“I don’t ever want to hear you say, ‘I’m just a sinner saved by grace!'”

Bill looked straight at me and said it again, his finger in my face: “No mumbling about being just a sinner. Ever!”

I felt like I was being dressed down by my new grandfather. He joined our family when he married my grandmother. Both of them had lost the spouses of their youth. Both of them loved Jesus and cherished their families.

Here was a man who always had a smile, a kind word, and a warm Christian spirit. Up until then, he seemed like the type to keep away from theological debate. But I was wrong. Standing before me, he was as serious as could be.

My teenage boldness got the best of me. So I pushed him a little.

“OK, Bill. But…”

“But what?”

“Isn’t it true? Isn’t it true that you’re a sinner?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I know my heart. I know my own wickedness!”

“And isn’t it true that we’re saved by grace?”

“Without a doubt,” he said. “Not by works. Salvation is of the Lord. We can’t do a thing to earn it.”

I nodded. “Then… what’s wrong with saying you’re just a sinner saved by grace?”

He shook his head again – vehemently. “It’s the word ‘just.’ Don’t dishonor the Spirit!”

“What do you mean?”

“Trevin, you are not just a sinner saved by grace.” He was preaching now. “You are also a saint indwelled by the very Spirit of God!”

Don’t dishonor the Spirit.

I won’t forget those words. And the longer I’ve reflected on that conversation, the more I’m convinced Bill was right.

The gospel does not end on Good Friday. It’s not finished on Easter Sunday. It’s not even finished a week after Easter when doubting Thomas sees the Lord and believes. It’s not finished at the Ascension, when Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father as King of kings and Lord of lords.

No… the gospel message we believe – about Christ crucified and raised – is inextricably tied to Pentecost, the moment when King Jesus sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His people.

“Just a sinner saved by grace” is only half the gospel. It’s true that in Christ, God has wiped the slate clean and has forgiven us our sins. But let’s make sure we don’t leave out the flip side – that not only does He forgive our sins, but He also regenerates us through the power of His Spirit. God is restoring our relationship to Him. He is living within us.

I’m thankful for my Grandpa Bill, especially for reminding me that I’m not just a sinner saved by grace.

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29 thoughts on “You Are Not “Just a Sinner Saved by Grace””

  1. Bruce H. says:

    When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we Baptist seem to have signs in our minds that say, “WARNING – HIGH VOLTAGE” and seldom speak about or pray for His presence and filling. The third person of the Trinity is almost an “acquaintance” rather than a blood relative residing in us like Jesus resided with His disciples.

    I was convicted by your story and commit to a greater focus on Him, the Holy Spirit. Amen

  2. T.Newbell says:

    Oh, how I loved this post! Amen!!

  3. So,

    Just to further the discussion, not actually gaining any real theological insight into your grandfathers rebuke, I ask, ” what more are you, than a sinner saved by Grace?

    And as you well know those words are part of a very traditional hymn hardly ever sung today ” Only a sinner saved by grace”. And all 4 verses highly exalt the work of the Holy Ghost in the call conversion and filling of the redeemed sinner, whose praise is to his glorious Savior, Jesus Christ.

    You cannot honor the Spirit more than in exalting Jesus Christ in his saving of wretches, who are humble enough to let another wretch
    know, ” I am , only , a sinner , saved by grace.

    The gospel exalts Christ and it debases men. And that is unpalatible in Church today!

    I had a lady walk out of Church recently when our worship team played that Him. ” She believes she is no longer a sinner now that she is saved. As if , saint and sinner are mutually exclusive realities. Paul was a saint, who also said, ” I am the chief of sinners” Not was, AM! It’s humbling, I know.

  4. Nice piece, Trevin. Way to take on a “sacred” cliché of the American evangelical discourse. Have you heard from Frank Turk on this one yet?

  5. Gary B. says:

    I appreciate this discussion. It is important. I’ve heard it before, but usually in the context of someone trying to save the person who said “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” from their “low self-esteem.” I’m glad this is not the objection here. However, I think the word “just” is being given more force than it deserves and the meaning of “saved by grace” is being somewhat diminished. If I say to someone that “I am just a sinner saved by grace,” I am making a statement of the essence of my contribution to my current state of being a Christian. It is an acknowledgment that in myself I am a totally undeserving sinner who cannot claim any credit for the fact that I am now a new creation in Christ. The key phrase is “saved by grace.” If we understand being saved by grace in the full biblical sense, it includes the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and the fact that I am now a new creation in Christ. The greater concern, in my mind, seems to be the idea that declaring ourselves saved by grace might not be seen to include the amazing truth that God has and is graciously transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The word “just” must be understood in light of the fullness of what it means to be “saved by grace.”

  6. MarieP says:

    Been thinking about that all morning! My pastor recently blogged an article on why telling an unbeliever, “I’m just like you” is patently false. http://mainthings.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/actually-we-are-different/

    Though, in the phrase “just a sinner saved by grace” I think there’s a bit more validity because it depends on, in the words of BF Westcott, what you mean by “saved”…do you mean, was I saved, am I being saved, or will I be saved?

  7. Fellow Saint : ) says:

    Trevin, I love your posts, book recommendations and blogs, but you may want to rethink this one. Your post says, ‘…you are not just a sinner saved by grace, you are also a saint indwelled by the Spirit of God.’ I also used to believe that way, but the truth and grace from His word (not from my well-meaning Grandpa, who I love) corrected my understanding. Do you believe God would any longer call you a ‘sinner’ once you are in Christ? What we ‘do’ does not determine our identity. We are no longer identified as sinners; we are now called ‘saints’! Even Paul when addressing the most difficult church he dealt with, the Corinthians, called them ‘saints’. They, and we, are no longer identified as sinners; our identity now is Christians, saints, believers in Christ Jesus, even though we do still commit sins. That does not change our identity back to ‘sinner’ as soon as we commit another sin.

    Your identity is in who (and who’s) you are, not in what you do. This should sum it up simply: ‘In Adam, we were sinners. In Christ, we are saints.’ Which one are you still in and which do you choose to identify yourself with? We are not in both. God redeemed us from one and put us into the other. (2Cor5:21, Rom5:19)

    God will never identify you as a sinner ever again; if He does, then He will also have to treat you as one. It is wonderfully freeing when you know your true new identity and choose to walk in it. Seeing yourself as a ‘sinner’ (even a ‘saved one’) will keep you sin conscious. Seeing yourself as a saint will keep you grace conscious, Jesus conscious, and joyfully free from condemnation.

    Praise God that you are now identified by your Father as one of the saints of God, not as a sinner!

    Grace to you (and yes I still love your blogs!),

    From a fellow Saint : )

    (try a search of ‘sinners’ in the new testament, it’s a liberating read!) Feel free to email me directly if you want to discuss further!

  8. Joshua says:

    Seems to be a pretty basic part of Christianity to be reminded of…

  9. carl peterson says:

    Fellow saint,

    I like your post. I too think of myself as a saint or for even better a child of God who sins. I am no longer defined as a “sinner” I once was a sinner and now I am saint. I think sometimes the confusion comes in because “only by grace” is left out. Sometimes calling us all saints or children of God can lead some to believe that they have this without the grace of God and/or without union with Christ. So I do not have a huge problem with some who wish to say that they are sinners saved by grace. My only problem is what the article above points out that many stop at “I am just a sinner” and do not move to the fact that we are now new creations.

    About the phrase “I am just a sinner saved by grace” I also think that the word “just” is problematic because it seems to say that sin is ot a real big deal. I have heard people say “I am just a man” or “i am just human.” I can’t help my sinning. I am just a sinner saved by grace. How could I help myself? That is a erally dangerous idea and untrue.

  10. David Axberg says:

    Hello Saints,

    We tend not to call ourselves saints because we want to be humble for the meek shall inherit, but meek and humble are not interchangeable. We need to let the Gospel give us the compassionate backbone it is meant to give us. Are we afraid to have the faith in the name Christ gave to us. If we do not believe in the name we are given how do we live for Him rightly? In not taking the name and boldly living to it we may need to check our hearts.

    God Bless Now!

  11. Mark says:

    … you are a new creation, you have been transfered from darkness into light, you have been blessed with every Spiritual blessing in heaven, your heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh, you no longer walk according to the powers of this present evil age but according to the spirit & the age to come, you have been raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly holy of holies, you are a resurrection people, you were dead but are now made alive, you were once in the first Adam but have been transferred to the realm of the ultimate and last Adam, the pure and holy bride of Christ, the harvest of which Christ is the first fruits, members of the body of which Christ is head, children of God, a holy people, citizens of heaven, a holy nation, sons of God, a pilgrim people on our way home where all we have now by faith we will then have by sight in the new heavens and new earth … a hopeful people in Christ.

  12. John Dunn says:

    Wow! Absolutely loved this post! A robust redemptive-historical understanding of the New Covenant outpouring of the Spirit is all but missing in today’s church.

    http://www.takeacopy.com/

  13. Darrin says:

    Modern evangelicals in general would rather numb their minds with trite plattitudes than really think deeply about the related truths.
    If you are saying this phrase omits what comes after (ex. sanctification through the Spirit), I would say that it also omits what came before (election as His chosen people, predestination to be conformed to Christ, etc.). So indeed it does give a view of our identity that is lacking in several ways.
    It’s hard to tell if you are suggesting that the Spirit’s indwelling is separate and subsequent to salvation. That of course would be incorrect. It is the God via the Spirit who regenerates us in the first place, granting us spiritual life and a heart for God.

  14. johnny says:

    We can make a theological case for either, saying “just a sinner” or “a sinner”. I think Trevin does a good job of at least making us think and hold a conviction either way before we speak and throw out thoughtless Christian lingo. May each be fully convinced in his own mind and avoid useless arguements

  15. Sanctified 2 says:

    To GOD be the glory bro,Trevin I knew the Holy Spirit was not just telling only me this. It’s been about 4 or 5 yrs. now for me. When I first heard this in my spirit I thought it was just me the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me rest. I then began to pray and read the scriptures the more I searched I found it to be true we were sinners saved by grace and now become new creatures filled with the Holy Spirit who lead and guide us into all truth and show us all things. If Jesus can save us from sin can’t He still keep us from sinning? Scripture says we are no longer or own for we have been bought with a price. In that being said we no longer have free will because we yielded our will when we received Christ as Lord and Savior. If the Holy Spirit is in us the Word says He does the Father’s will. He will not lead us to sin nor can He sin if we obey Him we will not sin. We go against His will when we do making us disobedient children of God.

  16. Steve Noel says:

    Interesting, only a few weeks ago we had a visiting pastor who asked this very question. I raised my hand to his question; “How many here beleive they’re a sinner saved by grace”? Of course his answer was the forementioned querry. He then went onto lavishing upon our pastor much uplifting sentiments of his approval. The organized Church likes to reinstate themselves time to time……..
    As far as coming up with something new to say when Pastors become burned out has everything to do with a lack of vision……..leaving us to fill in the —– ! I have a lot to say about this, but then I’d be giving into what’s all wrong than what’s all right!!! Like what Jesus saved me from………
    Carnility ! I’ve been looking for the scripture that states we’re not to
    test each others faith?

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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