Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sinner or Saint

This dialog has resurfaced in my social circles lately. It was also a topic of my pastor's sermon last Sunday. Now I recognize that it is a debate that has raged down through the ages in the evangelical church. And sometimes it has raged at a feverish and less than “holy” pitch. As usual, I have many thoughts and some of them are conflicting.

My favorite musical genre is southern gospel. One of my favorite singers sings a song that was written by one of my favorite songwriters. George Younce sings a song written by Bill & Gloria Gaither entitled, “Sinner Saved by Grace”. If you haven't heard it, you need to! It never fails to bring a tear to my eye. And although that is a great song, it doesn't really help me understand who I am or what I am.

I guess when all else fails we could look at what the Bible says... Plus that will give me a chance to break out the new set of commentaries that my best friend, Dave, gave me as a gift last week.

A reasonably thorough search through the Bible will point out one thing when it comes to the topic of whether or not I am a “sinner” or a “saint”. New Testament authors refer to Christians with many labels. Most of them self-given. For instance, you see Christians calling one another “brethren,” “the faithful,” “the elect,” “believers,” “the church of God,” “servants (slaves) to God,” and “saints.” Not once do they refer to one another as “sinner.” I find that interesting.

Now, compare that to the use of the word “sinner” in the New Testament. Study shows us that the word “sinner” indicates a pattern of sin, a devotion to sinning, or in some cases it was a Jewish derisive term for women of ill-repute. Now I find that interesting too.

So here is a verse or two for consideration.

Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.
Philippians 4:21-22 NIV

Notice the free flowing use of the word “saints”. Paul uses the term when he tells them to greet their fellow church members in the church at Philippi. And he uses it when he sends the greetings from the fellow Christians there in Rome.

So, to a large extent that really settles it in my mind. I am a saint. The Bible says so. And that's good enough for me. I will put away any other thoughts and self-condemnations to the contrary.

But here is the tricky part. If I am a saint, shouldn't I act like one and live like one?

Maybe the key to this is not so much to focus on what or who I am. But rather, WHOSE I am.

I am a Child of the King.

I am an Heir and Joint-heir with Jesus Christ.

And that my friend will dramatically affect how I live my life on a daily basis. It will lead me to think and act in ways that continue to put distance between the person I was and the person I am.

Hallelujah!

I think I want to write more on this, but it's suppertime.

6 comments:

  1. To do what I have been in the habit of doing lately and given the fact that I just completed an very heavy course on the life and thought of John Wesley I will endeavor to answer to the best of my ability in the way that I think He would have answered this question. But before I do that I wan to say that my personal answer would be that to say that we are sinners applies a kind of label to it that makes us think and feel that since that is who we are, we are not capable of living any other way. It's like telling someone that they have such and such a condition and there is nothing they can do about it. Without the Grace of God this would be absolutely true, however because of Grace and what Jesus did on the cross and in His triumph over the grave we have the ability to respond to that grace accept Christs forgiveness and allow Him to transform us.
    Back to what Wesley would say. I believe that John Wesley would answer this question like he does many other Questions, "Are we sinners or saints?" (Not JhnWsly's quotes) His probable answer would be "Yes." We are "sinners" in the sense that we need to be reminded about from where we were rescued. Just like a recovered alcoholic has to deal with temptation no matter how long he/she lives it is therapeutic for someone to be reminded from what they were delivered. If we don't admit our past and how easy it is to fall into sin then we have become proud and sinned anyway.

    Yet on the other side of the coin we are saints and not sinners because we do not live in a "pattern of sin or a devotion to sinning." as you pointed out and we are in the fellowship of believers.

    Yet if you had to push Wesley to one side or the other I believe that that he would say that we are Saints. We are saints because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. We are saints because a slave cannot serve two masters. We either hate the one and love the other or love the one or despise the other.

    Last year in Collegians Chorale at MVNU we sang that song "Sinner Saved By Grace" and believe it or not I struggled with the fact that we as a school that promotes holiness theology would have our largest choir name it's tour title the same as that song. All in all I came to view the song in essence saying, I was a sinner and now I have been saved by grace.

    At any rate we have a responsibility to respond to that Grace that God has given us and allow him to transform our lives so that we live as saints and not as sinners, no matter what we choose to call ourselves.

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  2. Scott3:04 PM

    Kevin,

    It figures you would post on this topic while I am on vacation, nice move, lol.

    The one thing that bothers me about how someone views the word "sinner" is that is must equal and active stance of the word. In other words, when I refer to myself as a sinner, I am not using that in an active form. It is descriptive of my nature when I turn away from His perfect will. Just as the recovering alcoholic is always an alcoholic, doesn't mean he is a practicing one. Why do we fear this word so, when Paul was not afraid to use in to describe himself?

    It is interesting that you did a word search on when saint was used to describe others. I would be interested to do the same search and see how many times someone referred to themselves as a saint? I am betting not to many. I think when we refer to each other as saints, it is because of who we see working in each other as a body. I can't recall if anyone in scripture used the term as a self descript?

    I was just reading some from another book by Dan boone, "the seven deadly sins" and he lightly touched on how we probably have no idea just how much sin is in our lives as "unknown" due to the fallen nature of our surroundings. To me, I am a sinner (by nature) seeking to be fully His.

    Anyway, I am back to vacation time!

    Blessings my friend

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  3. Joshua,

    I am glad to see that your very fine education is not going to waste! And I appreciate the freshness that your experience in studying Wesley brings to the discussion.

    I agree with much of what you are saying. But, I am not as far to the side that finds as much therapeutic value in remembering where I came from, lest I get too proud. I rembember the blind man's response when his parents were afraid to answer about the miracle of healed blindness. It says in John 9:25 -- He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Notice the verb tense... was blind and now I see.

    And you are absolutely about the lack of duality when it comes to a master to serve.

    BTW, see you next week!

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  4. Scott, I think you are letting a secular pychological approach to the problem of alcoholism influence and frame the argument. (Wow, did I just say that?)

    My word search almost exclusively deals with references from Christians for Christians. But if we hold to the view that the Bible is Divinely inspired, then that usage must have been OK with the Divine Inspirer! And I see no where where God warns us not to think of ourselves as such. He does warn us not to think to highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3), but that is a different context.

    I predict more posts on this from me in the very near future. I'm not done putting it all through my new commentaries!

    Have a great vacation. We'll miss you this Sunday.

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  5. Scott9:45 PM

    Kevin,

    I understand what you are saying and maybe some day, I will be at the same place as you. However, my usage of the alcoholic example is one I find to be very close in comparison. When you talk with a recovering alcoholic he/she will be devoted to the fact the are still an alcoholic or addict. They have to be, lest they forget where they come from and what they are capable of when they lose focus of where they were and where they are.

    I am afraid when we easily call ourselves "saint" with the marriage of our Wesleyan definition of sin, we can lose sight of just how Holy our God is. We have a definition that can lead to someone justifying sinful actions. I don't view the word as an active tense, but I also have enough awe of the holiness of God that I have to wonder just how short of His perfect thought, perfect love and perfect reaction I can be without knowing it.

    My point about the usage of the word is that the word is in use in greetings to others, I don't have a problem calling you a saint or brother or calling Kathy a super saint or sister. However when it comes to a self descriptive nature, I honestly prefer the word "son" over anything. Saint/sinner has certain pre-conceived definitions associated with them that seem to make them difficult for me. Did you do a search to see how many times saint was used in reference to oneself in scripture?

    Please don't take it as a major disagreement, I personally think this is a great discussion and one I might peek in on while on vacation.

    blessings my friend

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  6. Scott, I don't take your comments as a major disagreement. Rather I view it as a great discussion among brothers in Christ. In fact, I value your opinions and view of Holiness from a "fresh" Wesleyan perspective. And I really like your use of the word "son" as a self-descriptor.

    So, when you get back, we'll have to discuss Saint Catherine...

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