In my last post, I made the statement that at my core I am fundamentally flawed, a vile sinner, a wretch, even an addict.

Today, I’m going to make the exact opposite claim–that I am Beloved–precious, set apart, cherished, spotless–a Saint.

Sinner and Saint.  Addict and Beloved.  I’m a contradiction of terms!

I’m not the only one to observe this seeming contradiction.  Martin Luther used this Latin term to describe Christians:  “simul justus et peccator,” one who is simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner.   This is possible only through a concept called the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

R.C. Sproul explained it like this.

When God looks at [the Christian], He sees the merit of Christ. He has covered your nakedness. He has clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus. So that the moment you have faith, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to your account. And you are at one and the same time just…or righteous by Christ’s righteousness. But what else are you? You’re still a sinner. Christians still sin.

Before further unpacking these seemingly contradicting identities of the Christian, I need to explain two contrasting attributes of God: His Justice and Love…

  1. I have no problem with the doctrine of the Justice of God.  I would expect a Holy, Righteous God to display judgment toward every puny creature who insults His Holiness, just as I would have no qualms if you swatted a mosquito who offended you. 
  2. I find the wrath of God to be a very logical and rational belief.   The thing I find illogical is God’s Love
  3. Shockingly, God delights in loving His creation, even those who have insulted Him.  It’s easy to love the lovely, but love is most profound when it is applied to those who deserve it least, e.g., loving one’s enemies.  Such love for the unlovely is unexpected, counterintuitive, sensational, rare, and unnatural–indeed, God’s agape love is a supernatural kind of love.  I write about it a lot!  
  4. The obstacle is that our Just God can’t have a Love relationship with sinners until the sin barrier is removed. 
  5. This dilemma is solved in Christianity’s Gospel (i.e., “the good news”) message,  in which God sends Jesus to die on our behalf, satisfying the wrath of God required by his Justice and transferring to us the righteousness of Christ which enables us to experience His Love.

Back to our identity.  What I appreciate about Christianity is that I can readily admit what I know to be true–that I’m an imperfect, floundering,  undeserving, wretched sinner.  And yet–here’s the surprise–I’m loved anyway!  Despite me!  I deserve the wrath of His Justice, but Jesus took care of that so I can experience His Love, i.e., the riches of his kindness and grace!  Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  All that’s required is faith.

A Sinner and a Saint!  A Christian mustn’t give up either of these labels.

  • If we view ourselves as Wretches-only, we will be self-loathing, living in a shame-based belief system where we are constantly being scorned for our deficiencies, never good enough, and never able to gain God’s approval–as if Jesus didn’t do enough.  Sadly, some people live this way–missing God’s grace, mercy, abundance, and joy.  They deny his Love.
  • However, if we view ourselves as Beloved-only, we ignore the reality of our sinfulness.  Such Christians view themselves as wonderfully awesome–as if God were lucky to have them on His team.  Their puffed-up pride puts them in the place of God, presumptuously expecting God to grant them whatever favors they demand from Him.  They deny his Justice.

It’s only through understanding that we are Wretched, Yet Loved Anyway, that we can live with a right view of His deity and our humanity.

So I’m ok living in contradiction with the terms Sinner/Saint or Wretched/Beloved.  On this side of heaven, I will struggle with sin, but even so, He continuously treats me as His Beloved.  He sees me as I am in Christ and as I will fully be one day, clothed with his righteousness.  And that makes me exceedingly and humbly grateful!

And it makes me want to be a little less wretched, loving Him back, not out of guilt, penance, or obligation, but solely out of profound, humble, gratitude.