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“Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin? – Robert Saucy

In the portfolio of my Christian life, there are a few events, lessons, and people who stand out and deserve a page in my “book.” There are many things that stand out prominently in my spiritual education as causing me to have one of those “ah ha” moments: Chet Lackey, my pastor from age 16-21. Mark Hitchcock’s sermon on Matt. 7:14 in 1993. Chuck Swindoll’s book Grace Awakening (and the Insight for Living broadcasts) in 1994. John Hannah’s Church History courses at DTS (really, it was just John Hannah!). Leslie Newbingen’s Proper Confidence in 2006. I could go on.

Below is an article I was assigned to read in my Spiritual Formation group at DTS. I have looked and looked for it for years (as I lost my Spiritual Formation workbook), but could not find it. But a friend just sent it to me a few days ago! It is called “Sinners” who are forgiven or “Saints” who sin? and it definitely belongs in my portfolio.  The author is Robert Saucy. It’s long, but well worth the read. I hope you enjoy.

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“Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin? – Robert Saucy

The question of the true identity of the Christian has been the topic of discussion for some time. Although not directly framed as a question of identity, the issues of self-love, self-esteem, and self-worth all relate in some way to the question, “Who am I?” This question has been posed more sharply in the alternatives, “Am I as a Christian basically a sinner who is forgiven, or a saint who sins?”

The first of these alternatives may be associated with what Warfield favorably termed “miserable-sinner Christianity.”1 He referred to it this way because similar terminology runs through Protestant confessional formulas and catechisms.2 Luther’s Short Catechism, for example, teaches the believer to say, “I, miserable sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all manner of sins.” A Lutheran Confession of Sin reads:

I, poor sinful man, confess to God, the Almighty, my Creator and Redeemer, that I not only have sinned in thoughts, words and deeds, but also was conceived and born in sin, and so all my nature and being is deserving of punishment and condemnation before His righteousness. Therefore I flee to His gratuitous mercy and seek and beseech His grace. Lord, be merciful to me, miserable sinner.

A similar expression is found in the prayers of the Church of England. After acknowledging sinfulness and declaring that “there is no health in us,” the prayer closes with the petition, “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.” One of the most rhetorical expressions of the concept of “miserable-sinner Christianity” is given by the Scottish minister, Alexander Whyte, in his work Bunyan Characters.

Our guilt is so great that we dare not think of it. It crushes our minds with a perfect stupor of horror, when for a moment we try to imagine a day of judgment when we shall be judged for all the deeds that we have done in the body. Heart-beat after heart-beat, breath after breath, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, and all full of sin; all nothing but sin from our mother’s womb to our grave.3

It would be wrong to take such a statement as necessarily signifying “miserable Christianity” rather than “miserable-sinner Christianity.” Many of those who confessed their situation in this way knew how to flee to the grace of God and find the joy of forgiveness. But such statements would also seem to color the self-understanding of believers as to their basic nature.

An example of the alternative understanding of Christian identity as a “saint who sins” is a statement by Neil Anderson in one of his popular books.

Many Christians refer to themselves as sinners saved by grace. But are you really a sinner? Is that your scriptural identity? Not at all. God doesn’t call you a sinner; He calls you a saint—a holy one. Why not identity yourself for who you really are: a saint who occasionally sins?4

If the word “occasionally” is excluded from Anderson’s statement, there is truth in both alternatives of the question. Believers are sinners in that they continue to sin, but Scripture also refers to them as saints. Believers therefore are sinners who by God’s grace are forgiven, and they are saints who sin.

Thus in a sense Christians have a kind of double identity. But this does not mean they are schizophrenic or multiple persons. Each believer is one person, one ego or “I”.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). There was only one “I” and one Paul throughout this transition. The question of the believer’s identity is therefore the question of the identity of that ego or “I.” And it would seem that that identity must be related to the actual nature and behavior of that ego. If the nature and activity of the person is primarily sinful, then it is difficult not to see his core identity as a “sinner.” On the other hand if the believer’s nature and activity is primarily holy, then that person’s real identity is that of a “saint.”

The Believer’s Positive Identity

Consideration of the scriptural description of the believer and his activity obviously reveals a mixture of sin and holiness. But when the focus is on the actual description of the person’s identity, the picture is decidedly positive. Even in the Old Testament, believers are described as living with a heart of integrity, soundness, and uprightness (e.g., 1 Kings 8:61; 9:4 {1 Kgs 9:4}; Pss. 78:72 {Ps 78:72}; 119:7 {Ps 119:7}). This of course does not mean that they were sinless or unaware of their sin. But they had a heart and life that was fundamentally devoted to God. Turning to the New Testament, Christians are frequently addressed as “saints” (e.g., Acts 9:32; Eph 1:1; Col 1:2). This surely has reference to their status in Christ, but other descriptions reveal that it also denotes something about their nature. Believers in the Lord are “sons” and “children of God” which, along with speaking of position or status, also depicts something of the nature of believers who are now oriented toward righteousness (1 John 2:29-3:2 {1 John 3:2}). Those in Christ are also called “light” (Eph 5:8) and “sons of light” (1 Thess 5:5), which means “they are characterized by light” as a result of the “transformation that takes place when anyone believes.”5

The believer is part of the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). He has put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” (Col 3:9-10; cf. Rom 6:6). This transition refers to the believer’s transference from the old corporate humanity under the headship of Adam to the new humanity with Christ as Head. But it also has reference to a change in the individual.6 Pointing to the imagery used of putting off and putting on clothing, Lincoln rightly explains that this “change of clothing imagery signifies an exchange of identities, and the concepts of the old and the new persons reinforce this.”7 Since the appellation “new man” also has reference to the individual, the descriptions of it as “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24) and “being renewed according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10) both have reference to the individual believer. Thus Bruce says, “The new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.”8 Putting off the old man and putting on the new are related to the teaching of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ (Rom 6:4-6).9 In codeath and coresurrection the individual’s identity is radically changed. The old “I” dies and the new “I” rises in newness of life (Gal 2:20).

These descriptions of the Christian clearly indicate a positive identity and refer not only to status but also to the nature of the believer. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that the apostolic exhortation to new ethical behavior is made directly on the basis of the believer’s new identity. The apostles were not grounding their hope for a new behavior simply on a new position or status, but on a new nature which can produce new actions. True, these actions are due to the life of God in the believer and are called “the fruit of the Spirit.” But at the same time they are the product of the believer even as the fruit of the vine is the fruit of the branches (John 15:2-5,16). The exhortations to new ethical life are based on the principle Jesus taught that “good fruit” is borne by “good trees” (Matt 7:17). The nature as well as the identity of the believer is therefore seen as primarily “good.”

These descriptions of the believer point in the direction of the root identity of the Christian as “a saint who sins,” rather than “a sinner who is saved.” But that is not the whole of the matter. Practical experience as well as biblical teaching still relate the believer to sin. Consideration of the identity of the believer therefore cannot avoid discussion of his relationship to sin.

The Believer’s Relation to Sin

Believers Still Sin

It is not difficult to convince most believers from Scripture as well as from experience that sin is still a part of their existence. They sometimes act carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3). The promise of continual cleansing of sin as they walk in the light (1 John 1:7) as well as the present tense used for the confession of sins (1:9 {1 John 1:9}) suggest that sin is continually present with believers. To say “we have no sin,” John wrote, is self-deception and impossible for believers (1:8 {1 John 1:8}). Although the personal identity of the believer is in Christ, and thus in the new man which is being transformed into His image, the manner of life of the old man remains a part of the believer’s experience. This is why Paul directed believers to put off the practices of the old man (Eph 4:22; Col 3:8-9).

Calvin’s statement of what Christians ought to be should convince any believer that he or she has not attained sinlessness. “Since all the capacities of our soul ought to be so filled with the love of God,” he said, “it is certain that this precept [to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind] is not fulfilled by those who can either retain in the heart a slight inclination or admit to the mind any thought at all that would lead them away from the love of God into vanity.”10 “There remains in a regenerate man a moldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.”11

Does this true but rather bleak perspective make the identity of the believer a “sinner” as well as a “saint” so that he or she is actually both? Interestingly, although the New Testament gives extensive evidence that believers sin, it never clearly identifies believers as “sinners.” Paul’s reference to himself in which he declared, “I am foremost” of sinners is often raised to the contrary (1 Tim 1:15). Guthrie’s comment on Paul’s assertion is illustrative of a common understanding of Paul’s statement and what should be true of all believers. “Paul never got away from the fact that Christian salvation was intended for sinners, and the more he increased his grasp of the magnitude of God’s grace, the more he deepened the consciousness of his own naturally sinful state, until he could write of whom I am chief (pro,tos).”12

Despite the use of the present tense by the apostle, several things make it preferable to see his description of himself as “the foremost of sinners” as a reference to his preconversion activity as an opponent of the gospel. First, the reference to himself as “sinner” is in support of the statement that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15 {1 Tim 1:15}). The reference to “the ungodly and sinners” a few verses earlier (v. 9 {1 Tim 1:9}) along with the other New Testament uses of the term “sinners” for those who are outside of salvation13 shows that he was referring to “sinners” whom Christ came to save rather than believers who yet sinned.

Second, Paul’s reference to himself as a “sinner” is followed by the statement, “And yet I found [past tense] mercy” (v. 16 {1 Tim 1:16}), clearly pointing to the past occasion of his conversion. Paul was grateful for God’s mercy toward him, “the foremost of sinners.” A similar present evaluation of himself based on the past is seen when the apostle wrote, “I am [present tense] the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor

15:9). Because of his past action, Paul considered himself unworthy of what he presently was by God’s grace and mercy, an apostle who was “not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Cor 11:5; cf. 12:11 {2 Cor 12:11}).

Declaring that he was “the foremost of sinners,” the apostle also declared that Christ had strengthened him for the ministry, having considered him “faithful” or “trustworthy” for it, to which He had called him (1 Tim 1:2). As Knight concludes, “Paul regards this classification of himself as `foremost of sinners’ as still valid (eijmi, present tense); though he is fully forgiven, regarded as faithful, and put into service, he is still the notorious opponent who is so received.”14 Thus the apostle was not applying the appellation “sinner” to himself as a believer, but rather in remembrance of what he was before Christ took hold of him.

James’ reference to turning “a sinner” from the error of his ways is also best seen as bringing someone into salvation rather than restoring a genuine believer to repentance (James 5:19-20).

Though the erring one is described as one “among you,” the

resultant outcome of saving the soul of the turned “sinner” from “death,” which is most likely spiritual death, suggests that the person was not a Christian.15 Scripture surely teaches that unbelievers can be “among” the saints (cf. 1 John 2:19).

This is not to say that in the Scriptures believers did not see themselves as sinful. Confrontation with the righteousness and holiness of God frequently brought deep acknowledgment of an individual’s own sinful condition. Peter’s recognition of himself before the Lord as a “sinful man” is not uncommon among the saints (Luke 5:8; cf. Gen 18:27; Job 42:6; Isa 6:5; Dan 9:4-20). The believer is sinful, but Scripture does not seem to define his identity as a “sinner.”

Believers Are Opposed to Sin

Instead of being identified as a “sinner,” the real person or “I” of the believer is opposed to sin. Before salvation the “I” or the “ego” of the believer, like the “I” of all “sinners,” was in radical rebellion against the true God. Now the “I” of the believer is on God’s side seeking to mortify the rebellion that is still present in the believer. Several truths combine to teach this new identity of the believer and his change of nature.

First, death and resurrection with Christ severed the believer from sin. The believer’s participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is a way in which Paul expressed the change that takes place when one becomes a Christian. According to the most extensive explanation of this truth in Romans 6, the primary significance of this transaction is the change of dominions over the believer. Christ’s death and resurrection signify (a) death to the old age of sin and its dominion and (b) resurrection to a new sphere ruled by God. These objective realities take place in Christ as the Head of the new humanity much like His actions as the Head of the corporate “new man.”16 But also like the transfer from the “old” to the “new” man, Christ’s death and resurrection apply subjectively to the person of the believer who participates with Him.

In Rom 6 Paul is not simply concerned with the two dominions, but with the decisive transfer of the believer from the one dominion to the other. The believers were enslaved to sin, but now they stand under a new master. This change has taken place through dying with Christ…. Dying with Christ means dying to the powers of the old aeon and entry into a new life under a new power.17

The believers’ union with Christ in His death and resurrection transforms them not just legally but also personally. As the person’s

“I” previously had a nature that willingly chose to serve sin, now he or she is a new “I” who willingly chooses God. Paul’s testimony was that having been crucified with Christ, he now lived in such union with Him that his “I” could hardly be separated, not just legally but morally. Paul’s “I” was willingly united with Christ, who continually and willingly obeyed the Father’s will. As Bonar said, “The cross, then, makes us decided men. It brings both our hearts and our wills to the side of God.”18

Second, the transformation of the believer in the change of dominions over him through dying and rising with Christ is further seen in the biblical concept of having a “new heart.” As Jewett explains, “A characteristic of the heart as the center of man is its inherent openness to outside impulses, its directionality, its propensity to give itself to a master and to live towards some desired goal.”19 This characteristic stems from the fact that Christians as finite persons can live only in “radical dependence on otherness.”20

Most significantly, as Jewett noted, what the heart takes in becomes its master, stamping the heart with its character. What truly determines the heart and consequently the person is therefore the nature of the desire of the heart. After defining the heart as “our center, our prefunctional root, ” Kreeft adds, “at this center we decide the meaning of our lives, for our deepest desires constitute ourselves, decide our identity.”21

According to Scripture the deepest desire of the believer has been changed. This truth is seen in the apostle’s words to the Galatians: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!'” (4:6 {Gal 4:6}). The cry, “Abba! Father!” is typical of a son and represents the believer’s most basic relationship with God. This cry is determined by the presence of the Spirit who brings Christ the Son into the center of one’s personality to live within his or her heart. “The center of man is thus his heart; the heart’s intentionality [or desire] is determined by the power which rules it. In the case of Christian[s], the direction of the heart’s intentionality is determined by Christ’s Spirit.”22

The desire or intentionality of the human heart is in reality its love. As Augustine noted, love is what moves an individual. A person goes where his love moves him. His identity is determined by his love. The identity of the believer is thus a person who basically loves God rather than sin.

The presence of sin in the life of the believer indicates that remnants of the old disordered love of self remain. But those remnants now stand at the periphery of the real core of the person who is redeemed, God-oriented, and thus bent toward righteousness in his nature. “God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing, our hearts to righteousness.”23

This core of the new person is often not evident in conscious life, but it is nevertheless the dominating aspect of his being. As Delitzsch notes, there is a kind of will of nature that is basically self-consciously unreflected. This deep will of nature precedes the conscious actions of the person. The will of the believer has been changed through regeneration despite the fact that remnants of the old life still remain and continue to express themselves. The action of regeneration is directed not so much to “our occasional will, as to the substance of our will,

i.e. to the nature and essence of our spiritual being.”24 Thus the regenerate individual in the depth of his heart is changed; he has a nature oriented toward God. Although the person can still sin, this sin is related to a more surface level of his being which can still act contrary to the real person of the heart. But these surface actions do not change the real nature of the heart and thus the person’s identity. The relationship of the real core nature of the human heart to its more surface activities is seen in Pedersen’s discussion of the “soul” or what is perhaps better termed the heart.

It [the soul] is partly an entirety in itself and partly forms an entirety with others. What entireties it is merged in, depends upon the constant interchange of life.

Every time the soul merges into a new entirety, new centres of action are formed in it; but they are created by temporary situations, only lie on the surface and quickly disappear. There are other entireties to which the soul belongs, and which live in it with quite a different depth and firmness, because they make the very nucleus of the soul. Thus there may be a difference between the momentary and the stable points of gravity in the soul. But none of the momentary centres of action can ever annul or counteract those which lie deeper.

The deepest-lying contents of the soul are, it is true, always there, but they do not always make themselves equally felt.25

This understanding of the human heart helps explain the practice of sin in the believer’s life as well as the “good” in the life of the unbelieving sinner. The true nature of the person does not always express itself fully in actual life. But the basic identity of the individual is still there, and in the case of the believer it is positive.

Third, this same truth is seen in the positive nature of the ego or “I” of Romans 7:14-25. Paul’s description of the “I” in this passage suggests that it refers to someone who has experienced the regenerative grace of God. Also this person is viewed in relation to the law of God apart from the empowerment of the Spirit of God. It could thus have reference to a Christian living according to the flesh in his own strength,26 or more probably to the experience of the pious Jew living under the Mosaic Law viewed from a Christian perspective.27

Of interest in this passage is the description of the “I” which is solidly on God’s side. If what is said of this “I” or ego could refer to a pious Jew living under the Old Covenant, how much more would it be fitting for the believer of the New Covenant as part of the new creation through union with Christ. Considering the actions of the “I,” all three dimensions normally seen as constituting personhood, that is, thought, emotion, and will, are all oriented toward God and His righteous law. Regarding the element of thought, the apostle wrote in 7:15 {Rom 7:15}, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand,” or perhaps better with Cranfield, “I do not acknowledge” or “approve.”28 In other words his thinking was opposed to his action of sin. This is also seen in verse 25 {Rom 7:25}: “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.”

His emotion is likewise seen to be on God’s side in opposition to sin. “I am doing the very thing I hate” (v. 15 {Rom 7:15}). As Dunn puts it, “he wholly detests and abhors what he does.”29 If hatred is the opposite of love, then his love is directed toward righteousness. A further expression of emotion is indicated in verse 22 {Rom 7:22}. “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.”

Also his will or volition is for God and against sin. “What I want [or `will,’ qevlw] to do,” Paul wrote, “I do not do. I have the desire [qevlein] to do what is good” (vv. 15,18 {Rom 7}, NIV). The verb qevlein is used seven times in the passage, the last when he described himself as “the one who wishes to do good” (v. 21 {Rom 7:21}).

These descriptions of the personal attributes of the “I” clearly define it as one with a positive nature. But more than this, the apostle went so far as to absolve, as it were, the “I” from sinning: “if I do the very thing I do not wish to do no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me” (vv. 16-17 {Rom 7}; cf. the same thought in v. 20 {Rom 7:20}).

Since the same passage clearly shows the “I” as the subject of sinful actions as well as being opposed to sin, the apostle was not trying to evade the personal responsibility of the “I” in sin. But when the “I” is related to sin, it is never described in terms of the functions of personhood. There are no equal statements of thought, emotion, and will on the side of sin. Paul did not say, “I want to do the will of God, but I also want to sin.” Nor did he say, “I love the law of God, but I also love sin.” Thus the “I” that is positively oriented toward God is the person in the deepest sense of his personhood or identity. He is the “I” of the “inner man” (v. 22 {Rom 7:22}), the “I” that is the subject of the “mind” (v. 25 {Rom 7:25}).

The assertion that it is no longer “I” but sin that actually does the sinning is similar to other apparently contradictory statements of the apostle when he was referring to the dominating power that mastered him: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live” (Gal 2:20); “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10; cf. Matt 10:20). In these statements Paul was not intending to disavow responsibility, but to affirm the existence in himself of a power that exercised a dominating influence on him. The real person of the believer willingly assents to this dominating power, but in the case of sin as in Romans 7 the real “I” opposes it and can thus be set against it. Here the ego or real “I” in the believer is viewed as so opposed to sin that they can be isolated from each other. And the actual committing of sin, instead of being the action of the ego can be regarded as the action of the sin that enslaves the ego contrary to its will. As Delitzsch says, “the Ego is no longer one with sin-it is free from it; sin resides in such a man still, only as a foreign power.”30

Romans 7 thus presents the real person of the believer as positive. To be sure, he commits sin both in thought and act but he also does righteousness. Sin and righteousness, however, do not characterize the real person of the believer in the same way. The believer is capable of experiencing a double servitude expressed in the apostle’s words, “on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (v. 25 {Rom 7:25}).31 But as this statement, along with the entire passage, indicates, the real person of the believer willingly serves God.

The description of the believer in Romans 7 thus fits the same picture of the believer seen in the teaching of his death and resurrection with Christ and his new heart. The Christian has been radically changed in his relationship to sin and righteousness from what he was before salvation. And this change is more than simply positional or judicial consisting in the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of righteousness. It includes a radical change of nature. The Christian is a new person. He has a new heart which is the real identity of the person.

Conclusion

The full picture of the believer’s relationship to sin and righteousness is obviously beyond the scope of this study. But when the question of his identity is posed-is the Christian a saved sinner or a saint who sins?-the Scriptures seem to point to the latter.

There is truth in the following explanation of so-called “miserable-sinner Christianity” expressed by Luther:

A Christian is at the same time a sinner and a saint; he is at once bad and good. For in our own person we are in sin,

and in our own name we are sinners. But Christ brings us another name in which there is forgiveness of sin, so that for His sake our sin is forgiven and done away. Both then are true. There are sins and yet there are no sins. thou standest there for God not in thy name but in Christ’s name; thou dost adorn thyself with grace and righteousness although in thine own eyes and in thine own person, thou art a miserable sinner.32

Christians are sinners who are forgiven. But there is more to it than that. They are regenerated persons whose root core has been changed. They are forgiven, but also their heart-the spring of their life and their true identity-is new.

To confess as present-day Anglicans do33 that “there is no health in us” or that “all my nature and being is deserving of punishment,” as also stated in the old German Lutheran confession, is contrary to the biblical picture of the believer.

All the apostles’ ethical imperatives are addressed to

believers on the premise that their natures are now on God’s side and have a new ability to obey God. The very assumption that Christians should grow demonstrates a belief that the positive dominates over the negative in their being. For a Christian to grow, there must be a stronger inclination toward God than toward sin.

Although the terminology “miserable sinner” does not adequately define the true identity of the believer, several

truths at the heart of so-called “miserable-sinner Christianity” must be retained even when viewing the believer as a “saint who sins.”

First, despite the truth that the believer’s heart and thus his or her identity have been transformed to an orientation toward God and His righteousness, one’s acceptance before God is only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. One’s salvation is complete in Christ’s righteousness alone.

Second, the believer who sins must experience misery over sin. If a persons’ affections have truly been changed so that he or she is now on God’s side, then that one must hate sin and experience a godly sorrow over what grieves and wounds the One who loves believers deeply. Fisher’s description of sorrow over sin should be the experience of all believers.

When faith hath bathed a man’s heart in the blood of Christ, it is so mollified that it generally dissolves into tears of godly sorrow; so that if Christ turn and look upon him, O then, with Peter he goes out and weeps bitterly. And this is true gospel mourning; this is right evangelical repenting.34

Third, even though God in His grace has created in believers

the germ of a new nature which gives them a new identity, their focus in life must be not on themselves, but on Christ. Dying and rising with Christ means the end of self-trust. Therefore, even though they are new persons, their source of life and growth is not in their own identity but in Christ. Their focus must be on Him and not on their own new identity. In Him they are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17).

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1 Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, l931), 1:113-301.

2 Ibid, 115. The following quotations expressing the “miserable-sinner” concept are cited by Warfield (ibid., 118-19, 123).

3 Cited by Warfield (ibid., 128).

4 Neil Anderson, Victory Over the Darkness (Ventura, CA; Regal, 1990), 44-45. The word “occasionally” should be omitted from Anderson’s statement as he has indicated to this writer in personal conversation that it was not his intention to include this word.

5 Leon Morris, The First {1 Thess} and Second {2 Thess} Epistles to the Thessalonians, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 155.

6 Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 190-91; and Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), 287.

7 Lincoln, Ephesians, 285.

8 E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 273. O’Brien similarly says that in addition to a reference to the new corporate humanity, the “new man” designates “the new nature which the Colossians had put on and which was continually being renewed” (Colossians, Philemon, 190).

9 Robert C. Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ (Berlin:Töpelmann, 1967), 52; and A. Van Roon, The Authenticity of Ephesians (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 336-37.

10 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.3.11; cf. 3.12.1.

11 Ibid., 3.3.10.

12 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (London: Tyndale, 1957), 65 (italics his).

13 Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “aJmartwloj”,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:327-28; and George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 101.

14 Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 102.

15 Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 200.

16 “When Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ, he is referring to Christ’s death and resurrection as eschatological events. As such, they concern the old and new aeons. Through this death and resurrection the believers are freed from the old aeon and the new aeon is founded…. Because the existence of all within an aeon is based upon and determined by the founding events, the whole of the aeon shares in these events” (Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ, 39). On the similar significance of dying and rising with Christ and stripping off the old man and putting on the new, see ibid., 52.

17 Ibid., 21.

18 Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness (New York: Carter & Bros., 1865), 108 (italics his).

19 Robert Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 313. John Laidlaw describes the heart as “the work-place for the personal appropriation and assimilation of every influence” (The Bible Doctrine of Man [Edinburgh: Clark, 1895], 122).

20 Andrew Tallon, “A Response to Fr. Dulles,” in Theology and Discovery: Essays in Honor of Karl Rahner, ed. William J. Kelly (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), 37.

21 Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 45.

22 Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms, 322-23.

23 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.6.

24 Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology (reprint, Grand Rapids; Baker, 1966), 416.

25 Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 1:166.

26 James D. B. Dunn, “Romans 7:14-25 in the Theology of Paul,”Theologische Zeitschrift 31 (September-October, 1975): 257-73.

27 For a brief sketch of this latter interpretation, see N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 196-200.

28 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1975), 1:358-59.

29 James D. B. Dunn, Romans 1-8 {Rom 8}, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1988), 389.

30 Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology, 438. Delitzsch gives a helpful description of the interaction between the believing ego opposed to sin and the power of sin. Referring to the sin of unchastity, he says sin “is possible only when the might of temptation succeeds either in overmastering, or even in interesting, the Ego of the man. At times there are mingled in the range of man’s thoughts impure thoughts which he acknowledges as not less thought by his Ego than the pure ones which it opposed to them in order to dislodge them. Sometimes temptation succeeds in drawing in the man’s Ego into itself; but in the midst of the sinful act, the man draws it back from it, full of loathing for it. Sometimes, moreover, the Ego, in order to complete the sinful act unrestrainedly, is voluntarily absorbed into unconsciousness, and does not until after its completion return in horror to recollection of itself; and the spirit with shame becomes conscious of its having been veiled by its own responsibility” (ibid.).

31 J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 173-74.

32 Martin Luther, Werke, Erlangen ed., 2.197; cited by Warfield, Perfectionism, 1:116.

33 J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984), 123.

34 Fisher, Marrow of Divinity, cited by Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, 72.

32 Responses to ““Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin? – Robert Saucy”

  1. The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out by Stone and Smith makes much the same point. A truly excellent book

  2. It’s an essay in a collection entitled _Vital Christian Living Issues: Examining Crucial Concerns in the Spiritual Life_ edited by Roy B. Zuck and published by Kregel. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.com.

  3. Excellent, Robert Saucy is a good Christian theolog! This always brings me back to Luther’s grand: Simul Iustus et Peccator – Simultaneouly Sinner & Saint! Indeed Rom. 7, and especially verses 13-25 are profound! Both Luther & Calvin followed theologically the later Augustine here. Luther never altogether ceased to sruggle, the Christian life for him was always a warfare. Faith was not a passive acquiescense, but “a living busy, active might thing.” But he no longer agonzied for faith, but he continally agonized “in” faith. Indeed ‘evangelical perfection’! For Luther the Word of God always killed, before it quickend, but when the peace of God came it could stay deeply within, even the the midst of trial, pain and suffering!

  4. So, was Luther wrong? Or, is this simply semantics?

  5. No, Luther was not wrong, and the Christian life was never mere semantics, but the constant act of faith, but also that ever ceasing encounter with God in Christ! I think for Luther both ‘a Christian life’.. ebbed and flowed, but Christ was always our “righteouness”! We fight not to attain, but to just “be” ‘In Christ’, i.e. the balance of Christ within.

  6. Perhaps to quote Anselm, it is ‘faith seeking understanding’, or as Augustine wrote: :”Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe but believe that you may understand.” Indeed Luther always saw faith before or as it precedes reason; but reason that expands faith. Blessed paradox in faith, such is always Luther! We must always have biblical “mystery”, and its tensions!

  7. I think the Bible teaches that our sinful nature is retained along with the new divine nature that is given during regeneration. So, it is only fitting to say that we are both sinners and saints at the same time, as Luther states. I have read quite a bit of Neil Anderson, and I believe that he simply tries to psychologize theology. Christian’s new indentity as saint does not kill his old indentity as sinner.

  8. To see oneself biblically is crucial. As the article says, the Christian’s essential identity is one that is new and positive– he or she is now a saint with new inward desires. At the same time, in our unredeemed flesh– the bodies we live in that are not yet changed– we have both capacity and tendency to act sinfully. But the sins we now commit are, as Peter says 1 Peter 2:11-12, behaviors which war against our souls, since our souls belong to God and we are now “sojourners” and “exiles” in this world. We are no longer of this world, we have been chosen out of this world, as Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:18-19.

    I think it is good therefore to meditate on these truths a lot. One truth is that because of what God has done for us and in us, we are brand new creatures inside– our essential identity is that of saint. The new desires for God I find within myself are His gift, a reflection of the new identity He has given me. This should encourage and motivate me that I am really saved and that God has changed me. Yet I should not take this truth too far. In other words, just because in my essential identity I am a saint doesn’t mean I have ceased to be a sinner in the flesh. I never move completely out of the reach of sin in this life. The Bible reminds us that we are continually sinning in the flesh. Romans 7 for example describes this struggle all believers experience, that even though we hate sin and love God’s law (because of new desires God has implanted in us), nevertheless our flesh is drawn towards sin all the time. To deny this reality would be to deceive ourselves in a dangerous way (1 John 1:8). So we recognize that until we see Christ again and He glorifies us and removes all sin from us, life will be a battle of fighting against the sin that remains with us in our flesh, but we can be encouraged that God will win the victory over sin, and that He has given us the desire to please Him and live for Him now, desires we formerly did not have.

  9. @Leslie: Amen! I am not sure what Luther would have thought about the “psychologize” of theology? He did not like any overt use of reason, and really repudiated the role of reason as the “sole” interpretor of God’s Word. Simply the truths of revelation cannot be arrived at by any ‘ratiocinative process’. But certainly the Holy Sctipture can satisfy our intellect! Note that Holy Writ cannot be grasped by the self-opinionated, the man who seeks to impose his own will on Scripture will find it a closed door! Reformation and Reformed theology is surely ‘Catholic’! I am thinking Luther here all the way! (See, LW. 23. 230) ;)

  10. Amen there too Alexander! :) We could really roll so much John Calvin here also! Our Reformation Fathers simply ROCK!

  11. ego sin not the sinner!

    And God is forgiving forgiver!

  12. Thanks for sharing this article. I had the same “a-ha” moment in my Theology class with Gerry Breshears at Western Seminary last semester when he made the same point. It’s been a transforming realization.

  13. Nice work on definitive sanctification and identity in Christ! This very issue, as well as thinking more about the Reformed view of the structural primacy of “union with Christ,” has led me to reconsider whether every NT indicative on which imperatives are based necessarily refer to positional/judicial/forensic realities only, or if some of them actually refer to the subjective aspect of identifying with Christ’s resurrection in the reality of definitive sanctification.

  14. @Tyler: This is the hot button issue right now, with some Reformed. There are several new books out right now on “Union with Christ”, Robert Letham, J. Todd Billings, etc. Also Julie Canlis’s very fine book: Calvin’s Ladder, A Spiritual Theology Of Ascent And Ascension. “Participation” ‘In Christ’, is still very important for a Pauline mystical place, but certainly the forensic comes first in the ordo salutis, but we cannot leave out the connection with sanctification, resting on faith and justification. Though some medieval scholastics did not distinguish “iustificatio” from “sanctificatio” and viewed the former as consisting in both the reckoning righteous and the making righteous of the believer, note even Augustine here.

  15. I think this is Paul’s argument in Romans 7 and 8. Yes the sin nature remains, but we are not prisoners to the sin nature. We are free to live like new creatures. Certainly, we sin, but our lives should not be defined by sin. We were sinners, but when we were saved we became conquerers along with Christ. He gave us new life and new weapons with which to wage the war against the flesh. Far too many of the young, restless calvinists keep us focused and mired in our sin nature. They are afraid to tell people that the bible calls us “holy ones” and “partakers” in the divine nature. It seems they don’t want us to get too carried away with ourselves. However, it is through Christ that we have gained victory and only by His power that we will remain victorious.

  16. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

    Yes, we are both the Old Adam and the New man/woman in Christ.

    “We are to consider ourselves dead to sin.” (Romans 6)

    Not because we no longer sin, but because that sin(ner) has been put to death in our Baptisms (Romans 6 , also).

    But as were were drowned with Christ, we are raised with Christ, (also Romans 6).

    Yes, we still sin. We will all througout life. But when God looks at us He sees His Son. We are clothed in His righteousness.

    Gal. 4 “All of us who have been baptized have put on Christ.”

    That is really good news.

  17. @Steve: “Drowned with Christ”? Sounds rather Baptistic.. ;) I would see “Baptism” myself as a “participation” ‘In Christ’. And of course “Sacramental”.

  18. Fr. Robert,

    Romans 6 says “that we were baptized into his death”

    Crucified with him, drowned with him (good symbolism for baptism, maybe).

    You are right. We do “participate” in His death and resurrection…in Baptism.

    This drives so many Christians nuts. It takes the project out of their hands.

  19. Indeed, our Baptism continues like Justification, all the way to glory! Of course, if we persevere ‘In Christ’. But all is grace & glory even now!

  20. Amen, Fr. Robert.

    Thnks be to God He has given us everything we need to persevere. He will see us through to the end.

  21. I believe this entire article is useless and teaches contrary to the word of God. Why? Because the bible tells us in 1 John, that he who is born of God does not commit sin, and that he cannot sin because he is born of God. As Jesus told the adulterous woman, to go and sin no more, he never told her she would go and sin some, but he expected her to never sin again, otherwise why would he tell her to go and sin no more. If it is impossible for a Christian to never sin, why would Jesus tell this poor woman not to? And why would 1 John teach that when we are born of God, by his spirit, we cannot commit sin? This teaching that Christians still sin comes from falsehood, and misunderstanding of the bible I believe. Many take scriptures that teach “there is none good, no not one” to mean that all still sin, but once we come to God, we are good men, the bible is clear that there are good men, it tells us that their steps are ordered of the Lord. A true Christian does not continue to walk in sin, period.

  22. Rich,

    You claim that 1 John supports your view of “sinless” Christians, yet 1 John contradicts what you’re saying:

    “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:7-10 ESV)”

    John is saying that it is quite possible to sin even as a believer. The answer to sin is not to deceive oneself and claim that we no longer sin, but to confess one’s sin to God and receive the forgiveness of sins that belongs to believers through the blood of Christ.

    I agree with you that Christians do not continue walk in sin as a pattern of life, but it is contrary to Scripture and to experience to say that once we are believers we will never sin again.

    Paul speaks of the believer’s ongoing struggle against sin in Romans 7. As unbelievers, we sinned but did not care so much, for we did not have a relationship with God nor the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict of sin. But as believers we have new desires and understand that God’s law is holy and righteous (Rom 7:22). Yet we still find a capacity within ourselves to go against the Law we now love and recognize as holy (Rom 7:14-23). So long as we are still on this side of heaven, this war of flesh against spirit within remains, yet thanks be to God that we have the ultimate victory over sin– not in our own sinless perfection, but in the sinless perfection of Christ! (Romans 7:25-8:4)

    I think that it’s dangerous to believe and act as if we are sinless. For to do so is be in denial and to deceive oneself, as John points out. Knowing that we will sin need not lead us to be complacent about our sins, but rather should make us all the more thankful for the mercy and grace that comes to us through Christ. So we fight against sin in the power of the Spirit, knowing that sometimes our flesh will prevail, but thanking God for His ongoing forgiveness in those times of failure.

    So what does Jesus expect from his disciples? Of course, the standard Jesus sets before all who would follow Him is moral perfection or holiness (Matt 5:48). Yet even His disciples whom He chose out of this world and who walked with Him for 3 years and were born again of the Spirit did not live sinless lives. No, they all abandoned Christ when He was being taken away to be crucified. And they continued to sin, even after Jesus’ ascension (e.g., Peter’s hypocrisy-Galatians 2:12-15).

    God’s standard is not lowered because of our sinfulness, yet no one reaches this standard through living perfectly, whether unbeliever or believer. The believer rests in the finished work of Christ for our righteousness, not as an excuse to keep on sinning, but as God’s only answer to our sinning. And in this life we strive to live without sin, longing for the day that Jesus returns, for then we will be made sinless, as He is.

  23. Oh an Amen for Alex! Now I am awake! ;)

  24. That was extremely long. Well-written, but I could only read about half and the conclusion. Sigh. Our spirits are perfect. We’re in flesh bodies. The Bible tells us we are spirit not flesh. I’ve been meditiating on that the sacrifice of Jesus is to purge our conscience of dead works. Our spirits born of God never sin. It is the flesh that sins.

    We’re not saints who sin. We’re saints in bodies that sin. Sin dwells in our members — but we are perfect, holy, and blameless in our spirits.

    Moreover, we the saints in our spirits born of God are really teh elect angels incarnate on earth in human flesh appearing. Whereas, the reprobate are the devil and his angels.

    Yes, we need to know who we are. My Bible tells me that as I look to Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of my faith, I will be made like Him. My spirit will overcome the flesh, this world, the devil.

    I’m looking forward to flying out of here in wings of eagles in Revelation 12 — in rapture.

    I think I should. I’m an angel in human flesh appearing.

    I know who I am in Christ.

  25. How about we true Christians who understand not only what the bible says but what it means, call ourselves saints who cannot sin because we have a new nature born of god, and because his seed remains in us we cannot sin because we r born of god according to 1 John 3:9. He that sins is no saint but is of the devil the offspring of satan who sinned from the beginning. Christians, real biblical Christians no longer sin, we don’t twist the bible to fit our experience in effort to justify sin. We conform to the word not the word to our experience.

  26. Edgar Cornelaus Cole November 15, 2014 at 3:22 am

    I have been dreaming of this art that inturns leaves this image in my head. I have been trying to find a reason or answer for it for a while. See the dream has been going on for awhile where I see an image of three crosses and in the off set of a reflection there is three crucible crosses in the off set position and I remember the words when I awake The Reflections Of Saints And Sinners but I am having issues finding a meaning for this dream. After reading everyone’s logs on this site I was hoping someone could help me see the meaning to this dream that has been going on for 5+ years. This gentleman that I seen for my first time knew my name and in the mist of shaking my hand he said god has plans for me and ever since I been having dreams in accordance to what he said he is a speaker and his name was Bill Davis. So if someone has some help that would be helpful before I start my drawing from my dream.

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