Are Christians sinners?

Most Christians think that they are sinners, just like all people. This seems to be what is taught in the Bible (Jh 8:7; Rm 3:23; 1 Jh 1:8). Therefore believers have no right to judge others (believing or not) if they have done wrong. That also seems to be written in the Bible (Mt 7:1; Lc 6:37). But how does being a sinner comply with the duty to grow in faith? What did the Lord Jesus mean when He warned that ‘the salt of the earth’ is not to lose its strength (Mt 5:13)? He also commanded to be perfect (Mt 5:48). And how does it comply with the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in the believers (1 Cor 3:16-17)? Shouldn’t this make believers different? Or are believers condemned to be sinners as long as they live? What is written about this in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

Difference in ‘sin’
Sin, in general sense, means missing a goal or doing wrong. In Biblical sense ‘sin’ represents the opposite of God’s will and it is determined in relation to God’s commandments. Most Christians however do not think about sin in this Biblical sense, but relative to general rules of proper behavior, like trespassing laws of the land and good virtues. Conservative Christians relate sin to the inclination of the Holy Spirit and sometimes to some (weighty) commandments, like the Ten Commandments. However, there is a tendency (even among conservatives) not to condemn sin too harshly or regard fighting it compulsory. Liberal and progressive Christians are lenient towards rules and have an attitude of allowing more and more things that in the past used to be termed as sinful. That influence is also found in modern ‘translations’ of the Bible, in which even the meaning ‘sin(ful)’ is often replaced by ‘guilt’ or ‘mistake’. But that makes the suggestion that Christians are sinners also not very meaningful. In the end even hypocritical, when the Biblical concept of ‘sin’ is changed in a way that it becomes estranged from its original meaning and is replaced by a meaning which is common in society. Increasingly the boundary is stretched to accommodate Christianity to the modern world. It more and more becomes normal practice to avoid the important and necessary response against sin. Also the means to prevent it becomes ‘weaker’ and challenged as time goes by. Even prevention is often no longer seen as relevant.

What does the Bible prescribe?
According to the Bible God is angry at all man (Rm 1:18; 3:10). But that’s not all. God condemns all men as being evil from birth, but he also commands that Christians should no longer be like that (Ef 4:20; Jac 4:4). In the Bible each sin is named, condemned and believers are encouraged to master it (Gn 4:7). But the ‘puritanical’, hypocrite and hateful way some Christians make the sin of others known and sometimes even force them to do things is also condemned as sin in the Bible (Mt 18:15; Rm 15:1; Gal 6:1). When there is willingness to convert then sinners must be taught in a merciful way how to go against it and discipline must be developed until sin is uprooted or is mastered (1 Jh 2:1-2). In the Bible the thought is rejected that believers that sin, in so doing, show that they are part of humanity. That they in so doing would prove to be normal. But sin is a concept in faith and not a concept of humanity and thus it is abnormal. Sin is also abnormal in every sense. But a person that doesn’t reject God but acknowledges Him will be bent on getting to know God. Then a different attitude will emerge (1 Jh 3:9). This spiritually healthy attitude will not be focused on sin, but on doing what is right (God’s will) and to please God. That wants to realize the confession of the water grave – being dead to sin(fullness) – in everyday life. It was above all the apostle Paul who made it clear that Christians should be granted time to adjust to that new attitude, instead of demanding from them that they be perfect from the day they became Christian. Without, by the way, releasing the hope of becoming better. However, the majority ruling in Christianity states wrongly that Paul reckoned with a limit in being perfect. Who can ever reach perfection in resembling God’s will? But why not strive for the highest gifts?

The Lord Jesus has conquered the power of sin (the law of sin), that has come on mankind since Adam (Rm 5:12). He henceforth has broken it. That cleared the way for the New Covenant, which He could engage based on that (end of the law of sin) on behalf of God. That makes that Covenant so very different from previous covenants. By offering up His sinless body and life to God, as was demanded by God’s Covenant (Hb 9:22), He gained the redemption of sinfulness. Whoever accepts that receives redemption and forgiveness through the Holy Spirit and will come as a human in the same relation to God, the Father, as the resurrected Lord Jesus. Released from the power of sin. This is an incomprehensible great gift of grace. This new human shares that through the death of the Lord Jesus, which He underwent on behalf of the ‘old man’, the seed of Adam. The new human is therefore seed of the Lord Jesus, the new Adam (Is 53:10) and re-born. Calling this new human ‘a sinner’ is bending the knee again to the power of sin and denies that the Spirit of God is able to realizing the willingness and ability of what previously was impossible (Flp 2:13); a sinless life. The reborn believer has, like the Lord Jesus, nothing to do with sin.

Way to perfection
In the Bible it is written that God wants the believers to be perfect in serving and honoring Him (Col 2:1). Then the relationship with God is optimal. God teaches them therefore continuously what is at stake. On what is the aim of becoming perfect in God? To become like the Lord Jesus; loyal followers of God’s Way. Who would dare to state that the Lord Jesus was a sinner? It was He that also said that Christians would do even more then He did (Jh 14:12). Is the aim then to become self-glorified or self-sufficient? No, the aim is that Christians become a shining example for the world. A rock in the waves and the salting salt for them that yearn for that. But are reborn Christians then more than normal people? Are they without any lack? When Christians walk on the Way to perfection they have not become superhero’s or set ‘above’ people. Christians fail in doing everything always the right way. Who is engaged in top sport likewise cannot always win each match and also cannot always win prices. Contrary to a culture which is only interested in winning, the Bible teaches the culture that respects everyone who is a member of the quest (1 Cor9:25). Its al about reaching the end strip (1 Pe 1:9). Whether they are the first or not. It all about the saturated life in the Lord Jesus; holding fast to accomplishing God’s will until death.

A Christian is not a sinner
When Christians are to be regarded as sinners just like all people, then God would simple ask too much of Christians and they would also have nothing to offer to the world. Why would they invest so much effort to be part of the quest of faith? Whoever is part of that quest is not just a spectator (a sinner), but a participant (a reborn believer). Such person is focused on reaching the end strip. It is ridiculous and insane to state that a participant is the same as a spectator. A Christian that regards itself as a sinner has already reckoned with quitting the quest before finalizing it. Being unfocused it cannot achieve its goal. Instead of setting the bar high, it starts by setting the bar low or removing the bar completely. That is negative, discouraging and a false excuse which conflicts with the Bible (Rm 6:1-2).

In the Bible people are distinguished from each other. Believers are separated from unbelievers (1 Jh 3:10). Even when believers have not yet received the Spirit of God (Acts 19:2) and therefore constantly fail to take hold of God’s will (Rm 7:23). The completed work of the Lord Jesus has broken the sinfulness of believers. The existence of being a slave of sinfulness. They that accept His work and follow that through will receive God’s Spirit as a result of that. They will become reborn, new people. They have passed over from being dead in spirit to living a spiritual life (Rm 8:2). But there is also difference between believers. Reborn believers however are still just like all people in the ‘flesh’ and they still can be tempted and commit a sin. However, they grow to perfection through God’s will. In the rate in which they change and resemble God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, they distinguish themselves from other people. It is however remarkable that this difference, which is seen through God’s Eyes as favorable, is seen by people as rather unfavorable (Jh 15:19). Even reborn believers notice this resistance also in their own ‘flesh’.

To state that all man are sinners conflicts also with the common stance of the modern world that all man are ‘good’, but that only some are bad due to circumstances outside that person. In the Bible every person form birth on is called evil. Even the Lord Jesus confirmed this (Mr 10:18). However, God doesn’t leave it at that, but He shows the Way to what He calls good. Therefore man cannot be excused.

The thought that Christians are sinners has often to do with other questions. Are Christians allowed to sin? Doesn’t God’s forgivingness and mercy outweigh sin? How are Christians to cope with their difference to unbelievers? How should Christians respond to the ‘world’? Why do Christians have an internal struggle with sin? These are all questions focused on sin, but not on God’s will. Believers should reject sin as much as God does. As a dangerous treat to growth in faith. Believers should fear it that through sin something even more bad, like the punishment of God, could come upon them, from which God cannot help or save them (Ex 32:33).

It is unbecoming when children of God commit sins, but when it has happened it should be named, thrown off and corrected through discipline or admonishment (Lc 17:3-4; 1 Tes 5:14). For Christians being a sinner is past tense. They should excel in goodness, purity and holiness. The Lord Jesus said that sinners are the ones that are outside of faith (Lc 5:32; 6:33, see Ps 1:1). For Him sinners are the same as the ungodly for which there is no hope at the final judgment of God (1 Pe 4:18).

Having a weakness for sins cannot be a reason to slacken the struggle against it. Time and again the thread of growth in faith must be picked up. Christians that do not stop sinning are rightly seen as proud flesh in their own circle (Mt 7:23; Flp 3:2)! These are the cause of falling away from faith. Apostates do not have a place amongst the children of God and have to be removed from them (Ps 1:5; 1 Cor 5:5; Hb 10:29-31)! Children of God should also not willingly fraternize with outsiders (2 Cor 6:14). In this way there will be less space for doing wrong, like sin, amongst reborn believers.