Righteous Sinners?

I’ve never liked the bumper sticker which read, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” For one, it seems defensive. It is as though someone caught a Christian in the act of doing something unChristian, called them on it, and that was the response they gave. “Hey, I’m not going to do everything right just because I have faith. After all Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” When we are caught doing something unChristian, we need to apologize, confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and repent. In the face of what we need to do, the bumper sticker seems to be a less-than-sincere shortcut.

The bumper sticker seems to throw forgiveness back into the face of non-Christians. It’s as if the bearer of the bumper sticker is saying, “We know we’re forgiven, yes we do; we know we’re forgiven, how ’bout you?” I’m not sure it projects the kind of attitude that really draws people to Christ.

Despite all my objections, though, the bumper sticker is rooted in Protestant Doctrine that I find important: Simul iustus et peccator. Which, ironically, has also been made into a t-shirt. The doctrine says that the Christian is simultaneously justified and a sinner. Apparently the term was coined by Martin Luther though the question is much older than that. For Centuries Christians have wrestled with the reality that despite the fact that Christians know what is right, they do what is wrong. Despite the fact that Christians know God’s forgiveness they move away. “If we say we have no sin, they make God out to be a liar” (1 John 1:10). This isn’t meant as an excuse for bad behavior on the Christian’s part but a whispered prayer of both thanks and petition.

It is also not a reason to sit out the quest for moral perfection. Christians will never be perfect and we should not kid ourselves about our capacity. But the life of discipleship does mean that we continue to walk forward daily reaching for greater service and deeper purity day by day.