Who am I really in Christ? The Scriptures tell me that I have been recreated in Him, a new creation that is holy and righteous. The Scriptures tell me that I have been given life, and that I have been once and for all reconciled to God. They tell me that I am no longer a slave but a son, no longer unrighteous but righteous. But I get mixed messages on this from the Church.
Often during musical worship and in prayers and sermons I am told that I am an unworthy sinner, that I am a sinful man, that I have no business being anywhere near the Lord. In the same song tonight at a Christian conference there were lyrics calling me to raise my filthy hands and then calling me to raise my holy hands. Which is it - am I an unworthy sinner or a holy saint (and don't tell me it is both)?
Tonight I was told that in order to be forgiven, I have to confess my sins, citing 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." What about the sins that I didn't know I committed, the ones that I never confessed? Are those covered, too, or are they held over me, God tsk-tsking me until I remember to say that I am sorry? (For an excellent take on what I think the answer to this is, check out chapter 22 of The Naked Gospel).
When I took communion tonight, the focus was solely on the cross and on forgiveness for what I had done in the past. Has Jesus not paid for my future sins yet, or do they get paid for when I commit them and then confess them? When I confess sin in my life, is to activate God's forgiveness or is it to expose the lie that I have fallen for and bring myself back in line with Truth? Is communion just about the cross and the blood (represented by the cup), or is it also about Christ's body being given that we might have life (represented by the bread)?
Sometimes it seems that modern-day Christianity thinks that we cannot really worship God apart from thinking about how rotten we are, like seeing our sin adds to His glory. And tonight as I wrestled with feeling prideful for not wanting to focus on being a sinner, I wondered if focusing on my sin would be just as prideful. Either way it is about me, isn't it?
The cross and forgiveness were not the end of God's plan - they were the means to the ultimate end, which was God's purpose of restoring life to our sin-dead souls. Romans 5:10 says, "For if, when were God's enemies, we were reconciled [already done!] to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life." God is holy, righteous, and good, free from sin, and the gift of God to all who receive Christ is that we become holy, righteous, and good, free from the power and enslavement of sin. This doesn't mean that we don't ever sin - I'm too aware of my weaknesses and failures to say anything that absurd. But sin no longer defines me or my relationship to God, and I don't have to keep going back over my failings again and again to have a worshipful appreciation of what God has done for me Christ. I have been taken from death to life, from light to dark, from enemy to son and friend. This has already happened. When I sin, it is an aberration inconsistent with the work of God in me, and my job is not to focus on that sin but instead to remember Who God is, thereby learning who I have been recreated in Christ to be. Seeing God for who He is and recognizing that life in me leads me to worship.
It's as though the Church is afraid to really teach the good news of our new life in Christ, because we can't believe it is really that free, that good, that we could have that little to do with any of it. But it wearies me to be taken back and forth, from sinner to saint, unholy to holy. I am who I am all the time, regardless of my actions or experiences, and this not of myself, it is the gift of God. That does not make me want to sin more but rather exhorts me to live in a manner consistent with the life that is at work in me.