Monday, January 18, 2010

Is a Christian a Sinner or Saint? by Terry Virgo


This post is taken from Terry Virgo's blog, as the article indicates this is a somewhat controversial subject, though it seems a shame that it is. Reposted here for your thoughts and interactions.

I was surprised on two occasions this year when preaching to what I will call ‘conservative evangelical constituencies’ and declaring the joy of our freedom in Christ, to encounter the response that followed.


On the first occasion I had been speaking about the glorious freedom proclaimed in Romans 6. On the second I was expounding Ephesians 2 and celebrating the fact that we are new creations, created in Christ Jesus. We are called ‘saints’, holy ones, and are certainly no longer regarded as ‘sinners’.

In Romans 6, Paul celebrates the truth that, whereas we used to be slaves of sin, God has made us ‘slaves of righteousness’ (Rom. 6:18). I deplored the fact that I had seen a poster when in the USA saying that a Christian is one sinner telling another sinner where to find bread. It saddens me not only to see Christians failing to accept the new identity that the gospel provides, but even fighting to defend their ‘right’ to be called ‘sinners’ when God has called those who are in Christ Jesus ‘saints’!


Such were some of you
Paul provides a horrific list of the evils that had formerly characterised the believers at Corinth, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards and so on, but clearly adds, ‘Such WERE some of you, but you were washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:16). Surely he is telling them (and us) that they are now set apart saints of God. When Christians deplore their sinfulness to the degree that they actually argue that their essential identity is ‘a sinner’ they shoot themselves in the foot!

After one of my previously mentioned sermons, a handsome young man approached me with, ‘Surely we are essentially still sinners aren’t we?’ He then began literally shedding tears and confessed to serious problems in the realm of sexual temptation. I opened Romans 6 with him for 15 minutes, asking him Paul’s robust question, ‘Are we to continue in sin …?’ and showing him Paul’s even more forthright answer, ‘By no means!’ (King James, ‘God forbid!’). followed by his clear argument, ‘How shall we who died to sin still live in it?’ The young man seemed surprised, maybe expecting the answer, ‘Well of course we do still struggle with sin because essentially we are still sinners.’ Paul did not take that line!

He who has died is freed from sin
I took him to Romans 6:6, ‘Knowing this that our old self was crucified with Christ … that we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin’ (Rom. 6:6-7) and reminded him that Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Clearly this was a truth that this young man did not know. I then led him on to verse 11 where Paul tells us what our attitude should be to ourselves, namely to ‘consider ourselves to be dead to sin’. We must line up our thinking correctly and eagerly adopt our new relationship with sin, namely, dead to it.

Finally, I underlined his responsibility not to allow sin to reign in his members (Rom. 6:12-13). As a new creation he has the power to rule his members. He was called to live free from slavery to sin because he was not a sinner but a saint. After our chat his countenance changed, his eyes looked brighter and I think a flicker of hope had replaced the inevitability he had felt that as a sinner he was still bound to sin.

Sadly, as I turned from him a girl was waiting to speak to me and she asked exactly the same question and received exactly the same 15-minute Bible study as my answer.

In the second meeting that I addressed, I was challenged that if I don’t regard myself as fundamentally still a sinner surely I would not value the Cross. But my amazement and huge appreciation for the Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure!

As I consider the eternal God living in everlasting bliss and mutual delight within the Trinity, the incarnation amazes me! That God should become a man! And not only that, but should also experience death, and what a death! Death on a cross in bloody agony and imputed guilt, separation and rejection. I don’t always have to bring me into the picture! The Cross amazes me and fills me with wonder and worship, praise and thanksgiving!

To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel. The Greek word which we translate ‘to proclaim the gospel’ was not originally a religious word; it is borrowed from elsewhere and actually means the announcement of good (great!) news. The original ‘Marathon Runner’ ran his 26 miles and proclaimed the Good News. We won the battle! We triumphed! It was a victory!


Has anybody got some better news?
If I insist on teaching that Christians are still essentially sinners, what is the Good News? Has anybody got some better news? To quote John Bunyan:

            Run John run the law demands
            But gives me neither legs nor arms
            Better news the gospel brings
            It bids me fly and gives me wings!

To quote Paul again, ‘If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.’ The great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones added, ‘A new principle of life has been put into the Christian. He has a new disposition – the life of God in the soul of man! That is Christianity!’


‘Terry, are you saying that you never sin?’

Sadly in this age of conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil I do, but I sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it – not as a sinner with all the inevitability that that suggests.

...your comments? 


[When I posted this on facebook some came back saying that it was "sin-lite"  this is clearly not the case and it seems to me that it takes sin more seriously by taking more seriously what the Cross of Christ has accomplished...]

70 comments:

  1. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."" 1 Tim 2:15-16

    Note the tense. Paul considered himself to be a sinner.

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  2. It's a faith/sight thing, isn't it? I *am* still a sinner: I only have to record my own behaviour to see that this is the case. Looking at myself, I see a sinner. In some ways, this identity is more truly mine, because it belongs to *me* personally and still characterises many of my actions.

    But by faith I 'see' myself as joined to Christ and made perfectly holy. This identity is in some ways more truly mine, because I have hope that it will characterise my behaviour for eternity, and because it was bought for me at the cost of Jesus' blood.

    I think seeing things this way prevents you having to say messy things like 'I'm a saint who sins'. Saints don't sin. That's why I can only know I'm a saint by faith - it contradicts my experience. Simul iustus et peccator, I guess.

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  3. Most fundamentally speaking, we are no longer sinners (For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Rom 5:8, implying that in some sense we are no longer sinners). What our heavenly Father thinks of us is the most essential reality, and that is as spotlessly righteous.

    Just as robhu said, however, we can't do justice to the Bible, or to reality, and say that we don't sin, or are not sinners (eg. 1 John). Daniel said simul iustus et peccator (for those who don't know, meaning simultaneously righteous and sinner); another way of looking at it is already/not-yet.

    Already a sinner, not yet free from sin. However, the not-yet remains true, lasts forever, and seems to me the main thrust of Christian living according to the NT, is the not-yet.

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  4. excellent comment Paul, although I think you meant to say "Already a *saint*, not yet free from sin"

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  5. I'm more inclined to go with Terry's tone here. It seems to me that the NT encourages us to use the language of what we are in Christ (which is also what we will be in eternity) about ourselves more than the language of sinners. Partly this might be because sinners is first and foremost a positional/ legal/ coventantal statement (and we're no longer in that position/ condemned under the law/ having Adam as our covenant head).

    See how Paul addresses all the churches, as the church/ saints/ brothers and sisters/ God's holy elect people etc. And all of this in the context of being quite happy at the same time to raise direct challenges to their ongoing sin and unbelief. This fits with the 'be what you are'/ 'be what you will become' way of looking at things.

    When con-evo's use 'sinner' to refer to the christian I reckon it's more to do with using it as a definition like 'person who still sins, always needs the cross, should live a life of repentance, etc.' than the more technical use we find in scripture. From that perspective (which might be at least partly what Paul has in mind when he calls himself a sinner in the present tense, though I'm not sure) I don't have a problem with it being used, and indeed use it that way myself. I think this use probably captures what the 'simulus justus et peccator' thing is on about too, but I'd have to check (was it Luther originally?).

    However, there is a correlating lack of good clear thinking on sanctification among us con-evos, and a fear of striking the same kind of notes that Paul does in Romans 6. Imo, us con-evos don't always know what to 'do' with the transformative aspect of being in Christ, are almost uncomfortable with it, and as a result can massively downplay expectations of our lives being changed by God's grace. Here I'm with the corrective Terry seems to be offering (and note that his use of Romans 6 is immensely helpful here, since it roots progress, change, victory over sin in our lives in our justification - we count/ regard ourselves as dead to sin, and therefore don't offer our members to it anymore).

    There's a link here to other aspects of 'our' theology where the transformative/ progressive aspect of the course of the kingdom throughout history is almost entirely ignored (inauguration-consummation is not the whole tale biblically speaking), but that's for another day!

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  6. Just to clarify, the simul iustus et peccator thing doesn't imply a balance between those two things, or that my two 'identities' are equally valid. My identity as righteous, by faith, is primary because God gets the final say on who I am. But I only perceive/receive his verdict at the moment by faith. If I look to myself, lo and behold, a sinner.

    So I think this perspective is transforming, but it transforms not mainly by saying 'you are not a sinner anymore' but by saying 'who cares what *you* are? Look at Jesus!' And I think that is living by faith. As we do that, it does happen that our 'faith-identity' shows itself more in our lives, as the Spirit applies the gospel. But if I take my eyes off Jesus for a moment, look back to myself to assess my progress... Oh look, a wretched and miserable sinner.

    So the eschatological perspective is helpful. One day I will be a united person, the same by sight as I am by faith. Hurrah! Until then, walk by faith, and faith alone...

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  7. I essentially agree Daniel, although I'd want to add/ tweak things by saying

    a. There is a sense in which the gospel transforms by saying to me 'this is not who you are anymore' - though, as you crucially say, that is seen by faith, and is located in Christ. But the notion of regarding myself as not being something I once was, and of being something that I once wasn't, is there in the NT, and, I'd argue, is the more prevalent way of talking about things (as you say, our identity in Christ hs priority).

    b. Hence the 'don't look at yourself, look at Jesus' is fine so long as it is tied up with union with Christ. Which does give us a new identity and allow us (as the NT does) to use language of 'I once was x, but now I am y.'

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  8. Two dangers that influence all of this.

    1. Treating theology, personal identity, nature of God etc, as a mathematical subject. This isn't to throw logic away, but it is to realise that in different senses, we can be both saints and sinners at the same time. None of us have an exhaustive account of human anthropology - before or after salvation, so we need to be humble about what we don't know, as well as what we know.

    2. Because we have thrown apologetic preaching out of the window, in favour of rhetorical and emotional preaching, many people now lack a substantial anchor or foundation for their faith. Some turn to miracles, and some turn to fixation, upon one idea or an experience of one idea. Believing that mastering this one idea (even though it might be a true and good idea) will offer either genuine certainty about God, or a deeply transforming experience.

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  9. The answer is more simple than we might think. Simple basic discipleship to Jesus is the pathway of spiritual formation and growth. Part of this is to begin to see myself as clean and having received God's righteousness (no longer a sinner), and part of it means being realistic about the sin that is still here (still a sinner).

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  10. Tom,

    Nice to have you here again.

    New heart, same old flesh.... and as much humility as possible, sounds good.

    Granted some have thrown out apologetics... not all have or had done. And Bethinking is making a difference.

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  11. On the continued appropriateness of believers referring to themselves as sinners or being referred to by apostles as sinners, Galatians 2:17-18 James 4:8-10 are surely relevant here.

    Besides which Terry uses some qualifying words such as "essentially still sinners" and "essentially a sinner" and "essentially sinners" and "fundamentally still a sinner," which is not the same as the simple description of a believer as a "sinner" which, as has been pointed out, Paul is quite happy still to use of himself when he's on the last lap of his race (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

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  12. Sadly in this age of conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil I do, but I sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it – not as a sinner with all the inevitability that that suggests.


    I think this is a fairly confusing statement at best. I'm not sure that the constant qualifiers of 'essentially' clearly delineate a biblical category. In this life, we are not able not to sin, and so in that sense it is 'inevitable'

    Secondly, I think the danger is that Romans 7 is then read entirely in the past sense - rather than the reality of the struggle against sin in this life.

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  13. I think Terry provides a really helpful corrective. I wrestled a lot with this topic and it even recently stirred me to re-write one of the lines of a song which I then had to subsequently re-record the vocals for.

    I have to say that even though, by God’s grace, I am increasingly aware of my own tendency towards sin – of the depth and pervasiveness of it - I am also becoming increasingly aware of the New Testament emphasis of who I really am now in Christ.

    We are called, no commanded, to line up are thinking on this. It doesn’t get any clearer than Romans 6:11, "consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." I am dead to sin. When I start aligning my thinking with what the Bible teaches – rather than what I feel like or my experience – then I experience a new power to overcome sin. The truth sets me free. The grace of God teaches me to say no.

    Can you imagine the New Testament writers saying "it is inevitable that you will sin". John wrote his letters "that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1). Paul writes, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2). Inevitability carries the sense of hopelessness.

    But when sin comes knocking at my door, it isn't inevitable that I obey its demands. I am no longer its slave. There is always a way of escape. By faith in Christ and by taking hold of the truth of who I now am in Christ, I say no.

    It is sad that we still sin. It is totally inappropriate and out of step with who we are as children of God. This is always how Paul argues. We need to keep coming back to this truth.

    "But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." (Ephesians 5:3-4)

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  14. Yes, and Paul in Romans 7 goes on to say:

    "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members."

    It's our constant awareness of the depth of our own sinfulness that keeps driving us back to the Gospel. The nuance in Pauls treament of sin in Romans 6-8 isn't really captured with language of inevitability - which seems to owe more to pietism than anything else.

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  15. Just a random thought, I wonder if we hear the respective "saint" or "sinner" vocabulary differently according the tradition was are part of. I think back to my Anglican roots with it's weekly insistence that you cannot come to God (in the structure of the worship service) until after you have completed an act of confession and absolution. It seems to me that this emphasises every week the status of the Christian as essentially sinner. Bound, each and every week, to fall out of grace into a "worthless worm" state from which we need weekly rescue.

    For me I think this weakens a sense of the once for all complete work of Christ and seems to suggest my status alters according to my sin rather than being secure and unassailable because of the imputed righteousness and finished work of Christ.

    This is why I think the "saint" category is primary over the "sinner" category. At the end of the day it says that the supreme factor in my identity is Christ's righteousness not my sinfulness. Clearly confession and repentance are helpful and biblical but we need to find ways to do it that don't leave people believing that the once for all sacrifice of Christ has achieved less for them than it actually has

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  16. Chris e,
    So, are Christians still slaves to sin then?

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  17. Hi Marcus, I agree on the 'supreme factor' comment you make. I'd make one small change though and widen it to union with Christ (of which imputed righteousness is a very important part), since this brings regeneration and positional sanctification into play in my identity too (I am a new creation, I am a Saint).

    As an aside, I think you were liturgically misled during your Anglican roots. We confess not in order to approach but because that's what approaching is. We're stood in the grace-light - what better place and better reason to confess our sin? That's part of the difference between gospel repentance and legalistic repentance, as I understand things.

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  18. No - we aren't slaves to sin, or in bondage to sin. However, on this side of the eschaton we will never be completely from the influence of sin - which is why all of life for Christians is characterised by repentance and which is why

    So I'd have less of a problem with the Anglican Order of Service - if administered properly, it would seem to call people to repentance before proclaiming the Gospel over them - and thus reminding them again of the grounds on which they are able to worship.

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  19. The reason I ask is that I think that's probably a part of what Terry is saying when he says we aren't essentially sinners anymore, and when he talks about sin no longer being inevitable in the way it is for an unbeliever. We can fit together no longer being under sin as a slave-master and yet it still being true that sin will remain until Christ returns, can't we?

    Yeah, I don't have a problem with the Anglican Order of Service either, per se.

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  20. Yes - except that the way he states it is in opposition to the anecdotes he relates earlier:

    "After one of my previously mentioned sermons, a handsome young man approached me with, ‘Surely we are essentially still sinners aren’t we?’ He then began literally shedding tears and confessed to serious problems in the realm of sexual temptation."

    Yes, there is the sense in which all of us sin to the extent that we don't fully understand the Gospel. But in this life we'll never be fully immune from sin (I'm assuming that there was more than just temptation going on).

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  21. I think I see what you're saying, but not sure it follows from Terry's actual post. Read as a whole it's clear he isn't saying that we will be immune from sin.

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  22. My spirit is righteous, my flesh is fallen, my mind is being renewed.

    Ultimately I'm in Christ but this stuff that sticks to my bones is straight from Adam. Who will save me from this body of death?

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  23. Reading the article, I don't get any sense of the struggle with sin encapsulated in Romans 7.

    "The young man seemed surprised, maybe expecting the answer, ‘Well of course we do still struggle with sin because essentially we are still sinners.’ Paul did not take that line!"

    Is ambiguous at best.

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  24. I'm pretty sure Terry Virgo does not think Romans 7 describes the Christian's experience, which may account for some of the difference of opinion here.

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  25. Chris e, I think Terry wouldn't view Romans 7 as being about the believer. So, for him, the Romans 7 type struggle with sin is not to be the believer's lot.

    That said, I think he quite clearly is not teaching a form of perfectionism.

    Personally speaking, still undecided on Romans 7. But whatever way it is interpreted, it is not the whole picture. Even if it is normative, it is only part of the picture, the rest of the picture being found in romans 6 and 8. There we get the expectation of progress and a certain level of victory over indwelling sin. The struggle is a reality, but struggle is not enslavement, and, in as much as that's what Terry means by sin not being 'inevitable' then I agree with him.

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  26. Anyway, Bish, time for you to wade in and give us all some clarity. He's your apostle after all isn't he? ;-) Plus you're, like, well kosher cos you're part of UCCF and all that. ;-)

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  27. Always nice to be able to ask a Greek scholar...

    "hamartia, sin, is an organic disease that we all inherit from the Fall. It is the stte into which we are born and it affects (part of) all we do and are. Hamartiai, plural, are the sins which spring from this condition. Paul in Romans 5-8 sees four great monsters from the old aion or age - law, sin,wrath and death. Redemption is from these, proleptically now, fully later!"

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  28. Even with an alternate reading of Romans 7, the problem is that the bit I quoted groups together both the 'struggle' and 'essentially a sinner' (again not a particularly clear term), and seems to oppose both.

    Pete, are you really saying that a Christian experiences a less intensive struggle against sin than a non-Christian.

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  29. Chris e, thanks for your reply

    No, actually the opposite. Though I think what's been meant by struggle in Terry's illustration is what might be part of the misunderstanding here.

    I take it that the fact that a Christian struggles with sin is precisely because they are no longer 'essentially' a sinner. They are not of the flesh but of the Spirit and as such have an obligation not to the flesh but to the Spirit, by whom they are led into open warfare with sin (though warfare based on, flowing out from, rooted in, christ's definitive victory over and dealing with their sin).

    A non-Christian doesn't 'struggle' with sin at all, they love it, it's who they are. They might have some sort of guilt because of common grace/ a conscience informed by a christian heritage/ not being as depraved as they possible could be. But, the main way they relate to the dominant sins in their life is to give in without a struggle, often not even realsiing that a fight is needed. they offer their members willingly to unrighteousness, gladly at times accepting the slavery of the master they love.

    I think it's that sense of an inescapable enslavement and therefore capitulation to sin that Terry has got in mind when he talks about Christians not sinning like sinners sin. The struggle is what makes all the difference.

    So I take his understanding of the young man's struggle to be about continued persistent failure with regard to the fight against sin, which failure he'd come to see as something he was pretty much powerless in the face of. Often when people use the 'I struggle with sin x' language it doesn't mean that they are really all that engaged in an active fight with it, but rather that they keep on committing it, although they do feel bad about it on some level.

    So, yes the Christian struggles. Only the Christian struggles in fact. And that's precisely because of Terry's major point - at a fundamental level we are something different to what we were outside of Christ.

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  30. Might help to point out that I said above in my original comment that I'm fine about (happier than TV perhaps seems to be, though you'd have to ask him) using the language of 'sinner' about a christian, and I have and do use the language that way, as the apostle Paul does about himself in 1Tim. I think Martin's comment about TV's qualifications as 'essentially' and 'fundamentally' what our identity is are the crux of this whole thing.

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  31. Pete, your comment above is very helpful when you say "Often when people use the 'I struggle with sin x' language it doesn't mean that they are really all that engaged in an active fight with it..." Christians will very often use the category of sinner as an excuse to sin. This is the danger of viewing ourselves as sinners, is that we inevitably give in without a fight.

    Christians who are believing the gospel struggle and fight against sin, and by faith conquer it. Our experience should be that we are winning the fight against sin, more than we are losing!

    And I know what it's like to feel like you're losing more than you're winning! The breakthrough for me always comes when I understand this very issue of grace and who I now am in Christ. When I realise I am not powerless against sin, when I realise I am no longer "esentially" a sinner, then I walk in the light of that. I realise I REALLY can conquer in Christ, not just in theory.

    I personally do not believe Romans 7 to be describing the normative experience of a Christian. It doesn't line up at all with what Paul says in Romans 6 and 8, and elsewhere in Galatians for example, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh". Obviously Romans 7 is a big debate, but I think it is key to understanding TV's position as Mark H said.

    Chris e I don't understand what you mean when you say "call people to repentance before proclaiming the Gospel over them". What is your definition of repentance? If it is turning away from my sin and looking to Christ by faith, no-one who doesn't already believe the gospel will ever repent. We proclaim the gospel to people, and repentance will follow. I find Tim Keller & Tim Chester very helpful on faith and repentance.

    "Only when we turn away from looking at our sin to look at the face of God, to find his pardoning grace, do we begin to repent. Only by seeing that there is grace and forgiveness with him would we ever dare to repent and thus return to the fellowship and presence of the Father... Only when grace appears on the horizon offering forgiveness will the sunshine of the love of God melt our hearts and draw us back to him." (Sinclair Ferguson)

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  32. Hainsey -

    Maybe I wasn't clear enough; when done in the context of a service the confession/assurance cycle looks something like: Christians repent in the full knowledge of both their sin and the promises of the gospel. Followed by the minister re-iterating the promises of God to forgive all who truly repent. Because whatever we understand on a cognitive level, the sin in our life can sometimes loom larger than the promises of God's grace - and it is useful to be reminded of the fact that God's grace abounds more than our sin.

    Incidentally, both Redeemer and First Pres Columbia (where Sinclair Ferguson ministers) use the confession/assurance/absolution as part of their order of service - and have taught on why it's necessary/included.

    I don't think it's necessary to take a particular reading of Romans 7 to find the original post either misleading or confusing. Perhaps TV was re-acting to a misunderstood articulation of simul justus et peccator within NFI circles.

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  33. To throw another perspective into the mix, to me the 'not a sinner anymore' type language very easily sounds like a theology of glory. Already we have arrived! Already we are rich! I'm not sure it takes the cross seriously enough as the conditioning factor of our lives right now. It feels to me like an attempt to be in the eschaton, right here, right now. (I hasten to add: I do not at all want to pin all this on Terry, merely to say that it's my reaction to this sort of language).

    I still think I prefer an approach which says 'both sinner and saint', but recognises that this is not some mixture of the two but a distinction between my flesh and my spirit, or my identity in myself and my identity in Christ, or to a certain extent the old me and the new me (better: the passing me, and the coming me).

    But maybe I'm just odd.

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  34. I think you make a very good point Daniel.

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  35. I take your point Daniel. I'd be worried if I thought someone meant it without all the helpful distinctions there in your second paragraph.

    But, I think we can also get too scared of the over-realised ditch on one side of the road that we find ourselves being unable to use the bible's language. For the apostle Paul the same strong 'this is who you are now' kind of language is his theology of the cross - the old us has died. And of course, he uses it to say exactly the sort of distinctions that are there in your second paragraph. And of course, he will use the language of sinner of himself as well at other times. But still, there's strong 'no longer this but that' language in many a place, and we need to embrace this language (in context) as a means of our sanctification and count it to be true of us.

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  36. So we live from grace, rather than risking earning, or "saying thanks" for it?

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  37. Not sure I get your question/ comment, Tom. Any chance you could explain/ expand? Sure it's both profound and obvious and I'm just bein' dumb.

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  38. Yes Daniel explains it very well - though he's just setting out the standard Reformed doctrine of simul justus et peccator, along with the Reformed take on santification proceeding by both mortification and vivification.

    IMO sometimes being a movement led by auto-didacts is a handicap.

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  39. "IMO sometimes being a movement led by auto-didacts is a handicap."

    Eh? Do you mean Newfrontiers? Terry studied theology at Spurgeons, besides which if we don't learn together in the local church then where will anyone learn... We learn from one another, as is true of everyone.

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  40. I think there is a real danger in what Terry is saying: seeing God's grace as a one-off, done and given thing that changes our status, now let's bring on holiness.

    I mean really - is Terry saying the Christian should not approach God saying "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner?"

    I do think the way to keep living as a Christian is to see myself as constantly in need of God's undeserved kindness. If having to think of myself as a sinner is part of that - so be it.

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  41. I think he's very clearly saying that we start and continue in the same grace, and that that grace that saved us actually did something in us (made us saints) and we now live in the application and reality of that, by the very same grace.

    Its interesting, Mo, this comes through very clearly in session 1 of our "joining the church" course... and I have never felt so much like I was at Relay 1 in a church context as I did attending that. Probably quite embarrassingly beaming to be reminded again and again that it's all all all grace.

    Curiously the danger you mention is one that Terry might suggest is lacking in the alternate situation, where the people he speaks of in the article say "sure I'm saved by grace, and now I work hard against my sin but remain totally stuck in it..."

    Rather, since by the grace of God I died with Christ and rose with him, let me go on living a cruciform-resurrection life by the same grace of God, never moving from it - not chiefly because I'm a sinner (or I might say, a saint), but because my life is now "in Christ".

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  42. Dave - re your first paragraph, in this article, I'm not sure he is saying that "very clearly" at all, although I agree he does say it clearly in God's Lavish Grace.

    I also have no doubt that it comes through in your church course - after all NF is very diverse.

    But I think Terry is over-egging the pudding here in terms of one of the connections between God's grace and our behaviour in the NT. One is certainly the power to defy sin that comes from a new status. Another is, surely, a humility towards God and others because the Gospel tells me I am sinful.

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  43. It is an article to deal with a particular objection rather than to state some kind of fully-orbed theology of how to live the Christian life (which as you say is laid out in more detail in God's Lavish Grace).

    Shouldn't I have humility not just because of my sinful flesh but more so because of who God is - I think that's part of the point here. The cross is brilliant not just because it deals with my sinfulness but also in reference to God.
    "I don’t always have to bring me into the picture!"
    There is a self-forgetful God-centredness here.

    I think it's helpful to be honest about what the gospel has achieved in making us new, as well us the tragic remaining of sin in our flesh - the more I see who I've become I see how awful and wretched any sin is. Best of all my identity as a Christian is found in reference to Christ - it is found in my union with him, which if anything is what I'd love to see a little more of in the article.

    All movements are diverse.

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  44. The NFI self-identifies as a Reformed movement, so it's only natural to be able to expect its leaders to be able to articulate the Reformed theology of sanctification.

    Seriously offtopic, but:

    My impression is that TV is not a 'details guy' - which is fine, but formal training seems to be the exception rather than the rule in terms of the people who along with TV oversee the movement, and this is more pronounced in terms of the average church leader (absent a few of the Baptist Churches that have joined the movement).

    Self education is fine, as is self educators teaching each other - but doesn't provide an outside corrective, nor does it ensure comprehensiveness.

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  45. Chris,

    ..."the Reformed theology of sanctification" being? who gets to decide or define everything... Plenty of definitions of reformed out there - plenty of which seem deeply offended that a charismatic movement would want to be associated with the label... and a baptistic one at that!

    There is a four year part-time training programme in newfrontiers, by Terry's own admission this wasn't always something the movement addressed from it's beginning, but has been in place now for sometime. This combines rigorous study with remaining in a local church context which seems fairly healthy to me.

    What I find very encouraging is the way that newfrontiers, not uniquely, takes outside corrective and input often. It's normal to find speakers outside of it's own position on the platform at leaders conferences, and when one looks at the books commended by leaders in the movement it's evident that there is reasonably wide-range of reading going on.

    None of which is to say that Terry is right on everything or that newfrontiers doesn't have much to learn and change in, but equally I do think he's got a point on this issue.

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  46. Dave - humble before God - ok I can see that. But why would I be humble before other people unless the Gospel is telling me I am likely to be making mistakes (rather than simply empowered not to make mistakes any more)?

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  47. Humble before God but proud before people would be a bit contradictory though wouldn't it? Knowing he came to give himself not to be served but to serve surely humbles me in both ways, doesn't it? As in Mark 10 with James & John's pursuit of human greatness...

    I'm not sure that knowing I'm now a saint and a new creation makes me think I'm not going to make any mistakes... any more than being an apostle made Peter unable to sin.

    I'm a saint this side of Jesus' return so tragically I will still sin, even though I don't have to, which makes it all the worse.

    I'm a saint after the cross - I know what I was, I know what I deserve and what Jesus has done for me. I'm humbled by what he has done and longing for what his return will complete.

    A saint comes boldly in Christ's name to the world and. like Christ, approaches others as servant of all. And then this saint struggles to break the ingrained habits of sin, of self-righteousness, of self-promotion, of self-advancement and so on, and when brothers and sisters call him on it, hopefully he repents and rests in the reality of what God has in Christ done for him.

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  48. Though this discussion looks like it still has steam I wonder if throwing in another pair of identity markers might help:

    Are we sons or slaves of God? from Mark Heath - http://www.wordandspirit.co.uk/blog/2010/01/14/slaves-or-sons/

    Do we get into trouble theologically when we play off the many different axes of God's relationship with us against one another? Pastorally, do we have an issue if, as individuals, we relate very strong to one over another? For example: A slaves of God over against a son, or a sinner over against a saint?

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  49. I see how it SHOULD work Dave. But does it?

    Without the conviction that my own sinful heart has NOT been done away with, and that still certainly in the bit of me that feels and thinks of others I aAM sinful, I think what I have found is people's approach being "I cannot be wrong as I have humbled myself, died with Christ, been filled with the Spirit. You must be wrong."

    I remember a wise pastor saying once to a rather cocky student who took this line "you must trust your heart far more than I trust mine".

    To which the student replied "of course I do. God gave me a new heart when I died with Christ. My heart has been made that of a saint".

    To ask a different question - do the responses to God's holiness seen in Isaiah 6 or in the Parable of the Pharisee and tax collector have only evangelistic applications? Should they never be the response of a Christian confronted with a holy God?

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  50. Undercover,

    Did you see my comment (much earlier) about treating theology as a mathematical subject?

    I think that ultimately our conversation is limited by our own conceptual ability, this isn't a permanent thing, and it doesn't mean that we can't know anything.

    Many people want this to be an either/or, and I can't help feeling that they select texts that work for their case, ignoring those that complicate things with a tension or complexity.

    Mo,

    Can I see you arguing from consequences?

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  51. I've not had time to read all comments in detail but I've had a quick flick through.

    I guess the key issue here is the "fundamentally still a sinner" bit. And definition is usually a problem; so I guess it depends what one means by "fundamentally still a sinner". If it means one whose primary identity is in their hostility against God and their deadness in sin, then I think we'd have to say that this is no longer true of the Christian. However if it just means "someone who sins" then we'd have to say 'of course Christians are sinners'. I guess this is what we mean by 'simul justus et peccator'.
    As a Christian, I can come to the Lord as one who WAS dead in trespasses and sins but IS now alive with Christ, but I can still confess to being a sinner by virtue of the fact that is the noun used for the subject of the verb 'to sin', and that certainly applies to me.

    Here, I usually find what Calvin had to say in his commentary on Romans 4:20 quite helpful:

    "All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true."

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  52. Just as a point of detail, Terry did a degree at London Bible School (as it then was), not Spurgeons, and he is by no means the only leader in Newfrontiers who has received formal training. For example, the four core members of the Theology Forum (a group which helps examine theological issues on behalf of the Newfrontiers leadership team) have between them a theology degree from Cambridge, and another from Spurgeons, two masters degrees from the London School of Theology, another masters from King's College, London, and postgrad experience at Westminster Seminary. There are also a not insignificant number of people within the movement who have theology degrees and postgrad qualifications, and others are now engaged in or considering doctoral level studies.

    Just sayin'!

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  53. Oops. Sorry Matt, should have got that detail right. Helpful to have your insight and better knowledge than mine.

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  54. Tom,

    Yes. I think it's not only useful but necessary to argue from consequences in pastoral theology.

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  55. Mo - which is why if I wanted to teach a strong view of 'new creation' and 'new identity' etc in a Christian I think you have to do it within Biblical context. I.e. Galatians gives you the kind of stuff we're talking about here but is very strong on sin in chapter 5 which helps engage the potentially wrong consequences.

    Danger is that we say, I won't teach grace or who we really are because then people will think sin is ok or that they don't have to take sin seriously... I think we have to take the risk, and teach people well enough that they get what is and isn't being said by "you're a saint"

    The issue Terry is really engaging is people who've been told "you're a sinner" and been left in despair or resignation to that... those consequences are pretty ugly too.

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  56. "The issue Terry is really engaging is people who've been told "you're a sinner" and been left in despair or resignation to that... those consequences are pretty ugly too."

    That's the way I see it here too.

    And, as has been said above several times, it's not as if there aren't qualifications in what he's saying (essentially/ fundamentally etc.).

    I'm all for the whole simulus justus et peccator thing, properly understood. Likewise, Terry's statements are not necessarily at odds with it either, imho.

    (Related but tangential point: this whole conversation is a great example of why we need systematic theology, and why we need the tools of reformed scholasticism in particular - it all hinges on asking and answering the 'in what sense?' type of question about what people have said and about what scripture says)

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  57. As often, this seems to be a case of eschatology. How much does my saintliness spill into this sinful flesh right now?

    As most of the NT seems to be written to Christians who sin quite a lot, I just can't buy that it is as simple as "you can stop sinning. now stop".

    My other issue is that I don't find someone weeping over their sin to be an "ugly" pastoral consequence - which is, after all, the way that the article began.

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  58. Weeping over sin is clearly not ugly - I wish sin was more grievous to me, repentance is a beautiful work of God's grace.

    I guess despair in sin is the problem and is the ugliness, if I'm sinning and thinking I'm stuck in it without hope of change and growth and progress.

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  59. Agreed.

    But what is progress? Is that "stopping sinning?" Or is it feeling MORE sinful and seeing Christ's grace more and throwing myself more and more on Christ?

    I'm sorry if I'm being unclear, I'm not trying to be facetious. But I guess what bothers me about this article that I would never give the advice that Terry gave to the guy in the story. Weeping over our sin, despairing of ourselves even - I'm not sure that is a bad place to be as a Christian.

    Incidentally, this blog works much better on Chrome than it does on IE or Firefox. Interestingly.

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  60. Mo, remember that TV's advice was not the desperately terrible characterisation you gave above as 'you can stop sinning. stop now.' He went to Romans 6 with him. Romans 6 is about throwing myself more and more on Christ is it not?

    That said, when you say:

    'But what is progress? Is that "stopping sinning?" Or is it feeling MORE sinful and seeing Christ's grace more and throwing myself more and more on Christ?'

    it could sound like you think the gospel offers forgiveness and that's all. So growth in the gospel and in grace is growth in reception of and recognition of need for forgiveness? I'm sure that's not what you meant, but where's the concept of growth in holiness, of mortifying the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit of God who is in us, of being transformed from glory to glory (inwardly, while outwardly we wear away) after the image of Christ, of having out on the new man which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator?

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  61. Mo - I use Chrome so I've probably inadvertantly made it work better on this.

    Progress does mean feeling sin more, does mean knowing who I now am more, mortifying my sin because it no longer belongs, and it definitely means making much much much much much more of what Christ has done.

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  62. Pete,

    Your second para is a good one. And it gets to the heart of the issue here. Growth is, I think, glorying in Christ, displaying his glory, making much of him to borrow from Piper. The question is really, what is the dynamic of that? Does it mean taking Biblical passages like Romans 6, finding behaviours I least like and fighting them?

    I don't think it can be boiled down to - you can defeat this sin by depending more on Jesus. It's seeing the greatness of Jesus suffuse every area of my life in every way - which will happen more and more as I see my sin.

    I guess what I am saying that I don't think you can use Romans 6 as a how to to deal with a particular sinful behaviour: you can say that the direction of your life will change Christ-wards as your life is found in him. But whether that means that the guy can take Romans 6 and defeat a particular behaviour that he feels bad about - well, I dunno. It may be that battling this sin, hating it, running to Christ will be his pattern for a long time. If it is - isn't that growth? Should he be sent off with Romans 6 as a way to isolate and stop that particular behaviour?

    Sorry about that "stop sinning" thing. I guess it came up because I was at one of the talks mentioned above and Terry did actually say that. But not fair to quote something he didn't say in the article.

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  63. came across an interesting quote from Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Beyond Doubt (p. 89) on Justin Taylor's blog:

    People tend to make two mistakes when they think about the redeemed life.

    The first is to underestimate the sin that remains in us; it’s still there and it can still hurt us.

    The second is to underestimate the strength of God’s grace; God is determined to make us new.

    As a result, all Christians need to say two things.

    We admit that we are redeemed sinners.

    But we also say boldly and joyously that we are redeemed sinners.

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  64. Mo,

    I did try to post a long reply, including highlighting all the ways in which Romans 6 offers, promises, and challenges us to pursue actual change in behaviour away from repeated habitual sin towards producing the fruit of righteousness.

    But it got lost somewhere in cyberspace. Ah well. God's providence and all that. Anyway, I'm sure you get the point and can read Roamns 6 for yourself anyway.

    The basic thing I was trying to say was that Romans 6 is actually a great place to go to with people suffering from feeling enslaved to sin, and especially those who feel that, even now they are in Christ, they are left largely helpless in the face of temptation to sin.

    Your last paragraph makes me think you're working from other knowledge and experience of TV, which I completely lack, having never come under his ministry or met him. Fair enough to interpret someone in the light of other aspects of their teaching, but since I lack any experience of this I can't really comment. As far as I could tell, his comments in the article as they stand seem to be a good corrective of a certain kind of conservative evangelical defeatism which is not the whole story everywhere by any means, but which is still a sometimes real and sad reality.

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  65. ..."the Reformed theology of sanctification" being? who gets to decide or define everything... Plenty of definitions of reformed out there


    Well, the Reformed have confessions of faith - so it's not simply a case of "Reformed means exactly what I say it does, neither more, nor less" (with apologies to Lewis Carroll) - the WCF, the three forms of unity and the various London Baptist Confessions are remarkably
    uniform on santification.


    plenty of which seem deeply offended that a charismatic movement would want to be associated with the label... and a baptistic one at that!


    Though it doesn't require much theological acumen to realise that characterising paedobaptists as "unregenerate bishops baptising unregenerate babies" (quoted from the recent NFI magazine), is as offensive to the mythical other side that is taking offense to you.

    In my opinion, if the NFI gets more criticism in this regard than Piper or Driscoll's churches (both of whom also claim to be Reformed), it is more down to the fact that their rapid growth in the UK means that they absorb lots of people from "non-reformed" charismatic churches, who aren't really taught properly. Along with the fact that the whole idea of an 'apostolic word' (accompanied by an appropriate proof text) being able to trump scriptural reasoning seems to smack more of Roman Catholic than Protestant Ecclesiology.

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  66. All churches absorb people from other churches, though we'd all like to think growth is more from people becoming Christians... whether or not those Christians were well taught before isn't exactly a fault of the receiving church?
    I don't see newfrontiers getting any more criticism than anyone else really.

    Likewise, I see no evidence of something being said by an apostle being allowed to trump scripture... that Terry might challenge a historic reformed confession isn't the same as trumping scripture is it?

    We all take ourselves very seriously don't we.

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  67. 'We all take ourselves very seriously don't we.'

    Bish, don't know whether you meant/ intended/ saw this, but that last statement of yours in an excellent place for this discussion to finish isn't it? We all need to take ourselves (considered in ourselves alone, as opposed to as we really are, in union with Christ, in other words, us as lost and hopeless and alone and far away from God) a lot less 'seriously' (don't let your old man get you down, or make you think you can't change - he's dead, and so he should be) and Christ a whole lot more seriously. That's where we'll see

    a. Our constant need of grace (we are sinners - people who are only righteous by an alien righteousness, only forgiven by the applied blood of the unblemished lamb, only holy by sharing in his holiness. We will never not need christ and all that he is)
    b. God's constant supply of that very grace we need (we are justified, we are being sanctified, we will be glorified).

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  68. Likewise, I see no evidence of something being said by an apostle being allowed to trump scripture... that Terry might challenge a historic reformed confession isn't the same as trumping scripture is it?


    Of course it isn't and I never claimed it was, the first was in response to your claim of criticism and the second regarding the original article [Though it might raise questions on why the NFI as a movement wants to call itself 'Reformed].

    Here's the problem; I don't see how TVs view above can lead to helpful and scriptural answers to people in certain circumstances; amongst them Christians who are struggling with addictive behaviour and/or Christians going through a dark night of the soul.

    It seems to me that such an approach taken to its logical conclusion would accuse people in those situations of either lacking faith or malingering - because at its root it claims that Christians can't suffer from either - unless of course 'they aren't trying hard enough'.

    But the solution for people in these situations always lies outside themselves. The same alien righteousness that was sufficient to justify is also sufficient to sanctify:

    "This alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone — while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ — is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone. Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow. For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death."

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  69. Chris,

    You ask, how can this lead to helpful pastoral situations..

    There's nothing here that is going to tell someone to try harder - nothing could be less reformed than that kind of pastoral care. I hear none of that in what Terry writes here. Terry is saying the answer is outside of us - of course! - our flesh remains engrained in sin, but our heart is new (BY THE GOSPEL!) and so as we look upward and away from ourselves to the cross we know freedom from our sin. As Terry took those students to the scriptures that speak of what has been accomplished in the gospel he is directing us away from ourselves and to faith in Christ, not for quantity of faith (again, that'd be very unreformed) but to fix our hearts on the object of our faith, namely the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Seems to me, from my limited (non-theological degree training) that what Terry is teaching is very much in the line of Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Sibbes, who expect that our new heart means change as our affections are won to the gospel, to the beauty of Christ. And we don't have to use our freedom to indulge the sinful flesh but instead to love (Galatians 5).

    And yes then Christ is daily driving our the old Adam - but something real has happened in salvation, I have been born again, I have been made new, I have been given the Holy Spirit, I have been adopted, I do have a new heart... though I don't yet live like it all the time, though it doesn't always feel like that, though I still sin - my sin is normal enough to my dead flesh but it really is alien to my heart, and thus alien to me.

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  70. hamartōlos - sinner

    Thayer Definition:
    1) devoted to sin, a sinner 1a) not free from sin 1b) pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked.

    From the standpoint of Jesus, a person was a sinner as long as he or she remained opposed to the will of God. (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels).

    Sinners is a term used in Scripture only of the unregenerate - John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 250.

    Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

    1 Peter 4:18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

    Luke 6:32-34 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

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