The word “sinner” is most often used in the Bible to describe a person who is given to a life of sin and is unforgiven. For example, Peter contrasts the “righteous” with the “ungodly and the sinner” (I Peter 4.18). A sinner is someone who is lost in sin, not having been washed by the blood of Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). In this sense, a true follower of Jesus is not a sinner. We should not “continue in sin” (Romans 6.1). A Christian has “died to sin” and is no longer to live in it (Romans 6.2). Paul goes on to say that the body of sin is done away with; the Christian is no longer a slave of sin and is freed from sin (Romans 6.6-7). In being baptized for the remission of sins, the blood of Jesus makes a sinner a saint (I Corinthians 6.9-11). Can a Christian turn his back on the Lord and become a sinner again? Yes. Concerning just such individuals, James wrote, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts…” (James 4.8) and “let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5.20). Stop being a sinner! In this sense, a Christian (a faithful follower of Jesus) is not a sinner.
Christians have sinned, do sin and will sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1.9). In this sense, a Christian is a sinner. Jesus captures the honesty and humility of this realization in the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18.13). Years after his conversion to Christ, the apostle Paul wrote “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1.15). Paul was not confessing that at the time, he was living in sin, a slave to sin, but was acknowledging his sinful past and his ongoing need to be washed by the blood of Jesus (I John 1.7).
Does the average person outside of the church make this distinction? Maybe not; and if not, the statement “We are all sinners” or the statement “I am not a sinner” could be easily misunderstood. The first could give the impression that there is no difference between sinner and saint while the latter could come across as boastful and self-righteous. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1.8). -Brent Smith