by Rose Fortune
The matter of identity is constantly emphasized within the Christian community. We love the affirmation “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am created in the image of God. I am His workmanship” and so forth. While these are certainly true, we often ignore one main aspect of our identity. Let’s think for a moment about what makes us Christians. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (KJV). Simply put, it is the fact that we are sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and saved by the grace of God that allows us to be Christians. So naturally, without the blood of Jesus, without the grace of God, we are just sinners. That is our natural-born identity. David says in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (KJV). You are a sinner. Let that sink in.
Now before you think this is blasphemy, let me explain why your identity as a sinner is significant. We know that when we come to Christ, we are made new, old things have passed away and we’ve been given a clean slate (2nd Corinthians 5:17). But let’s be honest: how many of us keep that slate completely clean? We can all agree that salvation does not mean immunity from sin. Regardless of how far you are in your Christian life, you will sin. It is inevitable. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. It may not be a presumptuous sin, meaning one you actively and consciously engage in, but there will be moments when you do things that are not pleasing to God in some capacity.
Often, the further along you are in your Christian walk, the more painful it can be for you emotionally when you find yourself in sin, especially ones we love to classify as “big sins”. This is because you’ve gotten accustomed to one part of your identity and forgotten about the other. Sometimes, we get so used to being saved and covered in the grace and mercy of God that we forget that we are natural-born sinners. We start believing that we are perfect, immune to sin, too “saved” to do certain things. If you ever catch yourself looking at someone engaged in a sinful act and think “Oh wow, I would never do something like that” or you think you are too good to fall into “big sins,” you’ve forgotten part of your identity and have put yourself in danger.
Because of this, when we do find ourselves fallen in sin, condemnation and shame can overpower us to the point where we don’t feel worthy to go before God anymore. This shouldn’t be so, because we were never worthy in the first place! Conviction, which is from the Holy Spirit, will always lead you to God. Condemnation, which is not from God, will always lead you away. Romans 8:1 lets us know that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but there is certainly conviction. Think about David. When he sinned by taking another man’s wife and killing the man, he was convicted of his sin through the prophet Nathan, and this led him to run into the temple and seek forgiveness. Think about Judas. When he sinned by betraying Jesus, he also felt bad about it, but his was more of a condemnation feeling, which ultimately led him to suicide. Condemnation comes when Christians have the “I should have known better” mentality; the “I can’t believe I could ever do something like this” or “how could I let myself fall into this” mentality as Christians is detrimental.
Christianity is a constant “press toward the mark” as Apostle Paul puts it. It’s a continual fight between our two identities (Galatians 5:17). Romans 7:15-20 explains this best:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (NIV)
We are NOT good! Sin lives inside of us and it is by the grace of God that we can partake of His mercy. We are only righteous on the credit of Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21) We need to start believing this instead of walking around as if we have already made it, because if that is the case, then the blood of Jesus and the grace of God are useless. We are firstly sinners, who have been redeemed by Jesus and granted mercy by God. The beautiful thing is that though we are sinners, we are not subject to the law of sin and death, but instead the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2). We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us through this battle, to help us remember God’s word and to lead us to the truth.
While we are made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully, we can be stained by sin. God knows this. Let us understand it, and not allow the self-righteousness that often creeps in to hinder us from going boldly before the throne of grace to obtain mercy when we find ourselves in fallen positions in our Christian walk (Hebrews 4:16). Understand the totality of your identity as a sinner saved by grace, and watch how this will give you a new perspective on the love of God and open the door for conversation with unbelievers on what Christianity is really about.
Let me end with a liberating quote from Watchman Nee:
...The contrasts we have adduced above represent two experiences that run parallel throughout Scripture and are integral to our Christian life. The trouble is that we are apt to give our attention to one of the two only. There are, on the one hand, some very strong, almost extreme words in Scripture. ‘God . . . always leadeth us in triumph.’ ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ ‘To me to live is Christ.’ ‘I can do all things through Christ.’ They are bold, strong, almost boastful affirmations. Yet the same people who say these things must also say: ‘I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.’ ‘I am chief of sinners.’ (Note there the present tense in the Greek. ‘We have no hope in ourselves.’ ‘The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ ‘We also are weak in him.’ ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses.’
So we see another kind of Christian, utterly weak, sinful, trembling. We see another kind of Christian life, altogether lacking in self-confidence. These two together, Isaac with his confidence in Christ, and Jacob with his self-knowledge, are the life of the Christian.
It is because we only see one side of this that there are so many divergencies among those who preach the victorious life. We must know Christ’s fullness, but we must also know our own corruption. These are things we must see, and these are what the God of Jacob shows us through the schooling of the Spirit, until we reach the place where we really know ourselves. In too many of us there is a departmental knowledge of God. We know the Fatherhood of God, but not the positiveness of Christ. Or we know this, but lack the brokenness of the Spirit. Some know the God of Jacob without knowing the God of Isaac; they see their own weakness, but do not know Christ’s strength. No wonder they feel depressed about it! If we want a full knowledge of God we must know Him in all of these three ways, and even then we shall find that we are constantly making further progress!