Sinners or Saints
By Ryan Bridgeo
Romans 5:12 (NIV) says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned.” In the garden, when Adam and Eve decided to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they spiritually died, and they gave up their authority to the enemy. From then on, every person born was born with a sinful nature. We can see this with the very first person born after the fall, Cain, who killed his brother Able. You see, we didn’t become sinners when we committed our first sin. We are all born sinners, just like Cain was, because of Adam’s sin. This is important to know.
But are we still sinners after we are born again? Many people are confused by this question. They are not sure what the truth is. I often hear people say, “I’m just an old sinner saved by grace.” Now it is true that we were all born sinners and, indeed, we are now saved by grace through faith, but are we sinners after we are born again? Are we saved and sinners at the same time?
Let’s see what the Word has to say. The Bible refers to believers as “saints”, “holy ones”, or “righteous ones”, more than 240 times. While unbelievers are referred to as sinners over 330 times. So, the Bible clearly calls unbelievers sinners, and believers “saints,” “holy ones,” or “righteous ones,” indicating that we cannot be sinners and saints at the same time. We were sinners when we were unbelievers, but we became saints when we were saved.
I think part of the confusion with this question comes from a misunderstanding about sin and sinners. We often relate sin and sinners with people’s behavior. Romans 6:1-2 (NIV) says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” There are two Greek words used for sin and sins in chapter 6 of Romans. One is hamartia, used 48 times in Romans, and 16 times in chapter 6 alone. The other is hamartano, used 7 times in Romans, and once in Romans chapter 6 (vs. 15). Hamartia (16 times in chapter 6) is a noun; a person, place, or thing while hamartano, used only once in chapter 6, is a verb, an action word. Guess which Greek word is used in verses 1-2? You’re right, it is hamartia. The verse couldn’t be translated shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase because sinning is a verb. Hamartia is a noun, so it must be a person, place, or thing. Now sin isn’t a person. It isn’t the Devil because the Devil isn’t omnipresent. It also isn’t a thing, like a rock or a tree. So, by the process of elimination, it must be a place. A spiritual place, called sin. So, this verse could be translated as, “Shall we go on living in the place called sin, so that grace might increase?” This changes the whole meaning.
Think about this, Romans 7:14 says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin (noun – place).” Now if you live in California, you are called a Californian. If you live in the United States of America, you are called an American. If you live in Canada, you are called a Canadian. So, if you live in sin, you are called a sinner. Once we move from the place of sin to the place of righteousness, we have new titles. Colossians 1:13 (KJV) says, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” We do not live in darkness anymore, we do not live in sin anymore, we have been translated out and into the Kingdom of God. This new location or position in Christ makes us saints, not our behavior.
Misunderstanding the scriptures causes people to be afraid of calling themselves saints. For example, 1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that 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 that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” People read this and think that if they call themselves a saint, that insinuates that they never sin, and here it says, if we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves and we are calling God a liar. So, to honor the Word (in their minds) they call themselves sinners. But as we saw before, the Bible teaches that sinners are unbelievers, and saints are believers. God’s reality that brings us personal freedom, says we are now saints, through Christ. We are not to call ourselves sinners or unbelievers anymore.
Neil Anderson in his book, Victory over Darkness writes, “telling Christians that they are sinners and then disciplining them if they don’t act like saints seems counterproductive at least and inconsistent with the Bible at worst.” I think Neil was being very kind.
The Word of God says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But once we receive Christ, we are no longer sinners, we are saints who sometimes sin. We don’t live in sin, we don’t practice sin, we have been translated into a new Kingdom, into a place called righteousness. This new location or place in Christ is what makes us saints, not our behavior.
Ryan Bridgeo is the Pastor of Plumtree Church in Avery County, NC. If you would like to know more or how you might become involved in this ministry please reach out to Pastor Ryan at [email protected] or call 828-765-6919.
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