I blogged about The Good and Beautiful God a few weeks ago but it’s been on my heart to delve a little more deeply into one particular chapter that kind of knocked my socks off. In chapter 8, the author proposes that “I am a sinner” is a false narrative that must be corrected. How do you feel about what you just read. Did it stop you in your tracks like it did me? Did the word “heresy” form in your mind? Are you even thinking right now that perhaps you shouldn’t read on, as I did? Well, I hope you read on.
Smith does not deny that sin is present in our lives, but he argues that “the prevalence, and seeming dominance, of sin in our lives makes it easy to conclude . . . that our fundamental identity is “sinner.” Nothing could be farther from the truth, he says. The New Testament narrative he longs for us to learn is that we are saints. “Saint” is not something achieved by righteous acts over a lifetime but rather an identity bestowed upon us by a God who loves us, not on the basis of what we do but through the life, death and resurrection of his Son! Over 164 times, Paul in his epistles reminds us that we are “in Christ” or “in the Lord”. (Go count the number of times the word “sinner” appears in the New Testament!) I love how Smith puts it: “Christians are not merely forgiven sinners but a new species: persons indwelt by Jesus, possessing the same eternal life that he has.”
I think the fundamental point to consider is “how does God see us?” What exactly does it mean to have this new nature? What would it look like to see ourselves as being “in Christ,” as God does, and live into that narrative?
If you’re a parent, imagine if you viewed your child only through the lens of his wrongdoings. Or as a teacher, you label one particular student as a troublemaker. What kind of behavior might you expect? It’s a safe bet he or she will act just as you view him. Why? People tend to live up to their basic identities. Now take that same student and put him with a teacher who loves him and sees great potential in him. Chances are that student might do an about face – but only to the extent that he assumes the identity that is offered to him.
When the prodigal son returned home, he was quite willing to live as one of his father’s servants, but his father welcomed him home as a son. While we don’t know the rest of the story, one thing is certain: how the son viewed himself would determine his relationship with the father. If he could never see himself as anything more than a lowly servant, that is all he would ever be. It was up to him whether or not he would accept and live into the identity offered him by his gracious father.
God rescues us, forgives all of our sins – past, present and future, and reconciles us to himself. But if we never fully assume the new identity we’ve been given, we will continue to live untransformed lives. The key, Smith notes, is to abide in Christ, “who is not outside of us, judging us, but is inside of us, empowering us. The more deeply we’re aware of our identity in Christ and his presence and power with us, the more naturally we’ll do this. We must get our narrative right and practice spiritual exercises to deepen our awareness of truth.” We must stop viewing ourselves on the basis of what we do – right or wrong, good or bad, and start to see ourselves as God sees us – in Christ.
As I read this chapter, I couldn’t help think what a gift we offer one another when we see and treat fellow believers as precious saints of God, as recipients of that same life-changing grace that we’ve received. As we reflect God’s love to one another, we invite others to live more deeply into the transforming truth of life in Christ.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the good stuff in this chapter, let alone the entire book. If there’s one book I’m recommending this year, this is it. I hope you’ll give it a try!
In You we’re living
In You we’re moving
In You we’re finding who we are (from Finding Who We Are by Kutless)