AT THE SAME TIME
SINNER AND SAINT.
In the name + of Jesus.
So, are you a sinner or a saint?
It sounds like a simple question, but you probably struggle with the answer (unless you've already read the theme of the sermon). On the one hand, you are a baptized child of God. That means you have been washed in the blood of Christ which purifies you of all sin. You have been adopted into God's family. You have been clothed in Christ's righteousness. If God declares you righteous for Christ's sake and sees you as holy and blameless, then you are a saint.
But that is not what you see, is it? You don't look like a saint. You don't act like a saint. You don't feel like a saint. You confess that you are a child of God, but you don't live up to the title. There's a good reason we begin every service with a confession of sins. We are by nature sinful. No one taught us to be self-centered. That flows out of us in our thoughts, words, and actions. We have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. We have been sarcastic to our loved ones and failed to be patient. We have viewed other people in terms of how they inconvenience us. We have failed to be charitable. Any honest assessment of ourselves forces us to confess that we are sinners.
So, are you a sinner or a saint? The answer is, “Yes.” We are at the same time sinner and saint.
Perhaps you think, “If I had the faith of one of the great people of the Bible, if I had the heart of an apostle, then I could be better.” St. Paul would let you know that your frustrations are not unique. I doubt you are better than St. Paul; but I know that you are not worse. Every Christian knows the frustration St. Paul confesses.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.” (Romans 7:15-16) Like St. Paul, you have been filled with a godly desire to do what is good. If you desire to do the good that God commands, then you agree that God's Commandments are good. The Commandments direct you to always love your neighbor and seek his good. They show you how to honor God with grateful obedience in response to his great love for you. This is good; and you know it is good. Yet, we still do the evil things that we hate. We are ashamed and frustrated because of our repeat offenses and regrettable behavior. Sometimes we wonder if we are really Christians.
It does not seem like a saint would confess this: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) But this is precisely the confession that an apostle of Jesus Christ makes about himself. It is the honest confession that every Christian makes. Even when we want to be holy and good, we can't do it. It results in us concurring with St. Paul's frustrated interjection, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
St. Paul quickly answers his own question. Who will deliver us from our wretched condition? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) You have proved yourself a sinner and you feel the frustration of doing the very evils you deplore? Good, because there is good news: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) It is Christ Jesus who makes sinners into saints.
We never cease to need our Savior, and Jesus never ceases being our Savior. Your place in the kingdom of God is not determined by how well you are serving the Lord; it has been determined by Jesus' service to you. The Lord Jesus has taken your sins away from you. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus became sin for us, taking our sin upon himself. And then Jesus suffered what sinners deserve—a cursed death. Though Jesus did not struggle to serve the Lord and though no evil was found in him, Jesus suffered and died for sinners—the righteous for the unrighteous. And why? St. Paul tells you: “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
We are at the same time sinners and saints. Jesus is our judge, and he has rendered his judgment to us. He declares that we are redeemed, beloved, purified, and possessors of eternal life. Jesus has done all the work to win this for us, and he graciously delivers all his benefits to us where his word is preached and his sacraments are administered. We do not have to wonder if we are good enough or have done enough good. Our desire is that we will do what is good, but because we are sinners we will fall short. We will sin. We will not be proud of it nor pleased with ourselves because of it. But Jesus is our hope and comfort. Jesus determines our place in God's kingdom. Jesus Christ became our sin and bestows upon us his righteousness. Therefore, in Christ, you are holy and blameless. That is why we boldly confess that we are his holy people, his saints. We take the Lord at his word.
Now, on this side of heaven, it will still not feel like it or look like it. We are at the same time sinner and saint. This body we have is corrupt. The body's sinful corruption is evident in the fact that it gets sick, it aches, it gets frail, it ages, and it will eventually give out and we will die. That corruption is also made evident by our sins. It's not that we want to sin. St. Paul speaks for every Christian: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20) Like St. Paul, we are eager to be done with our struggles against sin and with our frustration that we continue to give into temptations. When will we finally be done with the struggle? When will we finally be free from regrets and shame? When we will be able to live with our loved ones without having to apologize for snapping at them or to live without wishing we had an opportunity to apologize to that stranger we were so rude to? Our sins will continue to make us cry out with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) The answer remains the same: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
The day will come when the Lord will give you a body that is not corrupted by sin or marked by death. Jesus went into death to pay for your sins, but he is risen from the grave. He lives to forgive your sins and deliver you from death. On the Last Day, the Lord of Life will raise your body from the grave and will transform your lowly body so that it will be like his glorious body. You will live with your bodt finally free from sin. Your ability to serve the Lord will finally match your desire to serve the Lord in godliness and holiness. You will not only be called a child of God, but you will look like it and act like it. You will love the saints with whom you will live, and they will love you perfectly in return. And we will all live under the gracious love and care of our Savior God. Then, all sin will be gone. Then, we will all be saints, and we will always be saints. Then.
But for now, on this side of heaven, we remain sinner and saint at the same time. We will always need our Savior to preserve us in the saving faith and to console us with the forgiveness of all our sins. And Jesus remains our Savior. He declares to us through his words that we are forgiven. Jesus reminds us that our baptism still cloaks us in his righteousness. He prepares the victory feast of the Lamb and calls us to feast on it now with all the saints in heaven. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) He has come for the good of sinners; and his goodness makes us saints of God, now and forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.