The Good News in the Bible

The Sinnerhood of All Believers
William Diehl

The true Christian is both righteous yet unrighteous, he has all things yet possesses nothing, he is rich yet poor, a saint yet confesses that he is a sinner, pure yet impure, perfect yet imperfect, bold before the throne of God yet he trembles. In short the Christian is holy while at the same time unholy. The Christian is the man of Romans 7 while at the same time the man of Romans 8.

There are only two religions in this world, the true religion of Christ and the false religion of Antichrist or Babylon. The religion of the "Man of Sin" says, "I thank you Lord that I am not like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers..." This is the confession of the naturally "religious" man. He thinks he is righteous and holy and good. He thinks that He is keeping the commandments of God perfectly (of course He thanks God and gives Him all the credit). He surrounds himself with religious things like pictures of Jesus and the "saints" and he observes all the "holy days" and "holy seasons" that the "church" has decreed. He has a little statue of Jesus on the dashboard of his car and always wears his crucifix on the outside of his shirt. And of course he always makes sure that has a sober and serious expression on his face and would never indulge in a witticism in a social setting. He talks a lot about perfection too and how we all must be absolutely sinless before Jesus comes and how we had better get ready or we will all be lost. He thinks that he only has a few little things in his life to overcome and then he will be ready for the coming of the Lord. He just needs a little bit more time and then he will be ready to stand before the glory of God that will then be revealed.

Well then there is the poor publican Christian. He doesn't have a very radiant personality and sometimes he gets depressed about his life. He wishes that he could undo some of the really lousy things he has done in the past. When he goes to church he really does not feel like he deserves to be there with all nice people who are there. He knows that he is a hypocrite and really is not as religious as he ought to be. He does not feel very Christlike and wonders how God can really love him like the Bible says. He really admires those who know their Bibles and can come up with the right text at the right time. He only remembers what he should have said after he gets home and is by himself. He wishes he were a better parent than he is and that he could be a better provider for his wife and regrets that he isn't smarter and able to get a better job. When he looks back at his life since he became a Christian he honestly believes that he is becoming more sinful rather than less sinful and is not at all happy with fact. When asked if he is ready for Jesus to come he admits that he is not sinless and yet he understands that the perfect righteousness of Jesus mercifully covers his unrighteousness and that his only hope is in God's forgiveness of his past sins and his present shortcomings.

We are living in the time of the judgment hour. We will all face our life's record. Who is going to be accepted in the judgment? Will it be the righteous man or the unrighteous man? The holy man or the unholy man? Actually the religion of Jesus tells us that we are both righteous yet unrighteous. The people of God are described as those without guile and who do not lie so the witness of the true Christian is that he confesses his faults to others and that he continually needs to have his "feet washed" and partake of the forgiveness of sin until Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven. All who think of themselves as"holy" will be cast out in that day for they are liars. Those who are without guile are those who do not lie and say Lord be merciful to me a sinner. These are the "144,000" who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

"Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"

Bill Diehl


You say that evangelical Adventists sound like they believe that we can willfully sin until Jesus comes again.

Tom, we have not forgotten that while Romans 7 is describing the Christian's struggles with his sinful nature, Romans 8 must not be ignored.

Both of these chapters must be upheld in our doctrine or else we have fallen from the Pauline gospel. While it is correct to say that a Christian is still a sinner when strictly judged by the standard of the holy Law of God, the word of God also teaches us that there is a difference between the believer's sanctification always falls short of the glory of God, and someone committing high handed willful presumptuous sin and still claiming that he can ignore the Law of God and live as he pleases. Luther as a reformer was not always free from extreme statements, but we must remember that he was in an extreme situation in history. He had to stand almost alone and bear the full brunt of the phony "holiness" perfectionism of the Roman church and this drove him to make some unwarranted statements which caused many to accuse him of antinomianism. But to his credit we must remember that Luther was the one who came up with the excellent illustration that trying to teach the German people the word of God is like trying to teach a drunken German peasant to stay on the back of a donkey as it meanders down the road. The peasant is so drunk that he keeps falling off the donkey on either the left side or the right side. He can fall into the ditch of "perfectionistic" legalism on the right hand side of the road or else he can fall off on the left hand side of the donkey into the ditch of the "sin as you please" antinomianism.

Some of Luther's extreme statements did not help the cause of the Reformation and opened the reformer to the charge of teaching that one can sin willfully and still claim justification by faith. This is not true justification. Justification by faith as taught by Paul implies that the repentant sinner is genuinely sorry for his sinful life and his shortcomings. The apostle taught "faith in Christ" and "repentance from dead works".

Acts 20:20-21 I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

There can be no teaching that an unrepentant sinner can claim to be a Christian and have eternal life who does not both repent and believe in the forgiveness of sin through faith in the blood of our Lord. Having said this however we must still affirm that all Christians still continually fall short of God's perfection and must continually repent and put our faith in the unmerited grace of God through the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is what is meant by the description of all Christians as being "righteous yet unrighteous" or "sinless yet sinful" or having "perfect imputed righteousness yet imperfect imparted righteousness". Christians can copy the pattern of Jesus and His perfection but we can never equal it. Justification by faith is not a license to sin willfully yet we all admit that we all fall short of the mark and cannot claim to be without sin.

Bill Diehl

To Bill Diehl

You say, "All Christians as being righteous yet unrighteous"

What Bible verses support that statement? I am no longer a sinner. Now I am a saint.

Bill M.

Hi Bill M.,

I would suggest we read the Lord's Prayer to start with. What does "forgive us of our sins" mean if it is not for the daily forgiveness of sin. We all fall short daily and we are all by definition sinners. (I am frankly amazed that I even need to defend the sinnerhood of all believers to a Christian audience.) We all offend and we all continually fall short of the mark. This is the definition of sin, hamartia. If any believer in Jesus thinks that he is no longer a sinner he is fallen from grace. If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves.

I would also suggest that we read the first eight chapters of Romans. There are none righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity. This blessing comes to all who believe in Christ who justifies the ungodly.

The real basis of this disagreement is a failure to understand the difference between justification and sanctification. All believers are accounted as sinless saints and justified and reckoned perfect. They are "righteous" by faith in Christ's righteousness alone. Sanctification is the gradual growth in the way of holiness which ends when Jesus comes and the conflict with our sinful natures ends.

This side of eternity there will always be battles with sin and pride and selfishness and a growth in love for our fellow man and growth in our love for God. Thus "saints" are always confessing that they are "sinners" justified by God's unmerited grace alone through faith alone in the sinlessness life and atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ alone as taught by the Bible alone.

Bill M., without trying to offend you or be disrespectful in any way I must point out to that what you are articulating is pure Romanism as spelled out in the Counsel of Trent and is the very issue which the Reformers were disputing and refuting. Rome says that "saints" are not "sinners". Rome thus says that only "sinless" saints can go directly into heaven. That is why they invented purgatory so that those "saints" who do not reach "sinlessness" can purge away all remaining sin and then enter heaven. The Reformation taught that "all saints are still sinners" justified only by faith in Christ's blook and not of our works of righteousness lest any man should boast. The papists were horrified and accused the Reformers that they were encouraging willful sin in the believers. Actually the only way to overcome sin in ones life is to believe that one is saved by faith in the blood of Christ without our good works. This frees man from guilt and paralyzing fear and allows him to begin to love and serve God without fear of condemnation and hell when we fall short of perfection. Forgiveness is only a prayer away when offered in the name of Jesus. Those who consider themselves as "forgiven much will love much". Our love for God and our fellow man will always be in proportion to our appreciation of how much we have been forgiven and how much it has cost our Lord to purchase our forgiveness on the cross of Calvary.

You are putting too narrow a definition on the meaning of "sinner". Paul in Romans 1 and 2 broadened the definition of "sinner" to include all the world so that no flesh may boast of not being a sinner, whether a believer or not a believer. The Jews believed that only the unbelieving world were sinners. Paul showed that all are sinners, before and after belief in God. It is true that the Bible speaks of the unbelieving world as being lost sinners. It is true that we are told that whoever sins is of the devil. We must read these texts very carefully lest we make the grossest error of saying that Christians never sin!

John is speaking in the present continuous sense and speaking of continually committing willful high handed disregard for the Law of God. Thus, there is a sin which is unto death and yet there also is a sin which is not unto death. John makes this very clear as do many other portions of scripture.

We as Christian teachers must be very careful when we deal with this matter lest we turn the people of God out of the way of the gospel: either to totally discourage them when they commit sin by teaching that Christians are not sinners or on the other hand to falsely teach that believers can willfully sin without daily repentance and thus totally disregard the commandments of God and live in lasciviousness. Those who receive the seal of the living God are those who confess the sinfulness of their natures while at the same time would rather die than turn away from the Law of God and high-handedly commit a known willful disregard for the commandments of God. God bless you brother.

Bill Diehl Jr.

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