Are Christians to be called sinners, or are they children of God? Is there a difference? Are those necessarily mutually exclusive? What shall Christians then call themselves?
We know that everyone sins. But is it proper to call justified believers sinners? By inclusion into the kingdom and covenant of God through faith, Christians are given the right to be called children of God.
Joh 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
The root of this from the greek is that of “being produced by”, an allusion to the rebirth necessary to be a Christian. But does that rebirth mean that we do not sin any more? Of course not, but it means that we are convicted of our sins, we have deeper and graver understanding of our sins, and a desire to please God. That is the process of sanctification, a process that culminates in joining with God for eternity. God works in us to prepare us for holy unity.
However, sanctification does not render us sinless. Therefore we need to continue to repent and ask for strength to resist sin.
What then, about being called a sinner, after becoming a Christian? The greek word for sinner is ‘hamartolos’ meaning “one who misses the mark”. It can be used to indicate a range of people, from those who are devoted to sin, i.e. pre-eminently sinful, the totally wicked, all the way to those not free from sin. I don’t think that there is realistically anyone who can claim to not miss the mark from time to time, so I do not think anyone can rightfully claim to be free from sin.
BUT, as always, the context decides how to apply the meaning of the word. As I ran through the word study for sinner, I could not find a single instance of where the word sinner (‘hamartolos’), was used to describe someone who had repented, and had become a child of God.
Yes, there are a few instances where children of God are implored to stop sinning, but they are not called sinners. We see this in 1 John:
1Jo 1:7 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 cleanses us from all sin.
1Jo 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1Jo 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1Jo 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1Jo 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1Jo 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1Jo 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1Jo 3:3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
1Jo 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
1Jo 3:5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
1Jo 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him
…1Jo 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
1Jo 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
This raises to me a very interesting question, and one that I have frankly not thought about before. What does it really mean for our sins if we are children of God, if we have received God’s grace and have faith in Him?
See, I had always thought that for one’s sins to be forgiven, or, not to be counted to oneself, one had to confess and ask for forgiveness, and then God will forgive you. Having read these passages in conjunction with the greek rendition of the epithet of sinner, I have to doubt that simplistic line of thinking.
Sin becomes less occasional in the life of believers, as they mature and sanctification takes place. It is not a regularity any more, it is an exception. And yes, we still do have to confess (1:9 above). But in the bigger picture, in the eyes of God, we are not regarded as ‘hamartolos’ any more. We are children of God, who occasionally sin. Our sins, are instantly erased from the ledger, so to speak, they are not counted to us as anything, because they have already been paid for. Therefore, while not totally free from sin, children of God are sinless in the eyes of God, through the death of Jesus.