There are numerous wonderful things that take place when we are spiritually born again. However, the focus of this paper will be on just one of them. The moment we are placed into Christ, we become one with Him and are assigned a new identity. This is what I want to explore because understanding our new identity is necessary for us to fully appreciate our union with Christ. At salvation, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, and from Sinner to Saint.
The true meaning of those two words is not well understood so let me start by defining them. A Sinner is not just anyone who sins; it is the condition and therefore, identity, of a person that is alienated from God. On the other hand, a Saint is not a person who has reached perfection and is therefore sinless. It is a person who has been reconciled to God by having their sin forgiven. As you probably know, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and “hagios” which means “morally blameless” is the word they used for saint. It’s the word the Scriptures use to designate those who are; “In Christ,” regenerate, saved, born again, and adopted into the family of God. The Bible refers to these folks as saints sixty-seven times.
Here are a few of those references as the Apostle Paul writes to believers. To the “Saints” in Rome (Rom. 1:7); To the “saints” in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1); To the Corinthians, “Saints by Calling” (1.Cor. 1:2); To the Philippians, “Greet every “saint” in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 4:21); To the “Saints” in Colossae” (Col. 1:2); “Peter visited the “saints” in Lydda. (Acts 9:32) None of these people were deceased individuals who had been canonized and assigned sainthood. They were living individuals who were born again by the Holy Spirit of God.
If you are “In Christ,” God views you as holy and blameless, and therefore one of His saints. So how can we explain the gap between what God says about us and what we experience daily? The answer is in understanding what part of us became a new creation, therefore, a saint. It wasn’t our body or soul that died and was given new life, so that leaves just one possibility. (Gal 2:20) Our spirit is the part of us that became a “new creation” and is what God views as saintly. (See my article, “Thoughts about an important Bible verse”; Its on my web page: glennmurray.net) When we receive Jesus, Scripture tells us that we are given His life, which means our human spirit is replaced by the Holy Spirit of God. (Titus 3:5) God no longer views us as a sinner, He sees us as one of His saints, so that is why Paul uses that word for the early believers.
Therefore, when I hear a person begin a talk with, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” I know they don’t understand their new identity in Christ. It’s a Christian cliché, and it may be an attempt to be humble, but it’s misplaced. If well taught, that same person believes that at salvation, they are by faith, placed into Christ, made one with Christ, receive the life of Christ and become part of His body. So why would you call any part of His body, a sinner? To be more Biblically accurate we should say, “I was a sinner, but I’ve been saved by His grace, and I am now one of His saints.”
Does that mean that a person who is saved, will never sin again? No, but it does mean that when we sin, it doesn’t switch our identity from saint back to sinner. Our identity was permanently sealed when we were reconciled to God. (Eph. 1:13-14) Unless you believe you lose your salvation everytime you sin, we are saints who can still sin.
Since even as believers we will still sin, how should we respond when the Holy Spirit convicts us? Be quick to repent and say something like; “Lord I agree with you that I have sinned and I am truly sorry. I don’t want to live like that; please help me be more consistent in my behavior. Thank you that you have already forgiven me for this sin and you’re not mad at me because Jesus bore all your anger for my sin on the cross. Once again I present myself as a living sacrifice and recommit to letting You live your life through me.” Then get up and act like a saint whose sins were totally forgiven on the cross. (See my article; God’s forgiveness, partial or total)
An experience that helped me understand and accept how God views me, took place while visiting a museum in Florence, Italy. It houses Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David, and even though I am not a connoisseur of art, I was mesmerized by it. When one of the docents noticed my interest in the stature, he volunteered to give me its history. He said that two other sculptors of equal talent tried to work on that block of marble but rejected it as being, “uncooperative.” Then Michelangelo employed his artistry, and we have David. Since everyone knew that two other sculptors of renown said that piece of marble was worthless, Michelangelo was asked, “How did you do that?” His answer was simple but oh so profound; he said, “I just saw David inside and took away everything that wasn’t David.
If we had been there while Michelangelo was chiseling away on the nondescript block of marble, we would not have recognized it as a masterpiece. Nevertheless, even while it was unfinished, dusty, and messy, in Michelangelo’s mind, it was complete. Others would have called it a work in progress, he saw only the finished statue of David inside. That is a perfect illustration of how God sees believers. When He looks at any person, who is “In Christ,” He sees His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. (Mat. 3:17) He doesn’t see our faults or sins; He sees only the righteousness of Jesus. We see ourselves and others as unfinished projects in the same way as we would have seen David in the studio. However, God sees us as already perfectly conformed to the image of His Son and on display in heaven. (Rom. 8:29-30)
The story of Levi, the tax collector, also helped me understand how God can view me differently than I view myself. (Lk. 5:27-32) The gospel of Luke says that Jesus saw Levi sitting at the tax booth, so let’s start there and see what we can learn. Levi did not have “multiple personality disorder,” but he did have three identities. The one that everyone knew we will call the public Levi. He was despised because as a Jew he betrayed his own people and worked for the Romans collecting taxes. Then there was the private Levi, the internal person whose thoughts are unknown to others. One can only guess at what kind of person he had become on the inside in order to betray his people. Then there was the Levi that Jesus saw because Scripture tells us there was also an Apostle sitting at that tax booth. Jesus knew well the reputation of tax collectors, and He knew what was in Levi’s heart because he could understand his thoughts. (Mat. 9:4…Ps. 94:11) In spite of this, he chose to focus on the Apostle in Levi and called it out. As you know Levi became Matthew, the apostle of Jesus, who gave us the gospel of Matthew.
In a certain way, we are all like Levi; we also have three identities. The public persona our friends know, the internal person only we know but we are also the redeemed person who Jesus knows. If you are “In Christ,” that’s the real you, and everything depends on which identity you focus on. If you focus on the one your friends see, you will become plastic and make decisions based on what they will think of you. If you focus on the person you know, you will be discouraged, defeated, and maybe even depressed. Who doesn’t have some things currently or in their past that they would not want to be known? However, if you believe and focus on what Jesus says about you, you’ll experience the abundant life. (Jn. 10:10)
Levi had to wonder why Jesus would choose him. He must have thought, Jesus you don’t know who I am or what I’ve done. Of course He did, but Jesus is in the redeeming and transforming business. If you are reading this, you are likely one of those he redeemed and transformed. If you had been a member of the church in Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, or Corinth, the Apostle Paul would have called you a saint. In the same manner, I believe if Paul wrote to the church of which you are currently a member, he would address the letter; to the saints at, ____. If they read that letter on Sunday morning in your church, would you now feel that it applies to you?
Remember, if you are “In Christ,” God has given you a new identity and views you as righteous as His son Jesus. (2 Cor. 5:21) We call ourselves believers, so by faith, let’s start believing what God says about us.
Now that you are one of His saints, God wants to make your mind, will, and emotions (soul) congruent with your regenerated spirit and conform you to the image of Jesus, by a process called sanctification. This is also an important topic, which is covered in another article.