Saint or Sinner?
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” — Romans 4:5
Christian, are you a saint or a sinner?
Martin Luther answered this question when he penned the now famous latin phrase:
“Simul Iustus et Peccator.”
Some of you may be asking what in the world that means? Don’t worry. I asked that too when I first heard it.
R.C. Sproul sticks in my mind as the one who most simply unpacked Luther’s latin for me; “A Christian is simul (at the same time) iustus (just or righteous) and peccator (a sinner).”
That is, while a Christian is legally declared to be righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Christ’s perfect work, they will continue to commit sin in this life. Until we are glorified, Christians are both saint and sinner.
That’s why Paul could decalre the glorious truth that Christians are “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and yet near the close of his ministry still speak of himself as the chief of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
Why does it matter?
Historically it mattered as this goes right to heart of how a person is justified; is righteousness imputed or infused. You can read a little more about that here.
But why should this matter for evangelical Christians who affirm that we are justified by faith alone, in the finished work of Christ alone?
Because being aware that we are at the same time saint and sinner keeps us humble and consciously dependant upon God’s grace.
As I’ve been reading The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges speaks to this very issue:
“If we refuse to identify ourselves as sinners as well as saints, we risk the danger of deceiving ourselves about our sin and becoming like the self-righteous Pharisee. Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we all have moral ‘blind spots.’ We have a difficult enough time seeing our sin without someone insisting that we no longer consider ourselves as ‘sinners.'” — Jerry Bridges
Bridges is right. But I see another possible route too.
Yes, a person who fails to see the paradox of the Christian life is likely to end up blind to their sin and embrace a form of self-righteousness, but they may also tragically break down in a state of spiritual depression when the presence of sin in their life becomes apparent despite their best efforts.
Both routes put the gospel on the shelf and focus the individual on themselves and not Christ.
The response of the “saint and sinner”
As Christians we firstly need to acknowledge that we do have personal sin (1 John 1:8). Then as we remember our sin, repent and make much of Christ and the gospel.
And just when you’re tempted to get proud over your repentance, hear the words of an unnamed Puritan:
“Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.”
Not even our tears of repentance are without the stain of sin!
I’m most certainly Simul Iustus et Peccator. Are you?