Monday, January 18, 2010

Should Christians be Called Sinners?

Dear Gary,

In Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, which has vastly blessed me and my wife, I noticed you address all believers as sinners. But Gary! Since we all write, are we all writers?

Our self-image (Identity) should not be defined by our sinful character, appearance, performance and social status but by our position in Christ. The Bible does not identify believers as sinners; it identifies believers as saints with capacity to sin. A saint is literally a holy person, but the designation does not describe our growth in character.

Although the New Testament gives us plenty of evidence that the believer sins, it never clearly identifies the believer as a sinner. As believers, we are not trying to become saints; we are saints who are becoming like Christ. In no way does this deny our continuous struggle with sin as you know, but it does give us hope for the future.

Though many Christians are dominated by the flesh and deceived by their ignorance. But telling Christians they are sinners because they do not act like saints seems counterproductive at best, usually to the loss of their self esteem and this is inconsistent with the Bible at worst. Apostle Paul uses words like carnal and babes in Christ.

Referring to believers as sinners fits the description of those who have not come to repentance nor accepted faith in God, since the rest of the scripture clearly identifies believers as saints who still have the capacity to sin.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1Tim 1:15). The reference to “the ungodly and sinners” a few verses earlier (v.9), along with other New Testament uses of the term “sinners” shows that the sinners whom Christ came to save were outside of salvation rather than believers who can still choose to sin.

And if after receiving Christ as our Lord and saviour; we still see ourselves as sinners; then something is definitely wrong with our perception that need healing for making Christ’s work and gift of no effect.

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Please reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.


Dear E.,

Thank you for such a thoughtful question. Though you challenge an important point, you do so in a spirit of mutual edification, for which I am grateful.

When you ask, "Since we all write, are we all writers?" my immediate response, to be honest, was "yes!" We might not all be professional writers, but we are all writers. And since every Christian sins, I think it is appropriate to still call us sinners. To carry your own analogy out, we might not all be "professional" sinners--people who sin without repentance, no visible transformation, and no conviction--but we are forgiven people who still fight the sin nature and oftentimes succumb.

It was interesting to me that you even quoted 1 Timothy 1:15, but left out Paul's own admission, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worse." The way the Greek is to be understood, Paul does not say, "I was," but clearly, "I am." Paul is literally saying, "I am the worst of sinners."

Embracing this (I believe, biblical) truth has helped me to 1) live in God's grace, which I need on a daily basis; 2) guard against the effects of sin in my relationships, thoughts, and actions.

I believe this is further supported by 1 John 1:8, in which John says, "If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." In context, John seems to me to be talking about an indwelling principle here, not just facts. It takes me back to your original analogy of a writer: if I write, I'm a writer. If I sin, then I'm a sinner. A saved sinner, a forgiven sinner, but still, a sinner. I am also, as you so ably represent, a saint. I see evidence of God's grace increasing in my life, thoughts, heart, and character, but I am still very much a work in progress, and the day I stop seeing myself as a sinner is the day I believe I give sin an upper hand.

So, biblically, we don't have to choose between "saint" and "sinner." We are both: forgiven saints, and sinners progressing toward a greater righteousness. We should, with gratitude, embrace our identity as declared saints, and with humility, wrestle with the reality of our sin nature.

That, at least, is the biblical foundation from which I was writing.


  1. Spirit filled born again believers sin and know it. Repent and receive Gods forgiveness through the completed work of Jesus Christ.

  2. Thanks for your insightful response, Gary. If we saints fail to see ourselves as sinners, we endanger ourselves to deception. Pride comes before fall. When we're mindful of our dusty gravitational pull toward sin and weakness, we turn to God for strength. We become like little children, dependent on Daddy to help us reach full maturity in the faith. Seeing the end from the beginning, I believe God eagerly awaits the Day when we'll be crowned into perfect sainthood or 'manhood'. Until then, we wrestle with His power that works mightily within us!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Gary .. I almost agree with you in that Christians are forgiven and are now referred to as saints throughout the New Testament. However, Scripturally, I do think that your conclusion is backwards .. we are now "forgiven sinners" ... and because of our faith in Christ, we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, now stand before God with the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), therefore Christians are called the saints who are still progressing toward a greater righteousness in Christ (called sanctification)."For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Heb. 10:14). Yes, we do struggle with Adam's nature, but focusing on that only empowers it ..(1 Cor. 15:56). Therefore, those who have not come to Christ are called sinners, and those who have been saved by the finished work on the Cross and have come to Christ, are now the New Testament saints.