Suffering with hope

Souls, Sufferers, and Sinners

On any given day, problems and challenges surround us. Politically and morally, we’re seeing some of those challenges rise to the surface in an acute way, between the LGBTQ movements, abortion debates, injustices, etc. And even in our daily life, we’re all trying to navigate a specific struggle with sin, a wayward child, a suffering loved one, a church scandal, mental or physical illness, a strained relationship, etc.

But here’s the thing, we are complex beings – body, mind, and soul. Not just you and me, but the person struggling with same sex attraction, the women in anguish after going through with an abortion, the child bullying your kid at school, our child lashing out at his or her siblings, and our own inner wrestlings.

As much as it would be easier if the issues of the heart were black and white, over-simplifying them often causes more damage and division than we realize – and often intend.

While certain realities are black and white to a degree – we are either saved or not, sin is wrong, holiness is right – much of the outer workings of this life carry far more complexity.

For that reason, it’s been incredibly helpful to view these realities through the lens of Mike Emlet’s helpful explanation that we are all “Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners”. And for those who aren’t believers, they are still souls, sufferers, and sinners. All three of those realities are intertwined with one another, which we see all throughout scripture as God speaks to each.

  • And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).
  • To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2).
  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

This has helped shape the way we discuss issues with our kids (and think of them ourselves). That teacher or classmate who is struggling with transgenderism or same sex attraction is a sinner. They will be held accountable for that sin, just as you and I would be held accountable for the sin of envy, greed, hatred, lust, etc apart from Christ. But they are also sufferers. They are suffering in a fallen world, with a body and mind that has been impacted by that fall. They may have suffered at the hands of an abuser and are desperate for a way to escape that pain and control the narrative by avoiding that gender all-together. They may have countless reasons why they struggle in such a way, many of which they most likely wish they didn’t struggle with. Most importantly, they are a soul. They are an image bearer of God who has been blinded by the enemy and the sin of this world. Like all of us before the grace of God opened our eyes to the truth of the gospel, they are seeking a place to belong and be loved, a satisfaction to fill a deep inner void, and a purpose. They need a Savior and a hope just as much as you and I do.

But this is true for the believer as well. The Christian who is struggling with severe depression. They are not simply sick or suffering – although that is likely a large piece of the puzzle. They are not simply sinning by not trusting God – although that very well be an aspect woven within the complexities of depression. And they, above all, are loved, forgiven, and accepted by God through Jesus – even if depression distorts their view of reality for a time (Romans 8:1). They are a saint, suffer, and sinner. And we do them a disservice when we try to view them or their struggle as one-dimensional.

Friends, we are all in this camp. You and I are saints, sufferers, and sinners (or still a soul even if an unbeliever). And God has compassion on our frailty as these three realities play a role in the trials we face and the process of sanctification. May that lens move us to see each person as a sinner and soul who needs a Savior, and a sufferer who needs the comfort and healing of Christ. What a difference our witness would be.

For his glory,

Sarah

*If you haven’t read Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners by Michael Emlet, I highly recommend it.

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