Sinner to Saint: The great news about the Good News
Growing up in a fairly typical Evangelical-Christian home, I am of course well versed in the traditional Gospel message: pray the sinner’s prayer, believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I’ll go to heaven. And afterwards, like a after-care instructions following an operation, I know to read my Bible and pray every day and I’ll be ok.
Except I wasn’t.
Even after having a radical encounter with God 8 years ago like something straight out of the book of Acts I was still the same old me; like many others I was convinced that I would have a lifelong struggle with the same old struggles of the flesh. I would cry out like Paul in Romans 7 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” and “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Thankfully my story, like Paul’s, does not end in Romans 7. Romans 8:11 says “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” What had never occurred to me until I experienced it was that this verse is actually true. The greatest news about the Gospel is that its not just about getting your ticket punched to go to heaven for eternity, but that Jesus came that you and I might live an abundant life on the earth as well.
I’m not talking about a prosperity Gospel here. I’m talking about genuine, honest-to-goodness life change more powerful than the best-selling self-help book on the market. I’m talking about to-good-to-be-true freedom from lifelong character flaws, struggles, and traits. I’m talking about the scandalous truth of the cross: that Jesus died as our sin-nature that we might live His life instead. (2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 6:4) The law of sin and death that Adam unleashed upon the earth was brought to an end in the life and death of the Incarnation of God Himself, living the life that none of us could live to satisfy the requirements of the death we chose for ourselves through sin.
For me, this news took a bit to travel from my head to my heart; about 6 years in fact. But the damage it has done to my old self is irreparable – he’s dead, Jim. The process in short looked a bit like a parent dragging a kicking and screaming toddler at times, but I survived (or rather, I didn’t).
What I discovered was that seeing myself in the light of the truth of how the Father sees me is the only way to become who He made me to be in the first place. I lived about 32 years of my life believing so many lies about myself that at one point during the process I saw pictures of myself from childhood and could barely recognize the kid in the pictures as me. Once God lifted the veil from my eyes and the lies I had believed for so long fell away, it was almost scary to look back at my old thought patterns and wonder how in the world I could have believed the evil thoughts that I was convinced were my own.
You look just like your daddy
Anything about our lives that isn’t Christ-like is a lie, because we were made in the image of God. Whatever the issue is that we deal with or face, if we approach it with a self-help mentality convinced that by trying a little harder or using some mental judo next time we won’t stumble, then we’re missing out on the grace afforded to us at the cross. Those issues, struggles, or addictions are not you. Let me say that again:
You are not your issues, struggles, or addictions; so stop trying to fix them and die already.
The Holy Spirit, being the amazing helper that He is, is the foreman of the job-site of your heart. And He’s really good at His job if we actually let Him do it. Like an expert baker with a Jesus-shaped cookie cutter He presses us into the mold until everything that doesn’t look like Jesus falls off. The only catch is that He’s a gentleman and He won’t force Himself on us: If we are comfy-cozy in our dysfunction He’s not going to override our free will.
In my own life, this looked exactly the opposite of what my religion-poisoned thought patterns insisted it should. I won the fight by giving up. I’m serious. Jesus was able to truly bring me to a place of freedom only when I stopped trying to fix myself. I fully acknowledged and accepted how dysfunctional my life was – how completely enslaved and ensured I was to so many different things. But I stopped trying to fix them. I came to a place of believing that someday I would be completely free if I would just follow the Holy Spirit and focus on only what He was focusing on rather than being my own worst critic because of how my life looked from the inside and out.
Adjusting our aim
The Greek word for sin is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. The Father created us in His image, and our sin clouds and pollutes that image. He is the mark, and our sin causes us to fall short. But Jesus became sin and brought an end to the rule and reign that sin has in our mortal bodies. When the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus, not our sin. Why don’t we?
When we begin to believe that we are who He says we are and positions our hearts in a place of being willing to allow His pruning. He sees the bad branches in our lives, but rather than focusing on the twigs (the symptoms of our sin nature), He goes after the root.
For my whole adult life I was convinced that I would always be a slave to my ‘pet sins’. Like a member of AA, I introduced myself to people in my head, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m an addict.” But then He began to unravel me and turned on the lights of my soul to show me the anxiety and fear that had ruled me my whole life. Somehow I was clueless to it – seriously – I would have near-panic attacks every night that would drive me to some hidey-hole or another and I had no clue I struggled with anxiety. But as He took me through the process of peeling back my life layer-by-layer like an onion, I was astounded to realize that the symptoms of my dysfunction began to disappear.
As He continued to spiritually Roto-Root me, I noticed the corkscrew in my belly every night slowly diminished until one day it was no longer there. Excitedly, I began to look back and realize how drastically different I was inside. Things that used to send me into a tailspin no longer phased me. Pride disguised as false-humility no longer caused me to need to perform for man. I began to recognize more and more of the characteristics of Christ in my life, without having done anything but yield. There were times during the process that I felt ‘less spiritual’ in my disciplines and practices than I ever had in my life. But I knew He was taking me somewhere and I learned to trust the process (and the Processor).
I’ll close with this: I don’t believe any of us will ever ‘arrive’. I think we will continue to grow in our likeness with Him for all of eternity. But I don’t think we need to wait until we get to the pearly gates to start. Are you struggling with sin? Then die already and get a move on!