To the Saints of Oak Hills
August 15, 2019 | by: Stephen Sprague | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Are you a sinner or a saint? That’s a pointed question. The theological answer is of course that you are a saint. Did you know that? Consider how Paul addresses the churches in Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 2:1, Eph. 1:1, Phil 1:1, etc. But how can Paul say that you are a saint? Because the word saint essentially means “holy one” which is a term that refers, not to the Christian’s own merit, but to the holiness of Christ that they are clothed in. That’s why in Philippians 1:1 Paul address his audience as “All the saints in Christ…” Apart from Christ we are not saints, but in Christ, we receive our new, foreign, identity as saints.
Still, for any self-aware person, there’s a glaring issue with this language. Sin. We’re sinners. I take one look at my own life and it doesn’t take a second for me to realize that I am not worthy of the title of saint. After all, I’m no Peter or Paul. I’m just not. And neither were they if by saying I’m not them, I’m saying that I’m not a perfect man/woman of God. Because they all had their sins. Peter denied Christ three times and later on, after several years of ministry, had to be rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11ff). And by Paul’s own confession, he too continually struggled with sin (Rom. 7:13ff).
This is where I think the Reformation doctrine of simul iustus et peccator is so helpful. In case you don’t know Latin (me either!), the above-mentioned phrase means “simultaneously righteous and sinner.” This phrase, coined by Martin Luther, is central to understanding life as a Christian. It is not saying that we are, on our own, somehow both righteous and at the same time sinful. Rather, it is saying that in Christ we are forgiven of all our sins (past, present and future) and declared righteous, not by our own merit but by the merit of Christ himself. This is the righteousness by which we will be judged, praise God, and not by our own sinful stab at righteousness. However, at the same time as being declared righteous in the courts of heaven, we are still sinful beings. We still, day in and day out, will sin against God and man.
The beauty of the gospel is that both these things can be true of us – that somehow a sinner like myself can be viewed as perfect and loyal and devoted and righteous by a holy God because he, at great cost, made me to be so.
There are two implications for this truth that I’d like to briefly lay out.
The first is that we need to do a better job of being open about our sin and shortcomings. There is a quote that I love which is generally attributed to either Augustine or Chrysostom – it reads, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints.” This, I believe, is rooted in Christ’s words recorded in Luke 5:31-32, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The more we hide our sin and shortcomings from our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more they feel unable to be open and honest in return. Thus, instead of a culture of grace and encouragement to pursue holiness (hospital analogy), we create a culture of legalism and false perceptions of each other’s personal holiness (museum analogy). If we are simultaneously declared righteous and sinners, we need to live like it for the sake of spurring one another on to fix our eyes on Christ and not on our own righteousness.
The second is that we need to feel comfortable pushing ourselves and others in the church to pursue holiness while expecting failure. Not that we rejoice in failure, but when we or others sin or are unable to keep up with godly disciplines, we rejoice in the truth of the Gospel that our failures don’t have the final say. This should motivate us to try and try again. This is the essence behind being able to combat sin and seek to live righteous lives as an act of worship rather than as an act of personal merit to gain God’s favor.
Brothers and Sisters, Saints, let us live together in light of the beauty of simul iustus et peccator. In doing so may we grow together in the nourishment of the Gospel and may God be glorified all the more.