I know you are discouraged and distressed this morning. The trials and temptations you’ve faced this past week have brought you low. Suffering clouds your vision. Sin’s hangover—guilt, shame, and doubt—still pounds in your soul. The hardships you face and the failures you recounted to me loom large in your life. They seem to be what is most true, most real, and most compelling about your experience as a Christian right now. I know you have prayed about these things. You are seeking to honor Christ amidst your difficulties, and trying your best to take loving, constructive steps in your contentious relationship. I know you have asked for forgiveness for choosing to give in to desires that took you from God’s good and ancient life-giving path (Jeremiah 6:16). In spite of this, you remain heavy-hearted and downcast. May I help you shift your gaze upward?
You see, what is most true, most real, most compelling, (and most long-lasting) about your life are not the multiple places of suffering, nor your two-steps-forward, one-step-back battle against particular sins. What is most foundationally true is that you are a beloved child of the Father, a co-heir with Jesus Christ. You are a saint! Yes, it’s true! The apostle Paul used this designation for God’s people repeatedly (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2) and it characterizes the members of Christ’s body throughout the ages. You are a saint who suffers and a saint who sins, but a saint nonetheless. This is ground zero of the Christian life. It’s your most basic and primary identity. You and I are “in Christ” (a term Paul uses repeatedly to highlight the seismic identity shift that happens when we become Christians). Do you see how intimately connected you are with Jesus Christ even in a week filled with deep disappointment and discouragement?
Just consider some of the truly astounding things God says about his people (including you and me) in Scripture, descriptions that flesh out this God-bestowed designation of saint:
- We are image bearers of the one and true living God with a noble task to steward the earth for our great Creator King (Genesis 1:26–28)—not rugged individualists scheming to make our own way in a hostile world.
- We are those marked by the very presence of God (Exodus 33:16; Romans 8:15)—not isolated and utterly alone.
- We are the apple of his eye (Psalm 17:8)—not overlooked or despised.
- We are sanctified and justified in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11)—not condemned and standing in line for the executioner.
- We are chosen, redeemed, forgiven children of God in Christ, who have been given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3–14)—not left unchosen and unloved on the playground of life.
- We are adopted as God’s children and named fellow heirs with Jesus, and like him, we have the privilege of crying out to our Abba (Romans 8:15–17; Galatians 4:4–7)—not abandoned orphans left to fend for ourselves
- We are brothers and sisters of Jesus (Hebrews 2:11–12)—not strangers or mere acquaintances.
- We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9)—not disqualified or useless for his kingdom purposes.
Let the dew of these words soak into your dried and cracked soul! I know it’s tempting to just wearily nod your head and say, “Yeah, yeah, I know that.” But ask God to wrestle these realities into your life. I find I have to regularly beseech God to wash my soul afresh with these truths since I am so prone to identity amnesia.
A wise pastor once said to me in my own suffering and sin-laden discouragement, “Mike, you mistrust the goodness and love of God for you.” And he was so right. I had been experiencing God’s hand in my life as an iron fist in a velvet glove. I needed to lean into the reality of my Father’s benediction for me in Christ. His banner over me—his proclamation of my status because of Jesus’s atoning work—was (and is) love! (Song of Solomon 2:4). For me, that meant identifying creeping cynicism, unbelief, and self-condemnation, and asking God—through corporate worship, private prayer, and honest conversations with wise friends—to redirect my errant gaze, again and again, into his eyes of love.
Viewing yourself as a saint doesn’t negate the hardships and griefs of this life. Nor does it make obedience easy. But you face affliction with and in Jesus. You battle sin with and in Jesus. Let your status in Christ be the primary lens through which to view your life.
So, in your discouragement today, lift up your eyes and see your gracious King’s unchangeable countenance of love toward you. Bask in his mercy. He cleaves to you with bonds of steel-hard, covenant-tempered grace. He will never let you go. When you’re tempted to experience your chief identity as a sufferer or a sinner, remember that you are most defined by your relationship with Jesus and not by something inherent in yourself or in your world, whether good or bad. In him, you begin and end every day as a beloved saint!
Your friend and fellow saint,
This post originally ran on the CCEF blog.
SAINTS, SUFFERERS, AND SINNERS: LOVING OTHERS AS GOD LOVES US
Author and counselor Michael R. Emlet outlines a model of one-another ministry based on how God sees and loves his people primarily as saints, while bringing comfort to the sufferer, and faithfully speaking truth to the sinner.