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Q203 : Are Believers Sinners?

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Q203 : Are Believers Sinners?

Hi Tony,

I’m confused. I’ve been told we’re still sinners after we’re "born again." Most have referred to the Apostle Paul when he said in 1Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost.” (NASB) I know that we are not sinless, that is made clear in 1 John 1:8.

My Bible Dictionary refers to a sinner as, “One who is unregenerate transgressing God’s law.” I need help on this so as to have the right perspective. I also reference 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Appreciate your help. Thanks.

A203 : by Tony Garland

Hello Joel,

Perhaps my answer to this related questiona will be helpful.

For the believer, there are three phases of salvation in relation to sin:

  1. Justification - At the point in which we trust in Christ (the new birth) we have been saved (past tense) from the penalty of sin—we are justified and stand with Christ’s righteousness attributed to our account before God. Our destiny is no longer hell, but heaven (John 5:24).
  2. Sanctification - As believers during this life we are being saved (present tense) from the power of sin—as we grow in sanctification we are less influenced by the power of sin and experience greater victory in our walk (John 8:31-36; 17:17-19).
  3. Glorification - We will be saved (future tense) from the very presence of sin—when we die or the rapture occurs and we receive our glorified bodies at which point we ourselves will be sinless (1Cor. 15:48-49; Rom. 8:22-23; Php. 3:20-21).
In this life, believers are in stage 2, undergoing the process of sanctification, and although still possessing the capability to sin also have been given power to overcome sin to the degree we are yielded to God and His Spirit working in our lives. Our flesh is still influenced by the sin nature even though we are “saints” – set apart for God’s holy purposes and righteous by the blood of Christ. However, the clear emphasis within the New Testament is on our new nature and standing as “saints” and we are to consider ourselves as such so that we come to walk more consistency in that identity. This probably explains why your Bible dictionary defines a “sinner” as someone who is unregenerate. Even in 1 Timothy 1:15 one can see Paul’s emphasis is on the unsaved: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save [unregenerate] sinners.” Although Paul identifies himself (εἰμι ἐγώ [eimi egō], "I am" - present tense) with this same group, it appears he may be referring to his role as persecutor of the Church prior to salvation. So I would not refer to believers generally as “sinners,” but rather “saints.”

Yet those who told you that believers are still sinners in the sense that they still commit sins are technically correct. However, if you find yourself in a fellowship which consistently emphasizes believers as “sinners” then I would wonder why they are not falling in line with the New Testament emphasis which is otherwise? Sometimes this can be a sign of lurking legalism which emphasizes walking in fear based on external rules to control the flesh rather than yielding to the internal control of the Spirit as the means of sanctification. The former approach will actually excite the flesh (Col. 2:21-23) whereas the New Testament emphasizes internal self-control developed by yielding to the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16,23).

In any case, we know that all men sin, whether believers or not. But only believers are considered as “saints” from God’s perspective.

Hope this helps - Tony


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