Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just A Sinner

I once had a conversation with a fellow Christian about what it means to be a "sinner" and whether it was appropriate for Christians to refer to themselves as such.  I mentioned that not once in the Bible is the word "sinner" used by God in reference to a Christian.  Their response was, "Yeah, but that doesn't mean we are not sinners.  We can't say we're not sinners if we still sin."

But my question is, "Can't we?"  Shouldn't we desire to know what God means by the words He uses?  Shouldn't our professions (and our reality) line up with His about who we are in Christ?
hamartōlos - Devoted to sin, not free from sin; pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked. Most common use of the word "sinner" in the New Testament.

opheiletēs - One who owes another, a debtor; one who owes God penalty or whom God can demand punishment as something due.  New Testament word.

chata' - miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness.  Old Testament word.
In the Old Testament, it is entirely appropriate to refer to God's people as still sinners as they had no way yet of being redeemed from that old nature.  They were simply to submit to the law as an outward control on that rebellious old man.

Yet in the New Testament, that old man of sin is to be crucified with Christ and we become a new man (Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:5-10).  The definition of being a sinner in the New Testament necessitates that one is outside of Christ.  Looking then at the definitions of the words translated as "sinner", are these apt descriptions for Christians?

  • Are Christians described by God as being "devoted" to sin or does He say that we are to abstain from sin?

    "Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame." I Corinthians 15:34

    "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." I John 2:1a

  • Are Christians "not free" from sin or have we been freed from sin?

    "God forbid. How shall we,
    that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?...Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin." Romans 6:2, 6-7

  • Are Christians "full of sin" above all others (preeminently) or have Christians been given power over it to be called righteous & holy?

    "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." Romans 6:12

    "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," Hebrews 12:1

    "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24

    "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." I John 3:6-9

  • Are Christians still "debtors" to God for sin or has the debt been paid in full in Christ Jesus?

    "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake." I John 2:12

    "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Matthew 26:28

    remission: aphesis; release from bondage or imprisonment; forgiveness, pardon or remission of the penalty

    "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:14

    "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Ephesians 1:7

    redemption: apolytrōsis; a releasing effected by payment of ransom

    "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world....Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." I John 2:2, 4:10

    propitiation: hilastērion;  relating to an appeasing or expiating; atonement  

Remember, the question being addressed in this article is not, "Do Christians sin?"  The question under evaluation is, "Is it Scriptural to refer to Christians as 'sinners'?"  The answer is clearly, "No!"
When Christians profess to be "sinners", they are testifying to being, "devoted to sin, still in bondage to sin, full of sin, and outside of the redemption found in Christ Jesus."
It is clear from the Scriptures that the word "sinner" could never - and should never - be applied to a born again Christian. In fact, it never is.  Not only do the definitions prohibit it from being applicable to Christians, so does the context of its use. God's expectation is that we are to be different than "sinners" because we are not sinners.

"For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again." Luke 6:32-34

If God considers Christians to be sinners, then the above words of Jesus Christ are nonsensical.  Why would Jesus be contrasting His believers against sinners if in God's mind they are one and the same?  If Christians are considered by God to be sinners, then He should have no expectation that we would behave any differently then they.  Yet, it is clear that God does expect us to be different from sinners.

The sad part about this article is that this is a non-issue for those who truly love the Lord. Only those who still want to live for themselves have a problem in this area.  A Christian is not to be a "sinner"; he/she is not to live in agreement with sin and have a lifestyle of practicing sin.  The only ones who cannot cease from sin are what the Scriptures call "cursed children" (II Peter 2:14).  If you are still living as a "sinner", then you need to repent and be born again.

As I have said before, claiming to still be a sinner is not some show of humility.  It is a denial of the very purpose for which Jesus Christ came and died for us.  In being born again, we should no longer identify ourselves with sin because we have victory over it in Christ Jesus.

From the mouths of babes: Change.   I couldn't have said it better myself.


  1. Christ DOES call us to be different from the world: meaning that we are to show the love of Christ, which the nothing else in the world can give... but the questions "Do Christians sin" and "Should we refer to Christians as sinners" are essentially the same query. We DO sin, therefore we are sinners. However, we have the forgiveness of Christ which covers all of our transgressions (future and past).
    The followers of Christ will slip-up from time to time, but God's grace is with us. The kind of transgression I'm referring to is most closely associated with "chata' - miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness;"

    Honestly, I think we aren't really having an argument. Just confusion by way of semantics.

    Thanks for recommending this article. God Bless.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      The issue is that - according to the Scriptures - they are not the same questions at all. While acknowledging that Christians can still sin, God never calls a Christian a sinner but in fact sets Christians as being different from sinners, repeatedly.

      No, we are not having an argument at all. :-) However, we should make sure that we understand what we proclaim and that our proclamations match up with God's word.

      God bless you as well!

    2. One more thing. The word "chata" is used in the Old Testament, not the New. If you want to understand what God says about being a sinner in the New Testament, you have to look at either hamartōlos or opheiletēs. Identifying one's self as a sinner in the New Testament requires that the person be outside of Christ.

  2. This was a very interesting blog. I received some revelation about something. The power of the tongue is dynamic. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Hello Shanita,

      You are welcome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I have a question.

    What about 1 Timothy 1:15,where Paul calls himself the worst of sinners. Is he talking about the past? He doesn't say "of whom I was the worst" so I am confused.

    Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thank you for raising this as it is commonly misquoted by those who want to justify still being in covenant with sin.

      Paul is by no means calling himself the "worst of sinners". Neither is he even identifying himself as still being a sinner. In order to arrive at these conclusions, you must completely chop off the first half of his statement and neglect the context of the surrounding text.

      First, let us note that Paul's current condition is that he is "saved". Paul states that he is "the worst" among sinners that "Jesus came to save"; he is the worst of those who have since been saved by Christ.

      When we look at just one verse, it is easy to misunderstand Scripture. However, look at the surrounding text.

      "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who WAS BEFORE a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: BUT I obtained mercy, because I DID [not "I DO"] it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

      This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." I Timothy 1:12-16

      Paul describes his condition of sin as being something that was "before", "BUT" there was a change. What was the change? Salvation obtained in Christ Jesus.

      Paul is not proclaiming a current sinful state. He is expounding upon the extraordinary salvatory power of Christ, to the point where God could save even him. And if God could save (and change) even him from such a sinful state, then we all ought to know that we also can be saved (and changed) just as he was. This is why he is an example of God's longsuffering and a pattern for those who believe.

  4. Hi. the Lord Just remined me of you site after I had stopped reading it for some reason.

    I am a (or supposed to be) a Christian of about 10 years or so, I came to know Jesus in my 30's after living a wordly life. I grew up in a home that was very abusive and critical, I had very low self esteem and was full of self loathing.

    I have been having counselling recently, I now realise that because I was never loved unconditionally by my parents, I could not believe That God could love me in that way also, although I believed in salvation by grace, I had somehow fashioned a works salvation for myself.

    God has recently healed me of many wrong ways of thinking, my counsellor who is not christian (and I know I have to be careful with that) is all for knowing that you are a worthwhile person, but my church is all about the negative, that we are still sinners even though saved, it is a very strange mix of once saved always saved and apparent holiness. Often people laugh about sin, not serious stuff, and say, oh we are all sinners, but the frown on other stuff.

    One meeting when the Gospel was being preached the preacher said 'of course we are all vile'. Now I know that I was a sinner, and I know that I do still sin, but when he said 'we are or were all vile' something just blew off inside me and I thought Jesus never called anyone vile, yes he pointed out sin, but he never defamed the whole personality of a person, I looked through the new testament and not once do I find Jesus name call other that the Pharasees.

    I really want to move into a realtionship with God that gives me a sense of worth, not in my own doings but in his love, I know that he thought enough of me to save me, so I had to have some value to God.

    I find it hard to have a balence between knowing that I am of worth, but not having pride. Do you have any insights.

    UK Sister.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Yes, be very careful of psychiatry/psychology as much of that is completely at odds with Christianity. God does not urge us to evaluate the old man, but to crucify him. Issues of the mind are not primarily intellectual, but spiritual (Eph. 4:23). Determining to examine demons and the flesh will send one on a roller coaster ride with Satan.

      It is true that in our flesh, there is no good thing (Rom. 7:18). This is why we are commanded not to live after the flesh. The power to not live after the flesh, which transforms us into a new creation, is the Holy Spirit of God. If it were not for the Holy Spirit, then we would still be slaves to sin.

      We aren't sinners, not because of anything from ourselves, but because of what God has accomplished within us. There is nothing for us to boast about in that because it is not of ourselves. We are completely dependent upon Him...and if we fail to yield to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we will again become entangled in sin (II Pet. 2:20).

      You say "Jesus never...except for the Pharisees." I find it interesting when people make this distinction, for the Pharisees were people too. :-) Why discount them? Why separate Jesus' comments to them from everything else He has said? It was the same person saying them.

      Yes, I would certainly say that Jesus called some the equivalent of "vile" (Matt. 23). He even called one woman and her daughter a dog (Matt. 15:22-28). And apart from Jesus, we are all vile (Is. 64:6).

      Yes, we have value to the Lord. He did not send His Son to die for that which was worthless to Him. However, His love for us was in spite of ourselves. Jesus died for us when we were still His enemies, and even His plan for redemption was primarily about His purposes being accomplished. He is a loving Father and He loves us because we are His sons & daughters. Being His, our worth is found in Him because we are made partakers of His nature.

      The following article may also be helpful for you: Self-Validation: The New Gospel

      God Bless


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