Are You a Sinner? What Kind?

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Congratulations! It takes tremendous courage to open a mailing with this title. I want to use last week’s posting as a springboard to explore what I consider an absolutely essential truth for earnest Christians to grasp, not just with their minds but experientially in their hearts.

It was shocking to me when I accidentally discovered Jesus hiding among the bookshelves in a public school library in the person of the librarian. In like manner, everyone who read the posting about the incident last week experienced a response of some kind as well.

Some of us responded with, “That is wonderful, encouraging news that she has joined those of us who are ‘kingdom Christians’ as an example to the church of what being light and salt as a Christian in the world is all about.” This is the response of a present day “Pharisee” who is convinced he is already pleasing God by his outstanding Christian life, although he is unlikely to recognize that as his reaction. Interestingly, the Pharisee is the only one of these kinds of sinners for whom Jesus had harsh words.

Sadly, that was my first response, as it always is, whether it is substitute teaching or going into open heart surgery assured that I would be a wonderful example of demonstrating Christian love, joy and peace in difficult times.

It was not until thinking about the librarian incident when I got home that I realized that she had done a much better job of “ruling in the kingdom” than I had done the previous period, with the same children, and she had no clue she was doing so. She had not “joined me”  as a testimony of anything, but she was a mirror that exposed me as not measuring up to representing Jesus like she had!

The second class of Christian who read my posting was as impressed with the story of the librarian just as I was. He responded with, “Wow, I would really like to be like that lady, but I know I am not. I am not loving to the unlovely, I am critical of their faults, and continually judge them in my heart. I would have been irritated at those rebellious kids. The librarian’s story challenges me to do better. I am a mature Christian and it’s time to get my act together.” I call this Christian a “wannabe Pharisee,” earnestly wanting to be a “productive, successful, victorious Christian,” but, more insightful about himself than his Pharisee brother, he knows he is not.

These two Christians are much alike in that they both want to keep the law and be good, one thinking he is doing so successfully (although, admittedly, not quite perfectly), while the other is knowing he is, deep down inside, a failure.  

The third class of Christian is very different than his two brothers. He is the “rebel.” While he may look like he is concerned with being good while he is at church, during the week he couldn’t care less! He is into the culture of the world, not to be “light and salt,” but because he loves the world’s life-style. He thinks he is reacting to the legalism of his two brothers, but really, in his heart, because of former failures, he has given up trying to be good. As a result, he no longer cares about keeping the law of God, as expressed in 1 Peter 1:15, 16: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy for I am holy.”  

I believe each of us has a natural, knee-jerk reaction to be predominantly in one of those three camps (although not exclusively—we all have times in each); the Pharisee, the wannabe Pharisee, or the rebel. Although those in the different camps look to be living life very differently, we are really living with exactly the same internal motivation from exactly the same foundation.

The arrogant, smug, confident, proud Pharisee; the discouraged, defeated, depressed wannabe Pharisee, and the defiant, rebellious, combative rebel are all three living by God’s law—by the principle of trying to follow the rules that God says we should keep.

The Pharisee is living by God’s law and thinks he is successfully keeping it; the wannabe Pharisee is living by God’s law and sees himself constantly failing; the rebel is living by God’s law and is knowingly and willingly breaking it. He thinks he is now “free,” but he has unknowingly substituted someone else’s law that is more to his liking. He can’t get free from law-keeping. This modus operandi has been true of all of us since we ate, in Adam, of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the law) in the Garden of Eden.

Since that fateful day the law of God has been written on our hearts, and all of us are unconsciously (like a fish unconsciously lives in the water) living by the law, no matter how we look on the outside to others. In our hearts we are all the same: “As he thinks in his heart so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), not “how he acts so is he.”  In every situation we face, we ask ourselves, “Is it good or is it bad?” “Is it right or is it wrong?” “Should I or shouldn’t I?” We live by making either “good” or “bad” choices; it is in our fallen DNA. We can do no other.

But God changed all that at the cross. Our old man, with his law-keeping DNA, has been crucified, dead and buried with Jesus, and our new man, with the DNA of the Son of Man, has been raised to an entirely new way of life. That new DNA means no longer living by trying to be good by keeping the law or by trying to make good choices. No! It means living by the life demonstrated perfectly by Jesus Himself. It means living by the faith of the little child He talked of constantly for everything—simply trusting Daddy and nothing else—who now lives, post-Pentecost, inside us by His Holy Spirit, just as Jesus Himself did.

That means trusting Daddy when He says that changing you from the inside by changing your “want-to’s” is His job and not yours, and He is doing it, whether you see it happening or not (Philippians 2:13); trusting Him when He says He will meet all your needs (Philippians 3:19); trusting Him when He says all your circumstances, whether you see them as “good” or “bad,” are producing a good result (Romans 8:28); trusting Him that He is satisfied with you, right now, trapped in your besetting sins, because He has your sanctification on a personalized timetable that is perfect for you, and you are right on schedule (Colossians 1:11, Romans 8:4)!

As the church grows in its understanding of the infinite ramifications of what happened at the cross, the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:26-28 and its New Testament version in Matthew 28:18-20 will be realized. Corporate man, the body of Christ, will rule over the earth, led and empowered by the Head, Jesus, the Son of Man, in Heaven. “Now when all things are made subject to Him, (Jesus) then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him (God the Father) who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all”). God has filled His universe with His glory. No dissenting voices. God is all-in-all.

The world is being changed as we progressively simply trust Daddy that He will do as He promised.

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