I Am A Sinner

Last September, America magazine asked Jorge Mario Bergoglio to describe himself. We know him better as Pope Francis.

As the new spiritual father of the Roman Catholic Church—inaugurated March 13, 2013—Pope Francis had every opportunity to clarify his credentials, to point to his achievements and dreams, and to cast a vision for the future revitalization of the church. Instead, he answered the question in a surprising and deeply personal way.

Pope Francis“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner…. Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

Strange words indeed, to the ears of a culture that no longer uses the “s”-word. We generally prefer to see ourselves as hurt, wounded, broken, suffering, or marginalized. But do we see ourselves fundamentally as “sinners whom the Lord has looked upon”?

The very word—“sinner”—feels antiquated in our culture. In the same way that words like “holiness” and “righteousness” have slipped off the radar, so “sinner” feels too judgmental to use of others or even of ourselves. Many of us have grown up in a sensitive, entitlement generation. “Sinner” doesn’t belong in that language group.

But Pope Francis defines himself first in this way. Of course, he is merely emulating what the Apostle Paul said of himself, too: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Earlier, Paul had written that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

What have we lost, spiritually, by defining ourselves more as victims than as rebels? Does our resistance to repentance stultify our spiritual growth? Are we spiritual babies because we fail to fully embrace the implications of being “a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon”?

Perhaps Pope Francis has reminded us not just of his own sin, but (helpfully) ours too. Paradoxically, the journey downwards is the journey upwards.

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11 Responses to I Am A Sinner

  1. Tim Ross says:

    The more I identify myself as a sinner, the more I see my need for Jesus, the more I see how good God is for saving me, the more humble I am that He looked upon me, the more I want to share this with others. “I am a sinner. Have mercy on me Lord” Luke 18:15

  2. Gary Franklin says:

    Hello David,

    yes I too have often avoided using the word ‘sin’. It brings up memories of Ian Paisley thumping the lectern and stating emphatically that we are all sinners and thus implying that there is no hope for us.

    These days I prefer to think of sin as any action or notion that separates us from God. For example failing or refusing to forgive will/ could  mean that we suffer the ‘wages of sin’- miserable, isolated, lonely, not at peace with ourselves, deserted by God and so on.

    The beauty is, that while in our humanness we constantly fall short, we are able to receive Gods forgiveness and return to a state of grace and peace with God when we are truly sorry and repent and turn to God.

    ‘Repent’ is another ‘ old fashioned’ word that I have grappled with lately and like the idea that repentance is  not so much about being good but about opening ourselves to Gods grace.

    In my experience of English teaching- linguistics, philosophy, literature and teaching language change the  written word is at best an area of wonder and delight and at worst a source of conflict and pain.

    Blessings Paula Franklin


  3. dliw canis says:

    Reblogged this on dliwcanis.

  4. colin says:

    I like this post as much as I dislike it. I agree that we do so to remember that we are sinners and I think it is wonderful that the Pope would describe himself this way. He could have used other words to such as servant of God. I don’t think that would have the same reaction.

    However, it would have been interesting if he had of called himself a saint, another term which Paul uses to refer to Christians and one which he uses significantly more. Now that would probably have brought a gasp among Catholics and a shout of praise from the moderns evangelicals. I think both titles have their place and both must be understood from the base of the cross. I sin that makes me a sinner. Jesus has gloriously given me redemption and mercifully brought me into his kingdom. That makes me a saint.

    Love you work,


  5. Dick Mecone says:

    Terrific insight……….. I know you count yourself in that group…. me too…. I am so thrilled to be in a group of people whom our Lord looks upon… and smiles upon…
    When I was young, I owned several fairly junky rental properties… It was always amazing to me how many flaws can be covered by a couple heavy coats of good paint. If we learn to listen to the Spirit and obey when prompted… Loving like Christ will cover a lot of sin…. meanwhile the deep working of His Grace will change our hearts… Sin will become less on issue and focus and our excitement will be in hearing more of His prompting. Thanks for your consistent work.

  6. Rory Johnston says:

    At Celebrate Recovery we urge people to identify themselves by their proper identity, not the roles they play. In other words, instead of saying, “I’m George and I’m an alcoholic,” we suggest, “I’m George, a beloved child of God and believer in Jesus Christ… who struggles with alcohol.” In the same way, “I’m a saint (because Jesus died to give me that status) who struggles with sin” might be a good way to put it.

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