A song by Brandon Heath resonates with me. The song is called “I’m Not Who I Was” and that describes any person who has decided to put their trust in Jesus Christ. It certainly describes me. I am not who I was forty years ago or twenty years ago or even one year ago. This journey with Jesus cannot be status quo. You are either going forward or backward. Most of us have done both at various times during the journey. I have made a lot of mistakes over the thirty-nine years of my fumbling, bumbling, stumbling walk with Jesus. So the lyrics by Brandon Heath echo my own experience.
I wish you could see me now
I wish I could show you how
I'm not who I was
I used to be mad at you
A little on the hurt side too
But I'm not who I was
I found my way around
To forgiving you
Some time ago
But I never got to tell you so
Heath’s song illustrates Paul’s familiar text about becoming a new creature in Jesus Christ. Those verses takes on a fresh new perspective in this translation from The Message.
Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you. (I Cor 5)
We do get a fresh start and the slate is clean before God. But we have a hard time accepting that amazing grace. We have a hard time applying that to our lives and perhaps a harder time applying that to others. We tend to look at snapshots of a person’s life and form judgments based on those few images. But the progress of Christ in a person’s life is revealed in the total album of their journey. You could have taken some snapshots of my life during spiritual deserts that would have led you to believe that I was not a very good Christian and maybe not a believer at all. I am grateful that God does not give up on His children who wander.
Samuel Johnson wrote that "God does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?" That is a great question. But we too often do exactly that. We desire grace but don’t grant it. Too often we dwell on the weakness and not the gifts that God has given others. Or we acknowledge the gifts but make sure to note the weaknesses. All of us are a mix of gifts and flaws. And over the years God patiently knocks off the rough edges as He molds us more and more in His image.
Buy it. Borrow it. Get your library to stock it. But please read this book. The authors have a great approach to teaching who we are in Christ and helping me (and you) really understand that I am not who I was. Here are some nuggets from that book.
God is not interested in changing the Christian.
My heresy alarm sounded prematurely when I first heard this comment from the TrueFaced guys. But listen to the rest of the story.
God is not interested in changing the Christian. He has already changed us when we believed in Jesus for salvation. At that point our spiritual DNA was rewritten and we became a new person in Christ. God wants us to believe that He has already changed us so that He can get on with the process of maturing us.
Grace changes our life focus from struggling with sin issues to trusting who God says I already am. I am a saint who occasionally sins, not a sinner who is striving to become a saint. If we focus on struggling with sin issues, we will never experience trusting who God says I am. If we focus on the trusting who God says I am, we will experience unparalleled transformation regarding our sin issues. Grace lets God handle sin. Moral striving to become godly only keeps us enslaved to sin. Shifting to trusting God helps us take ourselves less seriously while taking our sin far more seriously.
Powerful stuff. I am experiencing unparalleled transformation as I am finally comprehending who I am in Christ and what it means to put my full weight on that truth.
I am walking this road with dozens of people who could say with confidence that they are not who they were. But the problem is that sometimes they are not who we want them to be. The question I have to answer is do I give them the grace to trust that God is getting on with the maturing process? God accepted me when I was unacceptable. God is maturing me after decades of being on a spiritual treadmill…running like crazy and getting nowhere. Lord help me to have the grace to accept others even when their behavior may make that task difficult. We have a hard time with that, don’t we? We keep score and are quick to point out failure to justify our lack of acceptance. Paul addressed such behavior to the Ephesians.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil….
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Eph 4 NLT
And yes, I know that I may get burned by that approach. But if I am to err I pray that I will err on the side of grace. Don’t give up hope. We need to give others (and maybe ourselves) the grace to believe that maybe, just maybe, a whole lot of us are not who we used to be.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.