Saint or Sinner?

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.Rom 3:23 NLT

How do we define sin?

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.1 John 3:4

Well, ok, but what law? The law of the Old Testament? Should I be abstaining from sowing more then one kind of seed in the garden and wearing mixed fabrics?

Lev 19‘You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.

That certainly sounds complicated.

“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”Romans 6:14.

Well, then we got out of that mess, huh? I guess we don’t have to worry about sinning anymore then? Not exactly. This is a good example of why we need to read verses in context. In fact, just read the first 8 chapters of Romans and you won’t need to read the rest of this post. But if you do happen to read on, these are just some of my humble thoughts on sin as it applies  to Christians.

Pick any big issue like sin or justification of sanctification and you can bet there is going to be a lot of disagreement in the Church (Big C) about it. Individual churches (little c) and individual denominations view it differently. The Baptists and many others will tell you that you sin every day in word, thought and deed. I’m honestly not sure if the Catholics agree, but they do seem to agree on regular confessions, and they have sin categorized neatly, which is kinda cool if you want to know which kind of sin you’re committing. Can you live above sin? Some Wesleyans and maybe some Pentecostals  seem to think so, and John Wesley did teach entire sanctification. I suspect the Reformed churches would disagree and perhaps quote the verse about our best deeds being filthy rags.

I have to say that I’m stuck somewhere between the Wesleyan and Baptist view. Certainly, there is no one whose teachings I respect more then John Wesleys, but maybe I’ve seen too many holiness Christians who thought they were sinless and seemed a little too proud of it. So, while entire sanctification is a worthy goal to strive for, I suspect there are times in most of our lives when we resonate more with the words of Brennan Manning: “God loves you as you are and not as you should be, because you’ll never be as you should be.” His Ragamuffin’s Gospel brought me a lot of hope in a time when my faith seemed small and worn. I would like to say that it has been “a long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson quote) but the truth is, I’ve too often taken my hands off the plow and looked back to see crooked furrows in dry ground.

But let’s talk about you. If you’re a Christian, how do you see yourself in relation to sin? Are you a sinner? We hear this all time from Christians: “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” Maybe you’ve even heard Jeremiah 17:9 applied to Christians: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” That being the case, surely your sin is inevitable. Is there any hope of getting better in this lifetime? Are you just stuck with your sinful self until the day you die with no hope of improvement? Lets read on, instead of just picking out one OT verse and making it universal. In verse 10, the same chapter:

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

 In the words of CP30, the Star Wars robot: “We’re doomed!” Nonsense. Go read Romans 5-6 again:

23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,i through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Ok, you say, that is good news. I’ve been pardoned. But still, I sin.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor.)

But, you say, I still sin!

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Rom 6:18)

Your name is no long sinner.

 Romans 7:17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.c For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Now, we are getting to the core of the matter. Paul is making an important distinction here. It is no longer me doing it, but sin living in me. Well, how does that help? Funny, he sure looks like me, talks like me, walks like me. But, if I don’t want to do it, in my heart of hearts, if I really don’t want to sin, is my heart really desperately wicked? How about you? In your heart, I bet you want to look a whole lot more like Jesus, but this nasty sin nature Paul is talking about keeps getting in the way.

21So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

See, now we’re getting it. My inner being, my true heart that God gave me when I first repented of my sin, it delights to be like Jesus. But, there’s a war going on here. Maybe if we read the next verse…

 25Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now, Paul is getting excited. He’s seeing that it’s not hopeless. He really does have the spirit of God in his heart and this sin nature will not have the last word.

Your name is no longer sinner. You have been set free from the law of sin and death.In fact, you’re a saint. Did I just hear a snort? As in: “Yeah, right! Me a saint. That’s rich!”

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 1Cor 1:2

This is just one of many verses in the NT where believers are called saints. Imperfect, sinful believers, not stained glass window figures with halos, are called saints. Your identity is no longer sinner. A sinner is a non-believer.

Now if all this gives you hope, and causes you to rejoice in your new identity, I can guarantee that there is going to be another voice whispering in your ear saying: “Give it up, you pitiful excuse for a Christian. You really are nothing but a filthy sinner.”

Did you think that voice was your own? We have to remember that there is opposition. And any improvement, any movement towards, dare I say, holiness, makes the opposition re-double his efforts.

How about one more from Romans 6:

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Sin is not your master, no matter how much your carnal nature and the world, the flesh and the devil try to tell you otherwise. Now, if I didn’t already make this clear, it is not through any righteousness of your own that your identity has changed. It is only because Christ’s righteousness has been given to you freely. But if the carnal nature is the problem, even after salvation, is there anything we can do about it? Why doesn’t God just get rid of the old nature and make you holy if that’s what he wants for you?

 I clearly remember an illustration on a blackboard from many years ago-I don’t have a picture so you’ll have to use your imagination. Salvation removes your sin, but the roots underneath remain, and can spring up at any time into full blown sin. The explanation that was given was the sanctification removes those roots. If I say that’s impossible, based only on my experience, I’m only showing my inability to believe the truth that God really does want to free us completely, and is able to clean out the roots of sin in our lives.

Removing roots is work. This is part of working out your salvation. You can’t work your way into God’s grace, you can only accept it, but you do have a part in the process of sanctification. You know the sins that plague you. You may hide them from everyone else, but they are real and need dealing with. This is where the Catholics get it right with their weekly confessions. Life gets busy and our sins build up, like smelly debris blocking our lifeline to God, blinding our hearts and dulling our prayers. By the time we admit there is a problem, we may have ninety percent blockage and be in desperate need of a heart cauterization. So, we mumble “Forgive my sins, God” and figure we’re good to go. We skip the confessing and go right to the asking for forgiveness.

But real confession isn’t quite that fast and simple. We don’t need to confess everything we think might possibly, maybe, be a sin. You know the ones that cling to you like seaweed, that ones that weigh on your heart and mind. At it’s core, sin is always a lie. If I do this thing (act this way, feed this habit, tell this fib, take this thing) it will benefit me somehow. And God doesn’t approve of it only because he’s holding out on me. It’s always a lie about who God is. Like Eve in the garden seeing the fruit of knowledge. The lie is: “This thing I want is somehow better then what he have freely given me.”

How close do we look at the root cause of our sin? All this takes work, self examination, soul searching. Vegging out in front of the TV or computer is so much easier in the short term. Ask yourself, what is the lie that I’m believing here that is really causing me to keep falling into this sin? It’s not always as simple as a one minute prayer. So, go there. To that room in your heart where the problem began. Go there even though it hurts. Ask him why you keep acting this way (What I don’t want to do, that I keep doing.) It hurts because you think this thing is a part of you. It’s just who you are. But that is just another lie, fed to your heart by the carnal nature.

You know deep down that you want to be free of the lie. So invite Jesus into that nasty, ugly place where the lie began. It might be an old lie. Something someone said to you 20 years ago. The friend that betrayed you. Something as simple as a moment of anger that grew into a wall of rage over the years. And I know you don’t really want Jesus to see this ugliness that you think you’re hiding, but he knows it all anyway. He’s just waiting to be invited to sweep it away. It’s infected and sore and when he scrapes it away it might be painful, but tell him you want it gone whatever the cost. Ask him to remind you who you are in him. Renounce the sin. No, renounce the lie that led to the sin and then the sin itself. If this all feels foolish and too Pentecostal for us reserved Christians, we need to remember, that Jesus got a little Pentecostal now and then too. Cleaning out temples with a whip is anything but reserved. When the deed is done, thanks and praise should flow naturally from a grateful heart.

I’m not writing all this as if I’m somehow perfect and don’t have any roots left that need cleaning. My only hope is to help someone move ahead and press towards the goal before them.

Recommended reading: Free to live

Abba’s Child


Categories: Armenianism, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Saint or Sinner?

  1. aleta

    `I really like this , Loren. You made a lot of good points and I agree completely.(and I’m a Baptist, ha!) It makes no sense that we try to hide sin from God , thinking that just because we don’t admit it, He won’t know. It really does take a realization of the fact that we are naked before Him before we can get used to just confessing it out. And it helps to say it out loud, I believe, because sometimes it never seems to go any farther than our thoughts and although God can hear thoughts…there’s just something about hearing ourselves say it–painful, true–but very necessary. And lets hope those sins aren’t as bad as locust tree roots, which never completely come out, just snap off and spring up in another place!

  2. Karen Martin

    Great writing, wish I had Internet at home so I could read it in small bits. But, alas, I’m at the library & my computer time is running out, so I had to skim it quickly. One thing that caught my eye was the sentence about Catholics getting it right with their weekly confessions. To get a Catholic to go to confession more than twice a year (at Christmas and Easter) is a major undertaking! So though we should be going once a week (or at times, every few minutes!) is doesn’t happen very often.

  3. My thought for the day is this:

    “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:3-5).

    There is the abstract theological discussion of whether anyone can become perfectly sinless in this life. But Paul completely short-circuits that discussion in his personal application. He says his conscience is clear, but such is not proof of innocence. And for that reason Paul does not judge (measure) himself, but leaves it up to the Lord. Nobody can claim personal complete sanctification in this life without running afoul of Paul’s teaching there. If anyone claims perfection they are making a judgment on themselves. Perhaps their conscience is completely clear! But Paul himself said his clear conscience didn’t make him innocent–so why can anyone else think their clear conscience makes them innocent?

    I am reminded of what Paul says elsewhere, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor 2:12, NIV).

    We should seek to live holy lives, but the humble person does not make boasts or claims as to what he has attained in that matter but rather leaves his acclaim in the hands of God.

  4. “John Wesley himself said that the only reason he used this word the word “perfect” is because the Bible spoke of perfection. Wesley, however, did insist that the words perfect and perfection never be used by themselves to describe the experience. He urged his followers to always say Christian perfection rather than simply perfection and perfected in love rather than just perfected.
    The original biblical words for perfect and perfection do not mean absolute perfection with no possibility for more improvement. The Hebrew and Greek words mean that a person or thing is as complete as it was designed or expected to be at that moment.”

    So, I don’t think we are talking “complete” perfection, but a perfect heart towards God. In other words, perfect motives.

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