Date: December 30, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
Simul Justus et Peccator. Friend, if you want to memorize one Latin phrase in life, that might be it! Simul Justus et Peccator. It means simultaneously righteous and sinful, or a saint and sinner at the same time.
It reflects a theological truth Martin Luther highlighted 500 years ago and one that has been very helpful to me in my Christian life. In fact, I’m convinced that recognizing we, as Christians, are saints and sinners at the same time is one of the most important things we can do to improve our spiritual health.
We start a new year in a couple of days, and I would suggest that this be a goal for 2019 – always keep in mind that you are simultaneously righteous and sinful, both a saint and sinner at the same time.
Let’s pause and pray the Lord would enable us to hear, understand, believe and apply this truth today.
This idea of being saint and sinner at the same time is built on two key doctrines or teachings of the Bible – “Justification by Faith” and “Human Depravity.” Let’s start with the second.
As the Apostle Paul surveys humanity and history, he reaches this conclusion:
Romans 3:10 – “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
He then says:
Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
As we go through the Bible, we see the problem is not just that we do bad things, but that we are bad people. Oh, we have good qualities. We are capable of doing good things and acting in loving ways toward others. But the bottom line is we are rebellious against God and his authority.
We often want to do things our own way, rather than his way. And our sin includes not just bad things we do, but also bad attitudes we have. As Jesus reminds us, hatred and lust may not be as harmful as murder and adultery, but they are just as sinful. And our sins don’t just include bad actions and attitudes, but also a failure to do the right thing or have the right attitude.
The Book of Common Prayer reads:
“We have done those things
we ought not to have done
and left undone those things
we ought to have done.”
Sometimes, even our best actions are polluted by sin because our motivation is wrong. As T.S. Eliot once said:
“The last temptation is the greatest treason
to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
Indeed, Jesus says that those who give money to the poor because they want others to be impressed by their generosity are nothing but hypocrites. So, our sin involves not just our actions, but our attitudes. It is not bad things we do, but also good things we fail to do.
And even good acts can be sinful if our motives are bad. The reality is that our sinfulness is much more pervasive than it may appear on the surface. Even if most people think of us as a “good person,” that is not an opinion shared by God. And, of course, God’s opinion is the only one that really matters.
Some of you may be thinking, “That is true, Pastor Dan, for people who are not believers in Jesus. But as Christians, we have been freed from the power of sin.” Well, it is more accurate to say we, as Christians, are still in the process of being freed from the power of sin. That is what the process of sanctification involves. The bottom line is all of us still sin. The Apostle John writes this to Christian believers:
1 John 1:8-10 – If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous 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.
Those verses seem pretty clear. I would also point to the Apostle Paul, who in Romans 7 describes his struggle with sin, where he finds himself doing the very things he doesn’t want to do, and failing to do the things he wants to do. Near the end of his life, he describes himself this way:
1 Timothy 1:15 – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them.”
Note he doesn’t say, “was the worst,” but “am the worst.” I believe Paul understood that even as the Great Apostle, sin continued to be a problem in his life. He knew he was still a sinner. “But Pastor Dan, don’t some Christians claim they no longer sin?”
Yes, in fact, the other day my friend Joe told me “he was free from any known sin.” By that he meant he was not aware of any sins he committed over the past five days. I said, “That might be true, Joe, but I am not sure it is something to celebrate. Instead, take a little closer look in the mirror. I can almost guarantee there is some other sin in your life which you should be seeking to combat. The fact you told me you were ‘free from any known sin,’ may even indicate there is some pride to deal with.”
Now, the fact we all still sin and the fact the Lord forgives our sins doesn’t mean it is “OK to sin.” We should, indeed, strive to avoid sin; and we will talk later how we can be effective in doing that.
In contrast to the popular message of, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” the Bible insists, “I’m not OK, you are not OK, because no one is OK. Sin is a universal problem, and it pervades each of our lives.” That, friends, is the bad news. The Bible also has some great news – the gospel! It proclaims that with Jesus, each of us can become OK.
At the heart of this great news is the biblical teaching of Justification. Being justified means “to be declared righteous.” It is a term borrowed from the courtroom. Even though we are obviously guilty, we are declared righteous because Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, has paid the penalty for our sin.
Theologians call this an “alien righteousness” because it comes from totally outside of ourselves. It is nothing we produce, but something imputed to us by God, something he graciously gives us.
I describe it this way – Justification is when God erases the failing score I am receiving in life and instead writes Jesus’ score of 100% beside my name. That perfect score really becomes my score, even though I did absolutely nothing to earn it. That is grace. That is why Paul describes his relationship with God this way:
Philippians 3:8-9 – “That I may be found in him (Christ) not having a righteousness of my own from the law (a righteousness based on performance), but one that is through faith in Christ – the righteousness from God based on faith.
Indeed, it is through faith in the Lord Jesus, trusting in him, not ourselves for salvation, that we receive his righteousness as our own.
Romans 5:1 – “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God declares those of us trusting Jesus to be righteous, despite the sin in our lives. He chooses to treat us as if we had never sinned. That is why we are at peace with God, and God is at peace with us. He adopts us as his children. And there is nothing good we can do that would cause God to love us any more and nothing bad we can do that would cause him to love us any less.
That is what it means to be justified by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
Where does this leave us? We are sinners who have been justified through faith in Jesus. We are simultaneously both righteous and sinful. We are saint and sinner at the same time.
OK, that is the biblical teaching behind being a saint and sinner at the same time. Now, let’s focus on some of the practical implications.
Now, many folks don’t get really excited about the idea that they are sinners. In a world which places a high value on self-esteem, focusing on our sinfulness seems much too negative. We like to pretend we are basically good people.
In fact, one pastor recently told me the church needs to stop telling people they are sinners in need of forgiveness and instead proclaim that Jesus offers healing for the wounded folks. I think we should do both, and I believe many of our wounds are the result of sin – either ours or someone else’s.
I have also been told, “Pastor Dan, you don’t need to tell people they are sinners. They already know that.” I suspect, however, that most frequently people are aware of and regret mistakes and imperfections in their lives. At the same time, they seldom think of themselves as sinners who have offended God and deserve his wrath. And reminding people they are sinners, reminding Christians they are still sinners actually can be very helpful and encouraging. How?
#1 Being aware of our sinfulness helps us realize how dependent we are on God’s grace.
Becoming a believer in Christ, a Christian, involves recognizing our sin and our need for God’s salvation through Jesus. We need God to graciously save us because we are not able to save ourselves.
Yet, sometimes we seem to think having our sins forgiven is only really important when we first come to faith in Christ. In reality, that forgiveness is something we need each and every day of our lives.
In Luke 7:47, Jesus says a sinful woman, a prostitute, has great love for him because she had many sins that needed to be forgiven. When we explored that passage we noted it is not necessarily those who commit the largest number or most heinous sins, but those most aware of their sins, who will have the greatest appreciation of grace and greatest love for the Lord.
Someone who struggles with pride and envy may be far more aware of his need for grace and forgiveness than a bank robber or axe murderer. And indeed, in my experience, the people who seem to have the greatest love for the Lord are those most aware of the extent and depth of their own sin, and thus most aware of how desperately they need God’s grace.
That was true for the apostle Paul. “Christ Jesus came to save sinners, and I am the worst of them.” That statement doesn’t reflect Paul committing a great number or more vile sins than other people, but rather an awareness of the extent and depth of his sin.
John Newton, the author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” once said:
“I know I am a great sinner, but I know
that Jesus is a far greater Savior.”
Now, John Newton did do some very nasty things. Before he became a Christian, he was captain of a slave-trading ship. He was a cruel, foul-mouthed agnostic. Yet, I don’t think Newton’s description of himself as a great sinner focused only on his pre-Christian sins. He realized that even as a pastor, he was guilty of things like pride, envy, impatience and sloth. I suspect until the day he died, John Newton knew “he was a great sinner, but that Jesus was a far greater Savior.” And that is why he found God’s grace so amazing.
Friends, only those who realize we are great sinners, but that Jesus is a far greater Savior, will recognize how amazing God’s grace for us truly is.
#2 Being aware of our sinfulness helps us develop true humility. As a result, we don’t see ourselves as better than other people.
Philippians 2:3-4 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
I don’t know about you, but I have never found those things very easy to do. And I suspect a big part of the reason why is because I often see myself as morally superior to other folks around me.
That’s not a surprise! One survey found that 60% of people considered themselves more ethical than the average American, and only 4% saw themselves as less ethical. Did you catch that? Sixty percent of Americans think they are morally better than most people around them. Part of the reason for this is that we have a tendency to view the sins of others as more serious than our own.
In our culture, many people consider judging other people to be the worst sin. So, I might think my friend Joe is committing a terrible sin because he is having an affair, but Joe thinks I am a worse sinner than he is because I am so judgmental.
Over the years, I have heard all sorts of rationalizations people have about their sins:
After getting caught shoplifting, one person said, “Yes, I probably should not have taken those things, but that store charges such high prices and rips so many people off. I don’t really feel guilty about what I did.”
Yet, I know I am pretty good at rationalizing away my sin as well. “I have a right to be angry with that person after what they said about me.” Probably not. Thinking the sins of others somehow excuses my own sin is rather foolish. Yet, when we become aware of the extent and depth of our sin, we tend to stop focusing on what other people are doing or failing to do.
I don’t believe the Apostle Paul compared a list of sins he committed to what he knew others had done and then concluded he was the worst of sinners. No, he simply was too aware of his own sin to worry about anyone else’s moral failures.
Friends, when we recognize the extent and depth of our own sinfulness, we don’t see ourselves as morally superior to anyone! Oh, we know that murder and adultery are more destructive than hateful words and lustful thoughts. Yet, we also know those hateful words and lustful thoughts make us just as much a sinner as the person who sticks a knife into someone’s back or has an affair. We are not better than those people.
#3 Being aware of our sinfulness, that we are both saints and sinners at the same time enables us to be honest about our sin.
We don’t have to pretend we are better than we really are or that our sins are not as serious as they really are. I am a great sinner, but Jesus is a far greater Savior. Now, I don’t think it is appropriate, necessary or helpful for me to give you a list of all the sins I have committed over the years. Public confession of wrongs done can be a good thing, but only in the right setting.
Yet, honesty about our own sin frees us from the fear that others will discover our imperfection. We Christians can advertise our imperfections, knowing that our identity is not tied to our performance, but to what Jesus accomplished for us through his life, death and resurrection.
Now, honesty about our sin doesn’t mean we take it lightly. As people who have experienced God’s grace, our gratitude grows into a love for God which includes a hatred of sin. And the first step in combatting sin is admitting it exists.
Let’s say my friend Joe struggles with a bad temper. If Joe is trying to impress other people and convince them he is a fine Christian man, he will probably do his best to convince people around him and himself that his outbursts of anger are justified. And as long as he is trying to convince himself that his temper is not really that bad, it is very unlikely he is going to work on getting control of that temper.
Only when we are honest about our sin will we really be able to grow in holiness and obedience to God. And I think only those who recognize they are still sinners are likely to be honest about their sin.
#4 Being aware of our sinfulness doesn’t mean we wallow in guilt and despair.
You might be thinking, “Pastor Dan, all this negative talk about us still being sinners makes me feel kind of rotten. You seem to be focusing on the negative. I come to church so I will feel better about myself, not worse.”
Ah, friend, remember we are talking about Simul Justus et Peccator – a saint and sinner at the same time. I am a great sinner, but Jesus is a far greater Savior. And by his grace, through faith, I and all believers in Christ, have been justified, declared righteous.
Jesus’ perfect score is now written beside our names. We have (1 Peter 1:3) been born again into a new, a living hope. We have been adopted into God’s family as his sons and daughters. God has given us the Holy Spirit as, what Paul calls in Ephesians 1, a “Seal of Redemption” guaranteeing our inheritance of eternal life. We are already free from the penalty. Through his Spirit, God is working in our lives right now to free us from the power of sin. And one day, on the Day of Resurrection, when we enter our eternal home, we will be completely free from sin and will no longer be sinners, but only saints.
So, even as we are brutally honest about our own sin, we must also keep in mind the power and beauty of redemption that we have found in Jesus Christ.
Years ago in seminary, a fellow named Dale Ryan and I were having a debate in our counseling class. His claim was that when people think of themselves as sinners, they tend to have low self-esteem. I said, “No, acknowledging and confessing our sin is a necessary part of experiencing God’s grace.” I mentioned the Puritans, those wonderful evangelical Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries in England and the American colonies, who emphasized the depth and extent of their sin, but reveled in God’s grace.
Dale responded, “You know, I have never understood the Puritans. They focused so much on their sin, but seemed to be such happy and healthy people. I don’t get it.” Friends, I don’t think Dale understood Simul Justus et Peccator – saint and sinner at the same time.
Here at Chisholm Baptist Church, we often use prayers from the Puritans found in the book, Valley of Vision. These prayers tend to be brutally honest as they probe the extent and depth of our sin, but are saturated with gratitude and joy because of the grace, mercy and forgiveness we have found in Jesus.
Oh friend, it is very discouraging to recognize that you are a great sinner until you realize that Jesus is a far greater Savior! That is reason for joy and celebration!