“how can the righteous be considered sinners? espeically if there is no law for the righteous. and how can a person, who has jesus living in them, be considered a sinner?”
In reading the Scriptures we see a great many things that seem confusing at times. For instance, we see people that may not match our criteria for “righteousness” get labeled with the term “saint” and concurrently we see others, who we would esteem most highly, consider themselves as “sinners.” So which one is it? Are Christians, washed in the blood of the Lamb, to be called sinners? Or are we considered saints? My answer, and this is agreed upon by most conservative Bible scholars and pastors, is that we are indeed both. The primary confusion is due to a huge misunderstanding as to what makes one a sinner or what makes one a saint, primarily in regarding our legal privilege and standing vs our practical and slowly improving lifestyle (which always needs repentance and God’s gracious sustenance ).
ALL ARE SINNERS, BY NATURE
Scripture tells us that “all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). If we go back to the creation of the world, we see our father and mother, Adam and Eve, commit the world’s first sin, plunging humanity into desolate depravity. They brought sin into the world by twofold means means.
Scripture declares that all were “made sinners” through Adams disobedience (Rom 5:19). Our parents sinned in our stead as our legal representatives, meaning that were we in their situation we would have done the same thing. If I send the perfect woman to fight a Tyrannosaurus Rex and she loses, then I send the perfect man to fight the same monster, and he also looses, we can fairly say anybody else that is sent would also lose the battle. So in this way, the first Adam, as our perfect (then sinless) representative, sinned showing we would have also sinned were we in the Garden. Furthermore, by very fact that all of us sin, we prove that we agree with Adam’s disobedience in the Garden and are therefore held accountable for the same sin.
Secondly, every human being born has an inherited sinful nature which compels him or her to commit personal sin. Even if one chooses to reject the above, he cannot get rid of our sinful nature. The Scripture says we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and that we died “in Adam” (1 Cor 15:22). This means humanity is “spiritually dead” because of sin and after Adam all of us have a nature that desires to sin. Even small children, though often viewed as innocent, exhibit signs of sin nature (Psa 51:5; Jer 17:9). They are selfish and prideful, always desiring much attention to themselves, which indeed is what Satan himself was guilty of. Children learn to lie all on their own, where does this come from? It’s normal human nature to sin, this is why any arguments from biology (i.e. “I was born this way”) cannot be used to neglect biblical commands, as we are all sinners by nature. In general, if we look at the world around us we can see that all men do sin, and they sin ceaselessly, the young and old, male and female; people from every nation, tribe, and tongue constantly commit sin and there is none that haven’t.
ALL CHRISTIANS ARE SAINTS, BY GIFT
There are 67 uses of the plural word “saints” (ex: Acts 9:13, 32; Acts 26:10; Rom 16:2; Eph 4:12; Eph 5:3) and only one use of the singular word “saint” (Phil 4:21). And even this one time where Paul uses the singular (referring to one person) he means that we ought to greet every single saint, by context meaning, every single Christian. In every use of the word Paul refers to “believers” and “saints” as the same thing. That means that there is no special hierarchy or command structure as to who is a true saint, who is a weak saint and who still hasn’t achieved sainthood yet. On the contrary all who believe, even though they are still struggling to overcome sin, are called saints. The Greek word, hagios, translated as “saints,” “holy,” and “sanctified” in different Bible versions or passages, refers to those who have been set apart by function, calling, and purpose. People who have been set apart by God for his own use instead of their selfish and sinful pursuits. Thus a saint is not one who has lived perfectly and achieved a fully perfect God-like state of existence, committing absolutely zero sin of action, inaction, heart, and thought, but instead one who has been set apart from the world of sin by a new purpose, to serve and belong to Christ. As saints we are called to “be holy” (be set-apart) in the same way as God is. This means we are called to reflect our new calling and show the nature of God in our conduct and behavior. This means we are to wage war on sin as we pursue a life or repentance, and strive for Christ-like character. This doesn’t mean we are perfect, or sinless, or homoousios with God.
ARE SAINTS WITHOUT SIN?
In 1 Cor 1:2 Paul names the Corinthians as “saints,” yet just a few verses down (1 Cor 1:10-13) Paul begins to chastise them for divisions, improper form of worship, and life. In fact the epistle to the Corinthians was written to saints and brothers who are “still worldly” (1 Cor 3:1-4; 1 Cor 4:8; 1 Cor 11:20-22) and needed to be rebuked for their sins. In being faithful to Scripture, we do see that there were some sins so heinous, and which were done without any sincere repentance on the part of those who sinned, and Paul does tell the church to excommunicate those who are not repentant and those who sin blatantly without ceasing. However, it still should be noted that as a general rule the Corinthian saints were to some degree “worldly” and “infants.”
Likewise today many Christians are still infants and should be encouraged and guided towards a much greater level of maturity. Yet a question still remains; is it possible that some Christians, the most mature ones, live without any sin at all? This is where most of conservative evangelical Christianity divides from a few fringe groups that believe in earthly ‘sinless perfection’ or ”entire sanctification.’ Generally their view is that a believer can become a saint once they are perfectly holy and sanctify themselves to the point that they never sin for the rest of their life. Biblical Christianity denies such teachings, instead showing that the Bible calls us to continually trust God for our holiness and live in repentance. We can indeed see that even the best of us are prone to sin, especially if we pridefully put our trust in ourselves.
The Apostles sinned
The Apostle Peter, a man upon whose shoulders the early Jewish Church was founded, who saw Christ die, and was undoubtedly one of the pillars of the faith is scolded by Paul in Galatians 2:11-13 for the sin of favoritism. How can it be that such a man, who accomplished some of the most profound things in the history of the church still sinned? How can people today say they are without sin, and yet say Peter the Apostle is? In fact, Peter was not alone, the Apostle Paul who literally wrote one of the largest parts of the Bible doesn’t consider himself perfect or without sin, instead he calls himself “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Furthermore, Paul does not say “I was” this and now I am perfect, instead he says “I am the chief of sinners,” emphasizing the present tense. This doesn’t mean that Paul, even as he writes the Scripture is currently committing the worst sins in history. Instead, he admits his own sinful nature, including the fact that without Christ he would have continued in the worst kinds of sin.
HOW CAN WE BE SAINTS AND SINNERS?
We are justified and obtain a new identity as saints, but still posses a sinful human nature in need of sanctification
We are sinners by nature and saints by dispensation (privilege). We are justified in the eyes of God by the substitutionary atonement which the death of Christ provided. When God looks at us, legally he doesn’t “see” our sin and punish us for it, instead he sees that we are robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ who was punished for our sins. Practically, we do sin, and God the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of Christians to supernaturally aid us in victory over sin and urge us towards a life of holiness fitting with our calling. We can legally know we are saints, for this is our standing, our identity, and our lawful privilege, yet we ought never get confused and think this is due to our own doing and our own attempts at holiness. Yet we are practically sinners in need of God’s grace, for we still have a sinful human nature, that will not fully be defeated until the Lord gives us new glorious bodies that are completely free of sin. This sinful nature is undergoing sanctification (being made holy) and will one day be glorified (we get new perfect bodies) and at that time our sanctification will be complete. But until then, we are to find our idenity in our new saint nature, as we wage war on our sinnner nature.
Let us use an analogy (though let us also remember that analogies of the divine are never good enough when we use mere human examples):
Imagine that someone is born in Iran and this man has no claim to fame, riches, or well being. Then one day by some great and divine grace he receives a US passport and a free ticket to the USA. When he gets here, he is given much free help and funds from the US government to settle down and live a good life, things he doesn’t in any way deserve. Then when someone asks him about who he is, his answer is “I am a US citizen, but I am also an Iranian.” Legally, he is an American citizen and receives all of the benefits thereof, and is expected to behave like an American, yet practically he still has an Iranian accent. This is my best example of an analogy, of course it isn’t perfect, but that is the general idea.
We are children of God, legally speaking, by Grace and Mercy; but we are still sinners, practically, by virtue of the fact that we still sin and we still need Gods grace every step of the way. If God took away his Grace and Spirit from us, then we would quickly fall back into a lifestyle of sin. Let us never forget our practical battle and victory over sin is dependent and upheld by God’s Grace.
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
(1 Cor 10:12)