Is it true to say that Christians are as much sinners as anyone else, and that the only difference is that they’re forgiven sinners? Every now and again I come across ministers and others saying things like:
- Christian’s lives are filled with sin: “we confess our lives are filled with sin”
- everything we do as Christians is sin: “our best is sinful in God’s sight”
- even our church worship is filled with sin: “our worship today is filled with sin”
I really hope that these people aren’t right! If Christians lives are really filled with sin, then they are as much sinners as anyone else, and then large parts of the New Testament seem to be mistaken.
Jesus teaches that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven(Matt 5:20). The Apostle Paul teaches that sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 7. 9-10). John wants Christians not to sin (1 John 2:1). Peter wants our good deeds to be seen (1 Peter 2:12). The prophets and apostles all take the same view: God’s people are chosen and called for obedience. Under the law, this calling was not achieved (Rom 8.3). But in Christ, by his death and his power realised through the Holy Spirit, a God-pleasing obedience can be a reality (Gal 5:19-24). Jesus Christ did not pay the penalty for sin on the cross so that we would go on being full of sin (Rom 6: 1-4).
The NT urges us to realise the obedient lives of mature disciples, but of course sin is a reality in any Christians’ life. The Apostle John is realistic: we all fail, we all sin. But we need to remember that we have an advocate in Jesus and a loving father who forgives if we do sin. (1 John 1:8 – 2:1)
But we need to be biblical about what is, and what is not, sin. And we need to acknowledge not only the reality of our sin, but also the reality of our good deeds. A reckoning of good deeds as sin dishonours God, dishonours the work of Jesus and dishonours the Holy Spirit. A belief that Christian’s lives are filled with sin denies the reality of repentance, the power of Christ’s death, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of our adoption as sons and daughters.
Perhaps the people who say the things at the top of the post would sit down over a cup of coffee and agree with what I’ve written – perhaps their words are mere rhetoric, perhaps they’d claim it’s ‘cultural’. But, when Christian leaders and teachers foster the kind of attitudes at the top of this post, there is a psychological cost to Christians. An expectation of failure and sin defeats the Christian before she or he gets out of bed. A communal focus on failure renders churches ineffective, and holds Christians back from growth towards maturity.