How does God see us? This one question will either torment or delight us, depending upon the answer we can give to it. Any Christian can put the right answer to it on a test in school. What we need is for the right answer to spring up from the hidden depths of our heart when the pressures and pains of life pile upon us. And when we see ourselves struggling under them.
For the person who believes in God through Jesus Christ, the problem of our own sins and sinfulness is a huge issue, even if we don’t want it to be. Others may not care whether they sin or are sinful, but we do. This must be successfully dealt with or our emotional healing can never rest upon a sure foundation.
Without the right foundation, we will ride a roller coaster between confidence and condemnation, faith and fear, joy and despair. Or, we may bog down in the low lands far removed from the joy of the Lord which once inflamed our hearts. One event after another and our reaction to it will raise this question, because our reactions are not always praise worthy. How does God see us when we sin? That’s coming, but first let’s explore the depth of this problem.
Understanding the Problem
Believing the basic Christian message without trusting the gospel, makes the problem worse. It needs admitting that the awareness of sin is far worse problem for a Christian than for anyone else. We possess the best solution in the world, but if we aren’t taking full advantage of it, our problem with sin is worse. This is for five major reasons:
1) We believe that God is holy, pure and just and that He (somehow) wants us to become like Him. Pagans typically think that their god has unholy attributes which they admire and want to emulate. Others think that there is no god so they can do whatever they like (that doesn’t land them in jail). We don’t have those options. We know that God wants us to become free of sin.
2) That makes our problem worse! We know that (contrary to our desires) we still sin at times and that we have a sinful side at all times. It is an article of faith with us, declared to us by our scriptures that “if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us.” Others may not see this about themselves (yet), but we see it about ourselves. And it troubles us.
3) The Bible can increase our trouble. Why? Unlike unbelievers, we believe that the Bible is true. And it is not silent about sin. It clearly states what is right and wrong and condemns all wrong-doing. The Bible shows us the very laws of God. This can really fire up the wrong kind of fear of God in us, making us even more afraid of what God may thinking or feeling about us—when we see sin in us. How we wish we could ignore this problem!
4) Ignorance, however, is not an option for us. We have (of all People!) the Holy Spirit living inside of us, showing us right from wrong with even more precision than the general teaching of scripture. He shines a greater light on everything! As much as we might want to ignore the thorny issues of sin, guilt and right living, He keeps bringing them up. Even though He does it gently and gracefully, we may still take it the wrong way.
5) We take conviction the wrong way (into condemnation) because we have an Enemy. Just because he couldn’t keep us in total ignorance, unaware of our Savior, doesn’t mean he’s quit. He works on us now as the “Accuser of the brethren”—a nefarious voice on the inside hat tears down and never builds up. Where Satan is encouraging the unsaved to sin, he works the other side of the street with us. He happily condemns us for every infraction, no matter how slight.
It seems like we have the deck stacked against us! The odds against feeling free of condemnation are worse than trying to beat the house at black jack. If we can’t get free, we walk around under a cloud, shrouded by feelings of condemnation, unworthiness and worse. Many in churches, and many more who have fallen away from attending, struggle through the day without being able to drink in the joy of the Lord and His salvation. Awareness of their own sins and sinfulness weighs them down. It doesn’t have to be this way!
A Misguided Solution
Some in the church, who see how hindered the Body of Christ is by “sin consciousness,” try to get around the problem by saying that God’s grace is so good that a Christian need never confess sin. Or notice sin. Or be aware of their own (remaining) sinfulness. We only “make mistakes.” Well, that would do it! But it would make monkeys out of us in the long run. You remember the three monkeys: “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil.”
Returning to ignorance about sin is not the answer. Christians have the Word and the indwelling Spirit to help us discern right and wrong. God is turning on the lights for us so we can see what He sees! We should be the best in the world at judging what is of sin and what is of God, whether it is in ourselves (in thought, word or deed), or in others. I want to see all of life through heaven’s superior perspective. Don’t you?
We don’t need to stop hearing, seeing and speaking heaven’s truth. What we need to go with our “sin awareness” is “gospel awareness.” Full gospel believing always produces grace awareness! The gospel of grace is God’s good news to us about who He is in His love, mercy and grace and about what He has done to help us with our problem of sin. The one who fully believes the gospel can see sin in himself (or herself) all day long and not lose sight of the grace which frees us!
The True, God-given Solution
I love the gospel of grace! I listen to the great preachers of grace in the church today with eagerness and delight. But I also love what the Word and the Holy Spirit do to help me see my sins, so that I can turn from them and keep walking in the light. My problem isn’t that I make mistakes. I make plenty of them, but the reason I make them is indwelling sin. Sin is the real problem.
God’s solution is not to call our sins “mistakes.” No, in that case Jesus would never have had to go to the cross. Mistakes don’t call forth wrath and death, but sin does. Imagine someone standing before God and trying to explain that their sin was simply a mistake. That would be a major mistake! He tells us instead to confess our sins, then believe that He is faithful and just to forgive us. He loves forgiving us and cleansing us. That’s the gospel truth!
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
We don’t have a “sin consciousness” problem. It’s an unbelief problem! Apparently, we believe the gospel of grace just enough to get us born again and “saved” for heaven. But we are left floundering in a sea of guilt, shame and condemnation because we don’t believe the gospel enough to truly liberate us in this life. So, let’s review what the gospel is trying to tell us.
The gospel of grace is God’s liberating, joy-filled message to us about what He has done. He has completely taken care of our problem with past sins, present sins, future sins and our ongoing inner sinfulness. The Blood of Jesus atones for it all! All we have to do to enjoy this amazing grace-gift of God is receive it by faith. Even entry-level believing gets us born again and gives us our first taste of joyful believing. Then, the more we really do believe it, the more joy fills us and lifts us above our sin problem!!!!!!
Here is what God says He has done. Note well that it is just as true when we are at our worst as when we are at our best. What He has done forever stands. It is complete!
- God has every right to separate Himself from us in our sins and sinfulness. Instead, He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not holding anyone’s sin against them. Nothing—not even our sins—can separate us from his love and His desire to save us. The feeling of separation is all on our side and it is easily removed when we return on the basis of honest confession and repentance.
- God our Father has every right to get angry with us over sin. This is His wrath. Fortunately for us, He put it on Jesus at the cross, so that we would never have to experience His anger. He still has a wrath (an anger) against sin itself and against the enemy and his kingdom. But He is completely reconciled to us. Even if we don’t believe this truth like we could or should, He does.
- God our Father has every right to punish us for our sins. Except that He fully punished Jesus in our place at the cross. This means that He abandoned His right to punish us! The truth is that He never, ever wanted to punish us. That’s why He asked Jesus to take it for us. And this is why He says that if we confess our sins, He is “just” to forgive us. His justice actually requires that we receive mercy! Because of God and Jesus did at the cross.
- God our Father has every right to let our sins reap the death-dealing curse they deserve. But He broke the power of the curse over us when He made Jesus become a curse in our place. Now, God promises to bring blessing, not cursing, into the lives of those who are being saved by Him. He ever promises to make all things work for our good, no matter whether the curse entered our life through our sins or those of others.
This Gospel Works Wonders in Us
Jesus was “made to be sin” so that everything that sin in us deserved (separation from God, God’s wrath, our punishment, our death) would be forever abolished at the cross. Our part is to learn to believe it when we see our sin or sinfulness. The more we believe it, the more joy-full we become. This is the endless joy of His salvation.
By a wonderful, heavenly reversal, the sight of our sins and sinfulness can now be used by us to spring-board us into praise as we get our eyes back on God and His endless mercy. If—and this is a really big if—we have learned to believe the gospel and not our feelings, or our own (natural) understanding.
God gives us this new status right away based on “entry level” believing in Jesus as our Savior. He calls this “justification.” We are justified by trusting God to save us through the Blood of Christ. This happens immediately, usually without our knowing it. Our transformation is far from finished—it has only just begun—but He sees us complete in Christ anyway. He sees the glorious end from the bare beginning.
Then, He launches us on a lifetime journey of cleansing us from sin and of growth in right living which He calls “sanctification.” It is this life-long “tug-of-war” with sin that worries us. Seeing our unfinished state can shake our faith and open doors of unbelief. Condemning thoughts gladly enter, robbing us of our confidence and joy in the Lord. But we don’t have to let them!
We can (by faith) learn to do what God does. He has chosen to see us as separate from our sins. How can He do that? Is He blind? Doesn’t He see how rotten (at times) we still are on the inside? Doesn’t He take note of what keeps spilling out of us on to others? Of course He does! He sees our sins better than we do. But He also sees something that we have a hard time believing. He sees that He has separated us from sin!
Our loving God can see sin in us all day long and still see the person we are as separate from those sins—even sins of attitude and emotion, even the desire to sin that dwells so powerfully in us at times. Note carefully the insight on indwelling sin that this passage from Romans offers.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:16-20
Whenever scripture, like a parent, repeats something, it is wise to pay attention. Paul states it twice: “it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” This is not Flip Wilson saying, “The devil made me do it.” We are not being asked to abandon our responsibility for sin being in us when we do it. Nevertheless, this shows us from heaven’s perspective that we are not our sins.
No one is truly their sin—no living human being. The enemy and his kingdom have indeed become their sins, with no possibility of (or desire for) repentance and separation from them. Tragically, those who never repent—the unredeemed who die in their sins—cannot be separated from them. By refusing to turn from sin to God, they are saying, “These sins are who I am.” They go into eternity at one with their sins and sinfulness, reaping the wrath and punishment that sin requires.
While we are alive, we can and do repent. The very fact that we repent of sin shows that it is a foreign invader in our lives—not who we really are. If we have repented and believed the gospel, God has already forever separated us from our sins. This is the immense “free gift” of justification, so breath-taking that only faith in the gospel can help us believe we’ve been given it.
Let’s remember that God can see the past, present and future with ease. He is able to look upon us and always keep in mind three things about us: who He created us to be, who we will be in heaven and who we really are even now deep down in Christ.
1) The Past. He fashioned us in our mother’s womb and He dreamed us up before time began (Isaiah 49:15). Since He is not the author of sin in us, His perfect vision still holds the image of who we really are before the fallen nature got attached to us and before generational sins or our own wrong choices began to have their effect.
2) The Future. Our Redeemer has 20/20 future vision and can always see who we are becoming as He draws us out of darkness into His light through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and our own belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13). He already sees how He is going to complete the work of transformation that has begun.
3) The Present. Mercifully, His vision also extends beyond the past and our future. He sees deep within us that there is a new creation in us by (our justification and our new birth by the Spirit). He wants us to know that this is who we really are now, despite any stubborn, but temporary, agreements we may have with sin. We are not the old nature, we are not our sins, we are not our negative emotions: we are a new creation.
Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP
Let’s Run with This!
The real you was created good and is now redeemed good. You have a new heart and a new nature—even when it doesn’t look or feel like you do. It’s the former self and fallen nature that are not good. They may tie you up in knots at times, but God always makes the separation and we can learn to do it too.
Spread this around. Separate yourself and others from the sin that dwells within. They may not even be saved yet, but they could be based on your prayers and your faith that they, too, can be separated from sin. What a difference it makes to relate to people not as permanent sinners, but as potential new creations. See them the way God saw you before your conversion, then see them as He sees you now.
Here is an important insight. Because of the reconciliation won for us by Christ, God does not separate Himself from us—only from our sins. Our sins break our fellowship with Him—not His with us. We feel the gap that sin creates, but this is not coming from any change in our Father’s heart towards us. It is all on our side. He is gloriously and forever reconciled to us!
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV
Therefore, we can confidently go to God with our sin still within us, knowing that He will receive us, accept us, love us and help us. All the while, He keeps us covered by the Blood of Christ as He cleanses us. This is why He tells us to come with boldness, and to come and get mercy first. He knows that many times we will have to come covered with sin, needing a bath on arrival!
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Why Is This So Hard to Get?
By now I hope you are thrilled to see the great things our God has done for each of us who believe in Him through Christ. Sill, you may be asking, “Why is this so hard to get? I’m getting it now, but why can’t I keep getting it? And why is it so hard to get when I need it the most?”
From the perspective of 35 years as a Christian, working with myself and literally thousands of others, I have observed four major obstacles to living “Under the Mercy.” I believe that unless these four obstacles are dealt with, believers will continue to drag along oppressed by “sin consciousness” and not “grace consciousness.”
1) Obstacle One: Not Getting it. The first obstacle is obvious. Everything in the spiritual life depends upon receiving revelation. Revelation comes to us by a grace-given combination of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit turning on the lights. Unless a person “gets it” that they are justified entirely by grace, by faith and by the Blood, they are naturally going to miss out, becoming easy prey for guilty, condemning thoughts to plague them.
Sadly, I have met many Christians who are born again, but have no idea what justification means. The Great Reformer, Martin Luther, said that the church will stand or fall by this one doctrine alone. Many today are falling into guilt, condemnation and joyless faith because they haven’t received the revelation or know how to cling to it in times of trial.
This is why some preachers concentrate on teaching justification and grace, grace, grace. However, head knowledge is not enough. Many believers who get the message sabotage their own freedom by not dealing with their hearts. There are three things that will undermine our confidence that God sees us separated from our sins. And, they will do it every time if we don’t deal with them.
Heart Issues to Clear Out of the Way
2) Obstacle Two: Unforgiveness. What goes around comes around. If we are undercutting other people’s salvation (or hope of eventual salvation) by condemning them for their sins, by saying they’ll never change, or by seeing them as their sins, then watch out! A harvest of condemnation will always come back our way when we see our own sins. For help getting free of this see “Freedom through Forgiving” at our website.
3) Obstacle Three: Self-Rejection. I hated myself for years, so I know this one from the inside. If I can’t love, forgive and accept myself, this stands in the way being able to believe that God does. I especially will be hardest on myself during those times of realized failure when I need the message of grace the most. With bizarre gusto, I will refuse to receive and give mercy to myself. I will see me through my eyes, rather than God’s. For help with this one, see “Love Thyself!” at our website.
4) Obstacle Four: Distorted Image of the Father. Buried in all our hearts, whether we like it or not, is an image of God formed by people in authority, beginning with our parents. For this reason, I have heard Christian counselors say if we tell them what our father was like, they can tell us what our relationship with God is like. We can know that God is love and that Jesus is our Savior, and still fear deep in our heart that God is like Dad. Any distorted image of God buried in the heart, undermines the one we are trying to hold in our head. For help with this see “The Father’s Heart of Love” at our website.
Don’t expect that you will get this once and for all right away. Being trained in the wrong way of seeing ourselves and others happened over a long period. It will take time and prayer, along with healthy doses of the gospel of grace, to correct our vision.
Separation is a process of discernment and recognition. The good is Christ in you joined to the New Creation that you already are and are becoming. Everything wrong comes from the enemy and your fallen nature. Learn to discern the presence of sinful heart attitudes and wrong ways.
Separate yourself from what is not you—without berating or blaming yourself. Just confess what is wrong, asking God to forgive and cleanse you. Then, trust that He does and go back to being the new you. Oh, and don’t forget to look up towards your loving Father and share the wink.
Learn to see everyone as separate from their sins—including yourself!