I visited someone in the hospital yesterday who had another visitor bearing several tattoos. I saw that the one tattoo on his forearm spelled something so I asked him what it said. He showed me that one way it reads, “Saint;” turn it upside down and it reads, “Sinner.”
“That’s great! So true.” I exclaimed. “That’s what Lutheran Christians believe: we are simultaneously saint and sinner. Can I take a photo?”
I didn’t ask if he were a church goer though often I find those outside the church understand more than those of us inside that that is the nature of things – we are both saint and sinner. We don’t grow out of one into the other; we don’t leave the one behind.
Some branches of Christianity believe that when you’re baptized you aren’t supposed to sin any more. But that’s understanding sin as a list of vices that we can avoid and measure ourselves (and others) by. It also suggests that we are in control of things. Very different than Paul’s struggle to do “the good that I would but I cannot.”
I often hear people wanting to become a better Christian. I suppose that’s not a bad thing but it often ends up sounding like so many self-improvement programs: If I just did this and this, I would be a better person, and pretty soon we are working really hard to be better and do better and the whole sense of grace and freedom in Christ is lost.
For Martin Luther the emphasis on simultaneously saint (justus) and sinner (peccator) was key. We are sinners, but we are forgiven which makes us saints. Do you see – it’s nothing we do that makes us a saint – it’s God’s doing. “You are loved and forgiven; in Christ you are set free.”
It's not that we become better, but that our relationship with God grows deeper and we begin to live more fully out of and into that freedom and grace.
Simul justus et peccator – simultaneously saint and sinner – just like the tattoo says!
- Pastor Dianne