Every Christian continues to endure temptation and sinful desires… sometimes victoriously, and sometimes we indulge our sinful nature. How should we make sense of this?
Sometimes we can get the impression that once we become Christians our lives are immediately characterized by holiness and purity. But that’s just not the case. Sometimes, yes, the Lord graciously frees us from crushing temptations or addictions; but most Christians experience a more gradual and subtle growth in holiness.
I know some people who have seriously struggled with the question, “Am I really a Christian?” because of their lingering struggles with specific temptations (usually sexual ones). With this in mind, I believe Martin Luther’s theology of Christian identity as “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” is extremely helpful.
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner
This is the English translation of the Latin phrase Simul Justus et Peccator. This was Luther’s way of making sense of the Christian’s ongoing struggle against the sinful nature. For the interest of time and space, you may watch the video below for a really helpful and clear explanation.
In summary, “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” means that from one perspective, the Christian remains a sinner (because of his/her remaining sinful nature and ongoing battle against temptation) but at the same time is a saint (because he/she has received the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ). Notice how many of the New Testament letters are written “To the saints at the church of ______.” That’s because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). At the same time, Paul writes to those same people to call them into repentance from their sin.
What About Me?
As you consider what this means for yourself, cling to the promise of God. This isn’t permission to embrace sin and take advantage of grace; but it is a bold promise that while you may still look like a sinner and act like a sinner, you believe that God has forgiven your sin. He is making you holier and holier as you confess and repent. So don’t be shocked by your temptation, as if you’re the only Christian who continues to be tempted (and fall to it!).
As you grow in your self-understanding as one who is “simultaneously saint and sinner” keep the following verses in mind:
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 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. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:21-8:2)
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Don’t be surprised by your ongoing struggle against the sinful nature. But don’t indulge your temptations either. Remember that in Christ, your identity is as a Saint. Continue to fan into flame the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit by resisting sin and pursuing Christ.