If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
-- 1 John 1:8-10, ESV
All saints are sinners. But, not all sinners are saints.
A saint is a deceased person who is really not dead. The role called up yonder includes devout Jews like Abraham who, before the first advent of Christ, were saved by grace alone through faith alone in God alone, as God revealed Himself to them. Since the fulfillment of the old covenant with the new, people who died after being born again Christians are numbered with the saints, too.
With all due respect to our Catholic friends, we Protestants don't believe you have to be one of the Apostles or a former Pope or some near-perfect Christian to be a saint. The Bible uses the term 82 times to refer to any and every child of God, including those who have died, and we who are living.
That's right, you don't even have to be dead to be declared a saint. All you have to be to qualify for sainthood is be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and guaranteed a glorious eternity by God the Father.
Sinners are easier to define and identify, for sinnership is universal. Sin is anything and everything, committed or omitted, that is in violation of or contrary to the perfect character and will of God as revealed in the word of God. And to borrow a phrase from Jerry Lee Lewis, there is a whole lot of sinnin' going on.
To deny sin is to call God a "liar," which is in and of itself a sin. God hates sin because it violates His supreme holiness and harms His beloved creatures. Sin makes God demonstrate attributes we do not like to attribute to God, but they reflect His perfect and holy nature: anger, hatred, wrath, justice, punishment.
You have always heard it said, God hates sin but loves the sinner. This is simply not true. For Malachi in the OT and Romans in the NT reveal to us these words from God, "I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated."
Jacob was a sinner who became a saint. He even got a new name, Israel. Esau's name never changed, neither did Esau. Esau was very comfortable in his own skin and with his own sins. He never thought sins like sexual immorality, idolatry, and failure to worship God were that big of a deal. Esaus in the world are many. Jacobs are few.
You'll notice John uses the word "if" 20 times in the little letter of 1 John. If you look at sin one way, you can be a saint in spite of your sin. If you look at sin another, you are a sinner without sainthood. One of the big ifs in the book concerns the cardinal concept of confession.
Sinners who are not saints bypass this booth. It's like playing The Game of Life by skipping college. You never win. Remember the Esaus in the world don't like to consider themselves sinners, nor the things they do as sin, so confession would be blasé.
Saints are born in the big confession, though it does not have to take place in a box or a church, and it doesn't have to be given to anyone but God. The word "confess" means to agree with God, to allow God to define sin on His own terms, and to readily admit you are a sinner who has committed sins against God and man. Only by admitting your guilt can you ever be declared innocent.
Yes, confession is good for the soul, very good. But since saints alone rightly confess, the benefits accrue only to the sinners who have become saints, never the sinners who refuse the only way to become saints, which is to repent of your sin and trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sinners who become saints stand forgiven, clean, and righteous before God, by grace through faith in Christ. When we let sins creep into our Christian lives, we cannot lose our relationship with the Lord, but we can lose close fellowship, and no true Christian wants that. So we confess, again and again, so that we can draw near to God again and again, until Christ comes again, or brings us home, along with all the saints.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email pastor[email protected]