Who are We? Saved Sinners or Saints who Sometimes Sin?

When it comes to the question of “sanctification” (i.e., growth in holiness, Christ-likeness, and godliness), I frequently pose my students this question:

Are we sinners saved by grace, or, saints who sometimes sin?

On the former, it anchors our identity in our fallen nature and Adamic heritage, so that we are by nature sinners who have been grafted into Christ. The problem I have with that view is that it reduces us to a kind of worm that has been let off the hook. But despite the continued struggle with sin and resisting the world, the flesh, and the devil, something really has changed for believers. They are no longer who they were. They are dead and crucified with Christ. They live on only by a quickening by the Spirit and sharing in the Son. That’s why I prefer to say that Christians are “saints who sometimes sin.”

Any way, Robert Saucy had a good article on this that C. Michael Patton has helpfully reproduced.

  • Paul W

    I’ve heard this sort of question a few times. My typical response has been something like, “Well, if you want to define someone who sins as a sinner than of course I am a sinner. However, I am unaware of any place in Scripture where the label sinner is used to describe any person united to Christ.”

    • Hey

      Paul calls himself the “chief of sinners” and he was definitely united in Christ

  • Patrick Schreiner

    Paul,

    The apostle Paul calls himself the chief of sinnners.

    Patrick

    • http://blogalution.com/ Asher

      Patrick,

      Maybe you were just trying to point out that Paul W’s statement was inaccurate. But if you were trying to suggest that Christians should view themselves as saved sinners rather than as saints who sometimes sin, I think the weight of New Testament witness favors the latter.

      Paul begins several of his letters with “to the saints in __________.” He often locates the identity of the believer as “in Christ.” Rom. 8:1 – “those who are in Christ”; 8:9 “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the spirit”; Eph. 1 focuses on our status of being “in Christ,” while Eph. 2 conveys a strong contrast between what we were — “dead in trespasses and sins” — and what we are — “alive together with Christ.”

      We also see in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 a list of different types of sinners (sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, etc.) and then the statement, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” Paul’s emphasis seems to be on the new identity in Christ, or the “new creation” as he calls it in 2 Cor. 5:17.

      And there are many other examples of this in the NT. But Paul’s reference to himself as a sinner seems to be an exception.

      Asher

    • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

      He was referring to his pre-conversion self. His sinful opposition to Christ then, he believed, gave hope for all.

    • Paul W

      It seems obvious (to me) from the context that the Apostle’s statement was an evaluation of his former life.

      For a popular presentation from that same orientation see Tom Wright’s “Paul for everyone: The Pastoral Letters . . .”

  • Raymond

    Two things come to mind. First, how do we define “sin” or being “sinful?” Second,
    I would like to think of myself a one who “sometimes” sins, but the “sometimes” is the problem. More frequent than “sometimes.” And then, the real issues are raised when I think not of just what I do, but how I think, feel, etc. Every dimension of my life is stained, a.k.a., total depravity. Good question, but the answer is a bit too simplistic.

  • Wesman

    This question is tiring, framed by and rooted in the individualistic, Reformed meta-narrative. Nowhere does the NT play “saint” and “sinner” off each other like we want it to. And they both denote different aspects of who followers of Christ are and what they do. Are we sinners? Of course! Are we saints? Of course! These are not mutually exclusive categories, so let’s stop asking the question in such a way as if they were. Instead, why not contrast what the NT authors contrast: “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit,” or “slave to sin” and “slave to Christ,” etc.?

    • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

      Pity you can’t see that ‘sinner’ and ‘saint’ are just like ‘in the flesh’ and ‘in the Spirit’; they are identity words, describing a position, a standing, a designation.

  • http://www.trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com/ Trin

    “The old man is gone, the new man is come.”
    Focusing on ourselves as wretched sinners is contra grace, contra gratitude, contra faith, and contra scripture.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    Spot on. To view ourselves as sinners presently gives us an excuse for sin which Scripture never does. Give a dog a bad name…

  • Babybunnie

    How I look at it is like this, human beings are saved by grace, after we accepted and follow God’s word. However, we are sinful saints,after we accept Christ, as well, logic common sense to me.

  • Roger Smalling

    Thank you for your fine site.

    Please note a resource that fits in with your
    fine article: Quit Calling Yourself
    a Sinner: http://www.smallings.com/english/Essays/quit.htm

    Please note our many resources English and Spanish:

    http://www.smallings.com/

    In His bonds,

    Roger & Dianne Smalling

  • Roger Smalling

    Thank you for your fine site.

    Please note a resource that fits in with your
    focus on Saint or Sinner.

    Quit Calling Yourself a Sinner:

    http://www.smallings.com/english/Essays/quit.htm

    Other free resources in English and Spanish:

    http://www.smallings.com/

    In His bonds,

    Roger & Dianne Smalling


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