Sinner and Saint: Why Do I Do Wrong?
Q: I try my hardest to live in the truth but sin of course takes over sometimes, so I repent. But if I don’t follow God’s commandments 24/7 then I’m not living in the truth and I’m a liar. I’m so confused; what do I do?
A: God’s divine Law always accuses. Even Saint Paul could speak of what a wretched man he was, saying, “I do not understand my own actions.” The good he knew to do, he didn’t and the evil he knew not to do, he did (Romans 7:15-20). During the following centuries, this teaching became obscured in Christendom. Beginning with Luther, Evangelical theologians refocused the Church’s attention on the state of being simil iustus et peccator; that is, the Christian is simultaneously sinner and saint and the sinner hears and fears.
Yet the saint knows that when these words of condemnation strike home, there is a place to go. And that place is God’s grace in Christ. The forgiveness of sins we receive then becomes motivation, as we desire to thank and praise God by loving Him with all our heart, soul, and strength and loving neighbor as self.
When you hear God tell you through His Word and your conscience that you have sinned and this knowledge deeply hurts you, yet you also know and trust that Christ died for you, then you know that you are a believer, for an unbeliever would not be so wounded, nor have such consolation. Flee to the cross, to the Word, and to the pastor God has called to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to you.
It’s a paradox of the Faith that those who know most well their sins and shortcomings often also know most well the love of God in Christ and cherish most their forgiveness. These same people are then often the ones who dedicate themselves to service, ever striving for the perfection God demands — not to earn salvation, but to thank Him for the salvation earned by Jesus’ suffering and death.
Looking at the other side of the coin, those who best know their loving Savior and His gracious Father are also most conscious of their sinfulness. And when they fail (as we believers always do) they are genuinely upset and turn again away from their sin and back to the throne of grace. Through this, God builds the endurance and hope that will not be disappointed (see Romans 5).
It’s vitally important that as we accept this Scriptural truth, we don’t drift into some form of dualism. In its most basic form, this philosophy posits that good and evil are co-original and equally powerful in the cosmos.
Concerning individuals, dualism usually becomes some sort of a percentage game, where we see ourselves as part good and part bad. However, when we return to the Word, we return to simil iustus et peccator. Scripture professes that all are born totally sinful and that sin inhabits every part of the believer’s being while at the same time he is absolutely forgiven and a perfect saint in the eyes of the Lord: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)”
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.