“Sinner” is an identity word and is misapplied if it’s used to name the Christian’s identity—their person. Before God, identity is not a both/and (sinner and righteous); it is an either/or (sinner or righteous). The basis of this difference is not anthropological (what I do or don’t do). It is strictly and solely Christological: to be in Christ is to be righteous before God.
Paul does something unprecedented (in comparison with early Jewish literature) in that he designates all people outside Christ with the identity “sinner” (Rom 5:8, for example). But even more novel and scandalous is his corresponding claim that it is precisely “sinners” who are identified as “righteous” in Christ (Rom 3:23-24). So, to borrow an expression from a Reformation confession, while the old Adam is a “stubborn, recalcitrant donkey,” this does not define Christian identity before God.
In light of this, it’s important to clarify that simul iustus et peccator is NOT a description of our Christian identity; it is NOT a description of who we are before God. What it is, however, is a description of the both/and that characterizes the Christian life as lived.
Read the rest.The pastoral payoff here is that it enables us to affirm (without crossing our fingers) that in Christ—at the level of identity—the Christian is 100% righteous before God while at the same time recognizing the persistence of sin. If we don’t speak in terms of two total states (100% righteous in Christ and 100% sinful in ourselves) corresponding to the co-existence of two times (the old age and the new creation) then the undeniable reality of ongoing sin leads to the qualification of our identity in Christ: the existence of some sin must mean that one is not totally righteous. This is acid at the very foundation of the peace we have with God on the other side of justification. To say simul iustus et peccator is therefore not to say that “sinner” is our identity; it is to say that while we remain sinful in ourselves we are, in Christ, totally righteous.