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Saint or Sinner?: Our True Identity in Christ

by David A. DePra

     Most Christians, when they think about their relationship with God,

think about their conduct and works. Perhaps later, they think about

their identity in Christ. But many of us never see the relationship

between the two. And the Truth is, unless we do, we are going to

have trouble walking in the freedom God gives us through His Son,

Jesus Christ.

     According to the Bible, there are two classifications of people in

this world, or we could say, two identities: Sinner or saint. The

sinner is the unbeliever. He is born in Adam. He has no salvation.

But the saint has put his faith in Christ. He is born again in Jesus.

He has received eternal life, by grace through faith.

     There are NO other spiritual groups. I am either SAINT or I am

a SINNER. I either believe or I don't. I am either a NEW creation

in Christ, or I am still an old creation in Adam. There is simply no

middle ground here. And we need to understand this or we are

never going to grasp the finality of what God has done for us in

Christ Jesus.

Not by Works

     Christians have a way of establishing WHO they are before God.

And it is a totally unbiblical way. One hundred percent contrary to

the Truth. How does this usually work?

     What we usually do is this: We sin or fail in some way. Then we

take that failure and hold it up as "proof" that we are NOT a real

Christian. We say to ourselves, "Surely, a real Christian would not

have such troubles. There must be something wrong with me."

Then we add to that the assumption that God feels the same way.

After all, if we are upset with our sin, just think about how mad God

must be with us! And thus, the cycle of fear, condemnation, and

torment goes on. For some of us, it can last for years.

     There is, of course, another group. This group doesn't pay much

attention to their sins and failures. What they do is take their

success, "obedience," and "law-keeping," and hold it up as "proof"

that they are the genuine article. They say to themselves, "Surely,

my works prove that I am a real Christian. I am living exactly the

way a Christian is supposed to live. Everything must be alright with

me." And just as is the case with those who do the opposite, this

group somehow convinces themselves that however THEY feel

about themselves must be the way God feels.

     Now, none of us actually say these words to ourselves so clearly.

No. But this kind of routine goes on inside of us regardless. We

go through the day, doing "our best" to obey God. And when the

day is done, we gather up our performance and from THAT decide

our identity. If we have obeyed God and done good works, we are

a "saint." If we have failed God, well, then we are a "sinner." In

effect, many of us use OUR WORKS to determine our identity

before God.

     The shocking fact is, our works do not determine our identity.

Indeed, our works have nothing to do in determining our identity at

all. Rather -- HIS work determines our identity. The finished work

of Jesus Christ determines who we are before God.

     Our identity in Jesus Christ is never determined by anything we

DO.  It is determined -- once for all -- by whether we BELIEVE. When

we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are a new creation. We have

a NEW identity. And this is never done by works. It is done by

God's grace, through our faith.

Identity and Works

     Many of us get "the cart before the horse." We think the way we

act determines who we are. This is not so. Rather, who we are

determines how we act. It works this way both in the natural realm,

and in the spiritual realm.

     And it only makes sense. You cannot change what you are by

works. It does not matter how hard you try. You are what you are.

The most well-behaved person on this planet, without Christ, is

simply a well-behaved sinner. "Good" flesh. And the most wicked

criminal on this planet is simply an ill-behaved sinner. This time

"bad" flesh. Without Christ we are sinners. ALL of flesh. The only

question is what version of the flesh, and what manifestation of a

sinner, we are going to be.

     We have to understand this. Sometimes when we look at certain

unbelievers, and see how "nice" they can be, or see the "good

things" they do, we can be deceived into thinking that they must be

Christian. We think that any good behavior must be of God, and

that such works must be a product of a relationship with Him. But

this is not so. It is quite possible, with the right upbringing, and the

right temperament, and the right lot in life, that a person can be the

nicest, most hospitable, giving, caring, and loving human being, yet

not have an ounce of the life of God -- let alone the love of God in


     Do you doubt that? Read what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though

I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me

nothing. (I Cor. 13:3)

     If you read this, you will see that Paul is here making room for the

possibility that someone could do all those wonderful things -- even

to the point of giving their life -- and NOT do it because of the agape

love of God. Rather, they are doing it strictly from the standpoint of

human love.

     Now, don't misunderstand. No one should put down such deeds.

There is nothing wrong, and everything right, about doing good

deeds. But Paul says that even if I do all of that, if I do not do it out

of the love of God, it will profit ME nothing. Note that: It will profit ME

nothing. He isn't saying that it will not profit the recipients of my

giving. No, it will. They ARE receiving.  And that is good.  But ME?

Operating out of human love isn't going to profit me a thing.

     Why? Well, it goes back to my identity. If I am still a sinner, who

has never seen that God loves ME, and consequently, am not

loving others with that same love of God, what good will it -- in the

eternal sense -- profit me to merely love others with a great deal of

human love? In that case, I will be nothing more than a SINNER who

has done lots of good things for people -- yet one who has refused

personal salvation through Jesus Christ.

     Some of us just don't understand that SINNERS are quite

capable of what appear to be GOOD WORKS. Why shouldn't they

be capable of it? SAINTS are capable of BAD WORKS! Again,

our works do NOT determine our identity.

Good and Bad Trees

     The Pharisees believed that good works -- law-keeping -- was

the thing which determined their identity. And they had a pretty

compelling argument. They were "children of Abraham." (Jn. 8:39)

From the standpoint of natural heredity, they were God's people.

This WAS their identity. It was an easy transition for them to make

this mean that they were morally righteous as well. After all, they

were keeping God's law, weren't they?

     God has had a way of getting right to the point on these things.

When the Pharisees said they needed no repentance, "because

they were the children of Abraham," John the Baptist told them:

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. And think not to

say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say

unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto

Abraham. (Matt. 3:9)

     What a statement to make to these proud Pharisees!  Even

THEY had to repent.  Even THEY had to bear fruit which comes

from repentance.

     Paul would later tell us directly who the children of Abraham are:

Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the

children of Abraham. (Gal. 3:7)

     Now ask: What is it, according to Paul, that determines our

identity as one of the "children of Abraham?" Our works? Nope.

Our FAITH.  Again, it is not our works that make us a saint. It is our

faith which makes us one. Why? Because our faith is in HIS work.

Jesus spelled out this Truth about as clearly as it could be said:

Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt

tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,

neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that

brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7:17-20)

    Jesus is talking about false prophets in this passage. But the

principle applies. Our fruit does NOT determine the kind of tree we

are. No. Rather, the kind of tree we are determines the fruit we


     Note that: Jesus IS saying that fruit indicates the kind of tree we

are. You can know the tree by it's fruits. But He is not saying that

fruit MAKES the tree what it is. No. Both the good and bad fruit are

merely the products of the kind of tree that produced them. Again,

everything we produce is because of what we are: Saint or sinner.

But saint or sinner is not produced by those works.

Birth determines Identity

     Of course the question then becomes: What makes a saint or

a sinner what they are? If not works, then what?

The answer is easy: Birth. Birth is ALWAYS what makes us the

KIND of creature we are. I am what I am by birth. My IDENTITY is

always determined by birth. Works can never change this.

     There are any number of examples we can give to illustrate this.

A human is a human. Period. He can't be anything else. The same

goes for a dog, or a cat. A man is a man and a woman is a woman.

This also is by birth. And all the sex change operations, and altered

conduct in the world, cannot change it.

     A human being can be taught to act like an animal, and a man

can be taught to act like a woman. Even dogs can be trained to act

like people. But regardless of works and conduct, nothing in the

of conduct can alter what we really are.

     We are saints through the new birth in Jesus Christ. This is

finished and final -- just as is a natural birth finished and final. You

cannot do bad works and undo your natural birth. You cannot undo

it through any works at all. So it is spiritually. If we are born again

in Christ, we cannot do anything to change it. We cannot be born

again backwards! This is precisely what salvation is as final as

the Redemption it is based upon.


     We are all familiar with the term "hypocrite." A "hypocrite" is a

person who is different on the inside than he acts on the outside. In

fact, the term originally referred to actors on stage who wore masks.

They ACTED the part they played, but were not really those people.

They were hypocrites. Today the term is fully negative, and refers

to folks who say one thing, but really believe the opposite.

     Note that a "hypocrite" doesn't change who he IS by what he

says. No. In fact, the example of an actor on stage is a good one.

An actor does things and says things -- but isn't really that person.

Nothing he does or says changes his true identity. No. It is all an


     So it is spiritually and morally. I can be a sinner -- living in total

unbelief -- yet do many good works. Or I can be a saint -- with my

faith in Christ -- yet sin every day. Yet in neither case do my works

change my identity. They do not change what I am by birth. A

sinner is what he is by natural birth, in Adam. A saint is what he is

by spiritual birth in Christ. And we did not become a saint by our

works. We became a saint through FAITH.

     The conclusion is inescapable: I am either a SAINT or a

SINNER. I am not half one and half the other. And which ever I am,

I am by birth. It is my true IDENTITY.

Not In-Between

     It might seem silly to have to address the fact that we are either

ALL saint, or ALL sinner, but we must. Too many Christians continue

to live under the notion that they are somewhere in-between. But we

are NOT. You cannot be half-way born again. You must be all the

way born, or not born at all.

     Now, note a distinction here: Our WORKS may very well be

in-between saint and sinner. In fact, if you are a saint, they ARE -- for

you will sin everyday. John says, "If we say we have no sin, we

deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us." (I Jn. 1:8) This verse

can also be stated positively, and be just as true: "If we say we do

sin, we are not deceived, and the Truth IS in us." So a saint DOES

sin. But this doesn't mean he is NOT a saint.

     But wait. Let's not leave this verse too quickly. While it does tell

us that a saint sins, it also tells us what a saint does with his sin: He

admits it. He says, "I have sin." Again, John says, "If we confess

our sin, He is faithful and just to have forgiven our sin, and to have

cleansed us from all unrighteousness." (I Jn. 1:9) A saint not only

confesses his sin -- he does so because he KNOWS that he has

been forgiven and cleansed by the Blood of Jesus Christ.

     Here we see why a saint can sin and still be a saint, but why a

sinner can do good and NOT be a saint.  FAITH.  Faith in Christ.

A saint confesses sin -- but not to "get forgiven." A saint confesses

sin because he knows he IS forgiven. He knows that the death of

Christ was for ALL sin -- all his sin. And he knows that it was ONCE

for all. This, above all else, is WHY he is a saint. A sinner never

does any of this.

     Thus, we see what makes a saint a saint: Faith in Christ. That is

how he became a saint, and that is what he does AS a saint. In fact,

even though a saint will do many good works, his most important

"work" is FAITH.

     Have you ever thought of "faith" as a "work." God calls it exactly


Remembering without ceasing your WORK OF FAITH, and labor

of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight

of God and our Father. (I Thes. 1:3)

Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count

you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his

goodness, and the WORK OF FAITH with power. That the name

of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him,

according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

II Thes 1:11-12

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor

uncircumcision; but faith which works by love. (Gal. 5:6)

     Jesus said that faith was a "work" directly:

Labor not for the meat which perishs, but for that meat which

endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto

you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they to Him,

"What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Jesus

answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that you

believe on him whom He has sent." (Jn. 6:27-29)

     Faith is a "work" in the sense that it is a conscious CHOICE. I can

choose to either believe or not believe. But don't think of believing

in the sense of agreeing that something is true. No. Real faith is

more. It is a moral surrender to the Truth -- indeed, to God Himself.

By faith, I embrace the Truth.

     So a SAINT does many good works as the outcome of the fact

that he is born again. He will WANT to do them. But he will be quite

imperfect, and can be guilty of some bad things. Yet because he IS

a saint -- that is his identity -- he confesses his sin. He points to

Christ as the solution. This is the greatest "work" of a saint: His

faith in Jesus Christ.

     A sinner, however, has no such faith. Now, it is true, that many

people who have no faith in Christ readily "admit they are wrong."

But this is NOT confession of sin or repentance. In fact, it may be

based in a bad thing. Paul says, "For Godly sorrow works

repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the

world worketh death." (II Cor. 7:10)

     The "sorrow of the world" is the only kind of sorrow a sinner is

capable of. It is a sorrow because of the consequences of doing

wrong. But it is NOT sorrow because it IS wrong! And certainly

not sorrow because it was sin against God! No. A sinner is quite

capable of being sorry! But only a saint -- or a sinner who is about

to become a saint -- is capable of Godly sorrow.

     Again -- what I AM produces fruit. Again -- my identity is what it

is because of birth. I am either born a sinner, or born again a saint.

One or the other -- works not withstanding.

The Root of a Saint or Sinner

     As mentioned, a SAINT is one who has been saved "by grace

through faith." He has put his faith and trust, not in his own works, but

in the finished work of Jesus Christ. THAT faith -- and not his works--

is what results in the birth which makes his identity that of a saint.

     Now, the Bible calls us "saints." And in doing so, it uses a Greek

word: Hagios. It is the same word used for HOLY. This "hagios"

word means, "to set apart." It means "to consecrate. To be pure."

Indeed, to be a saint means "to be set apart for God's use." This is

what it means to BE consecrated to God.

     At once we see two things: Being and doing. Hagios is what we

ARE. We ARE set apart for God. We belong to Him. Or, to put it

another way: We derive our identity from Him. We are identified

with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. And why not? We ARE the

"sons of God." That is who we ARE by birth. And there is nothing

that can ever change our identity.

     That is our BEING. But out of that comes DOING. A son of God,

or one who is born again, is going to DO good works. But even

when his works do not agree with his identity -- through sin -- he still

DOES what a saint DOES: Confess it. He confesses sin as the

outcome of his faith in Christ, and pushes ahead, walking in the

forgiveness of Christ. That is every bit as much his identity as is the

good works themselves.

     Once we discover that a SAINT is one who is set apart for God,

and therefore lives for God, this shows us that a SINNER is one who

is not set apart for God. Who IS he set apart for? Well, actually,

himself. He lives for himself.

     Here we see the definition of SIN, wrapped up in how a sinner

lives. Sin, at it's root, is SELF-OWNERSHIP. I belong to myself. I

exercise my right to myself. I am my own god. THAT is sin. It is

most often manifested as pride, but has many guises as to it's

outworking. The sin nature -- which is a condition of self-ownership,

can be worked out through any number of "acts of sin" -- the most

subtle of which is self-righteousness and religious pride.

     So just as a SAINT is set apart and lives for God, so a SINNER

owns himself and lives for himself. The vital thing to see here,

however, is that this means more than just DOING. It speaks of

what we are. Again -- identity. A saint IS a creature who is set

apart for God. A sinner IS a creature who belongs to himself. The

doing, or works, proceed from there.

     When the Bible says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the

glory of God," (Rom. 3:23) it alludes to this fact. A sinner is

someone who certainly falls short of the glory of God in works. But

he is really a creature who falls short of the glory of God -- i.e. -- he

IS that. What he IS falls short of God's glory. This is what happened

to man through the sin of Adam.

     But it is not the same with a saint. A saint falls short of the glory of

God in his works. But NOT by what he is. For a saint is totally

forgiven in Christ. He does not pass in and out of the forgiveness of

God based on works. No. He is NEVER out of God's forgiveness.

A saint is someone who IS a new creation in Christ Jesus. He is

eternally identified with the Son of God.

     So we see that a saint can act like a sinner. And a sinner can

act like a saint. But neither identity is changed by acting. And when

a saint does act like a sinner, He has Jesus Christ. The sinner has

nothing but what he chooses: Namely himself.

Faith and Unbelief

     The fundamental difference between saint and sinner is FAITH.

Through faith the sinner identifies with Jesus Christ and is born

again a saint.

     We have already seen that a sinner starts out a sinner through

natural birth. He HAS to sin because that is his nature. Even if the

sin is self-righteousness. There is no choice. A sinner is not a

sinner because he sins. No. He sins because he is a sinner! In

effect, as slaves to sin we do not choose whether to sin. We only

choose HOW.

     But it is possible to take things one step further. For it is one

thing to be a sinner by birth. It is another to be a sinner by choice.

As just stated, we are not sinners by choice through our natural

birth. But we can become sinners by choice if we choose to stay

there. In other words, once I see the grace of God in Jesus Christ,

and refuse to embrace it by faith, I am no longer a sinner only by

birth. I am now a sinner by choice.

     Here we see the sin of unbelief. I did not become a sinner by

sinning. I was born that way. But I do REMAIN a sinner by sinning.

Yet not as you might think -- by doing acts of sin. Rather, I remain

a sinner by refusing to believe. Refusing to believe IS sin. It is the

greatest sin of all.

     God has provided as way OUT of sin through the new birth. He

has paid the price whereby the sinner can become a saint through

the new birth. He paid the FULL price so that we could receive

this new life free of charge. But it is precisely because grace is so

free that we are condemned if we refuse it. There is NO excuse for

refusing a free gift. None.

     By definition, I cannot "refuse" to believe until I see Truth. But

the moment I even suspect there is Truth there to see, I am fully

accountable to God for at least seeking Him for it. I am no longer

able to claim moral ignorance. To "refuse" to know; to "refuse" to

open myself to God; to "refuse" to seek God -- all of these are


     We have seen that the sin of the human race is self-ownership.

This is not an act, but a condition. A nature. But once we introduce

a WAY OUT of this condition, the sin of the human race becomes

UNBELIEF. It is the refusal to turn and receive what God offers free

of charge.

     Of course, unbelief IS self-ownership. But unbelief, when all is

said and done, is NOT something we can blame on natural birth.

Not once the Light comes. Unbelief is not the inability to believe.

It is the refusal to believe.

     God says, "This IS the condemnation, that Light has come into

the world, but men loved darkness, rather than the Light, because

their deeds were evil." (Jn. 3:19) There is no condemnation without

Light.  But once Light comes, we see.  And then there IS

condemnation. And the reason people won't come to the Light and

be set free? Because "their deeds were evil." In other words, they

refuse to be exposed by the Light for what they are. They don't

want to confess that. So they love the darkness where they think

they can hide.

Repent and Believe

     We must repent of unbelief. It is the sin we must repent of,

because if we do, we find that all other sin is already taken care of

in the finished work of Christ.

     Herein we see another deception which the enemy has gotten

into the Body of Christ. We think that we must repent to "qualify for"

the grace of God. Haven't you thought that? But that is error. Rather

than repent to "qualify for" the grace of God, we must repent of

refusing the grace of God! In other words, we must repent of trying

to qualify for grace -- even through repentance. Trying to qualify

IS the sin we must repent of.  It IS unbelief.

     We still cannot get it through our heads that the grace of God is

right there, free of charge, available to us. There is nothing we

need to do to qualify for it. That is why it IS grace. We cannot do

anything to qualify for it. In fact, if we really understood the gravity

of this issue, we would know that it is SIN AGAINST GOD to try to

quality for it! The moment I say I am not worthy of the grace of God

I am guilty of the sin of unbelief. It is just that simple.

     A saint is someone -- not who never sins -- but someone who has

repented of unbelief and embraced the grace of God. He knows

that it is because of that grace that his sin is forgiven. But a sinner

is someone who has either never seen God's grace, or who has

hardened himself through unbelief. He is born a sinner, but is then

guilty of the great sin of unbelief if he sees the Truth of Christ and

refuses to embrace it.


     Of course there is, in this issue of our identity in Christ, an

important question: What happens when a saint walks away from

Jesus Christ? How does this affect his identity?

     Well, first of all, never assume that because someone has

professed Christ, that they are a saint. Christianity has become

so watered-down today, and so redefined, that even those who

profess Christ may not understand that they really don't have their

faith in Him. Thus, many who supposedly "walk away" from Christ

were never saints to begin with. They were sinners -- but were

acting the best they could like they thought a saint should act.

     Secondly, ideally, the question of what happens to a saint who

walks away from Christ should be moot. Why? Because, ideally,

a saint WON'T walk away from Christ. True conversion to Christ

should be so real and final that there is no walking away left in us.

But today we don't find this very much. How far things have fallen.

     Thirdly, we must understand what it really means to "walk

away" from Christ. It does NOT mean you are no longer a saint,

but are now a sinner. No. You cannot change your identity. But

you can be a saint and act like a sinner. You can choose other

things of this life over Jesus Christ. And many saints have done so.

     What happens to them? Do they lose their salvation? Only if it

is possible to be "born-again backwards." And that isn't possible.

Thus, it is not a matter of LOSING salvation. It is a matter of what

they DO with the salvation they have received.

     Think of it as an inheritance. If, as a son, I am an heir, I will some

day receive my inheritance. But if I refuse the inheritance I do not

cease to BE a son. Nor an heir. It's just that because I refuse the

inheritance, it won't do me any good. I may as well not have it at all.

     Thus, a saint is still a saint. He is still set apart for God. But he

can choose to not function that way. He can refuse his Father's

inheritance in Jesus Christ -- in favor of the things of this world.

     So what happens to a saint who refuses his inheritance in Jesus

Christ -- walks away from it? Very simple: He gets what he chooses.

He doesn't have the inheritance! He may still be saved -- he IS a

saint and son. But what an unnecessary loss.

     All we need to do is read the story of the prodigal son. The son

got exactly what he chose -- on every point. In the story, Jesus has

him returning to God. But if any prodigal son does not return to God,

then he will have what he chooses -- a squandered inheritance and

life outside of close fellowship with God. This will be HIS doing, not


     None of this changes our identity. We are either sinner or saint

by birth. Our works cannot alter this fact. But we can choose what to

do AS a saint. And we have those choices everyday.


     Today, more than ever, people want to identified with someone

or something. Whether it be identification with a ball team, a cause,

or some social group, people seek to be identified. Few know what

it means to be identified with Jesus Christ.

     In the final analysis, however, we are going to be identified with

one of two men: Adam or Christ. The first Adam, or the Last Adam.

Which we are identified with determines whether we are saint or


     Identification with Christ really means to be "in Him" -- in His death

and resurrection. It means that as a result of that, to come to bear

His moral and spiritual image and likeness. A saint is one who is

set apart for Christ -- for His use. But not just for doing. More than

that, for becoming -- for growing in His grace and Truth.

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