Wretched Saints

by Joseph Franks

Here are two characteristics of those who belong to Satan:

  1. In their own eyes, they view themselves as saints.
  2. In God’s eyes, they are viewed as sinners.

In contrast, here are two characteristics of those who belong to the Son:

  1. In their own eyes, they view themselves as both sinners and saints.
  2. In God’s eyes, they are viewed as both sinners and saints.

One can see this clearly in the teaching of Saint Paul, the sinner. Halfway through his letter to the Romans he writes:

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 all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ …. (Romans 7:24-8:17)

St. Paul, the fantastic Christian Apostle and church father, saw himself as a wretched worshiper. He saw himself as a sinner, and he never outgrew this. According to his own autobiography, too often he followed the leading of his old sin-nature. Daily, he mourned over his remaining sin and longed for the final day when his wretched double-mindedness would be no more. This “Chief of sinners” panted for the day of glorification when his sin-nature would buffet him no longer.

That being said, Paul also saw himself as a saint. He understood he was predestined to holiness before creation. He also understood he was thoroughly atoned for by the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Paul knew he was completely converted by the power of the Holy Spirit and perfectly justified by the judicial declaration of the Judge. Paul recognized he was the Temple of God; the Holy Spirit had moved in and taken residence. He also understood himself as the eternally beloved bride of Christ. Yes, Paul knew that because of Christ, the Father was well pleased with him; he was the Father’s favorite. And he took great confidence in knowing he was more than a conqueror, and all things were working together for his good. Nothing could ever separate him from the love of God. Consequently, Paul did not walk about for a moment as one under condemnation. Never did he put himself on probation or give himself a spiritual time-out. Every day, he knew God was not angry with him. Why? All the anger of the Father had been poured out on the Son. And in all his letters, Paul consistently wrote about his adoption and inheritance; such good news appeared to be always before him. True, this hero of the faith never forgot he was the less-than-faithful “chief of sinners” following Christ, but he also never forgot he was Saint Paul, holy and blameless in the sight of God.

Christian, let us be humble.

Let us not conclude we will ever outgrow sin in this life. Saint Paul’s Christian experience should guide our expectations. Let us not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Paul, the inspired father of the faith, saw himself as a “wretched sinner.” So we will always be until the day of our glorification.

Oh friends, it is horrible depravity to reach the conclusion we need less grace today than when we first began our Christian journey. To the contrary, as we mature in the knowledge of Scripture and our holy faith, we should be learning more of the nuances of God’s Law. In learning more of God’s holy standard, we should be seeing more sin in our lives than we ever saw before. As we mature, we should be seeing ourselves as more sinful and not less sinful.

In addition, as we continue our journey and maturation process, we should more and more realize how our external actions are not the only things despicable in God’s sight. We should be progressively less Pharisaical than we were the day before. We should see our internal affections are equally abhorrent in God’s sight.

Then, as we continue to grow, we should also be realizing our sins of omission are every bit as abominable as our sins of commission. We should find ourselves less inclined to give ourselves a passing grade because the Law should be regularly showing us how much more righteousness is required of us.

Sadly and truthfully, as we grow in the faith, we should be finding ourselves more like the Pharisees and the Rich Young Ruler than we ever thought. Yes, as the Spirit opens our eyes, we should see the Law and our sin in a whole new light, and this reality should cause us to state passionately like Paul, “All our righteousness is rubbish!” When all is said and done, we should should see ourselves as “wretched sinners” who are beginning to see ourselves as the “chief of sinners.”

This then should leave us less time to worry about the toothpick in our neighbors eye, because we are too busy worrying about the telephone pole in our own. Friends, let us learn from Paul. Let us be like Paul. Let us be humble!

Christian, let us be happy.

We are not called to walk about in morbid introspection as if the Gospel included our work of covenant keeping. Christ did not start something we had to finish. On the contrary, he yelled “It is finished” from the cross and he did not fib. Paul, though he was the “chief of sinners,” had the joy of the Lord within. Because of the Trinitarian work of salvation, Paul was confident that no condemnation, in any form whatsoever, was ever coming his way. He was also confident that God, who had begun a good work in him, would be faithful to complete that which he had began. Friends, let us rejoice and enjoy making progress in looking more and more like our Savior. This is the Gospel. This is what he is doing, with or without or aid.

Christian, let us be looking for home.

While being both sinner and saint is our condition, it is not our conclusion. One day, positionally and practically, we will be like Jesus Christ. On that day, we will only be called a saint. On that day, our depravity will be removed forever and ever. What a glorious day!

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