Father in Heaven,
In Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus uses the term "sinner" four times in three consecutive verses. Each time the term is clearly used to refer to those outside the circle of his disciples: "...even sinners love those who love them...even sinners do the same...Even sinners lend to sinners..." (Luke 6:32-34). In context, Father, there is no question that "sinner" is essentially a synonym for "unbeliever". But that's not all. This is not merely the testimony of a handful of verses in Luke's Gospel. This is also the overwhelming witness of Holy Scripture from Old Testament to New. From the men of Sodom (Genesis 13:13) to the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:18), to the wicked throughout the Psalms (1:1, 5; 25:8; 26:9; 51:13; 104:35) and Proverbs (1:8, 10; 11:31; 13:21, 22; 14:21; 23:17) and Ecclesiates (2:26; 7:26; 8:12; 9:2, 18) as well as the prophets (Isaiah 1:28; 13:9; 33:14; 65:20; Amos 9:10) - even straight through the New Testament (Matthew 26:45; Mark 14:41; Galatians 2:15, 17; 1 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 7:26; 12:3; 1 Peter 4:18; Jude 15) Lord God, this word - "sinner" - is consistently and undeniably used to speak of those outside the covenant community...the vast majority of the time, "sinner" is a word synonymous with "unbeliever". Now to be sure, Lord Jesus, you ate with sinners (Matthew 9:10, 11; 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:32; 7:37, 39; 15:1; 19:7), and called sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32; 15:7, 10; 18:13)...you befriended, loved, taught, suffered and died for sinners. But of this we can be sure...your death and resurrection for sinners served a purpose so deep it wrought an identity change - in union with you, Lord Christ - "sinners" become "saints".
Now surely, Lord, I don't mean to say that we Christians don't sin. Nor do I intend to indicate that we are not indwelt by sin every day of our lives in some measure until we go to be with you or you come to be with us. The Apostle John reminds us that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Nevertheless, the word "sinner" is simply not an identity that befits a person united to Christ by grace through faith. In fact, it is debatable as to whether there's ever a single clear cut and unambiguous reference in the entire Bible to a Christian as a "sinner". Even in the one place where Paul calls himself the "foremost" of sinners, he immediately qualifies it with a past tense expression of your mercy toward him when he was a sinner (1 Timothy 1:15-16). On the other hand, Paul uses "saint" for himself and other believers no less than 40 times. Every single church he writes to, without fail, are called "saints" not "sinners".
So, great God in Heaven, hear my prayer for the saints of Mound Evangelical Free Church - "called to be saints" (Romans 1:7), saints "in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:1). Though we are saints with indwelling sin and saints who sin, grant that we would not ever give over to the identity of "sinner". This word does not define our allegience, and we are so incredibly greatful for it. In Christ, "sinner" is not who we are anymore. Help us to put our sin to death. Each day giving it new wounds as we turn from the empty husks of this world in favor of the rich fare of promises you offer us in the gospel. We praise you for your pardon of our sins and power for obedience. Come, Holy Spirit, and so fill us -fill every room, corridor, and space in our souls - so that we leave less and less room for sin.
In Jesus' Name,
"You need to judge in your church and your small group...when [you]...say 'we're all sinners' are they hearing 'that's our fundamental identity that trumps saint'...if that's what they're hearing, you should probably stop saying it and say 'we are saints who sin'. We are new creations who are gnawed at by this old man who wants to be pulling himself off the cross again and again. We need to reckon that sinful self dead instead of honoring him by giving him a nice name that I carry around called 'sinner'."
-John Piper, "Panel Discussion" at "The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union With Christ" - Desiring God Conference for Pastors. February 6, 2014. www.desiringgod.org. Accessed 10:45pm. 10-25-14.