Both Sinners and Saints

by
Jason Dulle
JasonDulle@yahoo.com


Question:

I have heard some people say that we are sinners saved by grace. Are they saying that even when you are spirit filled that you are both a sinner and a saint?

 


Answer:

Yes, it is a Scriptural teaching that we are sinners saved by grace. A sinner is one who sins. Even as believers, we will still sin no matter how sanctified we may be (just think of all the sins of attitude we commonly commit: jealousy, wrath, pride, etc.). As long as we are in our pre-glorified existence, we will continue to struggle with sin.

In I Timothy 1:15 Paul said, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Paul did not say "of whom I was chief," but rather, "of whom I am chief." His statement is not a past tense, but rather a present tense. Paul considered himself to be a sinner when he wrote to Timothy, and a chief sinner at that. This does not mean that Paul was committing lewd acts of sin, but does indicate the fact that he realized that he was still sinful by nature, and this fact does not change even after conversion.

Romans 3:23 teaches us that not only have all sinned, but that all (including saints) fall short of Godís glory. "Fall short," or "come short" is being used as a habitual present. Its syntactical force is that every human being continually falls short of Godís glory. This does not mean that we continually sin, but that none of us ever match up to Godís perfect standards. Our only hope is to stand in Christ's perfect sanctification (I Corinthians 1:30).

In Romans 7 Paul noted his continued struggle with sin (notice the present tense verbs used throughout), and only found relief from his sinfulness when relying on the Spirit of God to overcome his sinful desires (Romans 8). Paulís literary point in the context of Romans 7-8 is that when he fails to rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome his sinfulness, he is doomed to failure.

If any of our works after conversion can be considered sin, then we can be considered people who sin (sinners). If sinners can only be saved by Godís grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), then it follows that we are indeed sinners, saved by Godís grace.

Not only are we still sinners, but we have also been made saints. How can this be? It seems that the two categories are mutually exclusive. The answer is found in the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith. The doctrine of justification teaches us that the sinner is considered to be righteous based on their faith in the substitutionary death of Christ on their behalf (Romans 3:21-28). Christ's righteousness is counted to the believer as though it was the believer's righteousness (Romans 4; II Corinthians 5:19-21), but justification is external to the believer, being a mere legal pronouncement of a right relationship with God. Our righteousness, then, is an alien righteousness, i.e. it does arise from within us, but is external to us (stemming from Christ's righteousness). The believer is not made righteous in justification, but has Christ's righteousness imputed to his/her account as though it was truly his/hers. Our status of sainthood is not conditioned on our perfect sanctification, but on the imputed righteousness of Christ to our account.

Because justification is not contingent upon one's personal sanctification or perfection, and one's personal sanctification will always be found lacking in one respect or the other, the believer can be considered to be both righteous and a sinner at one and the same time. Because the believer's righteousness is not an inherent righteousness, or an ethical righteousness, but an external pronouncement of God's approval of the sinner which brings Him into a right relationship to God, the sinner remains a sinner. At the same time, however, because the sinner is also justified in the sight of God, he is also considered a saint. The believer is not made righteous at salvation, and thus will continue to struggle with his/her sinful nature. Because of this tension between what God considers us to be and where we actually are in terms of our personal sanctification, believers are both sinners and saints simultaneously. See my discussion of justification in my article titled Justification and Sanctification: The Theological and Practical relationship Between the Two Doctrines for a more detailed understanding of this Biblical teaching.


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