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Sinners or Saints? Coming to Terms with What We Are

“Golden bars of sunlight come sneaking through the shutters
laying stripes on my back like a zebra
Sweaty fingers turning pages, and clinging to the bed like it’s a bride
and I never want to leave her
Paul calls me a ‘saint,’ and the mattress shakes with laughter
and the sheets let out a chuckle
while the pillow holds one end
I don’t believe a word I read, but the man is so convincing
Says You’re calling me a winner in a game I never win
But with every word I read I feel Your eyes are on me
And I don’t mind at all.”

These are lyrics from a song called “Look at Me,” written in 1998 by a Christian band called The Waiting. The song (or the group) likely doesn’t show up on your list of favorites, but it’s been one that has stuck with me ever since I saw them perform it live at a youth conference I attended.

In his letters, Paul continually refers to Christians as “saints” (holy ones). The Old Testament prophets portrayed God as a husband, and His people a wayward wife (the whole book of Hosea is devoted to this). Mix these together and you get Paul painting a picture of Christian marriage looking like the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul wrote,

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” (Eph. 5:25-27, NLT)


“He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.”


I don’t think anyone of us would argue if someone said that Christ’s death on the cross forgave us our sins, that is, once we place faith in Him to receive that gift. But how many of us, as a result of that cleansing, would go on to confidently refer to ourselves as “holy,” “clean,” “glorious,” “without spot or blemish,” or “without fault”?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

We’d be like the guy in the song reading his Bible in bed, laughing at the idea of being a saint. Forgiven? Yes. A Saint? I don’t think so.

Why is that?

Why don’t we see ourselves the way Scripture describes us?

1. We have a wrong idea about what a saint is.

We’ve been told that saints are people who are dead and have their names engraved on buildings, churches, or universities. They are heroes of the faith who have to be nominated for “sainthood.” Or if we don’t follow that stream of Christianity, we just have this idea that a saint is a believer who is an extraordinarily good person, likely old, and is better than the rest of us.

2. We have a wrong idea about who we are in Christ.

Yeah, we know Jesus saved us from eternal punishment, and we’re looking forward to golden streets and a bit of a mansion (whatever that looks like). But for now? We can’t escape the feeling that we’re just “sinners saved by grace.” Getting in by the skin of our teeth. And we aren’t always altogether sure of even that 100% of the time.

The trouble is, “I’m a sinner saved by grace” is not in the Bible. Seriously, it’s not there. “Saved by grace”? Yes, absolutely. Ephesians 2:8 is pretty clear. But in Scripture, a person who is saved by grace is never referred to as a sinner. That’s who we were. That is no longer who we are. Do we still sin? Yes, obviously. But our sin doesn’t define us anymore. We have “died to sin” and no longer live there. We are new creations. The old is gone and the new has come. We are being made new. We deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him.


“In Scripture, a person who is saved by grace is never referred to as a sinner. That’s who we were.”


Says blogger Sharon Jaynes, “If we continue to see ourselves as ‘just sinners saved by grace,’ we’ll approach the Father expecting judgment and begging for crumbs, rather than as grateful, grace-filled saints expecting promises fulfilled.”

Referring to ourselves as saints speaks to what Christ accomplished for us on the cross, what the Spirit has accomplished in us through regeneration, and continues to accomplish in us through sanctification. Calling ourselves saints speaks of the extraordinary, supernatural power that took our sorry sinful state and made it healthy and whole.

Think of it this way:

  • You were a sinner. Past tense. Your past identifier.
  • You have been saved by grace.
  • You are a saint. Present tense. Your current identifier.

What we call ourselveshow we think of ourselves before Goddetermines how we live day to day. Think of it this way. On the day a person gets married, they become a husband or a wife. They stop being a fiancé or a boy/girlfriend. If you got married, but continued to refer to yourself as single, your spouse would likely have an issue with that.


“What we call ourselves—how we think of ourselves before God—determines how we live day to day.”


Even if you thought yourself unworthy to be a wife, the fact that you said yes cuts through your feelings and you must face facts. Your husband delighted to receive you. He made promises and so did you. You either trust his heart to love you faithfully or you don’t. Not believing, not trusting, or not fully committing because you fear failure will only distance you from him and strain the relationship.

You see how this parallels our walk with Jesus? If we accept His love and forgiveness, but always refer to ourselves as lost, broken, or sinners, we emphasize our past and ignore what He wants to do in our present. We don’t see ourselves as He does.

The last part of the above-mentioned song goes like this…

“For when You look at me, You see every drop of blood You spent
Like the color that comes creeping to my face
It is such sweet embarrassment to see the dowry that You paid for my cold embrace
But I’ll never let you go…”

So, if you’re in Christ, stop seeing yourself according to your past or your win/loss record. You used to be a sinner, but you’ve been saved by grace, cleansed by the blood, indwelled by the Spirit. Paul puts it this way,

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11, NLT)


“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy.”


And if we see ourselves more as saints (even saints-in-progress), we’ll begin to act more like how Scripture describes saints to be. Paul calls saints to love because he believes we are capable of it. We aren’t sufficient in our own selves, but because of Christ in us. Paul encourages the church to be what they already are.

From Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Church,

“…Christians define ministry too narrowly. Once you broaden your definition of ministry to ‘saints in motion,’ then you have a more accurate portrayal of life in Christ. What do saints do? They love. All of life is ministry for a Christian. Living and working with not-yet-perfected saints requires incredible patience, forgiveness, and forbearance. ‘Become what you are’ is a radically different perspective from ‘Stop being what you are.’ Even when Paul goes negative, he tends to say, ‘Stop being what you aren’t.’”

This reorients how we see ourselves. And that will reorient how we see one another.

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