Robert L. Brush
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted July 10, 2010

Many names are used in the scriptures to identify Christians, such as "believers," "saints," "disciples," and "brethren." However, the New Testament never identifies a Christian as a sinner. The only exception which might be cited is found in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 where Paul described himself twice as a sinner. But the question is whether that was his present state or his previous identity. Verse 13 seems to settle that question. "Chief of sinners"is his "before" and not his "after" picture. In the thirty-eight other New Testament passages where Christians are described, they are never referred to as sinners.

Yet it is popular today for Christians to refer to themselves as sinners. It even sounds humble, but I am concerned that this promotes the false concept that even the best of us sin every day. Thus, sin is no "big deal" since we all sin continuously.

Perhaps this light view of sin has caused preachers to replace "repent ye" with "believe ye." If sin is not significant, then perhaps repentance is not important. Repentance is almost a forgotten doctrine. Yet without it our "gospel" is like seed falling on stony ground. The lack of repentance is shown in the parable of the sower. The seed which sprang up quickly describes the easy believism of our day. Because our converts have never turned from their sin, under the hot sun of temptation they quickly wither and disappear.

True repentance is not a one-time feeling of contrition lasting only a few minutes. It is a way of life for the Christian. It is an attitude of unworthiness. Was it not for God's grace we would be forever lost. Repentance is the spirit of humility that freely admits our short comings and infirmities, as well as actual sins.

If a Christian actually sins, 1 John 2:1 teaches that we should repent immediately for we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous One. The act of true repentance and faith in such cases immediately restores us to favor with God. Christ stands ready to forgive and heal, but the wounds from these failures may take some time to heal.

While willful sin is always a possibility, it is never a necessity. The born again will continue to come short and miss the mark, but that is not the same as willful rebellion against God. I am sick of preachers confessing to their congregations what great sinners they themselves are. I am also tired of these preachers attempting to convince their congregations that they are also sinners. They often say, "We all sin," "we are all sinners," "we are not perfect, just forgiven." If a lost sinner did come into many churches and heard this kind of talk, he would probably conclude that he could not get any help there.

I realize there are self-righteous Pharisees among us who pray, "I thank you Lord that I am not a sinner like others are" (Luke 18:10-14). But the solution is not to interpret that passage as meaning that even if we cheat and lie all we need to say is "I'm sorry" and all is well.

There are dangers on the side of legalism and on the side of lawlessness. There is danger in calling all infirmities "sin" and there is danger in labeling rebellious sin as "humanity." To call infirmities and imperfections of human nature "sin" creates a big problem. The eagerness to do so may indicate that there are real sins in that person's life. I think that the reason this language has become so popular is that if we call every action short of absolute perfection "sin," then we are not so harsh on real sin.

All "sin" is not the same. We all have infirmities or human imperfections which are not rebellious in their nature. David alludes to both kinds of sin in Psalm 19:12-13 when he says, "Who can understand his errors [human imperfections]? Cleanse thou me from secret faults [unknown infirmities]. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [or rebellious] sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from great transgression [which is presumptuous sin]."

Real sin is rebellion against God. That is why 1 John 3:9 states that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The sin mentioned in 1 John 3:4-10 is defined as the transgression of the law. This implies a deliberate rebellion against the law of God. I once asked a Calvinist if he thought a Christian brother could so neglect the grace of God within him that he would come to hate another brother who had wronged him. He replied, "Yes," but when I reminded him of 1 John 3:15, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life in him," he added, "I was afraid you would ask that."

I am aware of another case where an older holiness pastor specifically warned a younger pastor taking his church not to preach "he that is born of God sinneth not." But this new holiness is no holiness at all since it denies the possibility of being saved from sin and sinning. Yet John wrote, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3-4). The cure for all this confusion lies first with the preacher. Have we reached the point where we cannot preach against sin any more? Do we still believe that anyone is lost? Must we cease striving against sin lest we become self-righteous? This is the new holiness. Since sin is not a big deal, none of us are bad enough to miss heaven. Everyone is ok.

In contrast the biblical preacher must first preach the law, then grace. The law uncovers sin and causes the guilty sinner to flee to Christ. The apostolic formula for preaching is described in Acts 26:18. As the law is preached, eyes are opened and hearts are awakened. As they repent, they are turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. Then they are justified when they received the forgiveness of sins. They are adopted when they receive an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith. That sequence will produce real holiness.

True holiness fills us with the Spirit and consequently with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Hebrews 12:14 is a frequently quoted verse. Yet the holiness mentioned there is not restricted to a second work of grace, but the Christian life lived out from newborn babies to spiritual fathers. Thus, the real Christian is characterized by holy living and not as a sinner.