Let me begin by saying this will be a very in house blog series. By that I mean I’ll be focusing on a debate that is between people within the Christian community. So if you’re reading this and are not a Christian, there may be some big theological words, a fair bit of “Christianese” going on and maybe not a lot of interest from your end. For this I apologise. In saying that I’d still encourage you to consider reading this series as it may help you understand more of the Christian worldview. If you are a Christian I really encourage you to read the entire series, as I believe that whichever side of the debate you land there are significant implications.
In this first post I’d like to 1) give a quick summary of the debate, 2) establish my purpose in entering into the debate and 3) affirm what I appreciate about the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement. This will then be followed by a series of blog posts that will outline my theological, pastoral and practical concerns with the theology behind this movement and what I believe scripture actually teaches in regards to sin, righteousness, our nature as Christians, sanctification and so forth.
In short the debate can be summarised with a simple question, ‘Are we saved sinners or sinning saints?’. It has to do with whether a converted Christian continues to possess a sinful nature. The common held belief within Christianity is that before conversion all people possess a sinful nature. This is to say that sin is not just something we choose to do, although it’s definitely chosen but also something we are predisposed to do. It’s in our nature to sin and every human being will sin because ultimately our activity (what we do) is determined by our identity (who we are). However scripture also tells us that when we become a Christian we receive a new nature, a new identity in Christ. A nature that is righteous and not sinful.
Consequently, the debate has a number of nuisances to it and includes many different questions. What is sin? Where does it come from? Can a person simultaneously have two natures, both sinner and saint? Is there a difference between the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ? (Don’t worry I’ll explain these words in a future post) Are either immediate or progressive? What’s the difference between justification and sanctification? If sin came from within the sinner (person with sinful nature) where does sin come from for the saint (righteous nature)? Note that while some in this movement are close to claiming sinless perfection, it’s my understanding that most would admit they continue to sin. How they define sin and what they attribute it to, is what I’d like to discuss.
As you can tell this is significant discussion. Therefore it’s going to take a number of blogs to discuss it. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.
I’m a pastor not a theological scholar. My reason for entering this conversation is pastoral. I love discussing theology and truth, even a good debate is fun, but I don’t enjoy debate for debate’s sake. I genuinely care about God and about people’s lives, particularly those of whom God has placed under my care. Theology matters. Truth matters. Get truth wrong and you end up doing two egregious things – you misrepresent God and you mislead people. Theology has significant implications for people’s lives. Therefore my aim with this series is to represent God well, both in what I say and how I say it. As well as to better equip people directly under my care and to encourage those outside my direct care to thoroughly consider what they believe and the implications of their beliefs.
Often when camps disagree with each other, we lose sight of where we agree and what we affirm. As a Christian Pastor I do believe it’s important to draw lines of disagreement. We need to know who we are and what we believe. We also need to know who we’re not and what we don’t believe. However I also believe we should draw circles of agreement. With this in mind I’d like to affirm a number of things I see and hear regarding those that adhere to the ‘Saints by Nature’ theology.
- Desire for Holiness – I see a great desire for holiness within this movement. Many of the discussions I’ve had with people adhering to this doctrine have included a real concern for sin, and do not wish to take it lightly. There is a desire to live a godly lifestyle because that is what God has called us to. They see people abusing God’s grace, exploiting it as a means to dismiss sin, and seek to counter this by putting sin to death and living in righteousness.
- Love for People – Everyone I’ve spoken to directly, much of what I have read and teachings I’ve listened to online reveal a genuine love for people. Many who promote this theology have a heart to see people live a life free from sin. They seek to fight for God’s people and desire to see people live in genuine freedom.
- Focus on Identity – A big reason I believe this theology has gained traction is the focus on living out of one’s new identity found in Christ. I really appreciate this movements determination to focus on our new identity in Christ and to call people to live out of that identity. Our new identity in Christ is fundamental to living out our faith and being a disciple.
- Lifestyle of Mission – I love seeing Christians be bold in their faith. If we truly believe what we say we believe then it should be followed up with action. This movement could never be accused of lacking passion or being on mission. They truly believe what they say they believe and it’s evident in how they seek to live on mission.
I’m sure there are more elements that I affirm within the movement, for now these four are what comes to mind. I wish to encourage anyone that disagree with the theology of this group to take a step back and first consider what you can learn from them. It’s one thing to have theological disagreements with people, it’s another to dismiss everything altogether. While this series is my attempt to teach the truth, as I believe revealed in scripture, my desire is to also be gracious, humble and teachable towards those I disagree with. I pray that my aim to represent God well and lead people towards truth is achieved throughout this series.
I hope you stick with me for this important journey.