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Saints and sinners
- Jacob Ninan
One miracle of grace is that Jesus presents sinners before God as saints. When we come to God acknowledging ourselves as sinners and accept His mercy on the basis of Jesus' death on our behalf, our status before God undergoes a change. God wipes our heart clean with the blood of Jesus Christ, redeems us from the ownership of Satan, causes us to be born again, adopts us to be His children, and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ (Php.3:9). Now we are called saints (set apart for God, or morally blameless).
Some Christians insist that now that God calls us saints, we should not call ourselves sinners anymore. They then proceed to focus only on verses that reflect our position in Christ and ignore other verses that relate to our overcoming sin in our lives. It becomes a 'denial' of reality under an apparent but mislaid zeal to hold up the truth of one part of God's word.
Some other Christians cannot relate at all to being called saints. They are bemoaning the sin that they find daily in their lives and even wondering occasionally if they are really Christians at all. They think God must be angry with them, and they have no confidence to ask anything from Him.
Actually, when God looks at us clothed in the righteousness of Christ, He has not turned blind to the sin we are fighting against in our lives! These are two different aspects of His relationship with us. When it concerns our acceptance with Him as His children it is on the basis of imputed righteousness (Ga.2:16). Since this is based only on Jesus' death, our relationship with God is not a variable that depends on our current performance. So we can have boldness to walk into His presence at all times by the blood of Jesus (He.10:19). His favour towards us does not waver.
But when God wants to sanctify us and re-make us into the image of His Son, He keeps watching over every detail of what is going on with us. He confronts the faults and failures He finds with His compassion (Lk.15:20). Even when He sometimes discipline us, it is always only in love (He.12:6). The conviction that the Holy Spirit gives is only intended to save us from our sins and not to condemn us.
We see a beautiful balance in the life of Paul. The apostle who has taught us the doctrine of justification and shown us our placement as saints seated with Christ in the heavenly place was also one who acknowledged His own battles with sin in his flesh (Rom.7). He saw himself progressively as being unworthy to be an apostle (1Co.15:9), less than the least of the saints (Ep.3:8), and finally as the chief of sinners (1Ti.1:15). Yet at the same time he was experiencing more of the practical reality of becoming a 'saint' and walking closer with God!
We are saints and sinners at the same time, according to what perspective we use. And we need to have both perspectives! Our acceptance depends only on God's grace which we receive by faith, and our daily sanctification necessitates our being aware of our sinfulness.