I would like to give a quiz to anyone reading this blog. Of the following 3 phrases, which one will you not find in the Bible?
1. Jesus, our apostle and high priest
2. Sinner saved by grace
3. We should become the righteousness of God in Christ
I believe there is an identity crisis running amok in the church in America today. That identity crisis is how Christians view themselves after believing the message of Christ and thereby receiving the adoption as sons and daughters of the living God who then sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, sealing our identity. Because of Christ, those who believe are no longer sinners, but saints, for the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin, sin, so that we should become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Nowhere in Scripture do I ever see one who is in Christ being called a sinner. No, they are called saints, holy ones, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, etc. But how is the common way for Christians to describe themselves as they currently are? As “a sinner saved by grace.” Problem is, that phrase never shows up in Scripture. Oh sure, the principle is there. At a point in my past, I was a sinner who needed to be saved by God’s grace, but that is what I was formerly; that is no longer who I am.
Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “I have been crucified with Christ. Yet no longer do I live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith, that of the Son of God.” If I say that I am still a “sinner saved by grace,” that means the nature of Christ which is now what I am and living is a sinful nature. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely will not go there.
I do not believe there is even a war raging between my old nature and the new nature of Christ. How often does Paul state that the old nature is dead, passed away, gone? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away/gone/left; behold the new has come.” The old nature is gone, it’s dead. God killed it off when He crucified me together with Christ. It didn’t somehow resurrect itself so it could sneak back in while God had His back turned. It’s gone; it’s dead. And the last time I checked, if I have an enemy, if said enemy dies, no longer can that enemy wage war against me.
Some use different passages (Romans 7 and 1 Timothy 1 for example) to support that there is still an internal war waging between the old and new nature. First off, if what God did in dealing with the sin nature wasn’t enough or fell short, well, I’m not going to tell God that He didn’t do enough. In dealing with these two passages, it is so important to see them in context. If you don’t read something in context, it then becomes a pretext for proving what you want to be true.
In Romans 7, Paul seems to be saying that there is still this internal war waging in his body between the good and bad. Not read in context, this passage absolutely says that. But, read in context, it doesn’t. When Paul starts this chapter, he says that he is saying these words to his brothers, those who know the law. The idea is that he is talking to those who are Jewish, are believers, and are wondering how the Mosaic Law all fits into this. That is the reason why Paul uses the analogy of marriage and a surviving widow being free, under the law, to remarry and have it not be adultery.
Throughout the rest of this chapter, Paul begins to describe what life was like under the law, which was good because God sent it. The law of sin and death used the law to kill. There was this back and forth of knowing what was right to do and not doing it, and then feeling condemned. That was the direct result of the law of sin and death, which then caused Paul to describe himself, under that paradigm, as a wretched man. Paul then begins chapter 8 with this: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Then in verses 5-6 he says this: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh (this is the law of sin and death), but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and PEACE.” The problem is that it has been commonly taught that Christians are still sinners, albeit saved by grace. The proper teaching is, “I was a sinner who was saved by grace and now I am a saint, one of God’s holy ones and that is how I view myself because that is how God sees me.”
The other passage, 1 Timothy 1, to which people point as proof of this inner war, Paul is remembering what he was formerly; it’s his testimony. Again, in context, Paul in verse 13 says that this was what he “formerly” was. He’s not saying that he is still the “chief of sinners.” He is remembering what he once was.
Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” It should not be surprising that if a Christians views him/herself as still a sinner, s/he is characterized by sin or some “inner battle.” When this is the common view, then religion is necessary with all of its rules and regulations because sin still needs to be “managed” for the Spirit of the living God within and what God did through Christ wasn’t enough.
When a Christian has the proper view of his/her true identity, things change. How s/he thinks, how s/he perceives what is happening to and around him/her, and how s/he talks. His/her thinking, perception, and language change. Paul says that transformation happens by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).
When Paul says we are a “new creation,” the word for new used there means something totally different. In Colossians 3:10, he uses a second word for new meaning renewed like an upgrade. Between the two, what I believe Paul is saying is that we are a new creation complete in Christ because that is how God now knows us. And God, through the work of Christ and His Spirit, is giving us upgrades so that our completeness becomes more our reality all the time. So, with every upgrade I receive in that realization, I must continually put on the latest upgrade, exercise it until it becomes my norm.
I have discovered something in a practical aspect. When I changed how I view my identity to match how God sees me, I have found two things to be my reality. First, there no longer is any sense of contending or fight. I have found that refreshing. Second, I have experienced upgrades in areas where I have struggled constantly over the years. For example, my level of patience with certain people and in certain situations has upgraded.
If the common view of our identity is as sinners, it should not be any surprise that there is so much judgment occurring within the church and from it; sinners focus on judgment. But, if the common view is the proper one, saints, then we will focus on God and His goodness to us.
I choose the latter. How about you?