Sinner Saved by Grace, or Saint who Occasionally Sins?

I remember being asked this question years ago, when I was on a panel with my director. I emphatically answered that I saw myself as a sinner saved by grace (which to me highlights God’s spectacular, totally unmerited gift), and my boss just as assuredly gave the opposite answer, wanting to see himself compassionately, as the saint who Christ sees, and stop listening to the negative messages bombarding him.23447500-1239927758 Probably we were both right, but our rather heated exchange that followed showcased my need of being saved and his occasional sinning.  🙂

Lately, I’ve been reflecting more about this issue that we don’t like to talk about. Sin levels the playing field; it’s a condition that we all share. When I see myself clearly, as a person desperately in need of saving, it doesn’t cause me to wallow in my unworthiness. Instead, as the distance between me and Christ lengthens, a distance I can’t possibly cross on my own, I’m blown away that He willingly stooped down to reach me with His boundless mercy. It makes me love Him and want to follow Him all the more.

So here’s the thing. Over the last several years, I’ve grown a little weary of male pastors using the same one example every time they speak of sin. Pornography. Yes, I get it that this is an insidious issue that increasingly ensnares many men. But it’s not something most women struggle with. And when it’s the only example given, it can leave women feeling, “I must be doing pretty good!”  A few weeks ago, I was in a situation where the male leader recognized that the young ladies in the group probably couldn’t relate to his words about pornography, and he admitted he didn’t have a clue what things, if any, that girls struggled with.

If any? If we don’t see our problem of sin, then how can we see our need of a Saviour?

I’m never quick to think of a response on the spot, but afterward I mulled it over. What could I have said to shed light here? I wish I’d said that I don’t think of sin as gender-specific. It’s a shared condition of the human race. It starts on the inside, in the heart. It is born and fed in hearts that are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”  It shows up in our words and thoughts and attitudes and actions, not being limited to outward things like murder or addictions (to pornography, to substance abuse, to comforting myself with food). When we honestly ask God to search our hearts, we find all kinds of crud inside. Some of us are just more skilled at covering it over.

Sin erupts from self-centered hearts, hearts that put our own desires above all else. Above the Lord. Above other people. Sin rears its ugly head when we secretly delight when someone we don’t exactly like is put in their place, or we’re somehow elevated above them. Sin is evidenced when we try to manipulate a situation to get what we want. Or when we’re anxious. Or angry. Or envious. Maybe we’re desperate for approval. Or we’re prone to gossip. Or criticize. Perhaps we put our trust in something, anything, beside Jesus. It’s all-inclusive. And we’re all sick with it.

This morning, I appreciated Oswald Chamber’s description in my daily reading. “How are we going to get a life that has no lust, no self-interest, and is not sensitive to the ridicule of others? How will we have the type of love that is kind, is not provoked, and thinks no evil? The only way is by allowing nothing of the old life to remain, and by having only simple, perfect trust in God— such a trust that we no longer want God’s blessings, but only want God Himself.”

Even the smallest, most innocuous sin separates me from a holy God. All of the blackness in my heart and on my tongue (even what I may think is just dark gray) needs saving and forgiving. And Praise God, Christ can do it! He can forgive the ugliest thoughts and the vilest deeds. There is hope.


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