I recently had an online debate with a fellow who was concerned that people in the church didn’t see themselves as sinners. He viewed it as heresy and dangerous if we didn’t focus on being sinners. That was how he saw scripture. I was unable to dissuade him of his views so left the matter alone after sharing my thoughts and scripture with him. I have learned over the years that continuing to beat my head against the wall only gives me a sore head, it doesn’t enlighten the other person. I do however recognize the importance of the issue so want to share what scripture presents to us.
My first point is that I see in scripture that as believers we will have a battle with sin as long as we are in this body. Paul said it this way.
15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:15–20 (NKJV)
Paul acknowledged his ongoing battle with sin, something within him that wanted to lead him to wrong thoughts and actions. However, Paul didn’t stop there, he pointed us to the solution to the problem.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:5–6 (NKJV)
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:12–14 (NKJV)
Paul’s teaching in Romans is parallel to his earlier teaching in Galatians 5:18-25 about walking with or by the Spirit rather than the flesh.
I do think we are in a dangerous position if we deny that we have a capacity or propensity to sin. However, I also see in scripture that if we focus on sin and view ourselves as sinners, holding that as our identity, we are far more prone to sin. I have often used the analogy regarding repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a change in behaviour. We are often told that to repent means ‘to turn and go the other way.’ That is in fact the result or fruit of true repentance, not the repentance itself. Now, imagine you were a lost sinner, had a change of mind and heart (repented) and started following Jesus. You have done a 180 degree turn. Now imagine you keep looking back to where you were while trying to walk forward. It would occasion a lot of falling.
That is how I see our walk with Jesus. If I am focused on sin and hold onto an identity as a sinner, I am looking back. Scripture doesn’t teach that. Scripture says that if I am to walk in victory over sin I need to look to Jesus, the ‘author and finisher’ of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Scripture makes provision for when we fail and do sin, it doesn’t tell us to hold onto an identity as sinners.
7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7–9 (NKJV)
Paul provides a further key to living rightly in our walk with Jesus.
4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. Philemon 4–6 (NKJV)
I want the good things in me in Jesus, to set my mind on things above, on Christ in me the hope of glory and recognize His ongoing transformative work in my life. What is your focus?