In a paraphrase of Paul in Romans 7
Doggone it, the things I want to do, I don’t do.
But the things I don’t want to do, I end up doing!
Does that sound like your life? It doesn’t take long for us as Christians to realize that while we live in this world we struggle with sin. Our intentions are good, but sometimes we still sin. More often than we want.
Sometimes we are tempted to think that our lives are on a scale of 100%, and that we are sinners 50% of the time and saints 50% of the time. We measure how “mature” we are by shifting the balance to the saint side.
But is that helpful? Sadly, we might become proud of our effort to shift to 70% saint. Or we might be discouraged when the sinner increases to 70%.
Even more problematic: is that how the Bible describes this saint-sinner issue? The Reformers provided us with the Latin phrase as they sought to describe the life of the believer in this issue: simul iustis et peccator (at the same time saint and sinner)
Saint-Sinner in the Bible
In the New Testament, “saint” (holy one) is used to describe anyone who believes in Jesus Christ (see Acts 9:13, 32). Thus, you are a saint, right now, by God’s declaration. But we still sin. And according to what Jame wrote, it is more than just a sin action, we are sinners, guilty of all.
For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. (James 2:10)
Hence we are 100% saint but also 100% sinner.
Paul writes about this in Romans 7:14-23 (HCSB)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me.
21 So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. 22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23 But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
Paul describes the struggle with sin. And notice from one perspective he is 100% sinner (v. 15). Even more look at the present tense of the verb about how describes himself:
This is a statement that can be trusted and deserves complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost sinner. (1 Timothy 1:15 HCSB)
At the same time he “joyfully agrees with God’s law.” That is, he is 100% saint. Paul continues:
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 HCSB)
That describes my life, and your life as well. “My dying body” and “a slave to the law of God.” But Romans 7 is not the end of the discussion. Note the next verse, the final solution.
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 HCSB)
So, while it is frustrating to life in the tension of saint-sinner, the final word is God’s verdict: “those in Christ Jesus,” the saint. That is our hope as we life in the life. Our journey is not determined by this life with all the enemies of good (sin, Satan, death), but Jesus Christ, who conquered all of these—for us.
Paul provides that final look:
No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come,c hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37-39 HCSB)
Daily living as Saint-Sinner
We often hear that we can overcome sin, and live a more perfect life. Thus, the Christian is challenged to follow a prescribed set of rules (laws) and therefore will be more holy. But Paul provides a far different picture.
19 For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ 20 and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20 HCSB)
Note that solution is not reforming my behavior. Instead, we are crucified with Christ. We die to sin! Self-generated works by myself will only lead to more failure, or worse, an arrogance that cannot even see how bad my situation is.
Paul continues in Galatians 5 expanding on this struggle. Specifically he shows that the Holy Spirit is about more than repairing moral weaknesses. Rather, the Holy Spirit transforms from within, changing the heart (fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23). And immediately he ties that back to the crucifying that takes place in our daily lives:
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
How do we treat other saint-sinner people?
If we recognize this battle within us, how does that affect our relationship with fellow Christians? Do we manifest the flesh, ready to point out their failures, and feel better ourselves? Or is there a better way? Paul answers that for us:
Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2 HCSB)
As a saint-sinner, I look at how Christ has treated me, with compassion, with truth about my sin, but also with gentleness in restoring me. That is how we then treat other saint-sinner people around me.
Notice how all this crucifying, dying, rising, and the work of the Holy Spirit sets a new community in place. Instead of judgment, condemnation, gossip, backbiting, anger as the mode of operation, we live out the reality of the risen Jesus in us. As Paul wrote: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
May we live in God’s grace as saint-sinners. We hear the judgment of God’s law on our sins. But more importantly we hear from God’s Word about Jesus and what He has done, is still doing, and will do for us. We are nourished by the Lord’s Supper where we once again hear that Jesus forgives our sins. We are restored, anticipating the end of this life, and the new life, where there is no sin, no fear, no condemnation, not cancer, no conflicts, nothing but God’s perfect peace. And then we will be Saints only in the Church Triumphant.
And that is how we live in light of the end times… as saint-sinners who daily die with Christ, daily rise with Christ, and live in hope and certainty about the end and what comes after.