We often say things like, “We’re all sinners.” Or, “I’m a sinner, the same as anyone else.” There is certainly some truth to those statements. We are certainly all guilty of sin and we all still struggle with sin. However, the Bible doesn’t really use the word “sinner” to refer to faithful Christians. Let’s talk about why Christians aren’t called sinners and why it may be detrimental to your life to think of yourself as a sinner.
Sinners in the Bible
It seems the word “sinner” is used in two different ways:
- Someone who is living in sin.
- Someone who is guilty of a particularly grievous offense.
It is similar to the way we use the word “liar.” Saying someone is a “liar” doesn’t just mean they have told a lie, it means what they say can’t be trusted. It mens they are notorious for lying and deceiving people.
Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners…Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (vs. 1, 5, 6).
David prayed, “Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes” (Psalm 26:9-10). And Solomon encouraged, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10).
Deserve to Be Called a Sinner
Of course, we all have to recognize that we fit the definition of “sinner” in both senses. We have made a practice of sin and we are guilty of many grievous offenses against God. We very much deserve the label of “sinner.”
This was Jesus’ mission. He came into the world to save sinners like us (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). He came so that sinners would have forgiveness and be reconciled to God.
But Jesus didn’t just come to forgive sinners, but to save us from being sinners. When Jesus saves, He doesn’t just forgive, He reforms. In fact, there is no forgiveness without reformation. You must allow Him to remake you from the inside out. Conversion is about more than forgiveness; it’s about change.
Chief of Sinners
Some may be asking, “But didn’t Paul say he was a sinner?” That is absolutely true. And as far as I can tell, 1 Timothy 1:15 is the only verse where someone who is living as a faithful and forgiven servant of God calls himself a sinner.
Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” But pay attention to the very next verse. He goes on to say, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
Paul is saying his life is being held up as an object lesson for the entire world to see. His life is a display of Jesus’ mercy. Jesus is saying to the world, “If I can save this guy, I can save you!” He says he is a “sinner,” but he is talking about his former life. He is talking about when he formerly “was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (vs. 13).
Other than that, I know of no other passage where a faithful servant of the Lord is called a “sinner.” When God forgives and reforms someone’s life, they are no longer “sinners.”
Who Am I?
There are few things that affect our behavior like our identity. Who we believe ourselves to be determines the kind of people with whom we identify, the kind of expectations we have for ourselves, what we think is possible for us to achieve, and what we think we are worth. If you want a child to achieve very little in her life, just tell her that she is dumb and worthless for awhile. But if you want her to achieve a great deal, believe in her. Tell her that she is smart, that she is created by God, and that the sky is the limit for what she can achieve.
Scripture doesn’t call faithful Christians, “sinners” it calls us “saints.” Sadly, the term “saint” has been hijacked. We think of “sainthood” as a status achieved by a handful of super-Christians. But the Bible reveals, sainthood isn’t an identity that is achieved, but received. When you’re buried with Jesus in baptism, you receive the identity of “saint.” Because of Jesus’ blood, you are now one of God’s holy ones.
Even when Christians need correction, Paul doesn’t address his letters to “sinners,” but to “saints.” Constantly identifying yourself as a sinner is likely to ensure that you continue living like a sinner, but embracing the identity you have in Christ, will help you live the way God wants you to live.
Live Out Your Calling
God invites you – He “calls” you – to sainthood in Christ Jesus. He calls you to be washed clean of every sin you have ever committed and to receive the status of saint, not on your merits but on the merits of Jesus. And He urges you “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). Promising you that if you will strive to live out that calling, even the sins you commit along the way, will be washed clean (1 John 1:7; 2:1).
If you’re a Christian, isn’t it time you threw off the identity of “sinner” and embrace the identity of “saint”? Sinners are God’s enemies, but you are now God’s child. You are holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).
You don’t deserve to be a saint, but if you’re a Christian, you are one. Now embrace that identity and live in faithful appreciation for what He has given you.
I love you and God loves you,