Bill Donahue from DrBillDonahue.com (http://drbilldonahue.com/2011/02/the-gospel-according-to-rembrandt/) replied to my first post, and I thought what he said deserved attention. He said:
Interesting name. Is that what we really are? I read the gospel and we are referred to as saints in every letter to the churches. Never are we addressed as “justified sinners” — I think you are stuck there. Romans 5:1 is for us today. Freedom. We are justified saints, and we sin, we are not justified sinners. We are saints who sin, justified by faith.
Here’s what I have to say in response:
Thanks for the comment.
It is true that the New Testament calls believers “saints.” The Greek word used is αγιος, which is a substantive adjective meaning “holy ones.” So the question is: How is it that we are holy? If it is an inherent or infused holiness, then you are right and I should change the name of the blog. But if it is Christ’s righteousness which has been legally imputed to our accounts that explains why we are called “saints,” then there is a difference between our still-sinful condition (which produces sinful actions) and our legal status before God. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 4:5 – “But to the one who does not work, but trust God who justifies the wicked, his faith is imputed as righteousness.” Notice that God does not justify saints. He justifies wicked people.
That is not to deny the reality of sanctification – the process whereby God conforms us more and more to the image of Christ. But sanctification will never be complete in this life.
There is also the testimony of John in his first letter: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” So if by “saints” you understand us to be inherently righteous or holy, then there is an obvious problem with what John is saying here. But if you mean that our legal status is that of “saints” because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us – even though our sinful actions come from our still-sinful hearts – then what John says makes perfect sense.
I hope that helps. And if you’d like to continue the dialogue, please let me know.