Is it both, either or neither? Many Christians feel a sense of split identity – saint or sinner? Perhaps sometimes feeling more ‘saintly’ whilst at other times feeling a ‘downright sinner’! Have you ever felt this? St Augustine was one such who agonised over the good person he wanted to be and the sinner that he publicly confessed himself to be. This painting of him portrays something of that tension. Born in 354 AD to Monica, a devout Christian, he had at least two mistresses, an illegitimate child and lived a life of life of hedonism ruled by lust and worldly ambition, famously saying: “God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet”. Yet when he was 31, he became a follower of Christ, then the Bishop of Hippo laying down much Christian doctrine. Bishop Possidius of Calama recorded him as one who ‘ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in finances’.
- ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee’ – St Augustine
- ‘There's a duality in every man and every woman’ – Raquel Welch
- ‘Whether a man lives or dies in vain can be measured only by the way he faces his own problems, by the success or failure of the inner conflict within his own soul. And of this no one may know save God’ – James Bryant Conant
- ‘I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both’ – Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde)
If you have read this book from Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, you might wonder if his story is exposing his own inner struggles. Published in 1886, Dr Jekyll is a kind, well-respected and intelligent scientist who meddles with the darker side of science, as he wants to bring out his 'second' nature. He does this through transforming himself into Mr Hyde - his evil alter ego who doesn't repent or accept responsibility for his evil crimes and ways. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde turn out to be the same person: ‘With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two’ – Robert Louis Stevenson
Certainly the New Testament reveals that there is an inner battle raging within every human being. Pulling no punches, Paul reminds us that all have sinned but that the wonderful gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. The desire to do the right or good thing is mainly present in all of us but often we find ourselves unable to do it. Famous theologian Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to the ‘inner man’ (the spiritual inner being alive to God) and the ‘outer man’ (that being the body or human nature), suggesting that the two of these make up ‘the whole man’. Whilst he was Minister of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years, ‘The Doctor’ (as he was known) dedicated 13 years to teaching from Romans on Friday nights. It was here that he taught from the difficult passage of Romans 7 about this battle we all face but he left it up to listeners to make their own conclusions. What is your conclusion about who is the ‘wretched man’? Is he a ‘degenerate pre-Christian’ or a ‘regenerate child of God’?
- ‘Romans is the greatest masterpiece ever written. It is a colossal and incomparable statement of Christian truth’ – Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ – Romans 7:15
- ‘So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord’ – Romans 7:21-25
- ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death … Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires … You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you’ – Romans 8:1-2, 5, 9
The miracle is that God sets aside a people to be his own and that is what a saint is, someone set apart for God to be holy as he is holy. Although we still sin, our identity is not that of condemned sinners, but that of a new creation in which ‘the old has gone and the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:27). It was the Will of God that the One who had no sin became ‘sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- ‘To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ – 1 Corinthian 1:2-3
- ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are’ – 1 John 3:1
- ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us’ – 1 John 1:8-10
- ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand’ – Ephesians 6:10-13
In 1667, John Milton wrote ‘Paradise Lost’ and in 1678 John Bunyan wrote ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Both of these speak of human struggle that is common to all. Someone once helpfully talked about the four conditions known to mankind:
- ADAM – able to sin and able not to sin, having free will
- FALLEN MAN – unable not to sin (in condemnation)
- IN CHRIST – able to sin and able not to sin, being sanctified (holiness in progress)
- GLORIFIED MAN – unable to sin (perfected into the likeness of Christ)
The child of God has a glorious future. He or she lives in the tension of a ‘fallen’ world in a ‘fallen’ body but with a spirit that is alive to God, wanting to resist temptation and knowing that sin is part of the ‘old nature’. Those who are truly in Christ Jesus have past, present and future sin covered by his sacrifice. This leads not to a presumptuous lifestyle but to a knowledge that the call now is to live for the glory of God as we await our resurrection bodies. Sinner or Saint? Both yes in one sense but in another sense neither, but rather a child of God.
TAGS – sanctification, justification, assurance, sinless, works, redeemed, transformed