The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Feb28FriGod no longer sees us as sinners, so why can't we do the same? February 28, 2014 by Major Amy Reardon
My least favourite expression is: “I'm just a sinner saved by grace.” It especially surprises me when Salvationists say this, since it is so contrary to the Wesleyan doctrine we embrace.
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
From the day we believed the gospel and declared our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, God ceased to regard us as sinners. He sees us as those cleansed by the all-sufficient blood of the Lamb. We are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19), God's own children (see 1 John 3:1) and participants in the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
The saved are not referred to as sinners in the Bible. That is the label we used to wear. But the label we now wear is “saint.” Many of the epistles are addressed to “God's holy people” in the New International Version, or “the saints” in the King James Version—terms that are essentially synonymous. Why have we not sufficiently laid claim to this identity?
It is true that many Christians still willingly, knowingly commit sinful acts. (According to our Wesleyan doctrine, it is possible to live without intentionally sinning. Such a person might commit infractions by error, but not by will.) I guess that's why people feel comfortable calling themselves “sinners saved by grace.” They still see themselves sinning! Yet despite our imperfections, we must remember that we have changed teams. We used to belong to the sinners, now we belong to the saints.
Mislabelling ourselves as sinners is dangerous. There may be many reasons why, but here a few that occur to me.
First, shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Oh well, I'm just a sinner,” gives us an out. It means that we don't have to try as hard to live a holy life. We're comfortable with our sin. But as a temple of the Holy Spirit, I must say, “I'm not comfortable with my sin!” As James 3:11 puts it, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” If I desire to carry the Holy Spirit within me, I cannot live carelessly. I am not satisfied with impurity in my life, are you? Is God?
Second, I am convinced that using the sinner label distorts the way we view our brothers and sisters in the Lord. I don't mean that we suspiciously regard one another as evil, but I think we find fault quickly because we have this “sinner” mindset. We too easily take note of each other's shortcomings. But imagine if we were trained to look upon one another as saints. If we put on a whole new set of glasses, as it were. We would be more apt to see the reflection of Christ in each other. Instead of glaring faults we'd see glaring virtues.
Finally, in viewing each other and ourselves with suspicion, we miss out on many of the facets of Christ's personality. You, me and the guy in the pew next to us are very different creatures. Because we haven't trained ourselves to find good and beauty and Christlikeness in one another, some of the differences between us may irritate when they should be allowed to radiate.
For example, I was on the platform during a praise and worship set once, and I was doing what I always do—waving my hands in the air and dancing around a bit. Afterward, someone who had watched me from the congregation approached me and made a snide comment about me being too free in my worship. He made a judgment against me according to what he thought was appropriate, Christ-honouring worship.
I am convinced, however, that those who worship like me reflect Christ in one way, and those who worship more internally reflect him in another way. The practical joker, the introvert, the person who jangles the timbrel through every chorus sung are all reflecting Christ in their own way. If we are made in his likeness, our unique personalities are varying reflections of who he is. But we are so quick to find flaws that we miss out on this holy variety, these differing expressions of who Christ is in and through us.
Can we blame all of that on the expression: “I'm just a sinner saved by grace”? Well, maybe not. But if we stopped looking at ourselves and others as sinners for life and started thinking in terms of being God's holy people, his saints, surely we'd love, understand and tolerate ourselves and our brothers and sisters better.
If you've been claiming the sinner label, try reframing. See yourself as God sees you—a holy person, an occupied temple. See if it changes the way you live. Look upon your Christian friends as saints, and see if it helps you discover more beauty in them.
The wonderful thing is that God doesn't regard who we are. He acknowledges who we will be. Someday we will be complete in our Christlikeness. In the meantime, let's hone our vision and seek out the saintliness. Let us look through the eyes of God.
Major Amy Reardon serves at U.S.A. National Headquarters as editor of the Young Salvationist magazine and assistant national editor-in-chief.
(Photo: © iStockphoto.com/PeskyMonkey)