devos from the hill

Saint or Sinner, Which are You?


Mars Hill Staff Devotional
from Fred Carpenter

I’ve noticed a growing trend from the pulpit in evangelical Churches (at least the ones I am familiar with) to proclaim that we are all just a bunch of sinners. But are we really? What does God say about those who have been born from above into His family?

In Acts 2 we read about the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. He came to indwell men and make them new creatures in Christ. Did you know, that from Acts 2 to the last chapter of Revelation, there are only 3 verses (1 Tim 1:15, Jms 4:8 & Jms 5:20) that refer to Christians as sinners, yet there are 56 that refer to Christians as saints? For example . . .

Rom 1:7 – “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints”
Eph 1:1 – “to the saints who are at Ephesus”
Phil 1:1 – “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”
Col 1:2 – “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae”

Paul never opens one of his letters to the Churches with, “to all the sinners at . . .” And yet I’ve heard it from the pulpit more times than I can count, “We are all just sinners.” 56 to 3. Why don’t we hear more statements that line up with the 56? There may be more than a few reasons for this, but for the purpose of today’s devotional, we’ll look at just one.

We live in a world that emphasizes performance over identity. Identity is who we are. Performance is how we express who we are. Before Christ became your life (Gal 2:20) and before you became a partaker of His divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), the power of sin infected and affected every area of your being. This is what theologians call total depravity. You were a sinner by virtue of both your performance and your identity.

If you were born again, then you became a new creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). You received a new identity. But the power of sin still resides in you, and it can be a huge hindrance to your performance. Paul puts it this way, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Romans 7:18-20, NASB.

The struggle Paul is describing is real, but it does not change his identity. If a person is battling cancer, it doesn’t make him cancer. Cancer is what he has, not who he is. Because sin (the noun) still dwells in us, we will sometimes sin (the verb). Our performance will falter. But that doesn’t change our identity. According to Paul, you are still a saint. You are a saint who struggles with sin. You may not be doing a good job of expressing who you really are, but it doesn’t change who you are. Sinning doesn’t make you a sinner any more than barking will make you a dog. Identity and performance may be related, but they are not the same thing.

So what difference does this really make, particularly if Christians and non-Christians alike commit acts of sin? Is it just semantics? No, it makes a big difference. There are two types of Christians. Those who believe they are supposed to become something or someone they’re not (i.e. – a righteous person), and those who believe they are supposed to live up to who they already are (i.e. – a righteous person in Christ). What do you think will happen if you’re always telling a child that he’s a bad kid? There’s a good chance he will live that out. After all, when he acts that way he’ll simply think to himself, “Well that’s just who I am.” It’s the same as constantly telling someone he’s a sinner. “Well, what do you expect? That’s what I am.”

On the other hand, if you’re always telling a child that he is a King’s kid and that sons and daughters of the King don’t act that way, then there’s a good chance he’ll eventually grow into his identity. Maybe that’s why our Heavenly Father uses more ink in His word calling His children saints rather than sinners. If we really understand who we are in Christ, then we’ll ultimately live up to our identity . . . or we’ll be miserable living in a life of contradiction.

5 thoughts on “Saint or Sinner, Which are You?

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Fred. Sure is a better way to go through the day!

    Joe the saint

  2. Very well put Fred. Thank you so much. The old has past away, behold all things are new.

  3. If I believe I am saved from eternal damnation and do not recognize that I am still a sinner, then the power of Christ’s redemptive death is diminished. Christianity is about Christ and what he did. 

    If I think– for one minute — that I am not a sinner, then I make myself part of the salvation equation.

    Bruce McFadden

  4. In response to some of the comments we’ve received about this devotional, I felt it was important to add a clear statement that Mars Hill does not subscribe to the doctrine of sinless perfection. We are in complete agreement with 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” The question posed in this devotional is this. If we (Christians) have indwelling sin (which we do), then why do the epistles use the term “saint” (hagios; G40) 56 times in reference to Christians over the term “sinner” (hamartolos; G268) which is used only 3 times. As it relates to sanctification and holiness, theologians use the terms “positional” and “experiential” (alt.- progressive practical) to resolve the apparent contradiction (that we have sin, and yet are saints). In the devotional, I chose the terms “identity” and “performance” to address that same issue. The scope of a devotional like this is limited. Had it been intended as something more, I would have unpacked Colossians 2:9-12. Understanding the wonderful truth in this passage relieves all apparent tension regarding the fact that we have sin, and yet are saints.

    Indeed, to deny the reality of sin is to diminish the power of the cross. But by the same token, it is also a mockery to deny the efficacy of the cross to accomplish the fullness of its purpose.

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