As Christians, we struggle daily with sin. We should seek to be honest about our sin, transparent with other trusted friends, and repentant. When we see this pattern of life in others, we affirm it as good and biblical. Because it is.
Yet there are times when we begin to make the mistake of identifying ourselves with the sin we so often struggle with. Our culture teaches us that what we do determines who we are. We see the sin that we do and determine that we are the sin we struggle with. We are a struggling sinner. However, the Bible teaches that who we are isn’t determined by what we do. When we listen to our culture, we begin to view ourselves, as Christians, in an unbiblical way. We see all of our sin struggles and determine that we are a struggling sinner in the sight of God. That is the ultimate way we see ourselves and how we think God and others ultimately see us.
We begin to be consumed with our sin struggles. They dominate our thinking. When it comes to our relationship with God, it is primarily marked by unending sadness that we daily sin against God, and the idea that all God really cares about is telling us to, “Stop it.” When it comes to our relationships with others, they revolve around us trying to be a better spouse/friend/family member. We are constantly confessing sin, never rejoicing in grace, and always upset that we are not a good person to be in a relationship with.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t grieve our sin, or seek to be a more loving spouse/friend/family member. What I am saying is that when that is your all-consuming daily reality, you are probably identifying yourself in an unbiblical way, rather than in a gospel way.
If we identity ourselves before God by saying, “I am a struggling sinner,” then that means we believe, in the sight of God, we are less than perfect. We have some righteousness, which has been given to us by Jesus. God sees that. But we still have some sin in us; our flesh. God also sees that. So, we believe God sees a person with a mixture of perfection and imperfection. But this is not the identity of someone in Christ.
In Christ, God sees you as perfect. If you have believed in Jesus, God sees no imperfections when he looks at you. Just as God sees no imperfections or sin in Jesus, He sees none in you. And He treats you accordingly. When you believed in Jesus, His perfect righteousness was imputed to you, or counted as yours by God.
You identity before God is perfect. Righteous. Without sin. Without imperfection. You are a pure, holy, sanctified saint in the sight of God. All because of Jesus’ righteousness given to you through faith, not your works.
“But what about my actual, real sin struggles?” Well, yes, they are real. God knows about them. But they don’t define you. Jesus defines you. Jesus’ perfection defines you. You no longer have to identify yourself with your sin. Yes, you own it as your responsibility, your struggle, and your sin to repent of. But before God, you own the truth that you have been counted as perfect in his sight. He doesn’t identify you with the sin you struggle with.
When you think about your sin struggles, you can now say with Paul, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:17). Amazing! Paul says, “My sin? It isn’t me doing it. It is sin dwelling within me. I am still attached to a sinful flesh and thus still struggle with sin.” Paul is not saying he doesn’t take responsibility for his sin. He is just saying his sin struggles don’t define him or his relationship with God. This seems to be Paul making a clear distinction between who he is in Christ, and what he struggles with. To Paul, those are two different things. Who he is in Christ transforms what he does, not the other way around.
What might Paul say about his identity?
“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
I have been “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. 6:11
I am the “righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21