While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
Chatting about faith with a brother recently the topic came up about whether we, as Christians, are still sinners. My friend said he hears over and over again in the church that he is a sinner. “But God doesn’t see us as sinners,” I say. “He sees us as perfect, holy, and righteous.”
He is our righteousness. – 1 Cor 1:30.
I point out that Paul says our righteousness is a “gift” from God and, if it’s a gift from God, nothing we do can take it away. To us we may sin, but to God… the moment we sin it dissolves in the blood of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice was once for all. We have been made righteous once for all. Forever.
By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who have been made holy. – Hebrews 10:14
To God, we are perfect. Of course, this is a difficult concept for us to grasp. Because to us, sure, we are sinners. We mess up every day. We look at someone lustfully. We are proud. Self- righteous. But our righteousness does not depend on what we do (thank God). It depends on what Christ has done for us. He made us righteous. He did away with our sin on the cross. He became our sin, Paul says.
He made Him who had no sin to be sin for us. – 2 Cor 5:21
He became our sin and was crucified. And when He died, our sin died with Him. To say we still have sin is to pronounce Christ’s crucifixion null and void. It is saying Christ’s self-sacrifice wasn’t good enough to take away our sin. It is saying Christ’s blood wasn’t powerful enough to cleanse us of our sin once for all, as the book of Hebrews says. It is calling God a liar. It is rejecting the gift. If we think it is up to us to overcome sin day by day by our own actions and choices, we are putting ourselves in the place of Christ. We are saying we don’t need a Saviour. If we could overcome sin ourselves, Christ would not have had to die! The cross would have been for nothing. But it wasn’t for nothing. Hebrews says:
He appeared once to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. – Hebrews 9:26
“Do away” with in the Greek language that Pauls uses was the word ἀθέτησιν (athetēsin). It translates as ‘abrogate’ which is a legal term meaning: to annul, put an end to, cancel, and abolish.
Synonyms include: stop, terminate, eradicate, eliminate, exterminate, destroy, annihilate, stamp out, obliterate, wipe out, extinguish, quash, expunge, extirpate.
Christ did all of that to sin on the cross.
This is why Paul constantly drives home in Romans chapter 6 that we have been set free from sin:
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God.
– Romans 6:18 and
But you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. – Romans 6:22
We died with Christ…and anyone who has died has been set free from sin. – Romans 6:7
Grammar nerds will notice these are all in the passive tense, which means it happened to us. We did not do it ourselves. Christ did it to us. He set us free. He released us from prison. He rescued us. He saved us. He He He… not me me me! So what is Paul trying to say? What phrase does he repeat over and over again? We have been set free from sin! So if we have been set free from sin why do we identify ourselves as sinners? When Jesus died, our sin died with Him. All of our sin. Once for all.
For we have been made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10
Ah, my friend says, but what about when we sin now, when we sin today. We are still sinners! “To God we’re not,” I say. If you say we still have sin, we are contradicting what Paul says:
We died with Christ, and everyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Freed from sin. Do you think we, by our actions, can cancel Jesus’ work on the cross? If, by our daily sin, we can cancel the righteousness Christ earned for us by His sacrifice, then we make our sin more powerful than His blood. God says He has draped us in a robe of righteousness. Paul says our righteousness is a free gift, given through love, through Christ.
Not of yourselves. It is a gift of God. – Ephesians 2:8
Think about it. Christ’s sacrifice was once for all. This is repeated over and over again in the book of Hebrews. He will never go to the cross again.
It is finished. – John 19:30
One sacrifice cancelled all of our sin. Because of His one sacrifice God will never count our sins against us ever again.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of Life has set me free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1.
We are free from the law of sin. We are not under law, but under grace. When we realize we are completely forgiven, that we can never be held accountable for our sin, that we can never incite God’s anger for our sin ever again, then, and only then, are we free to love God without fear. There is no more fear of punishment. This is what John was trying to get across when he says:
There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John.
Perfect love casts out fear. We begin to desire to live upright lives, filled with integrity, because we know God loves us, and we know He will never punish us for our mistakes – because Christ took our punishment for us. He served our sentence. He got what we deserve, and we get what He deserves: glory, riches and honor. Children of the King of Kings! Because Christ has taken our punishment for us we are completely, utterly, astoundingly free. Free to love, without fear. And we know that if we mess up, if we make mistakes, God will catch us in His grace – His arms of love. None of us are perfect in our natural selves. But God is healing us gently, slowly. The more we learn how loved we are, the more we desire to live out that love. Isn’t this what Paul means when he says
As dearly loved children, live a life of love. – Ephesians 5:2
My brother’s argument was that being free can lead us to sin. “No fear of punishment” can let us off the leash. Knowing that God will save us, has saved us anyway, can make us go wild. I don’t know about you, but I was already wild, I was already off the leash. I didn’t need grace for that. But this is exactly the same argument that Paul was up against, to which we replies:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! What benefit did you reap from those things you are now ashamed of?
And that’s the point. What benefit did we reap? The consequences of sin are destruction, shame, guilt, broken relationships and broken hearts. And, to the unredeemed, ultimately death. But remember Paul’s words:
You have been set free from sin.
Notice the tense – present perfect simple – which means a completed action in the past. A completed action. It is finished. We are free from sin.
Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life. – Romans 6:22.
And then, of course, Paul’s famous verse:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God…
– notice ‘the gift’-
…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD. – Romans 6:23
And just to bring us back to the verse at the top of this post, Paul says ‘while we were still sinners…’ While we were (in the past). Which means we are not now. Fact is we do mess up, we do make mistakes, we do sin. But when we do it is not our new redeemed selves, it is our old human self, the ‘flesh’ as Paul calls it. But Christ is healing us little by little, step by step, from glory to glory. And what happens when we sin? For that we have to turn to 1 John:
But if you do sin we have One who goes to the Father for us: Jesus Christ, the righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sin. – 1 John 2:1
So what happens when we sin? Do we go to God and ask forgiveness? Is that what John says? Who goes to the Father? Do we go? Or does Christ go for us? Christ goes for us! Believing we can overcome our own sin, believing we make ourselves righteous by the way we live our lives merely ignites our self-righteousness and inflates our pride. We have absolutely no part to play in overcoming our own sin. Christ overcame it, no, destroyed it, on the cross, once for all. Yet if we do sin, Jesus goes to the Father for us, as our advocate, our atoning sacrifice. Everytime we sin God pronounces us worthy of death. No matter what sin. Any of the 300 + laws in the Old Testament. James says if we break one, we break them all. In other words, every day every one of us deserves death as none of us can live up to God’s moral standard of holiness. So God gave us His holiness as a free gift!
We have been made holy by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10
Yet every day, in eternity, in God’s court, Jesus stands before the Father with the marks in his hands and feet as our advocate – proof that punishment has already been paid. We are free. Jesus did it all. Nothing we do can cancel the gift of righteousness He has given us. Our sin cannot stain the robe of righteousness He has draped us in. Is our sin powerful enough to undo the work of Christ? Is our sin more powerful than Christ’s blood? If so, then we are all doomed. But no. Christ has washed us clean in His blood once for all.
By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who have been made holy. – Hebrews 10:14.