I was surprised on two occasions this year when preaching to what I will call ‘conservative evangelical constituencies’ and declaring the joy of our freedom in Christ, to encounter the response that followed.
On the first occasion I had been speaking about the glorious freedom proclaimed in Romans 6. On the second I was expounding Ephesians 2 and celebrating the fact that we are new creations, created in Christ Jesus. We are called ‘saints’, holy ones, and are certainly no longer regarded as ‘sinners’.
In Romans 6, Paul celebrates the truth that, whereas we used to be slaves of sin, God has made us ‘slaves of righteousness’ (Rom. 6:18). I deplored the fact that I had seen a poster when in the USA saying that a Christian is one sinner telling another sinner where to find bread. It saddens me not only to see Christians failing to accept the new identity that the gospel provides, but even fighting to defend their ‘right’ to be called ‘sinners’ when God has called those who are in Christ Jesus ‘saints’!
Such were some of you
Paul provides a horrific list of the evils that had formerly characterized the believers at Corinth, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards and so on, but clearly adds, ‘Such WERE some of you, but you were washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:16). Surely he is telling them (and us) that they are now set apart saints of God.
When Christians deplore their sinfulness to the degree that they actually argue that their essential identity is ‘a sinner’ they shoot themselves in the foot!
After one of my previously mentioned sermons, a handsome young man approached me with, ‘Surely we are essentially still sinners aren’t we?’ He then began literally shedding tears and confessed to serious problems in the realm of sexual temptation. I opened Romans 6 with him for 15 minutes, asking him Paul’s robust question, ‘Are we to continue in sin …?’ and showing him Paul’s even more forthright answer, ‘By no means!’ (King James, ‘God forbid!’). followed by his clear argument, ‘How shall we who died to sin still live in it?’
The young man seemed surprised, maybe expecting the answer, ‘Well of course we do still struggle with sin because essentially we are still sinners.’ Paul did not take that line!
To be continued...