Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Yeah ... you're a legend in your own mind.

More than once I've come across the assertion that one is not a sinner anymore. The thinking is, "I'm a saint, so I must no longer be a sinner."

I've even been rebuked for saying that I am a sinner saved by grace.

I have had many discussions with folks on this topic and I find it troubling. One such discussion has sparked this post.

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I appreciate the heart of those who affirm sainthood to the point of denying their identity as sinners. I do. I think much of it comes from a desire to think oneself to be who one is, rather than who one once was. I appreciate that. I really do, but I have to disagree.

It's not that we're not saints, of course. But it's a false dichotomy and dishonest to say we're not sinners.

We're sinners saved by grace through faith. We're saints because we've been declared such, and should act like such.

Yet, we're saints that sin. That's the Reformed (or historic Protestant) understanding of justification.

As Luther penned it, "simul iustus et peccator" - Latin for simultaneously justified and sinner.

In other words, I am a saint and a sinner, pardoned and adopted by God's grace.

We're sinners simply because we sin and that's what the word means. To deny we sin is another problem in and of itself.

Plus, Paul speaks of himself as a sinner, in fact the chief of sinners in 1 Tim 1:15. And he does so in the present tense.

It's not "I was the chief of sinners," but "sinners, of whom I am chief."

Like the elderly Texas lady said of the KJV, "If it's good enough for the Apostle Paul, it's good enough for me."

There is often concern, however, that just as Satan tries to convince the unconverted that they're saints, so he tries to convince the converted that they're "unworthy sinners."

First, I would say, we are unworthy and will always be so, in and of ourselves. Any pleasure God has in us is because of Christ and His righteousness, not ours.

I also have to disagree, at least in my experience,with regard to spiritual warfare as to our identity. For me, the enemy's attack (post-conversion) has been more, "No, that's no big deal. It's not sin. If so, it's only a little one and, hey, you're a forgiven saint anyway, so what's the big deal? Jesus will still love you. Do it. You know you want to."

I have been told:
"Luther’s comment is not found anywhere in scripture and Paul’s statement is just an adjectival phrase of who Jesus came to save (he’s one of the group). Paul also said that he wasn’t fit to be called an apostle which, given the same kind of literalistic interpretation that you use in 1 Tim. 1.15, means that God really missed it.

While the Reformers saw some light on faith, that revelation does not transmogrify them into being foundational apostles or even put them in a class of elevated teachers. They, for instance, failed to understand the ontological significance of verses such as 2 Corinthians 5.21 (”we are God’s righteousness”) or Galatians 6.15 (”what counts is a new creation”) with their Latinized justification template."

Well, I'm just a caveman. I don't really understand transmogrified apostles or Latinized justification templates, but I do know this.

In 1 Cor 15 Paul speaks the truth, he wasn't worthy. He doesn't say he was "unfit," but I'll even go that route. God made him fit.
"For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (v.9)

How can that mean anything other than what Paul meant? God called him by grace, since he wasn't worthy. Had he been fit, then it wasn't by grace.

Of course, there's always Romans 7 where Paul speaks in the present tense. Some will dispute the nature of his discourse, but in the context of dealing with sanctification you have the Apostle Paul speaking of himself as struggling with sin.

In 1 Tim 1:15 Paul speaks in the present tense of being a sinner. Sure, that's a literalistic interpretation. Is that a bad thing? Don't his words mean things ... literally?

Luther's comment, of course, wasn't in Scripture, which was obvious since it's Latin. But, of course, "trinity" is not found in Scripture either, but it's a helpful way of understanding things (cf. "hypostatic union," "forensic justification," "substitutionary atonement," etc.).

My question to those who claim to be saints, but deny they are sinners is always this: Are you saying that you don't sin? If so, I have little hope we'll come to any agreement on things of the faith.

But, if you sin, then you're a sinner ... just like the rest of us. We all know that's how language works.

One who runs is a ... runner
One who swims is a ... swimmer.
One who sins is a ... sinner.

In short, I think such folks assume the conclusion. They assume a false dichotomy that we can't be both a saint and a sinner at the same time, which is a very Roman Catholic approach.

They know we're saints, so they assume we can't be sinners. Then they interpreting these texts through such a lens.

The thinking is: "Well, they can't mean that a regenerate person is a sinner, so they must mean something else."

I just don't think these texts are given a fair treatment to allow them to answer the question of our multi-faceted identity.

In a discussion along these lines, one wrote:
"It’s one thing to admit that I sin. It’s another to wallow in that admission and fail to walk in the triumphant life Christ purchased for us on the cross."

Amen. I'm certainly not advocating that. We are to walk as children of light, living as new creations.

Another wrote:
"The Word shows us that a sinner has the nature of the devil in him (John 8.44) and that he is also “energized” by the devil as Rotherham puts it (Eph. 2.2). The Word also shows us that one who is born-again has the very nature of God Almighty in him (see John 1.2, 4; 10.10)."

I've not heard of Rotherham, but even if he "saw some light on faith, that does not transmogrify [him] into being [a] foundational apostle or even put [him] in a class of elevated teachers."

(Just having some fun with it.)

I agree that there's been a significant, nay huge, change in those born again. I agree we were children of wrath and of the devil, etc. What I'm arguing, however, is that those things don't mean we're not "sinners saved by grace" in addition to all those other things.

Another wrote:
"In that light, I am a saint. Not because of anything I did, but because of what Jesus Christ did for me! Yes, I sin - but I learn from it, ask forgiveness and continue on being “made” by the One I follow!"

Amen. We sin, because we're sinners and/or thereby making us sinners, but we're also saints.

I'm certainly not arguing that we're not saints.

Another wrote:
"Call it “The New-Birth Birthright.” Yes, we will struggle with the old nature at times, but we’re all new creations in Christ. Our address has been changed from hell to heaven. Should we go back to hell and reminisce about the old days? No. We must claim the birthright He purchased for us by living obediently with Him as our Head. That’s the position we’re in now, the position of the saint. (BTW, Watchman Lee lays this out brilliantly in his exposition of Ephesians, Sit, Walk, Stand.)"

(I think it's Watchman Nee being referring to. His name seems to have been combined with Witness Lee.)

But, who said anything about going back to hell to reminisce about the old days? I'm talking about the here and now. As you note, we will struggle with the old nature at times ... and sin. That's our reality, isn't it? Saints that sin?

Do you sin? If you're not a sinner, then doesn't the answer have to be no?


In these discussions folks will often labor to convince me that we're saints, that which I'm not denying nor arguing against. I'm fully persuaded the redeemed are saints in Christ Jesus. So, if you're trying to persuade me of that, it's already a given.

What must be proven is that one cannot be both at the same time, not merely because we declare it to be so, but by Scripture or logic or something. Or what must be proven is that we are not sinners in any sense after conversion.

Those are the thoughts I'm challenging, not that we're saints, children of God, priests, new creatures, etc.

I don't want to come across as antagonistic, but this is an important issue that we not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, sinners saved by grace.

10 Comments:

At 09 January, 2008 17:12, Blogger Oilcan said...

Sudden Impact

I agree with you Gunny.

What about 1 John 1? 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Are we to believe 1 John is written to the uncoverted? No, but it is written to the converted, and still the converted (saints) are in need of forgiveness and cleansing (because they sin).

This is not to mention the plethora of NT examples of saints who have sinned.

The assertion that unglorified saints do not sin is laughable, and yet very dangerous.

 
At 09 January, 2008 19:01, Blogger GUNNY said...

Oilcan wrote:
"Sudden Impact"

Nailed it! And that's a magic number.

There are weirdos out there who really do think they go days or weeks (or even months at a time without sinning).

You have to either redefine sin or have only occasional interactions with reality or be unconverted and ignorant of your sin.

 
At 09 January, 2008 21:53, Blogger Lance said...

A major proponent of this belief is John Eldredge, whose book, "Wild at Heart" has become the Bible for men today.

In WAH, Eldredge tells us that Jeremiah 17:9 does not apply to the New Testament Christian, because we have a "new heart."

Interestingly enough, Jesus claimed that sin comes "from the heart."

So, I'm kinda lookin' at my life, you know, and seein' some stuff that just don't look like a glorified man is supposed to look . . . and I'm just kinda thinkin' that maybe . . . I'm still a sinner and that my heart is still deceitful and out of whack.

Maybe it's just 'cause I'm not wild enough, but I think it's 'cause I'm "declared righteous," not yet, "made righteous."

Call me crazy.

 
At 10 January, 2008 01:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the Charlie Peacock song "In The Light," a portion of which says:

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior.
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a saviour.

 
At 10 January, 2008 08:27, Anonymous Lionel Woods said...

I wish I could stop sinning, I would have the perfect life then!

 
At 10 January, 2008 08:53, Blogger Lance said...

To quote Eldredge verbatim:

"Too many Christians today are living back in the old covenant. They've had Jeremiah 17:9 drilled into them and they walk around believing 'my heart is deceitfully wicked.'
Not anymore it's not . . . Sin is not the deepest thing about you. You have a new heart. Did you hear me? Your heart is GOOD."
(pp. 133-34)

 
At 10 January, 2008 09:25, Anonymous Jeremy said...

I'm with Oilcan, 1 John 1:8-10 is the first thing that comes to mind when I here that kind of thing.

I'm out of town, so my bookshelf is out of reach, but I remember John Owen being pretty short with those who thought a sinless state could be reached in this life(The Dominion of Sin and Grace). My country boy paraphrase would read "We can't get there from here, so we'll skip the silly talk."

 
At 10 January, 2008 09:35, Blogger Timothy said...

Hi Gunny,
Excellent post. I have had this discussion with members of my own congregation. When I brought up Paul being the chief of sinners, they rejected it outright, saying that he was just referring to it the same way that one refers to how he was in high school, or some such nonsense. I was beyond words that they could come to that conclusion from the text.

I didn't let it bother me because I realized, I have their undivided attention every Sunday morning, and just kept preaching the truth. I haven't heard that view in about 2 years. :)

BTW, you wrote:
There are weirdos out there who really do think they go days or weeks (or even months at a time without sinning).

Yes, I heard the former president of DTS say that on his radio show and my jaw dropped! He said we could go two and even three days without sinning. I thought: Well, maybe you can... but I can't...

I think some of this comes out of the old thought that we are victorious Christians and we have overcome sin, etc. There was an entire movement out of Wesleyan thought that promoted this idea, and it is still with us today.

We need to keep preaching the doctrines of grace... and pray for another Reformation.

 
At 10 January, 2008 23:37, Blogger Sew Anyway said...

Happy New Year Gunny! I really do enjoy and am blessed by the thoughts in your blog - hey and good job on the "Thinking Blogger Award"! So, here's my two bits: Why then would Jesus tell His disciples to take up their cross daily? Wasn't it to exhort them to willfully "go to the mattresses" with sin daily? The book that really opened my eyes to this was Kris Lundgaard's "the enemy within" which goes back to John Owens "Mortification of Sin". You know that line in "Amazing Grace" where we refer to ourselves as wretches? - my mother would never sing it that way. She would never agree that she was a wretch in need of that amazing grace. I don't think she understands the difference between "declared righteous" and "made righteous". Well, anyhoo... I have to share this one last thing with you. It is a great song by Sara Groves, title "When the Saints". I encourage ya'll to listen to it and read the lyrics. You can find it on her website: http://www.myspace.com/saragroves

 
At 11 January, 2008 23:51, Anonymous Rodney in PA said...

I have a friend who is in AA, If I remember correctly they teach that you should always remember that u are alcoholic, They teach u to be real about you condition!

So here I go...
Hi My Name is Rodney M.
I’ve been a Sinner all my life. But I am sinner Saved by Grace.
I have been saved (clean) for 16 years By the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ!
It’s a daily Struggle, but with the help of my sponsor the Holy Ghost, I’m taking one day at a time with “Sweet Jesus”
To God Be the Glory Alone!

 

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