The consumer church today often sends a false but feel-good message that our introspective and negative thoughts about ourselves are all unscriptural and just bad psychology.  The premise is that we’ve been wrongly told that we are bad things (unworthy, liars, arrogant, adulterers, proud, angry murderers, deceivers– this list could go on ad infinitum).  We begin to believe these things and then we become them. In fact, we begin to act them out in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The theme is clear: we are not those things and we need to stop telling ourselves that we are – we have been freed from all of this by the forgiveness found in Christ. In other words, we must stop thinking ourselves to be sinful. I believe this is a subtle and dangerous concept. I believe that we ARE all of those things but Christ isn’t.  And that is the essence of the Gospel and grace.

Let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus peels back to layers of our wicked hearts. If you are angry at your brother then you are a murderer.  If you lust then you have committed adultery. He is making it clear that if we think that we are not all of these unholy things we are terribly and dangerously wrong. No amount of positive self-talk will change the fact that “our righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  And since the committing of one sin (or the omission of doing good) condemns us in all of them (James 2:10) we must acknowledge our total depravity. So, in a practical sense, we must know that in this body we continue to demonstrate the very sin nature that necessitates our salvation.

However, when we are ‘in Christ” we are declared (the word “declared” is pivotal) righteous. We aren’t righteous but He proclaims us to be based upon His own sinlessness.  So, it all comes back to His righteousness and not ours (or our “worth”). No amount of positive self-talk will change our evil hears.  That is the regenerating work of God alone. In Christ we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes only due to the perfect life, sacrifice, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. So, it is about His true worth and not our false worth.  Frankly, any discussion that centers on us convincing ourselves of our own worth and righteousness devalues His. We must look only to Him for any sense of our forgiveness and holiness as His chosen. Anything else is just a deadly combination of the humanism and secular pop-psychology that has infiltrated the contemporary church.

Granted, Christians have the gift of the “Helper, the Holy Spirit, to aid us in overcoming these sin issues (which presumes that we still have these issues) and the power of God in us can help us deal with our evil nature (along with paralyzing, toxic, Satanic, and unhealthy self-flagellation). Yes, we now have the power to be freed of our bondage to sin. But we still have to deal with indwelling sin. We still do battle with these innate tendencies. Listen to Paul:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).

Clearly, true Christians WILL battle those propensities – that is why I believe that progressive sanctification in this life is a real process in the true believer’s life.  We DO grow into Christ’s image  (Colossians 1:10) and better project His beauty and glory.  But, then again, we are pointed back to Him as the source of both our postitional and (eventual) permanent sanctification. As you have heard, “it’s not who we are but whose we are”.

So what does that make us when we think of our identity, not in ourselves or our thinking, “in Him”?  Let’s look at 1 Peter 2:9-10:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

Let us see that our identity (who we are in Him) is:

  • Chosen by God
  • Made into a Priest (having direct access to the Farther) by Him
  • Declared holy by His sacrifice
  • Owned by God our Redeemer
  • Created to glorify His excellencies
  • Called to live out the light of His truth
  • An adopted part of His family
  • Receivers of His mercy

In other words, we get our identity from God. In fact, our identity IS our relation to God. We are chosen by God. We are possessed by Him. We are adopted by Him. We are set apart as holy by our Lord. We are recipients of mercy from Him. If there is anything good in us it is His gift to us and not of our own. Yes, we are valued.  The list above demonstrates that. But the value imposed upon us is because of Him and His grace toward us.  God forbid that we think that we have these gifts or any goodness because we think ourselves to be better than we actually are. Blessed are those who know that who we are as true Christians is totally about His unmerited favor and not our mental gymnastics.

So, please do not buy into the deception that we are inherently good.  That all we need to do is to think we are OK and therefore we are.  We are not good (Romans 3:10).  That’s why Jesus lived and died – so that we could be declared righteous.  If we are anything good before God it is because He sees the sinlessness of Christ and not our “filthy rags”.  Otherwise, His dying was in vain.  Therefore, we must look to the cross.  That is where we find who we are “in Him”, “by Him” and “through Him”.