Are Christians “Sinners”?

I started reading yet another book today that insists it’s essential for Christians to see themselves as sinners. Is this true or not? Here’s my suggested approach.

First, aside from the term itself, let’s look at the things that most Bible-believing Christians can agree to, related to Christians and sin. When a person trusts in Christ, they are credited Christ’s righteousness (Rom 4:5). Also, in some sense the power of sin over that person is broken (Rom 6:20-22). However, there is still a battle within the believer between sin and the Spirit (Gal 5:17), and no Christian is ever entirely without sin in this life (1 Jn 1:8). A Christian can overcome this sin to progressively grow in holiness, by relying on the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16) and renewing his mind to the truth (Rom 12:2), among other things. A lot of times, disputes over the term “sinner” arise because one side believes that the other is missing one of these key points (and it can work both ways). It’s important, then, at the outset, to discuss these points, to see if both sides really agree to them.

If we can agree on these points, then, the question remains, should a Christian see himself as a sinner? We agree to all the above *assertions,* but should that *label* be additionally applied?

Here’s some hard Biblical evidence. “Although the New Testament provides plenty of evidence that the believer sins, it never clearly identifies the believer as a sinner. Paul’s reference to himself in which he declares, ‘I am foremost [of sinners]‘ is often referred to as contrary (1 Tim 1:15). Despite the use of the present tense by the apostle, several things make it much preferable to consider his description of himself as the “foremost [of sinners]” as a reference to his preconversion opposition to the gospel…The only other places in Scripture that could be referring to Christians as sinners are two references found in James. The first, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners” (4:8), is one of 10 verbal commands urging anyone who reads this general epistle to make a decisive break with the old life. This is best understood as calling the reader to repentance and therefore salvation. The second use of “sinner,” found in James 5:19,20, appears to have a similar reference to unbelievers” (Anderson, Victory Over the Darkness, pp. 48-49). If you are aware of any passages that counter this, please let me know in the comments – this is the best information I have so far of NT use of the word “sinner.”

In light of this Biblical evidence, my questions to someone who would advocate referring to Christians as “sinners” would be:
– Do you think it is *essential* for Christians to see themselves as sinners? If it’s so essential, why did Jesus, Peter, Jude, and all the apostles recorded in Acts never call them that? Why did Paul only (possibly) refer to himself as a sinner, never any of his readers? Did the Lord and the inspired apostles really so thoroughly ignore such an important doctrine? One that you, over and above their ignorance or dullness of speech, have brought to light? Does the Word not really make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17), until it’s supplemented by your additions?
– Do you, instead, think that it is not *essential* for Christians to see themselves as sinners, but *helpful*? If so, why would it be more helpful than simply explaining the above Biblical truths about a Christian’s relationship to sin? The term “sinner” is subject to misinterpretation leading to excessive guilt, but those truths, when well explained, are not subject to misinterpretation. So, then, isn’t it the explanation of the truths the helpful part? And didn’t the apostles find it most helpful to explain the truths, and found no helpfulness in ever referring to Christians as sinners?
– Do you, instead, think that it’s not necessarily *helpful*, but at least *permissible* for Christians to see themselves as sinners? If so, would you be willing to permit others to teach the essential truths about Christians and sin, *without* referring to Christians as sinners? And would you be willing to entertain discussions about the negative effects that self-identifying as a sinner could have?

Therefore, I’d say there is a strong Biblical argument to say that a Christian should not see himself as a sinner. Incidentally, most of the points so far in the book I’m reading work whether or not you use the label “sinner” – the emphasis seems to be focusing on the common truths I described above. If that’s the case, let’s focus on those, and leave our zealotry about extra-Biblical terminology aside.

Incidentally, the argument could be raised that this is analogous to the extra-Biblical term “Trinity.” I’d argue that it’s not analogous. The term “Trinity” was coined to defend clear Biblical assertions of the nature and relationship of persons in the Godhead, against heretical denials of these Biblical assertions. But there is nothing heretical about the person who affirms all the above Biblical truths about Christians and sin yet does not use the term “sinner.” Also, the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but began being used later, whereas the term “sinner” *does* appear in the Bible, but not in reference to Christians. The term “sinner” already has an inspired meaning, so we do not have the authority to change the way it is used.

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27 Responses to Are Christians “Sinners”?

  1. themanhattanprojectnyc says:

    I agree with the whole terminology thing about us not being sinners anymore eventhough we still sin. “Sinner” in the Bible is refering to an unbeliever. When it’s the inspired Word of God there would be no way to redeem man and still call them a sinner. God is just aware that we still fall short of his plan for us (we sin). He just doesn’t see us as “sinners”. However, I think the book you’re reading is probably just trying to make the point that we all still continue to sin so we can stop being hypocrites in our judgements. We don’t have to call each other sinners to know that we still sin. But I doubt he’s trying to get into a terminology debate. If he is, he’s dumb. I still sin, therefore I’m a sinner. God just doesn’t see me as one. If Paul chose not to see people as sinners, great (he did write the very Word of God so it makes sense to write things the way God sees them), but he still acknowledged sin, and that is the point. We can’t just look the other way from our sin by not calling us sinners. We have to confront it and deal with it regardless of whether we call ourselves sinners or not, but as brothers and sisters in Christ I guess it would be theologically correct to not refer to each other as sinners.

  2. William E Anderson says:

    Manhatten: What do you suppose is the final result of your teaching that “oh, it is just the way that God sees us!” The final result (of that thinking) is that we can still live in gross sin, still say that we are sinners, and still claim to be saved, even though the scripture is adamant that that is a lie. God is not blind as to whos hearts are changed, ie who is a true Christian. And that true Christian does not continue to live in sin, even though you would try to say otherwise by using the false “positional” argument. The Christian is more than just positional. His heart has been changed and that is practical. The bible says that God does not hear sinners (Jn 9:31) “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a sorshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth”.
    Manhatten, if you are still a sinner, then you will be cast from the righteous and will be domed in the final judgement. You are not saved (if you are still a sinner). “Ps 1:5 “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”!!!
    So, who do you think that you are now? A righteous person or a sinner? You still might be a Christian but confused because of all the ungodly teaching in this modern age.

  3. Robert says:

    I agree with both of you brothers. But my question is, if Christians consider themselves sinners, then doesn’t that undermine God’s power? When we pray, don’t we asked Christ for forgiveness? I feel if I repent with sincerety and conviction, God does forgive me of my sins. At that point in time, I am without sin. I do not consider myself a sinner afer I have repented.

  4. Chituru James says:

    I am grateful to God for this this site. I have been referred as a gentile in a place where I worship for speaking out in a bible study that I am not a sinner. I went on to explain that though “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, the day I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my saviour, personal Lord and believing in the totality of what He did for me on the cross, I was forgiven and became a new creatrure, old things passed away and behold I am changed, loving what God loves and hating what He hates. All, by the grace of God. Nonetheless, I ocassionally sin but unlike before, I feel very bad for any wrong doing and with contrite heart, I ask God to forgive me. However, shall we remain in sin that grace shall abound, God forbid. Salvation is a gift from God but it cost God dearly. Our consistent, persistent and unrepentant heart is about crucifying Jesus all over again. It is important to think about the renewal of our minds, if we love God, we will obey His commandments as it is not by our power or might but by His Spirit. If by our mouth we are condemned or justified, then if we call ourselves sinner, we will live up to sins intead of rising above sins.

  5. Chituru James says:

    I am grateful to God for this this site. I have been referred as a gentile in a place where I worship for speaking out in a bible study that I am not a sinner. I went on to explain that though “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, the day I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my saviour, personal Lord and believing in the totality of what He did for me on the cross, I was forgiven and became a new creatrure, old things passed away and behold I am changed, loving what God loves and hating what He hates. All, by the grace of God. Nonetheless, I ocassionally sin but unlike before, I feel very bad for any wrong doing and with contrite heart, I ask God to forgive me. However, shall we remain in sin that grace shall abound, God forbid. Salvation is a gift from God but it cost God dearly. Our consistent, persistent and unrepentant heart is about crucifying Jesus all over again. It is important to think about the renewal of our minds, if we love God, we will obey His commandments as it is not by our power or might but by His Spirit. If by our mouth we are condemned or justified, then if we call ourselves sinners, we will live up to sins intead of rising above sins.

    • Emmanuel Avula says:

      Chituru James, Thank God for your explanation. ” 1John 2: 28-29″ , 1 John 3:9. It means that at every point in time, one is meant to be prepared- . Righteousness is Gods ability in man to stand in his Fathers presense without sense of guilt and inferiority complex”.If peradventure, you make a mistake(not preconceived one)- (break fellowship with the Father) , the spirit of God will accuse you and youll immediately respond by praying for forgiveness. May God continue to strengthen you till your last here on earth. Let God unveil Himself to as many who purely seek Him.

  6. Frank says:

    For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.This means as long as you leave you are a sinner regardless of your professed sainthood.

  7. saint says:

    Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died
    for us.

    From the standpoint of Jesus, a person was a sinner as long as he or she remained opposed to the will of God. Once a person accepted the offer of forgiveness and made a commitment of faith to follow Jesus, he or she became a disciple of Jesus. In the Gospels the term sinner is used in two ways – to describe the individual who is opposed to God and His will, and by Jesus’ opponents to describe those outside of their group to whom Jesus offers the gospel of salvation. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.

  8. Harold says:

    God says Christians DO NOT SIN 1John3:6-9.

    You are either righteous OR a sinner (1Tim1:9, 1Pet4:18). There is no righteous sinner.

    The confusion on this topic of whether Christians are sinners seems to come from definitions of sin. Many do not bother using God’s definitions of sin, instead using some ambiguous generic definition such as “missing the mark”.

    God says sin is:

    1John3:4 “transgression of the law” But we are SET FREE from the law Rom8:2, so how can we be accused of transgressing it (sin) when we are not under the jurisdiction of the law of sin and death.

    1John5:17 Unrighteousness. But Christians are righteous in Christ. Hence here also we do not sin.

    Rom14:23 No faith. Christians are justified through faith. Again, here we do not sin.

    John16:8 Unbelief in Jesus. Christians believe on Jesus. Hence we do not sin here.

    Some suggest the following scriptures say Christians sin. Unfortunately they use them out of context.

    1Tim1:15 Is Paul claiming to be chief sinner? Read verse 13 as well to see the context. He is referring to his PAST when he blasphemed, etc.

    1John1:8 Read from start of chapter to get the context. It is a message to those in DARKNESS (without Christ). Note the words it uses “DECLARE”, “you also MAY have fellowship”.
    Note verse 6 also: “….walk in DARKNESS, we lie, and do not the truth”. Clearly talking to those in DARKNESS, without Christ.
    Verse 8 is saying to those in DARKNESS: “If we say we have no sin (unbelief), we deceive ourselves…”

    James4:8 To get context read from verse 4. It is speaking to those in spiritual adultery (unsaved). Verse 7 calls for them to submit to God and verse 8 calls for them to be cleansed. It is a salvation call to the unsaved.

    James5:19,20. To err from the truth (Christ) is to be a sinner. To be converted from the error of your way is to be saved from death.

    If you use God’s definitions of sin instead of mans ambiguous definitions you will understand why God says Christians are not sinners. God clearly says in 1John3:6-9 Christians do not sin. Believe him.

    • Thomas says:

      Harold, you are wrong! That text means that Christians do not PRACTICE sinning as a lifestyle, not that they don’t ever sin. In fact, 1 John 1:8 says “if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us!”

      • William E Anderson says:

        Thomas, you are wrong! That text in the NOT perverted KJV means what it says, that Christians do not sin. But if they sin, it is “out of character” which is an exception. In other words, Christians have one new nature that does not go along with the flesh, Romans 8: We are not in the flesh but in the spirit, and if anyone has not the Spirit of God, he is none of His”. So you see, you need to not change the word of God. If you leave it intact, then things start to make sense, such as what God requires of us which is a life of holyness. God bless you. I hope that you, someday, see the light! PS: Romans 7:14-25 is referring, in the present tense, to someone that is still “in the flesh” and still “under the law”. The 2 go together and that is the mark of an unsaved person – one who cannot do right and one that always does wrong even though they do not want to.

      • Harold says:

        Hi Thomas,
        The “PRACTICE sinning as a lifestyle” view is incorrect. Also it’s ambiguous. What level of wrongful behavior determines that it’s become a lifestyle that proves one is unsaved?

        James 2:10 says just ONE offense is enough to make you guilty of ALL the law. And the wages of sin is death. Just ONE offense results in the death penalty.

        Praise God our righteousness is by faith and not by deeds of the law.

        Consider also Rom 3:25.
        “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are PAST”

        Here we see that ONLY our PAST sins were remitted. This then confirms those other scriptures I quoted earlier that we have “CEASED from sin” (1Pet 4:1), “CANNOT sin” (1John 3:9).

        As ONLY PAST sin was remitted then this means there is no more sacrifice for any subsequent sins. That is, there is no more sin anymore.

        Why is there no more sin?

        Because our righteousness is now by faith, (Rom 4:5).
        We are not under the law for righteousness (Rom 10:3).
        Who shall lay ANY THING to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Rom 8:33

        Regarding your concern about the wrong we still sometimes do, that is not “sin” as we are NOT under the law for righteousness. God disciplines us should we do wrong. But as we are not under the law Satan can no longer accuse us of sin, demanding the death penalty.

  9. Akinnire gentle says:

    Harold GOD Bless u!!!I don’t know why some pastors are still preaching virus in the church!they don’t study the Holy Bible very well and they don’t even understand the content!I pray GOD should open their eyes.

    • percy says:

      Mr Harold
      then why did our lord Jesus christ tell us to ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who tresspas aganst us, in the lord`s prayer

      • William E Anderson says:

        It is a foolish question. The bible teaches that we are not sinners. We are saints that sometimes sin. You need to get your thinking to be in line with the bible. The terminology of the bible is never wrong but always correct. Christians are saints, not sinners, is clearly the teaching from God’s word. Over and over again, it says that we do not sin (all through the epistles of John). Therefore, if we sin, it is out of character – and that teaching from God’s Word destroys the schizophrentic teaching that we have 2 natures and that Romans 7:14-25 is referring to a Christian!

      • Harold says:

        Hi Percy,

        The Lord’s Prayer asking God to forgive our sins was answered at the cross. This is confirmed by Rom 3:25 which says our PAST sins were remitted at the cross. Only past sins were forgiven. After we receive Christ there is no more sin that can be charged against us.

        Who shall lay ANYTHING (which includes sin) to the charge of God’s elect, Rom 8:33.

        Satan the accuser can no longer charge Christians with sin, demanding the death penalty which the law of sin and death demands.

        Rev 12:9-11

        9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

        10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the ACCUSER of our brethren, who ACCUSED them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

        And note verse 11 how we overcame the accuser. It was by the blood of the lamb (at the cross) and the word of our testimony (Rom 10:9, confess with your mouth The Lord Jesus).

        Our faith is counted for righteousness (Rom 4:5).

        Christians abide in Christ, and in him there is no sin, 1John 3:5. To say that a Christian can be charged with sin is like saying there is sin in Christ.

        As for the wrong behaviour Christians still do at times, that is not sin that can be charged against us. See the definitions of sin in my post above to see why.

        If you want to call our wrong behaviour “sin” that’s your choice, but it will hinder your understanding of scripture.

  10. Jose B. Fuliga says:

    If we are no longer sinners then we don’t need to confess any sin and ask for forgiveness but we do this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father….forgive us our trespasses…”

    • William E Anderson says:

      Look it up in THE right book. It is called God’s Holy Word, not some man’s distortion of His Word. May I suggest to you that it is not hard to understand. It is written so that even a simple person can understand it – written in a common language. So do a word study. Very easy to do with a computer version of the bible. Try looking in the version that isn’t perverted — the King James Version. Type in Sinner, Sinners and find out that God refers to a sinner as an ungodly person. God said by David’s Psalm, “Sinners shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous”. Are you a sinner or the righteous? If you are a sinner, you will not stand in the congregation of the righteous. Is that hard for you to understand?

    • Harold says:

      Hi Jose,

      In answer to your question see my reply above to Percy.

      The Lord’s Prayer request for God to forgive our sins was answered at the cross. Once we receive Christ there is no more sin (transgression of the law, 1John 3:4) that can be charged against a Christian as we’re not under the law (Rom 8:2, Rom 10:4, Gal 3:25, Gal 5:18, 1Tim1:9).

      Our righteousness is now by faith, Rom 4:5.

      Christians have CEASED from sin.

      1Pet 4:1
      Therefore, since Christ suffered for us (on the cross) in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind (our old man crucified with him, Rom 6:6) for he who has suffered in the flesh (Rom 6:6) has CEASED from sin.

  11. William E Anderson says:

    Jose: No said that we do not sin.

  12. Steven Allen says:

    Some of the people leaving comments could apply some grace to their answers. No one likes to be called ‘foolish’, Mr. Anderson. Such arrogance makes you appear to be a jackass.

  13. William E Anderson says:

    Hell fire is not sugar coated. If your still a sinner, then that it where you are headed and you are indeed foolish. Your blood is not on my hands.

  14. Kit says:

    Can Christians both be a sinner (in the darkness) and a saint (in light)—a MIXTURE? And, have FELLOWSHIP with the Father (who sent His Son for their salvation), Jesus (who died once and for all for their past, present and future sins) and the Holy Spirit (who made us holy (under grace, set us apart from sin and the law)?
    Note these scriptures:
    Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness
    5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:5–7).
    No!
    But here is the most contentious part: how do you accommodate the fact that Christians (in the light) still sin (sin is in the darkness)?

    Right! The trick lies in the fact that God sees our forgiveness as ALREADY BUT NOT YET,
    10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet (not yet); their whole body is clean (already).
    (Jn 13:10).

    Already: John 13:v10–…and you are clean…our past, present and future sins are dealt by Jesus on the cross once and for all!
    Not yet, need only to wash their feet…(that is why, soon after this Peter denied Jesus three times, and, afterwards he repented!)

    Note, Paul has a clear cut definition about born again Christians, For Paul, Christians are not hybrid!
    Warning Against Idolatry
    14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
    “I will live with them
    and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.” d
    17 Therefore,
    “Come out from them
    and be separate,
    says the Lord.
    Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.” f
    18 And,
    “I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Co 6:14–18).
    In addition, this is how the “Not Yet” works:
    He hath not beheld INIQUITY in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
    (KJV. Nu 23:21).
    That explains why it makes sense in OT: describing Israelites, a rebellious tribe (sinners) having God in their midst:

    Conclusion:
    We Christians are being right in the eyes of God not for our performance, our work, but by the grace of God through faith. And at the same time, our trespasses, our wrong doings are being covered and washed by Christ’s blood that God counted us as righteous FOR Christ’s sake! That we Christians are no more in the darkness, and no more a sinner but His people, sons and daughters!

  15. Amy Smelley says:

    You are so RIGHT about all that you said! I had to quit the American church and get really alone with God and the KJV to silence the lies of man that have been spread through the church. We shouldn’t be surprised that the doctrine of man is so accepted as the Word because the Word warns us about this. Were these men really deceived or was it a means to control us just as the Catholic church made up doctrine to control? ALSO…..telling people that the Bible is SO HARD to understand is a way to control the believer so they have to keep coming to be fed…..and keep supporting what I SO sadly believe is turning into the Whore of Babylon. AND….it is it contrary to scripture: God is NOT the author of confusion (1 Cori 14:33). That scripture too was slaughtered in other Bible versions. We have been fed a bunch of lies by false prophets. I want to say that these pastors/teachers are well meaning but I just cannot for they either don’t LOVE the Word and have just been fed which is WRONG or they are knowingly deceiving for gain and control etc.

  16. John says:

    Christians are a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, child of God, a new creation in Christ, members of the body of Christ, the Church of the living Lord Jesus, saints, disciples and we are never referred to as sinners. We are not perfect yet. We haven’t arrived yet and we are commanded to die to self daily. We are in the process of sanctification. The putting of the old and putting on Christ. Sinners can’t do this because the Holy Spirit isn’t living inside sinners. We are God’s temple. In us is life through Jesus.

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