September 27, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #402: How Do You See Yourself?
During a recent weekly Bible Study with our faithful Kairos ministry men from local churches, one of the men opened the meeting with a question that was meant to be asked as an icebreaker of sorts, to get everyone talking. The small chapel was nearly at capacity with 40 of us inmates sitting in a huge circle around the edges of the room, the four outside guests interspersed among us.
The opening question was simply worded, using terms that most of us have heard in church for years, and the guest posing the question made it clear that we had to choose between the two options given. The question? “Do you see yourself as a Sinner Saved By Grace or as a Saint Who Sins?” Straightforward enough, right? The moderator didn’t want anyone to blurt out their answer, so instead, he had everyone stand up. Then he said that if you choose the first answer, seeing yourself as a Sinner Saved By Grace, you should sit down. However, if you choose the second answer, seeing yourself as a Saint Who Sins, remain standing.
Now before you read further, stop and think, choosing one of the other. Of course, they both sound like decent choices, and they are meant to be a bit confusing, but choose which one best suits you.
Out of forty guys in that room, nearly every one of us sat down. Just four remained standing, plus the outside guests. At the point that some of the guys saw that they weren’t standing like the guests were, they began saying that both statements were equally valid. It seemed as if everyone was talking at once, trying to each defend their sitting positions. But first, the moderator wanted to hear from the four guys who’d remained standing, to hear why it was that they chose the second option, seeing themselves as Saints Who Sin.
After each of the four spoke, articulating their position, several of the Sinners Saved By Grace crowd would jump in and try to explain why they’d more likely see themselves as sinners than saints. I listened intently to each, waxing eloquent, passionately stating with Scripture to back them up, why they’d chosen correctly. I kept my knees slightly bent so that I wouldn’t lose circulation and faint like a groomsman in that awesome wedding I was at once, which allowed me to remain standing throughout the hour-and-a-half discussion.
When my turn to speak finally arrived, I had another decision to make. See, I’m very competitive. That is, if there is a game to be played, a game to be won, I want to play that game and win. However, I’m a fairly decent winner. I don’t gloat or rub it in. And I’m the best loser. (I’ve had lots of experience losing.) I make fun of myself, congratulate my opponents, and all that jazz.
By the time I spoke, it was quite obvious to most that I was one of the four, ah, non-losers, but I had to choose whether or not I should make it even more obvious to the guys who still weren’t getting it. Oh, don’t get me wrong: they knew they should have remained standing, but they didn’t want to concede they’d made a mistake. And something within me loves helping people concede their errors. That couldn’t be pride, could it?
I was as gentle as I could be. For starters, I pointed out that, no, the two options were not at all the same or similar, as many contended. The question posed was about how we SEE ourselves, which implies present day, not if at one point in time you as a sinner HAD BEEN saved by grace. That fact is true of you, it can be said, but you are no longer to be defined by the term sinner. God calls you a saint. You are in the unfathomable process of being sanctified, made holy. Oh, and you happen to sin on occasion, because you still live in a fleshly body that wars with your spirit. These once-in-a-while, non-habitual sins do not define you, nor are they what God sees as He lovingly looks upon you. He sees His child, a set-apart-one, a saint.
Furthermore, I explained, to claim (as many that day had done) that it seems arrogant to consider yourself a saint, that you’d rather see yourself as a lowly sinner who has been miraculously saved, is preposterous. It is also a charming example of false humility. That is, you are trying to appear less than your station. True, a sinner you once were. We all, at one time in our lives, were defined by being in sin. And true, God saved you through Christ’s substitutionary death for you. But it is precisely that once-in-a-lifetime event, your salvation, that turned you into a saint, albeit an incredibly ugly saint (kidding). No, but seriously, it is your sainthood, even while learning to walk in the freedom it brings, and even while occasionally screwing up along the way, that makes you truly beautiful in your spirit. So own it. Start seeing yourself the way God sees you, instead of identifying with your past.
The hard part for me wasn’t ascertaining the intent of the question, picking the most accurate answer, or finding Scripture verses to defend my choice. And of course, I don’t have a problem articulating my position on matters, whether it be one-on-one, to a roomful of people, or to a large audience. No, for me, the tough part was stuffing the “I told you so” deep inside and not letting anyone hear me say, “Feel free to stand, unless you’re still a sinner” and other taunts that came to the mind of this Saint Who is Still Learning Not to Sin. Are you standing with me?