Christians often refer to themselves as "sinners," and while it's true that we all have sinned and will likely sin again in the future, I'm afraid that we sometimes see ourselves as only slightly improved from our former sinful selves, and only slightly "cleaner" than the sinners of the world. I think that sometimes we feel compelled to beat ourselves up. We think that being humble means having a very low self-image. We see ourselves as an already muddy pond, and when we sin, we're just tossing in another dirt-clod. After all, we're sinners. On a spiritual level, we're stained and marred.
There are several consequences of this mindset.
FIRST of all, when we see ourselves in this light, I think we tend to be more tolerant of sin. After all, if I'm just a miserable sinner - helpless and hopeless - then...isn't it just a given that I'm going to sin again. And when I do, well, "I'm human," right? Just tossing another dirt clod into an already muddy pond.
Think about it in terms of raising children. If you are constantly criticizing your children, pointing out their shortcomings and having such low expectations of them, what effect will that have on them? They're going to be depressed. Why should they try to please you if you can't be pleased? Why should they try to be good when you're constantly telling them that they're not good, and that they can't be good?
But when you encourage them, when you establish a relationship with them, when you love them and praise them for the good they do, then suddenly they have incentive to please you, don't they? Yes, they need to know that disobedience is a bad thing, and there needs to be consequences for disobedience, but at the same time, they need to appreciate the value of fellowship. There needs to be that positive reinforcement.
The SECOND danger to having this low self-image as Christians (and this is the point of the article), is that we're selling God short. Here's the question: does God mean it when He says that He forgives us?
When a person becomes a Christian, notice what happens to their sins:
"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
When the sinner is baptized, God saves them...but in saving the sinner, their sins are washed away. Other places, such as Acts 2:38, speaks of the "remission of sins" that occurs at baptism. Remission is forgiveness. So when the alien sinner comes to Christ in faith and obeys the gospel, their sins are forgiven and washed away. Completely. Totally. Absolutely. Right?
And the same is true when a Christian sins and does what is necessary to obtain God's forgiveness. Notice the following statement in 1 John 1:9...
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Do Christians sin? Yes. We sometimes do. But we're told that when we repent and confess our sins to the Lord in prayer, that our sins are forgiven. Completely. Totally. Absolutely. Right?
When God forgives us of our sins, are we still a muddy pond? Are we still stained and marred? What is the "forgiven-state," or condition, like? To what extent are we forgiven and cleansed?
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:1-2).
David, in describing the forgiven-state, says that God "does not impute iniquity." The ESV renders the verse this way: "Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity." In other words, your criminal record is wiped completely clean.
And then there's this gem from Isaiah 1:18:
"'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'"
When God saves us, He forgives us, and when He forgives us, He forgives us completely, totally, absolutely. In that state (of being forgiven), we are SINLESS. We are not a muddy pond anymore. We are pure. We are clean. We are holy. And it's not because of anything we've done to earn such a status; it's because of God's cleansing power and the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Please, grasp this point, because it has the potential to change your entire outlook as a Christian. Not only will you develop a deeper admiration of God, but you will better understand the value of fellowship. After all, when you sin, you're not tossing just another dirt-clod into muddy water; you're muddying up good, clear, crisp water. It's not just another sin on top of all the other sins you've committed. It's a brand new sin and a brand new blemish on a clean record. It's not as if God's been putting up with you with all your impurity and sin, and this is just one more sin to add to the stack. You've been "walking in the light" with God, sinless and pure, and this new sin is violating that fellowship.
Yes, we need to feel extreme guilt when we sin. Go back and read all of Psalm 32 and you'll see a wonderful example of how David felt when he was separated from God. It was painful. It was horrible. It affected the man physically. Shouldn't we all feel horrible when we sin, knowing that SIN is why Jesus had to go to the cross. Our sins! Sin is not just kinda bad. It's awful.
But here's the point: as horrible as it is to sin and to be separated from God, it is equally if not more amazing to have fellowship with God. When we are in that forgiven state, we need to accept and trust what God says: that we have been completely forgiven and we are "blessed" to be one with Him.
Yes, be humble. Yes, be on guard against sin. Yes, be patient with yourself as you grow and with others as they grow. None of us are Jesus - only Jesus lived a sinless life. We have sinned and we probably will sin. It is critical that we accept these facts.
But don't sell God short, either. Believe what He says. And value that forgiven state. Cherish it. Relish it. Maintain it. Are we sinners? In a sense, yes. But there's a huge difference between Christians and the world:
"We know that whoever is born of God does not sin: but he who has been born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him" (1 John 5:18).
When you sell God short, you sell yourself short. And when you sell yourself short, you sell God short. It's a visious cycle that too many Christians have fallen into.