“Paul,…to the saints that are at Ephesus.” Ephesians 1:1
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
So which are we sinners or saints? I think we’re both and need to keep in touch with both identities.
Some go by the saying, “only a sinner saved by grace.” If all we are is forgiven sinners then the only message we have to the world is forgiveness. However important this message is, it is often hard for unbelievers to see their need when they don’t see any difference between their lives and ours. The “sinner” identity certainly makes you relatable to people, but it won’t change your life. We are more than sinners saved by grace. In Christ we are new creations who have His very life in us transforming us from glory to glory. If we have a message of forgiveness but no real changes in our life to back it up, why would anyone think that our message is any more true than what they’re already believing?
Others are so excited about being “saints,” they no longer want to be identified as sinners. One group in Christianity changed the words of Amazing Grace because they felt the words “saved a wretch like me” no longer described them. The problem with the saint’s only identity is that it eventually leads to hypocrisy because Christianity never promises to take away our sinful nature. God’s plan was not to replace the old with the new but to add the new to the old leaving believers the daily choice of which nature they live out of. We need to die daily to the old nature because it’s still there. Pretending that real Christians shouldn’t struggle any more, does nothing to help new believers who are trying to figure out what is going on inside of them. The other problem with the “saints only” identity is that it tends to divide the world into “good” people and “bad” people. When we believe we’re good and others are bad we become hard and self-righteous and lose any possible chance of reaching the people Jesus died for.
So who are we? We are saints that have been set aside for God’s glory and have been given a new nature which is slowly transforming our minds and souls into the image of Jesus. But we’re also sinners that need Jesus’ blood and forgiveness as much now as we did on the first day we said “yes” to Him!