Can Christians Be Called “Sinners”?

Can Christians Be Called “Sinners”?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 7:37pm

THIS IS A RECENT REQUEST (edited): “Someone asked me if it is OK to call a Christian a sinner. The one who asked seemed to think it is not. He reasons that the Bible refers to Christians as Overwhelming Conquerors, Saints, those who have the Righteousness of God in Christ, etc. So how can it be OK for a Christian to be called a Sinner and a Saint at the same time? Is this not a contradiction?”

MY REPLY: This is simply a matter of semantics. It depends on how one is defining the word “sinner,” and what it is being used in contrast with. If one decides to reserve the word “sinner” for those who are in the unsaved state, in contrast with saints, that’s OK with me. But he cannot insist this is the ONLY valid use of the term. Unless one believes that all saved people are perfectly holy and never commit sins after conversion, it is hardly possible to claim they are not sinners. If we sin, we are sinners (cf. Rom. 7:14-25). The contrast between saved and lost then becomes, we are FORGIVEN or JUSTIFIED sinners, while the lost are UNFORGIVEN sinners. One might consider Rom. 3:23, which says that all have sinned and “fall short of the glory of God” (present tense). The present tense suggests that the “falling short” is a present condition, not just a past state. Also, remember that the very definition of justification is that it means we are DECLARED righteous, not MADE righteous. For the rest of our lives on earth there will be a difference between how God looks at us through the blood of Jesus Christ, i.e., as righteous; and how we actually are, namely, in the process of becoming more and more holy but still falling short.

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Can Christians Be Called “Sinners”? — 5 Comments

    • See my reply to the previous comment. Paul answers your question in Romans 3:23. He says “all have sinned,” past tense; but then he says “and come short of the glory of God,” present tense. Even as Christians we still “come short” of the perfect holiness that is our obligation.

  1. In our church the “pastor” makes us say at the taking of bread and wine, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” I asked him what about those who have not sinned since the last time. He said, “We all sin.” I thought this was an extreme view, and gave little hope of victory. What do you think is the right mid view?

    • Two comments: First, perhaps you are exaggerating in saying that the “pastor” MAKES you say this during the Lord’s Supper. I hope so. I hope it is no more than a suggestion. Second, it is appropriate for Christians to make this statement at any time, and not just at the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we all ARE sinners, whether we have committed a specific sin since the last time we prayed this prayer or not. As believers, we are FORGIVEN sinners at all times, before and after we take the Lord’s Supper, before and after we pray this prayer, before and after we commit a sin. And we will be sinners, until the final sanctification of our spirits at the moment of death (Heb. 12:23). This is because even our GOOD works (such as the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23) will not be perfect as long as we are in this present life. I.e., we do love God, but we do not love him perfectly. We do obey his commands, but not always with perfect motives. Just keep in mind that we do not take the Lord’s Supper in order to become forgiven of sins we have committed during the past week. We take the emblems in order to keep our faith strong. It is our ongoing faith that keeps us in a state of ongoing forgiveness.

      • A further clarification on who is a sinner in context: It was not that I thought after we become a Christian that we no longer sin, but at the taking of bread and wine, the pastor always say theses words – ‘have mercy on me a sinner X 3. (not made to but made to feel you should) Although we do wrong some times, to me to ask the congregation to say this without any explanation each time, can be and may be misleading and lead some members to a sense of resigned defeat, or even force confession. Surely there may be 1 or 2 people who have not sinned in the last few hours and said sorry themselves at the time. We may be forgiven sinners, but we are not stained with perpetual sin! We should start from a stance of forgiven sin as a positive, and only confess sin if we have not done so since our last sin.

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