.” These words bring a more descriptive measure of understanding of what the Lord and the authors meant.
opheiletés —debtor, one who had done wrong to others.
hamartólos - a depraved looser, that falls short of what God approves
asebés - failing to honor the things of God: irreverant.
plané -someone who has departed from God’s truth, thereby they have stepped into deception and error.
The second use, hamartólos, is the most common, being used 151 times in the New Testament in one form of the root word or another.
It is used in the two verses that we will consider here.
“…while we were yet (past tense) sinners (hamartolos), Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
also “The one who continues to practice sin (hamarian) is of the devil...” 1 John 3:8
Then John continues
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” 1 John 3:9
The first scripture shows that being a “sinner” is a past tense. This is a pre-Christ state for the Christian. It is a current state for those who have not yet been born again, though they may have been a church attender, elder, deacon or pastor, they are not walking with God if they continue a habitual life of sin.
The second and third scriptures clearly show that living in blatant, unrepentant sin is not a lifestyle option for the follower of Christ.
So there is a pre-Christ state known as being a “sinner.”
There is also a post-salvation state known as being a “saint” or someone who is “righteous.” Let’s dig a bit deeper into the use of these terms.
The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sanctus”, which means holy. It is the same place where we get the word “sanctified” and “sactimonious” for that matter.
The Koine Greek word here is “hagious” which means “holy ones”. Notice he doesn’t, address them as “sinners” which was their former state, he addresses them with who they are now, that is ‘saints.”
I love that when Paul writes he addresses those in the Philipian church, “hagious en Christo Iesou” Holy ones or Saints ‘in Christ Jesus.’ As John Piper has taught, the only way we can be holy is to be ‘in Christ Jesus.” Trying to produce holiness on our own is an often repeated, failed ugly state. This state is know as ‘self righteous.”
I love what Jesus taught about the vine and the branch. In me you ‘can do all things” without me “you can do nothing.” This “all things” includes holiness.
Some saints try to be holy through their own rules and regulations. They make law after law, like the Pharisees. No make up for ladies, no card games, no dancing, no sports, no this or that until you end up with a bitter nasty group full of self righteousness for themselves and condemnation for others. This group often believe they, and their church are the only way to get to heaven. It is easy to see why the world would rather go to hell that suffer eternity in the company of this crowd. They appear to have been baptized in lemon juice, and their man-made efforts become a stench all but the very least discerning. These are the most miserable people I have ever seen.
On the other side of the ditch you find compromise. This group says ‘we are sinners” lets plunge right into it. They call any standard of righteousness “the law.” You see this with many “cheap grace teachers.” They have no fear of hell, as they go against the teaching of Jesus that says, “hell is a place of torment where the flame never goes out.” These who have become ‘wise in their own eyes” would have you believe they are wiser and more enlightened than Christ. They like the self righteous have many rules, no fasting, no tithing, no repenting. Any effort on behalf of a believer to hold to a biblical standard or lifestyle is referred to as “works.” They have become a law unto themselves. Many delve into perverted lifestyles and drug us all under the guise of “grace.”
So what is the remedy? Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
The key to walking in the biblical requirement of holiness, to stop living as a sinner, stop shaming the Lord’s name with cheezy churchy platitudes like “I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great savior” is simply to remain in Him, and let His words remain in you.
The key to being a saint, a holy one, a Christian, is to stay close to Jesus.
We cannot theologize His words away, that call us to fast, to pray. It is not ‘legalism” or “works” to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him or to repent when necessary, as the New Testament teaches. It is not “old testament” or ‘giving into ‘the law’ or a “Greek construct” to crucify our flesh, or to resist the devil so that he will flee from us.
We must embrace all of scripture and not try to wiggle our way out through cleaver engineering of the text with the thoughts and philosophy of man, which are corrupt as they are carnal.
In short, we must abide in Him. In doing so we will become like Him, which is holy. In this connected relationship we will be able to do what we could never do on our own.