Monday, November 21, 2005

Are Christians Sinners?

I started on this topic once (a couple times really) but of course I don't think it can ever really be finished. I've also had discussions on other people's blogs along the same lines, and I'd be interested in knowing what you think, and why, if you want. It doesn't have to be anything grand (but can be). I think I'm in the minority, so I'm looking at this as a survey I think, to see how "out there" my position is, just out of curiousity. Be as brief or long-winded as you like. Oh, and consider yourself prayed for!


Blogger son of puddleglum said...

Hi, just passing through (saw your comments on another blog). I would say that yes, Christians can and do sin; therefore Christians are sinners. The biblical data seems to confirm this. (My apologies for prooftexting here; trying to keep this short).

In James 3:2, James, apostle, brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church says, "We all stumble in many ways.", referring here specifically to sin of speech. If someone like James (who includes himself - 'We all') can admit to sinning then we ought to as well.

1 John 1:8-10 (written to Christians) says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
In the very same letter, John also tells us that we are God's children (1 Jn 3:2).

In Revelation ch.2 and 3, Jesus tells the churches at Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea to repent for sins they have committed. One need not repent if sins have not been committed.

Saying that we've sinned does not, however, negate our being saints. As Romans 8:1 tells us, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". Our righteoues standing before God is through the work of Christ alone. Ours is a positional righteousness even though on a practical basis we sin.

I would look at it this way. We practically sin, but through the process of sanctification we are becoming less and less the sinner we once were, such that we will be maximally set in righteouness once it's time to pass on into heaven. We are positionally saints, and through the process of sanctification we will progressively become more and more saintly until we are maximally set in righteousness for when it's time to pass on into heaven.


November 28, 2005 11:54 PM  
Blogger DErifter said...

Thanks for your thoughts, son of puddleglum. (The movie opens here next week!)

I can appreciate the views you've stated, and I would have agreed completely a long time ago. Now I only agree somewhat. Too many Christians think that because of something they do or did, that they're disqualified or "not quite right" somehow. It's absolutely true that we stumble, and sometimes fall flat on our faces! But as redeemed and reborn children of God that doesn't affect our righteousness at all. Because if it did, it would be righteousness based on the law, which we are no longer under. Our standing as "righteous" of course, was not earned by our behavior (or behaviour if you're from Canada!) abiding or not by this rule or that, but by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I have no problem saying that my righteousness "was" as filthy rags, and if you want to base it on my works it still is. But God doesn't base our righteousness on our works, so why should we? Who we are is righteous sons of God. A lot of people seem to be comfortable identifying with their works rather than grace, but I'm not one of them. It could be that it's largely the definition of the words "sin", "sinner", and "sinful" that create the confusion, or the illusion of sinful new creations.

Anyway, thanks again for dropping by.

November 29, 2005 9:52 PM  
Blogger Crimson_Willow said...

Christians are sinners, yet by the teachings of the Bible, they don't have to be... doesn't it say somewhere that you were "slaves to sin" and now have been "set free"? Doesn't that mean that if a Christian really wanted to, they could stop sinning? In a way... a christian sinning is kinda like a "dog returning to it's own vomit".
Christians cannot stop sinning because of the way they were raised. Society teaches that to do something bad and get caught is horrible, but to do something bad and get away with it is a total thrill.

December 02, 2005 5:21 PM  
Blogger DErifter said...

Hey CW, have you been on vacation or what? Haven't heard a peep out of you in a while.

To sin means to fall short, or miss the mark. The point I've taken to heart is that Jesus hit the mark for us Christians, once for all time, so we have forever "hit the mark" thanks to Him. Now if Jesus has hit the mark for us, then we no longer miss the mark (sin). Voila! Righteous ex-sinner, holy and clean: That's me. And that's my arrow, right in the bulls-eye. Wow, I think I'll say that again: "Thanks to Him!"

Should I be worried that you sort of agree with me? Maybe I need to re-think this.... (Just kiddin)

December 02, 2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger son of puddleglum said...


I don't think I'm exactly clear on what you're trying to say. You admit that we all "stumble" and "fall flat on our faces". But sin by any other name is still sin. Your concern may be with those who think that they need to continue to work to attain righteousness with God:

"Too many Christians think that because of something they do or did, that they're disqualified or 'not quite right' somehow."

But since when did the church determine what is true based on the incorrect thinking of some Christians? Too many Christians thinking they're disqualified for what they did is too many Christians not believing what the NT actually teaches.
This not a reason to abandon the teaching of the NT that Christians do continue to sin. Rather, it's a reason to offer more teaching to those who think this way.

It seems that your concern is more a matter of semantics than anything else. The distinctions can be kept clear, however, if we maintain the concepts of 'practical' and 'positional'. We sin in a practical manner even though in God's view we, in a positional sense, are righteous.

We agree on the essential thing, namely that our righteousness is based completely on God's grace. That righteousness, however, is a gift given to us; it is not our own. We are declared and pronounced righteous by God (i.e. justified)even though in fact we do not and cannot live wholly righteously. Thus, there is no reason at all to be proud or hypocritical, but every reason to be humble and grateful.

"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Ro. 3:21-24

The common term for this is forensic righteouness. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines it this way: "Forensic righteousness refers to the legal condition of those who are justified as a result of God's declaration that they are guiltless before his is...essentially a declarative act of God who judicially accounts the acquitted one to be in right standing before him." (p.459) A declaration doesn't make our righteousness less real; the fact that God is the one who is declaring it makes it very real.

Even though justification is a gift from God, sanctification, the lifelong process of becoming practially righteouss, is something we have a hand in. One should not confuse justification with sanctification!

December 02, 2005 6:21 PM  
Blogger DErifter said...

You're probably right about it being semantics, but why pass up the chance to disagree with everyone?
Haha. So when you say "Christians are sinners", can you tell me in 15 words or less what that means? In other words, if I wanted to be a sinner, what would I need to do? That's where I have a hard time separating the concept from works-righteousness.

By the way, thanks for quoting Rom 3:23 in the context of its surrounding verses. More often people use that verse alone to prove that people sin: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", apparently missing the fact that there's gold in verses 21, 22 and 24.

(Not unlike some of the verses greeting-card companies use, right?) I enjoyed that post of yours!

December 02, 2005 11:05 PM  
Blogger son of puddleglum said...

Thanks for the chance to clarify a couple of things.

The bible contains two senses of the word 'sin'.

Sense #1: sin is a failure to obey or conform to the moral law of God. This failure can be either conscious or unconscious, and can involve actions, words, thoughts, and attitude.

Sense #2: sin is the condition of complete and utter alienation from and enmity with God. In this sense, sin is more than just a particular violation of the law but is characterized by the way our natures are oriented. Common phrases for sin in this sense are 'original sin' or 'sinful nature'.

So, if you're saying that we are no longer sinners in sense #2, then I agree completely. So, in Romans 5, where Paul writes:

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (v.8),

he is using sin in sense #2; that is, while we were alienated from God and captive to our sinful natures, Christ died for us.

But, even though we are no longer sinners in sense #2, we are sinners in sense #1. I cannot ignore the biblical passages that tell me that God's redeemed people still commit particular violations of His law such as 1 John 1:8-10, James 3:2, Rev. 2 and 3.

Also see James 5:14-16, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

Now, there's some disagreement as to what sickness refers to. But there's no doubt that the sickness is a result of sin. Remember, James is writing to believers: "Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord's coming." (5:7)

Also, see 1 John 5:16-17: "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death."

There may be some dispute as to what the sin that leads to death is, but this passage certainly leaves no doubt that Christians do sin.

But, you might say, doesn't the next verse say: "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him."?

Either John suffered an acute case of short-term memory loss between writing the two passages, or he means something else. Let me quote from the NIV study bible note for 1 John 3:6, "John is not asserting sinless perfection (see 1:8-10; 2:1), but explaining that the believer's life is characterized not by sin but by doing what is right."

So to answer your question, 'Christians are sinners' means "when a believer commits a particular violation of God's law since all wrongdoing is sin" (15 all the words that came before them).

So to be a sinner one merely has to commit a violation of God's perfect law. Call it stumble, or fall flat on our faces, or miss the mark. That's a sin.

As for works-righteousness, that is only a problem if one confuses justification (the legal declaration of God that we are righteous based on Christ's righteousness) with sanctification (progressively moving towards a state of Christ-likeness and a freedom from sin (sense #1) by co-operating with the Holy Spirit through good action, thoughts, and words). Sanctification comes after justification. Our desire to do good works in the process of sanctification doesn't save us because we are already saved. Nor does our lack of conforming to God's law disqualify us from salvation because, again, we are already saved on another basis, namely, God's grace and the finished work of Christ on the cross. I'm not as concerned about Christians who think they're in danger of losing their salvation because they've sinned (they're probably the least likely to lose their salvation, assuming one believes that salvation can indeed by lost; but that's a whole other topic) than I am of those who somehow think that they can work their way into heaven.

Well, this is probably the best I can do. I'll let others have a crack at it. Thanks for your agreeable manner in this discussion. I don't know if my case seems convincing to you, but it's nice to know that two believers can disagree agreeably.

Take care.

December 04, 2005 6:21 PM  
Blogger DErifter said...

Hello again!

It really is "nice to know that two believers can disagree agreeably", but after hearing your definition of sin, I'm not sure we disagree on too much. At the end of my first sinner/saint post I said that there ARE some ways in which I'd say I'm a sinner. You were pointing some of them out in your last comment. I like to think of "sense #1 and sense#2" as "Sin with a capital S" (the condition of sin) and "sin with a small s" (the act of sin.

It could be said that it's just semantics, but if people are confusing those two senses of sin, it becomes more than that. You see, my whole idea for the post comes from my time in a "high church" setting, where each week the confessions could be heard that "we are by nature sinful and unclean", which I ABSOLUTELY disagree with when spoken by a Christian. But that is true of non-Christians, even though if they're confessing that they are not far from receiving grace!

What I'm really arguing against is our IDENTITY as sinners. I can hit a baseball, but I'm not a baseball player. I can fix a car, but I'm not a mechanic. That sort of thing.

I'd interpret some of the verses you listed a bit differently than you do, but like you said, that would be for different posts. Thanks for your insights, Son of Puddleglum.

December 04, 2005 7:47 PM  
Blogger Roseann said...

I came by to "meet" you after responding to your comment on my blog.

At the risk of repeating myself and Son of Puddlegum, I think "sinner" is used in at least two ways in Scripture: Type 1 - anyone who commits a sinful act, or even anyone with a sinful nature and Type 2 - someone living in habitual, unrepentant sin.

I don't think that because Christians sin they are no longer right with God. I see our being right with God (righteousness) as linked with justification which is a completed act that was imputed to us or put to our account; not earned. As such, justification took care of our status as Type 2 sinners (sounds like a disease, doesn't it?).

For me, the issue is about being a Christian and a Type 1 sinner and the process of sanctification, or being made like Christ, perfect and without sin. In that regard, the New Testament makes it clear that our sinful nature (our flesh) is at war with our spirit (regenerated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us) and we are constantly admonished to follow the Spirit and not our flesh. It would seem that we repeatedly need to choose which way to go. So even as Christians we have a sinful nature with which we contend, at least until we're made complete (The one who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do this. I Thessalonians 5:24).

I hope that was clear and I didn't confuse the matter even more.

Be blessed.

December 05, 2005 12:31 AM  
Blogger kerux said...

I don't have time to jump into this one all the way (haven't we talked about this already?) but I would recommend reading one helpful little section out of Arnold Dallimore's George Whitefield, Volume I, pp. 316-319, where he interacts with Wesley's view of Perfectionism. I do not think what you are saying is what Wesley said, but I do think Dallimore's synopsis and explanation would be beneficial in this discussion.
But it is my day off... I need to stop blogging!

December 05, 2005 11:41 AM  
Blogger DErifter said...

Well, so far we all agree on the most basic, foundational truths (there is sin, there is forgiveness and newness of life, and it's by grace through faith in Jesus) but Roseann, I still gotta respectfully disagree with you on the sinful nature part. My purpose isn't to argue, but to hear why people believe the way they do and you've each done a fine job of that, and I thank you for it. Kerux, yes you and I have talked a little bit about it (I'll have to find the book you referenced) and I have a pretty good idea of what you think about it already. I have an EXCELLENT idea about what I think about it *smirk* but I was just looking for a broader perspective. (Not that yours is narrow, *smirk again*) I wouldn't have known the thoughts of Son of Puddleglum, Crimson Willow, and Roseann had I not asked.

So far, you guys have confirmed what I already suspected: That I'm in the minority. I think I take the implications of grace farther than most. You would say "too far" but I'm ok with that!

December 06, 2005 6:23 PM  
Blogger DH said...

I am glad you invited us to be goes my thoughts on this post and some of the earlier one..

I think it has already been said, but we are all sinners, regardless of our belief or status. Christians however are redeemed sinners and that is really the only difference. We therefore can also be considered saints of a certain sort if you want to use that word. I think you would agree that even after we have been redeemed we still sin daily and will continue to until the day we die. But as Christians we are daily living deeper into our redeemed nature rather than our fallen nature. We are preparing for eternity but we are not perfect nor claim to be. So you could say we are becoming saintly day by day. This does not mean necessarily by doing this or that or by quiting doing this or that but it does mean following the leadings of the Holy Spirit and then testing those leadings against the truth in God's Word to know that they are in fact true and aren't just our own feelings.

Now here's a twist. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to say that if I act on that leading, lets say I'm led to confess my sins for example because I feel guilty about something I did or didn't do, that I am trusting in my own works to save me. But what if my confession was not a salvation work to obtain righteousness but a work of faith? James 2 speaks about this.

Grace by faith means that we are considered righteous because of Christ's merit alone and not by our own works or merit. So we are justified by faith in Christ and our works cannot put away our sin or bring us into any measure of justification with God. The term merit is important here because it is not the same as works. Another important point is that justification by faith is not a single work or even a work at all. It is an objective fact regardless of our attitude to it. We are simply given the grace to accept it. Faith is a way of life that if properly nurtured results in good works which are fruits of that faith. Good works, that is works that please God, are only possible after Justification because there is no other worthy motive for such works except faith in Christ.
What do works of this kind look like? The Bible tells us that this involves loving God with all our heart soul and mind and then following that it also involves loving your neighbor. From there you can rightly determine the real meaning and purpose of everything else in the Bible to understand moral law (like the law of gravity not the law of a government). Confession makes sense in this respect because the first step to loving God is understanding His unconditional love for you, a love that you really don't deserve but you have regardless. Suppose you are mean to your wife. Your love for her demands that you apologize and make amends. You don't apologize just because you must to maintain the marriage. If you do it is not a true apology. You are doing it because it is part of what the marriage is about and what true love demands. How is love between God and man, Christ and His Church any different?

So going back to the beginning here you can be a redeemed sinner seeking to be a saint or you are just a fallen sinner. Either way you are diseased by/with sin until you pay the price for it which is death in this life. But as a Christian after this price is paid you will live on eternally in harmony with God.

January 04, 2006 11:07 PM  
Blogger DH said...

Hope I'm not chiming in too late on this. I followed your comments to your blog, which I had done before, but I never really got to read much of your postings. So I'm reading back a few posts.

January 04, 2006 11:10 PM  
Blogger DErifter said...

Hi DH,

Some of what you said had been brought up before, and much of it seems to be what I suppose is the prevailing doctrine, if it can be called that.
You said,

"...we are all sinners, regardless of our belief or status. Christians however are redeemed sinners and that is really the only difference."

When I try to imagine Paul preaching that, and being whipped and beaten and otherwise tortured for it, I'd wonder where he got his passion if "that is the only difference." I'm not making light of your saying redemption is the only difference- okay maybe just a little :) Redemption is a huge difference! It's what that term redeemed contains that blows me away. New birth, new life (which lasts for ever!), new purpose, new nature, peace with God, freedom from sin and its power. Consider what it would mean to you if grace was even better news that you think it is, because it is. It's better than I think it is too, and someday I'll be able to grasp that. But what would change if you were more forgiven that you thought?

I'm not telling you anything you didn't know DH, but I can't see any reason to think of myself (or you) as a sinner. I know that I depend on God for my every breath, it's not that I think I don't need His grace- I live for it! But peace has been attained and the war is over. I can't imagine living in the past, as who I once was.

Sorry for the sermon there, I do that sometimes. As always, thanks for your thoughts. Blessings!

January 06, 2006 10:44 PM  

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