Introduction

Many years ago I was president of a stock brokerage firm. Before getting ready for work I often lounged around the house in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt. I lived in Southern California where the weather was almost always ideal so that was a frequent mode of dress.  

I remember seeing a transformation take place in me as I got ready for work. As I stood in front of the mirror buttoning my shirt, then tying my tie, I saw my face almost physically change. From the carefree, relaxed look before, my face became focused and intent. I was becoming the president of the company.

I remember so well that difference, even to how I felt, how the priorities changed as I dressed for work, and how my thoughts focused on the work and challenges ahead. I came to realize that what we understand ourselves to be may strongly influence how we look and behave.

Sinner or Saint?

Perhaps you see the immediate application to the question: Are Christians sinners or saints? If we think of ourselves as sinners won’t we act like sinners and have the demeanor of sinners? If we realize we are saints, won’t we be more inclined to act like saints?

Perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, the saying, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” While that sounds both good and humble, is it true? The saying is in the present tense, i.e., it is saying that the person is presently a sinner. Are Christians sinners? Are sinners Christians? Let’s see what Scripture says.

Paul’s Hebrew Style of Writing

A scripture that would appear to be directly on point is from the Apostle Paul:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Paul used the present tense when calling himself a sinner. Surely that means that all the rest of us are sinners as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy and such reasoning leads to a faulty conclusion. 

In an earlier article, “Romans 7 Revisited,”[1] I discussed the present tense issue as Paul created the same difficulty by using the present tense in Romans 7:14-24. Both passages appear inconsistent with the rest of Scripture because of Paul’s present tense use of the verbs. He makes it sound as if it were applicable to him at the time he wrote it. After we look at this anomaly more closely, I’m sure you’ll see that the unusual use of verbs is Paul’s writing style and is/was a common Hebrew way of writing.

In the Preface to Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, the translator tells us of two principles to understand about Hebrew writers (even though they may be writing in the Greek language):

I. That the Hebrews were in the habit of using the past tense to express the certainty of an action taking place, even though the action might not really be performed for some time.

II. That the Hebrews, in referring to events which might be either past or future were accustomed to act on the principle of transferring themselves mentally to the period and place of the events themselves, and were not content with coldly viewing them as those of a bygone or still coming time; hence the very frequent use of the present tense (emphasis added).

Apparently, that is what Paul did. He placed himself in the past as though it were the present.  Since that is not the western way of speaking and writing, it has caused much confusion in understanding these passages. Based on what the other scriptures say about “sinners,” you can make your own judgment on whether Paul is the worst of sinners or whether using present tense when speaking of a past situation is true of Paul’s writing in this instance.

Are Christians Called Sinners In Scripture?

Only the New Testament refers to Christians so we’ll confine our inquiry to the text of the New Testament. The first scripture that comes to mind is Romans 5:6, 8:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.[2] [Note: All emphasis added is by the author and is not in Scripture].

First please note that Christ died for the ungodly (vs. 6) and then Christ died for sinners (vs. 8). Paul equates the ungodly with sinners. Christians are never characterized as ungodly. Next note that the past tense is used – while we were still sinners. That clearly implies a change of status. While we “were” still sinners is a prior status of being sinners, different from what the recipients of the letter were as Paul wrote them. Who were the recipients of the letter? Paul described them: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). Paul did not address his letter to sinners but to those called to be saints!

There are 28 uses of the word “sinners” and 13 of the word “sinner” in the New Testament Scripture. None refer to people who have come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus. Let’s look at some examples.

Jesus revealed that a purpose of his coming was to save sinners:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17. See also Luke 15:7,10 and Matthew 9:12-13).

The term “sinners” is used twelve times in passages relating to Jesus having dinner with Matthew and Levi:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13).

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17. See also Luke 7:34, 19:7).

Jesus was criticized for associating with Matthew, Levi, and other sinners:

” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”’” (Matthew 11:19. See Luke 5:30-32; 7:39; and 15:1-2).

Matthew and Mark describe the betrayal of Jesus into the hands of the unbelieving Jews, whom he called “sinners”:

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45. See also Mark 14:41).

Jesus reviewed the actions of “sinners:”

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full” (Luke 6:32-34).

Jesus taught about cause and effect using the word “sinners:”

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? (Luke 13:2).

The story of the man born blind used the word “sinners” once and “sinner” twice.

A second time they [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” (See also John 9:16).

He [the formerly blind man] replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:24-25) “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will” (John 9:31). 

Paul taught the contrast between sinners and those who are righteous:

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19. See also Galatians 2:15-17, Romans 3:7, Hebrews 7:26 (about Jesus), and 1 Timothy 2:14). 

James warned sinners (James 4:8-10), Jude quoted Enoch who called sinners ungodly (Jude 14-15), the tax collector begged for mercy, acknowledging himself to be a sinner (Luke 18:13), and Peter asked, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18).

Finally, James said that if a believer wandered from the truth he was called a “sinner”, which would indicate he was no longer a believer but one who had to be brought back through repentance to a saving faith: 

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

NONE of those scriptures shows the “sinner” as anything but an unredeemed person, an unbeliever, or even someone who has wandered from the truth. NEVER is a person with a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ called a sinner. 

None of us who claim to be Christians with a saving faith should ever call ourselves a sinner. It is not appropriate to try to claim common ground with unbelievers or immature Christians by saying that you also are a sinner. Scripture says otherwise. Christians are not “sinners.” If you are a sinner – one who habitually sins, you are not a true believer. In that case you can properly call yourself a sinner. Please note the distinction: Christians do occasionally sin. A sinner habitually sins. The Christian (should) immediately repent and seek God’s forgiveness. The sinner does not. 

A Christian can properly say, “I was a sinner, but have been saved by grace.”

Are Sinners Christians?

As a new believer my wife Dar and I often went for brunch after church with our friends. I clearly remember asking the men what they thought about living a pure and holy life. I’ll always remember the response of one of them: “Bernie, we sin hundreds of times every day. All you have to do is confess your sin and God is faithful and just to forgive you.” By that time I had read 1 John and knew what the Apostle said in his first epistle about the relationship to God of people who continue in sin: 

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him (1 John 3:6). We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him (1 John 5:18).

How good was my friends advice? Was my friend “living in him”? According to the Apostle John, if my friend was sinning hundreds of times each day he was not living in Christ Jesus and did not have a saving faith. Twice John says Christians do NOT continue to sin.  

Just how serious is sinning? Is it a good idea not to sin because it may offend others? Or does sin carry with it eternal consequences? Jesus answered those questions with a gruesome example to make his point: 

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

As his example shows, Jesus connected sinning with being condemned to hell. In his parable of the weeds, Jesus further confirmed that sin will cause condemnation when he said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Matthew 13:41).

The writer to the Hebrews addressed the issue of deliberately continuing in sin. His warning is frightening: 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:26).

It would appear that those who have received the knowledge of the truth but thereafter deliberately continue in sin are in a terrible position. They are called enemies of God.  

In our 21st century, it is politically correct to have a tolerant attitude toward almost everything. That seems to include sin. There is not an abhorrence of sin, of seeing it through God’s eyes, nor a recognition that continuing in sin will prevent a person from inheriting the kingdom of God. Not concerned about being politically correct, Paul wrote: 

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Paul warns that a person who continues in sin (a sinner), but who calls himself a Christian brother, is dangerous to the health of the body and should be shunned. From John’s writings we know that such a person is not a true believer even though he may be a professing Christian. 

We know that Christians will one day enjoy eternity with God in heaven. But what about sinners? Is it possible that they can also go to heaven? Paul answers that: 

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21. See also Ephesians 5:5-6 and Colossians 3:5-10).

For the many sins Paul listed above (and other sins like them), Paul said those who live like this will NOT go to heaven. They are not Christians. They are not saved. Paul said those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God. In Colossians 3:5, he added that because of such sins the wrath of God is coming and sinners will face the wrath of God. God will condemn sinners because they continue in rebellion against the Lord Jesus who has commanded that we not sin.  

Paul emphasized: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). At Romans 2:5, Paul states: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 

Paul recited for the Colossians sins that will invoke God’s wrath: 

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5).

All these warnings are directed to Christians. They are obviously intended to warn the Christians against the sins Paul has listed and to show that the life of the true believer is quite unlike the life of the unbeliever who often participates in such sins.  

God’s wrath is never exercised toward his children – those Christians with a true, saving faith. His wrath is always toward those who are in rebellion to him, who have chosen not to receive his Son Jesus as their Lord. The visible evidence of that rebellion and rejection of Jesus as Lord is a life lived in sin.

Can We Be Saved and Live in Sin?

Is it possible to be a true Christian, to be “saved” and yet “live like this”? (See Galatians 5:18-21). No. Those who claim it is possible to be saved and live in sin have been misled and have a false idea of what is required to be saved. Paul wrote to the Galatian church and told them: “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”    

Debauchery, witchcraft, drunkenness, and orgies are obvious and flagrant sins.  Some of the other “acts of the sinful nature” listed by Paul are more subtle: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. Some sins are not necessarily visible. Paul listed lust, evil desires, greed, selfish ambition, jealousy, hatred, and envy. Unknown to those around him/her, all these can exist within the heart and mind of the professing Christian who regularly attends church on Sunday. Remember Jesus’ statement to the Church at Thyatira? He said, “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 3:23). Hidden sins will condemn us before a righteous God just as will flagrant sins.    

Picture the final judgment scene described by the Apostle John: 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Books were opened at the great white throne judgment mentioned above in Revelation 20, verse 12. Then it says, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” As if to make sure the point was not overlooked, in verse 13 the Apostle John again stated, “ . . . each person was judged according to what he had done.” Not once is any mention made of what the person believed or what he claimed to believe. Judgment is based solely on the evidence – what they had done! As a lawyer I find that quite acceptable and exactly what is required in all courtrooms today. Do we accept the self-serving statements of the accused? No, we ask the judge or jury to make the verdict based on the evidence – what the accused had done. 

Is this a surprise to you? Are you one who has been taught the true statement that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9), and as a result you believe the false conclusion that what you do, if anything, would be “works” – as if you were trying to earn your salvation through works – and that those who speak of obedience and/or works associated with salvation are preaching a false gospel? That is the false conclusion taught by Calvinism, sometimes the “once saved, always saved” proponents (like Dr. Stanley) and what are sometimes called the hyper-grace doctrines. However, Scripture should be your sole guide. It is Scripture that teaches all men will be judged according to what they have done. The reason is obvious. What people do is the best possible evidence of what they believe. 

When true believers are judged, their reward will be based on their conduct and actions. Jesus taught: For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). Later Jesus revealed to John, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Paul taught: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8).

Paul also taught: 

God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil . . .  but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good . . . (Romans 2:6-10). 

The above scripture perfectly shows the same standard applied – what he has done – for both the righteous and the sinner. It contrasts their actions – persistence in doing good for the righteous but rejection of truth and following evil for the sinners. The righteous will be given eternal life. Sinners will experience God’s wrath and anger. 

Judgment is “according to what he has done” for those who live in sin – whether their sins be obvious to all or secret sins, hidden from everyone (except God). Their continued sin shows (to God) their lack of faith and their rebellion against God. True believers’ actions show their faith, devotion and obedience to God their father and to the Lord Jesus. What we do and have done is the evidence of the condition of our heart. It is perfectly reasonable and just that God will judge each of us according to what we have done

Scripture says a saving faith requires action. Scripture requires those who would be saved to receive Jesus as their Lord (see Romans 10:9-10, 13, 14:9; Acts 16:31, Acts 20:21; 1 Corinthians 6:ll; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 2:6-7; Acts 10:36, 5:14, 9:42, 11:21, 16:15, 18:8). Obedience to Jesus’ teachings and commands is the natural and necessary evidence of our love for Jesus as we receive him as our Lord (see Matthew 7:21, Romans 1:5, 16:26, 1 John 5:3, Luke 6:46, John 14:15, 21, 23, Hebrews 5:9, and Matthew 28:20).[3] 

A saving faith is faith in Christ Jesus as our LORD, which is proved by our obedience to his teachings and commands, by the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and by doing those works God prepared in advance for us to do. We will be judged “according to what we have done” by our obedience, fruit, and works – the evidence of our faith.

Many people call Jesus Lord. Have all such people received him as Lord? Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus was asking, “Why do you call me Lord without showing me evidence that I am your Lord?” Doing what Jesus commands is the evidence of his Lordship in the lives of true believers. Likewise Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  The evidence necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven is to do the will of God. Without that evidence, Jesus said even those who call him Lord will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Why Would Professing Christians Continue To Live In Sin?

The reasons that professing Christians continue to live in sin may be widely different. Some may have been raised in the church but never possessed a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. They never had a saving faith (1 John 3:6).

Others may once have had the zeal of a saving faith but decided they loved the world and went back into it, thus making themselves enemies of God (James 4:4 and 1 John 2:15. See also 2 Timothy 4:10). 

False Doctrine

But many more, untold millions perhaps, have the belief that their sins will not be counted against them because they believe they once had a saving faith. This is the result of a false doctrine first enunciated by Augustine in the 4th and 5th century, which swept the world after being popularized by Calvin. Of the five points of Calvinism, the most dangerous one may be the 5th:  

5. Perseverance to the end, or unconditional security, by which it is assured that those who once savingly believe on Christ shall be eternally preserved from falling away and being lost.[4] 

This particular point of Calvinism is more popularly known today as the doctrine of unconditional eternal security or “once saved, always saved.”  

Dr. Charles Stanley, a leading proponent of the doctrine, defines unconditional eternal security as:  “eternal security is that work of God in which He guarantees that the gift of salvation once received is possessed forever and cannot be lost[5] Those who hold this doctrine often teach that if a person has once made a sincere confession of faith by trusting Jesus as Savior for the forgiveness of sin that person has salvation and can never lose that salvation. Dr. Stanley’s book Eternal Security Can You Be Sure?[6] can be found in almost any Christian bookstore.

If you can never lose salvation, how does that influence the way you live? Is there any reason to live a holy, righteous life? Certainly there does not seem to be a compelling reason for abstaining from the pleasures of sin if it will not deprive one of salvation. What does this doctrine teach about sin, particularly sin that occurs after the “salvation” experience? 

Dr. Stanley says, “It is not lying, cheating, stealing, raping, murdering, or being unfaithful that sends people to hell[7]  That’s very strange! Jesus said we should cut off our hand or gouge out our eye if it should cause us to sin as that sin could cause us to go to hell. Paul made lists of sins that would cause the people who did them to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God and to suffer the wrath of God. Neither Jesus nor Paul made an exception for the person who had a one-time salvation experience. There was no exception for believers from the warnings of those scriptures. Indeed the warnings were written to believers. 

However, Dr. Stanley writes: 

But if a man or woman who has been rescued once from a state of unforgiveness need not worry. For once 100 percent of a man’s or woman’s sins have been forgiven, the potential for being unforgiven has been done away with. The risk factor is zero. There are no more fires from which the believer needs to be saved.[8] [Emphasis added.] 

For Dr. Stanley, all future sins have been forgiven – they are included in the 100 percent that were forgiven. Thus, apparently, none of the scriptures we have looked at, where Jesus was speaking or where Paul was teaching the church have any application to the followers of this doctrine of Calvin. Peter reviewed various qualities necessary for believers. Then he said, “But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:9).  Scripture makes no mention of being forgiven of future sins! Notwithstanding their protests to the contrary, the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” supercedes Scripture for those who follow that doctrine.  

Let’s look again at that frightening warning in Hebrews that deals with sin after receiving knowledge of the truth (which Dr. Stanley claims is all forgiven – he says the risk is zero). What is the risk factor according to the inspired word of God? 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:26). 

How can such a somber warning co-exist with the claim that the potential for being unforgiven has been done away with? It cannot. The choice is to believe the ear-tickling doctrine that all future sin is forgiven or the word of God. God warns of terrible judgment for those who continue in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth. He makes no exceptions. The writer says, “If we . . .” He includes himself. Thus he is surely warning those who are believers about what will happen to them if they deliberately keep on sinning. 

None of those warnings about sin in Scripture made any exceptions for those who claim to have once received the gift of salvation. Nor does Paul’s warning to the Ephesians: 

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:3-6).

Did you notice that Paul was applying his teaching for “God’s holy people”? Notice his warning at the end. Let no one deceive you with empty words. Paul says it is because of such sins – immoral, impure, or greedy – that God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Is Dr. Stanley deceiving with empty words, just as Paul warned his readers? Dr. Stanley’s assurances are the opposite of the repeated warnings of Scripture.

Result of Apostasy

Dr. Stanley goes even further. He wrote:  

“The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His People is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.”[9] On other occasions he taught, “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy”[10] and “. . . believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation . . . .”[11] [Emphasis added.] 

That is an amazing statement. What does Scripture say? The writer to the Hebrews wrote:  

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:4-6).

The above scripture shows Dr. Stanley’s view to be totally false. Lest the above scripture be misused, however, it seems to apply to few people. Apparently many who fall away have not experienced all the criteria listed in vs. 4 and 5, therefore the impossibility of being brought back to repentance does not apply. Most who fall away seem to do so from an inadequate or false understanding of what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus. When they finally understand, they can repent and come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus.  

Paul warned the Corinthians about the need to persevere in the faith. But his warning was the opposite of Dr. Stanley’s assurances: 

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). 

These people have to be believers. They received Paul’s gospel. They took their stand on it. Paul assures them they are saved, but then adds the qualification. They are and will be saved only if they persevere, holding firmly to that gospel. Otherwise they believed in vain

Peter also speaks to this issue, of Christians who have known the Lord Jesus and then walked away: 

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.  22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:20-22).

We know that those who have not known the way of righteousness are condemned, but will be punished according to how much they know (Luke 12:47-48). The people Peter spoke about knew the Lord Jesus, but they again became entangled and overcome by the corruption of the world. They were worse off than if they had never been a believer. Their punishment will be more severe! 

False Claim of All Future Sin Forgiven

Unfortunately, the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance has unusual teachings with respect to sin. Notwithstanding the scriptures we have already seen which show that the person who continues in sin will be condemned to the lake of fire, proponents of this 5th point of Calvinism teach quite a different doctrine with respect to sin. They claim, consistent with their doctrine that once saved they cannot lose their salvation, and that all future sin is forgiven once they have once had a salvation experience. 

The notion that all future sin is automatically forgiven if one has once had a moment of saving faith is conclusively shown to be false as we look for the third time at Hebrews 10:26-27: 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.   

Note that the scripture speaks of Christians who “have received the knowledge of the truth.” Note that the scripture specifically speaks about sins occurring after having received the knowledge of the truth, exactly that time in which Dr. Stanley and Calvinism claim all sins are forever forgiven.  

What will happen to the millions of people who believe they can deliberately keep on sinning because all their future sins are forgiven? My heart simply breaks for all those people in churches teaching this doctrine. Scripture is NOT ambiguous on this subject. It is overwhelmingly clear. Furthermore, it is repetitive, stressing this theme over and over. Yet millions of people who do not bother to personally know Scripture, but who trust the teachings of their pastors and churches, are headed for hell if they deliberately continue in sin. They may be some who are referred to in the following parable told by Jesus: 

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ (Luke 13:24-27).

Are you grasping the horror of that parable? These are people who not only know about Jesus, they think they know him. They will be knocking, wanting and expecting to enter the kingdom of God. They will tell Jesus, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” He calls them evildoers! What do evildoers do? They continue in sin! 

Are True Christians Saints?

Part of the problem posed by the question, “Are Christians sinners or saints?” is that the Roman Catholic Church has changed the biblical definition of the word “saint.” It set up its own arbitrary standards for sainthood. The Roman Catholic definition has been so accepted by the world that the first definition of “saint” in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is the Roman Catholic definition. As a result, many people likely believe a saint can only be “one officially recognized, especially through canonization as preeminent for holiness.” The Roman Catholic Church declares that only certain people can be declared saints and only according to their evaluation and procedures. 

However, Scripture says almost the opposite of that. Scripture repeatedly refers to all true believers as saints. This is the third definition in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. How differently we should behave when we recognize that according to Scripture we are saints– if we have a saving faith. 

The term “saints” occurs only 69 times in the entire Scripture. It may be helpful to look at a few of the Old Testament occurrences in order to see the consistency of the use of the term throughout Scripture.

The Old Testament

God tells how he feels about his saints: “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). God will guard the feet of his saints (Isaiah 2:9).  Then there are exhortations to the saints: Sing to the Lord, you saints of his (Psalm 30:4) . . . Love the Lord, all his saints (Psalm 31:23) . . Fear the Lord, you his saints (Psalm 34:9) . . . may your saints sing for joy (Psalm 132:9) . . . Let the saints rejoice in this honor (Psalm 149:5). There is the precious reminder, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). He promises peace to his people, his saints (Psalm 85:8).

Daniel writes a great promise of God: But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever – yes, for ever and ever (Daniel 7:18).

So far, you and I would want to be saints, wouldn’t we? But the future doesn’t look so appealing.   Daniel’s prophesies about the end times are grim:   

As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them (Daniel 7:21).  He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints . . . The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time  (Daniel 7:25) . . . Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it (Daniel 8:12). 

All was not lost, however. Daniel continued: 

The Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:22). Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him (Daniel 7:27). 

What a great definition! Saints are “the people of the Most High.” There is no question, is there, that in the Old Testament the people of God, the Most High, are called saints? What about the New Testament?

The New Testament

The first century Christian believers were called saints (Acts 9:13,32).  Paul confirmed that as he confessed his sin toward the early Christians: “On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them” (Acts 26:10). Paul greeted the Romans: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). He assured them, “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:27). He told them he was on his way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there (Romans 15:25) . . . to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26). Paul asked the Roman church to greet all the saints for him (Romans 15:31). Paul told the Corinthian church to take disputes before the saints for judging, not the ungodly (1 Corinthians 6:1). He spoke of the congregations of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:3). 

Paul defined “saints” as the faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:1). He urged the church to always keep on praying for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18). Jude wrote that the faith was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). John describes with beautiful imagery the prayers of the saints in heaven in the presence of God: “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8) . . . “incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne” (Revelation 8:3) . . . “the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

But the anti-Christ will persecute the saints as foretold in Daniel: He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them (Revelation 13:7). God exhorts his saints to persevere: If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed (Revelation 13:10). This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

John was permitted to see the judgment of the woman described as Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes, a great religious system of the world (believed by many to be the Roman Catholic Church).[12] John tells what he saw: “I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished” (Revelation 17:6). After her destruction he wrote: “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (Revelation 18:20). “Finally the end will come. Loud voices in heaven declared: The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).

There can be no doubt. True followers of Jesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus, are called saints in Scripture. If you are one who has a true and living faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord, God calls you a saint! 

God’s Standards For His Saints

Paul described to the Ephesians how God viewed them before they came to faith in the Lord Jesus:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Paul asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2). The role of the true Christian is to get as far away from sin as possible – to die to sin. This is consistent with Apostle John’s warning that the person who continues in sin has neither seen him nor knows him (1 John 3:6).  

Paul said Christians are called to be holy . . . that God chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4). He said God has saved us and called us to a holy life (2 Timothy 1:9). 

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 1:3). Just the opposite of being a “sinner,” the goal of true Christians is to not have even a hint of sinfulness, nor any kind of impurity or greed. Why? These are improper for God’s holy people! 

Paul told the Christians, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). Paul’s wish: “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).   

Paul then expressed God’s will: 

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,  not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). 

Again Paul speaks to the believers at Thessalonica and warns that the Lord will punish men for such sins, not excepting them because they are believers, but specifically warning them – the believers – of God’s punishment for those who live an impure life. Paul also said that those who reject this instruction reject God! 

Paul prophesied about what would happen at the end time of judgment: 

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).

In the prior scripture, once again we see the contrast in what will happen to the wicked – punished with everlasting destruction – and the true believers – those who have believed in the Lord Jesus. 

The author of Hebrews commanded: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it optional to be holy? Not if a person wants to be saved. Those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Who is not holy? Those who love the world and continue in sin and reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives.  

Peter also exhorted Christians: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:11-12). 

Conclusion

Never in the New Testament Scriptures are true Christians called sinners. Rather, sinners are those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven and are subject to the wrath of God. Those who continue in sin do not know God and have never known him. Those who have received the knowledge of the truth but deliberately keep on sinning have only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:26).

It is neither accurate nor appropriate for a Christian to use the saying, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” It is both accurate and appropriate to declare: “I was a sinner, but have been saved by grace through faith.” 

True believers are frequently referred to as saints. They are expected to live blameless and holy lives before God. Scripture reveals the special place in God’s heart for his saints. 

Sinners and saints will be judged according to what they have done. Saints will be rewarded according to what they have done. Sinners will be judged and condemned according to what they have done. 

Tragically millions may be lost, deprived of salvation, because of false teaching, most notably the doctrine of unconditional eternal security, “once saved, always saved.” This doctrine also teaches that once one has had a salvation experience, all future sins are forgiven. This doctrine is false! It is foreign to the Scriptures. 

Salvation is for those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord. True followers of the Lord Jesus are obedient to his teachings and commands and do the will of God their father. Those who persevere to the end will enter the kingdom of heaven.


[1] See at www.bereanpublishers.co.nz.

[2] All scriptures are taken from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[3] For a more complete discussion of what constitutes a saving faith, visit the website: www.bereanpublishers.co.nz , Book: Saving Faith, and Salvation Issues/Listening In.

[4] Yokum, Dale, Creeds In Contrast (Salem, OH: Schmul Publishing Co.) 1985, page 86.

[5] Stanley, Charles, “Eternal Security What Do We Have To Lose?, Tape #6, MI090.

[6] Stanley, Charles, Eternal Security Can You Be Sure? (Nashville , TN: Oliver Nelson, 1990),

[7] Ibid, p. 70.

[8] Ibid, pages 79-80.

[9] Ibid, page 74.

[10] Ibid, page 93.

[11] Ibid, page 94.

[12] One of the most thorough and best researched books on this subject: Hunt, Dave, A Woman Rides the Beast (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1994).