Are the Righteous Sinners?

Lindy McDaniel
Baytown, Texas

It is becoming vogue among some preachers and teachers to speak of the children of God as "righteous sinners." Preachers have even been known to address the assembly as "my fellow sinners". I assume such expressions are in tended to denote genuine awareness and abasement, but do they not rather indicate misconceptions of Bible terms?

My purpose is not to question the motives of those who apply the word "sinner" to the faithful child of God, but I do believe such expressions are foreign to the teachings of the Bible. They convey to the mind false impressions, and tend to blur and minimize the concept of sin. Is it true that Christians are always "sinners?"

The expression "righteous sinner" is a contradiction of terms. The Bible speaks of the righteous, and the Bible speaks of sinners; but the Bible does not speak of righteous sinners. Jesus said: "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Peter wrote: "And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?" (1 Pet. 4:18). In these passages, the word "righteous" is contrasted with the word "sinner." If one is a "sinner," he needs to gain the forgiveness of his sins through Jesus Christ.

The Bible uses the word "sinner" either to denote one who has never known God or one who has become unfaithful; but never is the word used to apply to a faithful child of God. Read carefully the following passages: "And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them (Luke 6:32). "We know that God does not hear sinners; but if any one is God-fearing, and does His will, He hears him" (John 9:31). "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be" (Gal. 2:17). ". . . realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers . . . " (1 Tim. 1: 9). "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:3). "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). ". . . let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). "And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:18).

All Christians Sin

The Bible teaches that all Christians commit acts of sin. John wrote: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). However, this passage is not teaching that Christians are always sinners. The child of God does not live in a state of sin, although he does commit sin.

If a Christian commits a sin, he certainly is a sinner. But the divine solution to the problem is given in 1 John 1: 9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." If and when a Christian sins, he has Jesus Christ as his Advocate before the Father (see 1 John 2:1-2), but we must keep in mind that forgiveness is predicated upon confession and repentance. It is axiomatic that if we commit sin (righteousness), we are unrighteous; but if we confess our sins, God will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The Bible does not teach that the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ is automatically applied to the Christian apart from his meeting Gods conditions of pardon.

Some argue that Romans 3:23 teaches that all men, including Christians, continue to live in a state of sin. Paul wrote: ". . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." However, the context indicates that Paul has under consideration all the people of the world apart from Jesus Christ. Even if it be granted that Romans 3:23 includes Christians as well as those outside of Christ, it still does not prove that Christians are sinners at all points of time.

We are righteous before God, not on the basis of sinless perfection, but on the basis of Gods goodness and mercy. We must recognize that we are sinful creatures and deserve to die. This would be true even if we commit only one sin; however, we continue to commit sin. The Pharisee felt that he was good enough to be saved, but the publican prayed, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner" (Luke 18:13). The attitude of the publican caused him to find favor with God. But let us keep in mind that the awareness of sin must be coupled with repentance. Jesus said unto the woman taken in adultery: "... from now on sin no more" (John 8:11).

Sin Is Specific

Sin is not a vague, indescribable concept. Sin is the transgression of Gods law. John wrote: "Every one who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). We can sin in thought, word, or deed, by commission or by omission. In each and every case, sin is the violation of the will of God. We need to also keep in mind that Gods law is compatible with the nature of those who must live under the law, else God could be charged with injustice.

Sin must be dealt with in specific Biblical ways. While the blood of Christ provides the power to forgive sins, this power is not automatically applied to the child of God. If we sin against our brother, we must seek his forgiveness as well as Gods (Matt. 5:23-48; 18:22). If our brother sins against us, we have a responsibility to confront him with the sin (Matt. 18:15-17). If our brother is overtaken in a sin, we are to seek to restore him (Gal. 6: 1).

All Are Unworthy

All human flesh is unworthy before God. Gods glory and our unworthiness before Him are the very essence of all acceptable worship and praise. Gods thoughts are high above our thoughts, and Gods ways are far above our ways. Does the fact that all Christians are unworthy of God argue that they are classified as "sinners?"

Before we start throwing the word "sinner" around carelessly, let us consider carefully what the Bible teaches. Let us use Biblical terms in Biblical ways. It is never a sign of humility to fail to recognize the distinctions of the word of God. While it is freely admitted that all Christians at times do sin and none can be saved except by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, this is not to say that Christians are always sinners. If we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are not "sinners."

TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 16, pp. 11-13
February 22, 1973