We often hear Christians, and I am most definitely included in this, say things like, “I’m such a sinner”, or in reference to other Christians, “We’re all just sinners”; statements of such pessimistic attitudes about who they are. This thinking, while not entirely wrong in one sense, misses the bigger picture of things in another sense. There seems to be a sense in which this kind of thinking undermines the work of Christ that gives us a new identity as a part of his beloved Church. It seems undermining, if you are in Christ, to still identify yourself as what you once were rather than who you are now. Imagine what it would be like if a child that was adopted into a family suddenly wanted to be known by their former identity. Would this not shock the adoptive parents, who have loved and cared for this child, and have gone through a lot of work to call this child their own? In the same way, it is shocking that we would want to go back and identify ourselves as something that Christ died to redeem.
Who We Are
What does scripture teach about the Church? If you read in the New Testament, when the writers are addressing the Church, they always use language of great affection. There is always an emphasis on the current identity of the Church as saints. The redemption of God’s people through the work Christ gave them a new identity as “holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). When Paul gives his incredibly complicated, yet surprisingly simple, discourse on indwelling sin, notice what he says about it:
“15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:15-17). Paul rightly understands that he has been redeemed by Christ. He understands that the sin that dwells within him is not what determines who he is now. Like Paul, we too ought to understand that we have been made new, that our identity is found in Christ and his righteousness. However, this has not always been the case.
Great Sinners, Greater Savior
There was a time when sin was our identity. There was a time when we did not have the privilege to find our identity in Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 1:
” 21And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,”
The fall of man gave us the curse of sin; it is what marked who we were. We were sinners, dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1). And we know that our holy God does not delight in sinners and evildoers (Ps. 5:5) . We were hostile rebels (Col. 1:21) who had offended an infinitely holy and righteous God, and he does not settle for anything less than holiness. This is crucial to understanding the weight and beauty of the cross. Jesus comes and lives sinlessly, something we can’t do; he goes to the cross as a substitute for sinners and accomplishes the purpose of God to restore and redeem his Church and make much of his name. It was on the cross that the fullness of God’s wrath toward sinners for their disobedience was poured out and his great love for sinners was displayed. It is this glorious altercation on the cross, where the justice of God collided with the mercy of God, that our debt is paid and our righteousness is restored. That, however, is not the end of the story. Just as Jesus died on the cross as the perfect and final sacrifice (Heb. 10:12), so we died to our sin. From there Jesus went to the grave, but he did not stay there. Jesus arose from the dead, signifying that death could not keep him down and that it had been vanquished. Beloved, just as Christ arose from the grave, being brought back to life and conquering death, we too are brought to new life (2 Cor. 5:14-17). This is where Colossians 1:22 comes in. We once were hostile, we once were alienated, but “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before him…” We are now justified and made holy. That is the Gospel.
Be Who You Are
With this new life comes new identity. We are no longer seen as defiled and hostile sinners, as it is said in Colossians 1:21, but as God’s beloved saints. If you continue to identify yourself by who you once were, how are you supposed to pursue righteousness? If you were a sinner, why would you even care? Sinners don’t pursue righteousness, saints do. Be a saint. “Authentic” is a very cool word right now within our Christian circles. We love to talk about “authenticity” and “being real” with one another so much that we start glorifying our brokenness and justifying it with the claim, “This is who I am.” If that is the case, if this brokenness is really who you are, then you have completely missed the Gospel. The Gospel restores what was once broken. The Gospel makes alive what was once dead. The Gospel makes holy what was once unclean. The Gospel makes saints out of sinners. With this understanding I charge you to be who you are; be a restored, living, and holy saint. It should dishearten us when we hear our brothers and sisters claim that this brokenness is “who they are”; we must step in and remind them that they are no longer a dead and broken sinner; Jesus paid for that. We should encourage each other to be who we really are. No more glorifying our sin and calling it “authentic”. Repent and pursue holiness. Be a saint.
Even Though We Fail
Am I suggesting that since we are now identified as saints that we no longer are enticed to sin, that we are no longer coerced by the flesh to disobey and dishonor The Lord? Absolutely not. In fact, we must never get too prideful about our justification, as if we have arrived, or as if we have actually accomplished it on our own, for there is still a dark reality. Just as Paul notes in Romans 7, there is still sin that dwells within us. There is still the reality that we fall short. We need to understand that we are in the midst of sanctification, the process in which we are made holy. This is a process that will not be fully realized until we are glorified, when sin will no longer dwell within us. Until that day comes, however, we still live under the curse of sin, and because we are still creatures with a fallen nature, sin is a tragic reality. The hope lies in the fact that Christ came to set us free from the yoke of sin, paying the penalty for our debt, a penalty that deserves death (Rom 6:23). The hope is knowing that we are no longer looked upon by God apart from Christ. Because of Christ’s work in his life, death, and resurrection, we are seen through the lens of Christ. We are seen through the scope of his righteousness, and it is there that we find our righteousness. It is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that we are seen as innocent, holy, blameless, and above reproach (Col. 1:22). It is this hope that compels us to continue to press in, to keep pursuing holiness in the midst of the sin that continues to try and ensnare us. We continue to hope in Jesus, who is praying and interceding for us at all times (Heb. 7:25). We keep fighting and, by the power of the Spirit, we overcome.
For His Glory and Our Joy
Beloved, if you are in Christ then you should take heart, for God no longer sees us as wicked and vile sinners, hostile in mind, but as his beloved saints, his adopted sons and daughters. This, my friends, is good news. Our joy may now be full as we rest in his glorious purpose to make us holy through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is good news that deserves to be proclaimed from here to the ends of the earth, that the name of Jesus might be magnified and worshiped by all people of every nation, for the glory of The Lord in all the earth!