If someone asked, “who are you?” how would you answer?
Every person answers this question about their identity. We receive our first identity from our parents on our birth certificate. Our identity includes our gender, race, and first and last name. Our identity shapes how we view the world, think about ourselves, and relate to other people. The Bible uses a variety of identity language to describe believers (i.e., sinner, saint, child of God, forgiven, and redeemed). As described in the title of his new book, “Saints, Suffers, and Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us”, Michael Emlet uses three terms to describe a Christian’s identity.
The three identities saints, sufferers, and sinners are not separate categories but are true realities of all believers. These three categories are woven together in each believer. These realities teach us how God loves us and how we should reciprocate that love to others. Emlet calls these “signposts for wise love.” He emphasizes the order of these identity statements, explaining that the fundamental core of all believers is “saints.” Using our fundamental identity, he describes believers as “saints who suffer” and “saints who sin.” I have used “saints” and “sinners” as helpful ways to describe believers, forgetting that suffering is a reality that Scripture also addresses. He also explains that loving others is hard, and an even greater challenge is loving others the way God loves us. If we first think of believers as saints, it helps to reorient our thoughts toward the other person. As Emlet states, “We are saints, sufferers, and sinners in union with our Savior.”
The book is broken up into five parts:
- Understanding People
- Loving Others as Saints
- Loving Others as Sufferers
- Loving Others as Sinners
- Remaining Balanced in Ministry
In the first part of the book, Emlet shows how the Bible describes believers as saints, suffers, and sinners. He explains that these categories reveal how to minister to others:
- Saints who need confirmation of their identity as children of God,
- Sufferers who need comfort in the midst of their affliction, and
- Sinners who need challenge to their sin in light of God’s redemptive mercies.
He then shows how Jesus is the ultimate saint, sufferer, and “sinner.” (By “sinner” he means that Jesus became sin, not that he sinned). Through both the Bible and real-life examples, Emlet weaves together helpful counsel that can be applied in a ministry context and normal everyday relationships. He gives a variety of counseling examples and I appreciate that he gives examples of how he failed, not just the ones in which he succeeded.
One very helpful section was the last part on remaining balanced in ministry. Emlet gave cautions when using these three categories. He describes what happens when we overemphasize being a saint, sufferer, or sinner. One example is that when we overemphasize believers as saints, we might minimize responsibility and growth in godliness or we do not connect with the brokenness and suffering of others. He cautions that keeping these three categories “guards us from absolutizing any one aspect of our lives, which leads to oversimplification and distortion.” He also draws wisdom from another biblical counselor:
True wisdom is not marked by a simple accumulation of knowledge, but by a growing ability to hold together complementary biblical truths without allowing any one of them to be eclipsed.David Powlison
I would recommend this book as it encourages believers with their true biblical identities and connects that truth to loving one another.