It happened again this morning! Because of an “allergy attack” (itchy, red, eyes and a very runny nose) I thought I should stay “locked inside” rather than venture out for corporate worship. As I have done on only a few occasions in my life, I turned on Sunday morning television and found a sister, smiling while boldly belting out, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!” The preacher who followed affirmed that tune with well-worn teachings (which I, too, once espoused) concerning the wretched heart of all mankind. I understand the condition of the lost, but now find the failure to distinguish our former state “in Adam” from our new state “in Christ” an assault on not only my ears but my very being!
If you remain comfortably accustomed to the “just a sinner saved by grace” mantra, you may be confused by my reaction. Yet, this is an area where we (like the Pharisees of old) exalt the teachings of men (“doctrine”) above the Word of God. Like the preacher this morning, who quoted Jesus from Mark’s account about defilement that comes from the heart, without sharing that Christ died and rose again to remedy that condition! For, according to God, in the New Covenant Christ removes our cold, stony heart and gives us a pure heart (consider Mark 7:1-23, Ezek. 36:25-27, and I Peter 1:22, 23). The preacher this morning actually misquoted God’s Word through Paul and claimed that we still are children of wrath: That is not what God says! God is explicit in His declaration (Ephesians 2:3) that while we were (past tense) by nature children of wrath (whose conduct matched that nature), God has made us alive in Christ, raised us up together (into resurrection life now), and has seated us with Him in the heavenly realms. If you are in Christ, you are not “just a sinner saved by grace.” You are redeemed! You are new! You are one of God’s holy ones! You are a saint!
As I was contemplating writing you about this morning’s assault, God had a brother in Seattle phone me. As we were talking about this reality he prayed for me, and told me of a picture he took while on a hike yesterday. He sent it to me, and I include it here, because it displays something of what God speaks about us. It is a picture of a tree stump. As you can see, the stump has a decent diameter, and remains quite prominent—but it is no longer the tree it once was! Much of what was there is gone, despite the rotting remnant. What is a little harder to see from this angle is that, in place of the old, a new tree is growing. I was a sinner, by nature and by actions; I lived in Adam. But God intervened. Who I was died with Christ, and the new me was raised with Him to newness of life. You cannot yet see all I am in Christ, but increasingly He shows Himself and the real me in how I think, speak, and act.
Some of you may think that “I got what I deserved for having tuned in to a TV evangelist!” Point taken. But it is not that simple. This confusion is spread to thousands over the airwaves while we gather together on Sundays and is also proclaimed from many, many pulpits. The present reality of God’s transforming work in His New Creation is unfamiliar to many (dare I say most) of our brothers and sisters. Often the difficulty seems to be sin by the saints. To address this, most preachers opt to declare ongoing depravity (“I am just a sinner”) rather than God’s Truth of Transformation. It is manifestly evident that in the First Creation, when Adam sinned, all his descendants became sinners by nature. What we must apprehend by faith is that, in the New Creation, all who are in Christ remain saints despite acts of sin! Our nature and our hearts have been made new—we are no longer by nature children of wrath. To claim otherwise denies the “such were some of you” spoken by Paul to the Corinthians (6:11); perhaps a paraphrase will highlight the assault: Rather than the generic “I am just a sinner,” how about, “I am a fornicator,” or “I am an adulterer” or “I am a drunkard” . . . saved by grace.” That is not good news! How can such a person claim to have been “saved from sin” if it still characterizes him or her? That is a huge perversion of the truth! Those things may have characterized me in the past, but no longer! Even if I engage in such an act today, I am more than my sin, much more! Sinful acts no longer characterize or define who I am. Indeed, such acts are contrary to who I really am today. For, I am new! I am a saint! I am in Christ!
May the words of our mouth, and the meditations of our heart, be consistent with God’s Words about us.