The Sinnerhood of All Believers
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 religion of Christ and the 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 keeps the commandments of God (of course He thanks God and gives Him all the credit). He surrounds himself with religious things like Bible commentaries, books on how to live victoriously, his friends are only of the highest caliber, he prays often to get the victory over his few remaining sins, gives often to the poor and feels guilty when he walks by beggar so he gives to feel better, and he always loves to go out into the mission field to win a convert to the truth, always eats the right thing and of course he always dresses just right and combs his hair and makes sure that has a big smile on his face. He has a lot to say also and witnesses for Jesus a lot telling every one about his marvelous Christian experience of victory over sin in his life and how close to the Lord he is now. When he sees poor sinners who are not walking in the narrow way, he is quick to assure them that if they will turn from their sins that Jesus will bless them for it. He talks a lot about perfection too and how we will all be 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.
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 call themselves 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
While Romans 7 is describing the Christian struggles, 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. To say that a Christian is still a sinner is correct but there is a difference between falling into sin and committing high handed willful presumptuous sin. I enjoy Luther as much as you do but he was not always free from extreme statements because he was in an extreme situation. 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. Remember Luther was the one who came up with the excellent illustration of the truth of the Gospel being likened unto a drunken German peasant trying to ride a donkey home in the evening. The peasant is so drunk that he keeps falling off the donkey into the ditch of "perfectionistic" legalism on the one side of the road or else he falls off the donkey and into the ditch of the "sin as you please" antinomianism on the other side of the road.
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 sinner is genuinely sorry for his sinful life and his shortcomings (repentance). 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.
To Bill Diehl
"All Christians as being righteous yet unrighteous"
What Bible verses support that statement? Notice that when the word 'sinners' is used it is often coupled with 'unrighteous' or 'wicked' or 'evil'. A 'sinner' is what I was BEFORE I surrendered my life to Jesus! A person that is in Christ is referred to as a believer or a saint or follower or a Christian or born-again. BEFORE I came to Jesus I was lost--now I am saved. A sinner is one who continually habitually sins. That describes the life BEFORE Jesus comes in and gives you a new heart and you become a 'new creation'!(2 Cor.5:17). 'The old is gone--The new has come! Praise HIS Name!
Hi Bill M.,
I would suggest we read the Lord's prayer to start with. What is forgiveness if it is not for the daily forgiveness of sin. We all sin 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. 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, 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 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 by faith alone not of works lest any man should boast. The papist 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 alone without works. This frees man from guilt and fear and allows him to begin to love and serve God without fear of condemnation and hell when we fall short of perfection.
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. There is a sin which is unto death and there is a sin which is not unto death. John makes this very clear as do many other portions of scripture.
We as Christians 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 discourage them when they commit sin by teaching that Christians are not sinners or on the other hand to encourage them to willfully sin and commit total disregard for 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 commit a known willful sin. God bless you brother.
Bill Diehl Jr.