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Believers are Never Called Sinners in the New Testament

by Michael Edwards  
3/03/2018 / Bible Studies

The author is against all sin. I agree totally with Paul.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:15 ESV

In reading the Bible, it is imperative to rightly divide the word.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15 KJV

We need to start by understanding the context of a verse, who is it written for, a Jew or Gentile, an unbeliever or believer. This message will help you rightly divide the word with regards to a believer and unbeliever.

Forty-seven times the Greek word translated sinner is used in the New Testament. While they did use the word sinner, not one of these verses is spoken by Jesus or the Apostles about a believer who had sinned.  See here:

The title of sinner, like the title of unrighteous, hypocrite, ungodly or unholy are exclusively reserved for unbelievers. The same truth applies to the sinner sub-titles of liar, thief, murderer, homosexual and all others apply only to unbelievers.

Why are believers in the Bible called righteous and not called sinners when we know for a fact that believers then like now, commit acts that constitute sin? For example in 1 Tim 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9  we see a long list of sins found in believers at the time that would disqualify them as a church leader.  There were others like those in the Corinthian church, who committed a lot of sin, sexual sin, and Paul calls them Saints, never sinners.

The Answer

1)We were made sinners by Adams disobedience and we are made righteous by Jesus obedience.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteousRom 5: 18-19 ESV

2) We were called sinners before we believed in Christ and his obedience. 

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:8 ESV This verse notes a change in status, while we were still sinners.

After we believe, the Bible clearly distinguishes believer's in Christ (righteous) from an unbeliever (sinner) in the following manner. 

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous (believer), but sinners (unbeliever).” Matt 9:13 ESV (emphasis mine)

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner (unbeliever) who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons (believer) who need no repentanceLuke 15:7 ESV (emphasis mine)

And “If the righteous (believer) is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner (unbeliever)?” 1 Peter 4:18 ESV (emphasis mine)

"I have not come to call the righteous (believer) but sinners (unbeliever) to repentance." Luke 5:32 NASB (emphasis mine)

3) God sees those in Christ as already holy, sanctified and righteous in His eyes, solely because of the blood of Jesus.  Like God, we are to regard (1492. Eidóno one according to the flesh. We are not to judge them by their flesh, by appearance. They are not what we see in the flesh. God see’s the new heart he has given them, and they are not their failures and their sins to God. They are seen without regards to their flesh, in the perfection of Jesus as all believers are.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded (1492. Eidó) Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 2 Cor 5:16 ESV

4) Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation cleansed by the blood of Jesus, born again, as the following states.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:17-21 ESV

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creationGal 6:15 ESV

In that new creation there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man, but Christ is everything and is in all of us. Col 3:11 WNT

that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Eph 4: 22-24 NASB

5) Sin is a transgression of the law.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John 3:4 KJV.

Believers have been set free from the law and placed under grace where sin has no dominion over them. You cannot transgress a law you are not under.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Rom 6:14 ESV

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:15 ESV

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Rom 8:2 ESV

If believers have been set free from the law, and are not under the law, but grace as the Bible clearly states, then believers cannot transgress the law. Therefore, they cannot be a sinner in God’s eyes. This is why we see believers called righteous in the Bible and not sinners, It is all about Jesus one time offering for all. 

6) This also means that when you see verses that list specific sins like the following, the Bible assigns these subtitles of a sinner to unbelievers only. Believers are never called by these titles, even though they still commit some of these acts.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law IS NOT MADE FOR A RIGHTEOUS PERSON (righteous person is always a believer in Bible), but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners (always an unbeliever), for the unholy (Bible never calls a believer unholyand profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.1 Tim 1:8-11 NASB (emphasis mine)

This truth that these sinner subtitles do not apply to believers can be further verified in Romans 7. These verses tell us how death releases us from the law. Paul uses a natural example of adultery. He explains that once a person is freed from the law, they cannot be called an adulterer. He then correlates this with those who are dead to the law in Christ. 

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. Rom 7:1-6 ESV

I go into depth with Romans 7 HERE.

7) This fact that believers are called righteous and never sinners cooresponds with the fact that the Bible does not teach that the Holy Spirit convicts believers of their sins. Jesus while speaking to the disciples in John 16:8-10  is very clear that the Holy Spirit convicts the disciples, believers, of their righteousness in Him and convicts unbelievers of the sin of unbelief. READ

8) The knowledge that a believer is never called a sinner in the New Testament by God will help you tremendously with other hard verses too. Verses that may have confused you in the past where you thought God was talking to to you as a believer. Verse’s that refer to a sinner are talking exclusively about unbelievers. If you go to these verses and read them in their full context with this understanding, these verses will be extremely clear to you.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners (always an unbeliever); and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 NASB (emphasis mine)

Let him know that he who turns a sinner (always an unbeliever) from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:20 NASB (emphasis mine)

A few more important tips that will help you rightly divide the word.

1)    Only a believer is called righteousness by God. Therefore, whenever you see a verse about the unrighteous, you know it is talking about an unbeliever, even though believers commit acts of sin. Read

2)    Whenever you see a person called a hypocrite, it is talking about an unbeliever. Believers are never called hypocrites in the New Testament even though they commit acts that constitute sin. Read and Read

3)    God never calls a believer unholy and tells us not to also, even though believers commit acts that constitute sin. Read

4)    Whenever you see a person who has fallen away from grace, it does not mean they have sinned too much. It means they have gone back to the law to be right with God. Paul told the Galatians that if they added the law in addition to grace to be saved, they were severed from Christ and had fallen from grace. Read

5) The only unforgivable sin is unbelief. This means that every other sin you might have thought is unforgivable is actually forgivable. Read:  What is the One Unforgivable Sin? and Does God Send People to Hell Just Because They Do Not Believe?

Now, if God regards a believer as holy, sanctified and righteous and never calls a believer a sinner, a hypocrite, unholy or unrighteous, how do you think we should regard other believers and ourselves?

God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. Acts 10:28b NASB

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation2 Cor 5:16-17 ESV

This information is further evidence of the promises God makes to us in the New Covenant.

"I will forgive their iniquity, I will remember their sin no more.” Jer 31:34b 

For I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sins no more." Heb 8:12

Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Heb 10:17 

Now, pause and think about how great our God is! How much He loves you and how he will never leave you or forsake you. Does this make you want to go out and sin or does it make you want to love Him that much more?

Questions about Paul's use of the present tense "sinner" for himself in 1 Timothy 1:15-16? Read quote below from Tony Capoccia 

"Note that even though Paul used the present tense it cannot mean that he is now committing the worst sins, because he was a holy and godly preacher of righteousness, whose own writings demand criteria of holiness for anyone who aspires to the ministry. No, even Paul states that he was shown mercy (past tense), because of his sinfulness. How do these two statements blend? It is simple, let me illustrate. Suppose a 20 year-old man ran a three minute mile. Surely he would be the world's record holder for running the mile. Now, 70 years later, when the man is now 90 years old, we find that his record is still unbroken. Is he still the world's fastest man on record? Does he (present tense) hold the world record for the mile run? Of course, the answer is yes. Even though he couldn't run very far, he is still the world's record holder for the mile. IN the same way, Paul, even though he has been saved and made into a new person, still holds the world record for sins. And therefore he could honestly state, "I am presently the worst sinner in the world!" That is, "I presently hold the world's record for sin." No one has offended God more than me!" 

The author is against all sin. I agree totally with Paul.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:15 ESV

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