Sinners or saints?
by Barry Newton
In recent years a puzzling trend has appeared along the paths I have trod. From pulpits and the Lord’s Table, the message has pealed forth that God’s people are sinners.
When confronted by something new, I often am aware of a certain inquisitiveness welling up within me to discover the innovation’s source. As of this moment, I only possess an educated guess.
The best I can surmise is that this characterization of Christians as sinners has arisen from some amalgamation of the desire to be confessional about one’s own failings, a presumably evangelistic reaction against Christians being perceived as “holier than thou,” and perhaps a few proof texts yanked out of context such as Romans 7:14-15.
Was I absent at a particularly influential lectureship or have I skipped over a popular book?
In contrast to what might be the evolution of a recent fad, I cannot recall a single time where any of the New Testament authors chose to depict the nature of Christians as being sinners or being sinful. As far as my mind serves me, the consistent voice of the New Testament is quite to the contrary.
In spite of their failings, Paul addressed the churches in Rome, Corinth(!), Achaia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Jerusalem, along with all Christians, as being saints and those sanctified. With this choice of language Paul depicts Christians as being holy and as having been made holy.
Paul is not alone. Luke, when describing the early church in Jerusalem and Lydda, wrote that they were saints, that is holy. Likewise, both John and Jude refer to God’s people as the holy ones or saints.
Those early Christian voices within scripture had good reason for categorizing Christians as being holy, not sinful. Of the many verses which jump to mind, for me Hebrews 10:14 particularly stands out. Describing the effects of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, the author wrote, “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.”
I have no desire to undermine or shortchange the power and efficacy of Christ’s blood in our lives. God’s people have been made holy, and they are called to live up to being God’s holy people.
Although Christians may find themselves in need of confessing sin and relying upon Christ’s blood to cleanse themselves throughout their lives, this does not justify calling them sinners. Nor should they view themselves as such. God’s power through Christ has made them saints.
If the source of calling Christians sinners is a modern one, Christian leaders would do well to spend more time studying God’s word and less time devoted to listening to tapes or reading books by their well-intentioned fellow human beings.