Friday, June 19, 2020

“Christian Sacred Cow” No. 4 — “I’m just an old sinner, saved by grace.”


We continue our discussion of Christian “sacred cows” — ideas or sayings we accept without thinking just because they’ve been traditional. Like the sacred cows that roam unhindered in certain regions of India, we don’t question these statements because they sound pious, or holy, and are so widely accepted we never venture to examine them in the light of the full testimony of Scripture.

One of these “sacred cows”is the statement one often hears, “I’m just an old sinner, saved by grace.” People think saying this makes them sound humble and religious, because it would be prideful to claim they’re not sinners. But does this idea stand up to the Berean test, a thorough scrutiny and deep understanding of the Scriptures? That was the test applied by the people the apostle Paul met in the ancient city of Berea (Acts 17:10-12) who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

It’s really easy to dispose of this “sacred cow,” once we remind ourselves that as believers we’re members of Jesus. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . ,” says Paul, “and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The “body,” of course, is the body of Christ, and we’re members of that body. The New Testament tells us that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As Paul states, “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So follow the logic here: if you’re in Jesus, and Jesus isn’t a sinner, then you can’t be a sinner either.

That doesn’t mean that, from time to time, we don’t commit sinful acts. Paul often has to remind his readers — whether in Corinth, or Ephesus, or wherever — to avoid sinful conduct of one sort or another. He warns the Corinthians, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Christians can slip up once in a while; if that weren’t the case John wouldn’t have told his readers, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

But just because we don’t always measure up to the standard of godly behavior doesn’t mean we’re supposed to brand ourselves as “just an old sinner.” We were sinners before we knew the Lord, but when we were “saved by grace” we stopped being sinners and became “the righteousness of God” in Messiah Jesus. What I do on a few occasions doesn’t mark my identity for my entire life. Sometimes I drive a car, but that doesn’t mean I’m always a motorist. Every week I go the store, but that doesn’t make me nothing but a Walmart customer. Three times a day I enjoy a meal, but I’m not just an eater all the time. So for me to say, “I’m just an old sinner, saved by grace,” is to feed another “sacred cow” I shouldn’t be feeding.

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