Sinners, or children of God?

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.

Sorry Mom.

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8 responses to “Sinners, or children of God?

  1. Judah, that is the whole issue that I am struggling with. Our sins are not counted to us before God, because the moment we became Christians all sins, past and future, lost their power to seperate us from God.

    However, we are still implored to confess them before God. Why is that? Is it to acknowledge that we know that we sinned, and we acknowledge (again) the price paid for them? Is it to cleanse ourselves, rather than to re-justify ourselves before God? Is it to display the attitude of humbleness and submission wrought by the Holy Spirit?

    My thinking on this is not fully develooped, but let me describe my leaning through an analogy.

    When we are sinners, we are like a black shirt. Upon our conversion, we are dyed white, so now you are like a white shirt. When we sin, it is like getting all kinds of stains on the white shirt. Confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness is like putting it in the washing machine. The shirt is still white, but it needs to be cleaned from time to time to show its full splendor. The stains do not change the value of the shirt to the owner in any way, it remains a valuable white piece of clothing. He do not consider putting it in the trash just because it has a few stains. The owner dyed the garment white with His blood.

    Another related question I have been considering is if we are compelled out of our own to confess? Does the Scripture not say that the Spirit shows us our sins?

    In that way then, it is not really us that put ourselves in the washing machine, but the Spirit.

    All the glory to God.

  2. Amen.

    What if the believer feels a certain apathy toward sin, rather than the strong hate which he knows he should feel? Knowing sin is bad, disliking it, but not feeling the deep offense against Christ and His Father as he should?

  3. Hi Turgy, it’s another good perspective, thanks.

    I would think that as we progress with sanctification, we get more sensitive to the workings of the Spirit, and therefore develop a more acute sense of our sins.

    It may start with the feelings of unease, and as we read, study, pray and worship more, sin gets more and more marginalized to the point if utter disgust with oneself at sin.

  4. Further comment – I think the subsequent confessions are all part of our relationship and helps to cement and grow the relationship. We get grubbied and need to be cleaned up frequently, but we need to come to Him in full knowledge and appreciation of our relationship with Him. He cleans us up – because only He can do so – and we appreciate all over again being cleaned up.
    Er, something like that!

  5. August, remember when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples just as the Passover feast was being served, and how Peter had objected then after Jesus explained “unless I wash you, you have no part of me”?
    Peter then realized the significance and said “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
    I think the response Jesus made to that is highly relevant to what you are saying here.
    John 13:10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” (that being the one who would betray Him).

    I think we have had our baths but just need the dust from the journey washed off by Christ when our feet get dirty. We must let Him do that – it is a part of keeping clean.

    What do you think?

  6. The white shirt gets stained when believers sin, hm?

    Let’s extend the analogy a bit contra the humanists. When we try to earn heaven by our good works, not accepting Jesus’s ‘white shirt’, we are like people who want to clean their black shirts with bird manure. 😀

  7. Judah, yes, that passage about washing the feet seems to be perfectly analogous. When you are saved, you have bathed, but you still need to wash the feet every so often.

    As always, once one delves deeper, more is revealed. We are moving into another area worthy of deeper study, which is the role of confessing our sins in the Christian life. I think you are right when you say it has a role in our relationship. But what is that role? It is not to do with our salvation, clearly, but what then? My initial thinking is that in the process of sanctification, one is “made more holy”. The only way that one can become more holy is to become more aware of one’s sins, and that frequent confession raises that awareness. In addition, it relieves one from the opressiveness of sin, it builds one’s defences against further temptation and it shows one’s trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.

    Turgy, when one wears a black shirt you cannot even see the stains…

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