Question On Sin

Ok, two newsletters in the last two days are prompting me to ask a question. I know there are some very knowledgeable Christians here, even an occasional pastor, that can answer this question.

I’ve always been taught that part of growing closer to God is acknowledging that I am a sinner. And by golly, hard as I try to follow God’s word, I keep slipping up. And I keep confessing to God and asking for forgiveness.

Yesterday, I received an email for a lunch group at my office building, a Christian employees club. It was addressed to “Saints of God.” I thought it was somewhat presumptuous. (When you’re full of pride like I am, you stuggle to stay humble. One of my sins, sorry.)

Today in my Neil Anderson newsletter, he says something similar. (I can’t get a permalink to his article, so I’ll just have to quote it):

A STRUGGLING SAINT
Romans 7:15
I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate

Perhaps the most vivid description of the contest with sin which goes on in the life of the believer is found in Romans 7:15-25. In verses 15 and 16, Paul describes the problem: “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good.”

Notice that there is only one player in these two verses–the “I,” mentioned nine times. Notice also that this person has a good heart; he agrees with the law of God. But this good-hearted Christian has a behavior problem. He knows what he should be doing but, for some reason, he can’t do it. He agrees with God but ends up doing the very things he hates.

Verses 17-21 uncover the reason for this behavior problem: “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. . . . If I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” How many players are involved now? Two: sin and me. But sin is clearly not me; it’s only dwelling in me. Sin is preventing me from doing what I want to do.

Do these verses say that I am no good, that I am evil, or that I am sin? Absolutely not. They say that I have something dwelling in me which is no good, evil, and sinful, but it’s not me. If I have a sliver in my finger, I could say that I have something in me which is no good. But it’s not me who’s no good. I’m not the sliver. The sliver which is stuck in my finger is no good. I am not sin and I am not a sinner. I am a saint struggling with sin which causes me to do what I don’t want to do.

Romans 6:12 informs us that it is our responsibility not to allow sin to reign in our lives. Sin will reign if we use our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness (Romans 6:13). We must renounce every such use and submit our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.

While I agree with the gist of his devotional, I’m not sure I agree with this line: “I am not sin and I am not a sinner. I am a saint struggling with sin which causes me to do what I don’t want to do. ”

I am not a sinner, I’m a saint? That sounds opposite to what I’ve been taught before. What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Question On Sin

  1. Well, go back to Paul:

    “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:12–16).

    That inner grace you have has to be excercised. That nagging voice in your head is God tapping you on the shoulder and reminding you to do the right thing, lest you be blamed or guilty and with blemish. How? by holding fast to the word of life, by working in life to keep that temptation at bay, for God is at work in your will and work for His good pleasure.

    If you do these things without grumbling or question, you will be lights in the world, but Saints? Not many of us, at least in my understanding of the term.

    I think that the world is like a briar patch – by simply living in it, you collect stickers (slivers)by doing sin – you do have a sinful nature by birth. You’re working to repress that nature. You gotta take the time to remove the slivers, from time to time. And, of course you try to navigate around the really thorny patches. Fortunately, we have a map in the Bible.

    Good thing I don’t have to be perfect from the word go, but I try to keep those tweezers handy.

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  2. There is also the point of view approach. God has justified us in His eyes, declaring us to be righteous. From that side, we are saints who collect slivers as we go through life. We shouldn’t use this teaching to disregard our responsibility, but we do need to remember that it is how God views us that will determine our fate, not how we view ourselves.

    We are saints, and even then we are sinners. Only through the gospel of grace can these two descriptions coexist.

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  3. Sean, Doug – thanks for the perspective. I think I’ll wait until i join my maker, *then* ask if I’m a saint. In the meantime, I am going to keep acknowledging that I’m a sinner.

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  4. We Are Imogene

    I first met Imogene, whose name I chose in honour of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, while returning to a school I once worked at. A large group of grade 1s had gathered around to say big hellos and once

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