You Are Not Your Sin

Imagine your heart as a circle. Before your conversion that circle is dark, enslaved to the power of sin and the flesh (Rom. 6:20). When you’re converted something changes (Rom. 6:1-11). But what exactly? Most Christians understand that we receive a “new nature,” but what that is and how it relates to our every day experiences and sanctification (becoming holy like Christ) is unclear.

For example, many Christians envision conversion as the emergence a single white dot of holiness in the darkness. Over time, that dot of holiness expands to eclipse the darkness in their hearts.

The problem with this view is that it doesn’t take seriously the “newness” of converted believers. Not much changes after conversion. We remain primarily sinful. We only hope the sprinkle of holiness grows.

When you read Paul and Peter, it’s clear that in Christ we receive a new nature, and the old nature (the big black dot) is put to death.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Rom. 6:6) 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”   (2 Cor. 5:17) 

“You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

Their teaching came from Jesus, who said “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6). Jesus taught that those who are born of the Spirit are definitively different than their old fleshly self. A new birth has occurred by the power of the Spirit. That’s the strongest possible language to express change.

Jesus wants us to ourselves as new! Thus Paul commands, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). When we become Christians we do not receive a small white dot of holiness to expand. No, we die to sin and become a new creature alive to God. Our new nature is united to Christ, and is perfectly holy.

At this point, you might feel both hopeful (because this is good news) and exasperated. Because the reality is, that none of us feel new. Few of us feel dead to sin. Many of us still feel like w’ere under its power. Moreover, someone might ask, if we’re totally new and holy, then what is sanctification anyway?
Sanctification is the process of being who you are as a new creation in Christ. On this side of heaven, even though we are new and perfectly holy in Christ, we still live under the influence of sin. We are holy creations living in the realm of sin. That means we spend our days battling: will we align our heart’s desires with our old fleshly desires, or with our true self in Christ? Will we obey the dictates of sin, or the dictates of our new heart?  Paul puts it this way, “For if you live by the sinful nature’s dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 NLT). Sanctification is living more and more in line with who you really are, while resisting (more and more) the influence of the flesh.
When we see ourselves as our sin, and not as our new nature, it causes a feedback loop of shame which stalls sanctification,”I lusted again; I’m such a screw-up; God must be so disappointed with me; how can I even come to him, he’ll destroy me; I might as well give in again…” 

The gospel of John, begins with the promise that Jesus wants to give us a new identity as “children of God” (Jn. 1:12). This new identity is at the core of the new self. That’s why, when Paul talks about battling the flesh in Romans 8:13, he immediately transitions to a description of our identity as children of God, 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-15)

Paul wants us to see that our true identity is not our sin! Yes, it may influence me, but I am not my flesh. Who am I? A child of God. This breaks the feedback loop of shame, and promotes sanctification. When we sin, we think, “What I did was wrong, but that’s not who I am; I am a son; Father, I repent; Father, thank you for loving me and claiming me; to obey you is my pleasure.”

When we’re freed from a false self-image to see ourselves as sons, everything changes. Love and desire for the father empowers us to be who we are in Christ and resist the influence of the flesh. Love and assurance from the father allows us to see that, although we sin, we are not, in our core, our sin. These truths set us free.

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