Question: Are Christians still sinners?
Answer: The word “sinner” is used in two ways in the Bible. In its basic sense, it simply means someone who sins. All of us are “sinners” in the sense that we all fall short of moral perfection, and are therefore in need of God’s forgiveness. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23). The Bible teaches that we add sin to sin in denying sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” (1 Jn. 1:8). “If we say that we have not send, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us, (1 Jn. 1:10).
But sometimes the word is put in the present tense, indicating one who practices or continues to live in sin. “Whosover is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God,” (1 Jn. 3:9). In this sense, a “sinner” is one who continues in a sinful lifestyle, practicing sin rather than righteousness.
All people, including Christians, are “sinners” in the sense that they occasionally commit sin, and need the continued cleansing of the blood of Christ. No person can “live above” sin if that means that they will never commit sin. We should not think that because we are in Christ we no longer have need of the continued cleansing of his blood. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanseth us from all sin,” (1 Jn. 1:7). But it is wrong to suggest that Christians—those identified in the Bible as “saints” or “sanctified ones”—are morally the same in God’s sight as sinners.
Christians have been saved by the grace of God, (Eph. 2:5), but this is not a license to continue in sin. “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!” (Rom. 6:1-2). The grace of God is not a license to sin, or a permission from God to continue in a sinful lifestyle. As children of God, we should never minimize or excuse our own misconduct by suggesting that everyone is a sinner, including Christians. We should avoid phrases like, “nobody’s perfect” if by that we are suggesting that people are somehow entitled to commit sins. While it is true that humans – all of them – are imperfect, Christians are not “sinners” in the sense that they are continuing to live under the domination and rule of Satan. They have a different Lord and Master of their lives. They are not ruled by Satan, but by Jesus Christ. They are not sinners but saints.
Some mistakenly conclude that when Paul said he was the “chief of sinners,” he proved that Christians will always be “sinners” in the present, active sense. But a closer look at that passage reveals otherwise: “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief,” (1 Tim. 1:15). Notice that Paul does not say he was currently, actively living a sinful lifestyle. He says that he is the chief of sinners saved. Despite a considerable amount of teaching to the contrary, becoming a Christian means giving up a sinful way of life, and faithfully serving our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Another verse which helps explain this distinction is 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This teaches that the gospel was written so that we could live a righteous life, rather than continuing in a sinful lifestyle. “These things write I unto you that ye may not sin.” The word “sin” in this verse is in the present tense, indicating continuous action. John continues, “and if any man sin…” Here, the word is in a Greek tense indicating an isolated act. This recognizes that even Christians will occasionally commit sin, either through momentary lapses, weakness, or oftentimes downright stupidity. And when they do so, Christians are assured that we have “an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
True Christians do not think of themselves as perfect or morally better than anyone else. They recognize that they are saved by the grace of God. Their respect and love for God motivates them to avoid a sinful life, and the power of God’s word enables them to do so. A love for God and a great respect for his word will keep the Christian in a growing, maturing process, faithful “unto death,” (Rev. 2:10). Thus, “walking in the light,” he will continue to have fellowship with other Christians, and the cleansing of his sins.