***Forgive me for the length of this post. I went back to trim & edit. But, I felt i needed to include every word.
This past year i attended a wedding. Expecting to simply enjoy seeing two friends united in matrimony, I sat there as the preacher officiating the wedding proceeded to call everyone in the audience (as well as the bride & groom) “sinners”, reminding us repeatedly how “unworthy” we were of God’s grace. Intent on making his point, this guy reminded us “sinners” of how “unworthy” we were over and over and over again. When the service was mercifully over, all I could think about was a famous quote by Mike Yaconelli: “We’ve all been to those churches that, when you leave, you feel worse about yourself than when you arrived.”
I’m not altogether clear as to this man’s purpose for repeatedly calling everyone sinners. If it’s for the purpose of conviction, only the Holy Spirit can bring that – so he would do well to leave that to the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8) I’ve found some very well-meaning pastors either forgetting, or altogether not knowing, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
You may be thinking, “Nick, I’m a believer. But I still sin.” I know that. I’m fairly certain I’m worse than you are in the ‘sin’ category.” But my point is this: in Christ, our identity is no longer defined by what “we do,” but by what HE DID.
After that wedding, I came home and re-read through the four gospels (stories of Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection) just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But what I found was this: not once did Yaconelli’s statement (cited above) apply to those He encountered. Not once. (This would include the religious leaders who hated Jesus. Because, even in their hatred for Jesus, they continued to feel “better” about themselves, being blindly self-righteous.)
However, in regard to the lost, the hurting, the hopeless, the searching – without compromising the slightest degree of His holiness & righteousness, Jesus helped everyone see themselves as God intended for them to be: His.
Let me ask you a question. If you’ve professed your faith in Jesus Christ, how righteous do you think you appear in God’s sight right this minute? The Bible says 100% (because of Him, and in spite of us). Paul wrote, “For our sake [God] made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness]. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Amplified)
NOTE: For those already angry with this post, reading furiously so they can get to the bottom of this “waste of digital ink” and correct me, reminding me that we are all “SINNERS saved by grace,” save your energy. I completely agree that the Bible’s clear: we were born a depraved, hopeless, degenerate, rebellious, selfish mess, possessing hearts that are “deceptively wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9) No one had to teach us how to lie, hate, cheat, or be selfish – it all came naturally. C.S. Lewis called this “natural desire to sin” our “bent” as a human race. The Bible calls it “the flesh.” And we’re ALL born with it. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, wrote, “All of us have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, due to our sin, before we put our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9), we were hopelessly separated from God.
However, a “sinner” is who I WAS. Not who I AM.
Do I still sin? Sadly, often. I’m a pathetic mess. But, in Christ, I’m a PERFECT MESS.
Like believers throughout the New Testament, for the remainder our lives on this fallen planet, we will continue to struggle with the “flesh” (our natural desire to sin with which we were born) until the moment we shed these “fallen bodies & minds”, and enter heaven. Romans 6:6 is clear: in Christ, we’re “no longer slaves to sin” (sin no longer masters us). But, until we enter paradise, we will inevitably battle with our flesh, the world’s sin-driven system, and satan as they, individually & collectively, attempt to lure us away from our commitment to following Jesus, our Savior. However, along with Paul, we’re able to shout, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
Writing of our new-found identity in Christ, Paul opened his letter to the Ephesians this way: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [believers] who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,…”) This means I stood up in that wedding that afternoon and hollered, “Yo! Call me by biblical name: Saint Nick!” 🙂
So…. “When God looks at us, what does He see?” (Here’s a partial list…)
1. A saint [holy in His sight] (Ephesians 1:1)
2. His child (John 1:12)
3. His friend (John 15:15)
4. Justified [100% righteous] through Christ’s life, cross & resurrection (Romans 5:1)
5. His own possession, bought & paid for (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
6. A member of His own Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)
7. One COMPLETELY forgiven (Colossians 1:13-14)
8. A citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
Final Note (to those who’ve never professed faith in Jesus Christ): When Paul wrote, “There is there now condemnation…” (Romans 8:1), he was describing those who’ve professed their faith in Jesus Christ. The other side of this truth is clear in these words spoken by Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Bottom line: “When God looks at a person who’s never professed their faith in Christ, what does He see?” He sees someone for whom He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ – but who has never trusted Christ and therefore, remains condemned. Trust Christ today. He loves you. So much.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick