And although you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you formerly lived…indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… But God,…made us alive together with Christ.
–Ephesians 2:1-5 NET
I met Svetlana at a pastor’s conference in Moscow. When I first saw her, she looked as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Approaching me during a break, she asked my advice on “how not to yell at her kids”. As a pastor’s wife in a city where she had no friends or family, Svetlana was idolized for having “arrived spiritually” because she was fortunate to marry a pastor. For reasons too many to explain here, Svetlana lived with a growing anger toward God and her family, which broke her heart.
Imagine the pressure she lived under knowing that in her heart she hated God, yet all the while outwardly she pretended so as not to hurt her husband’s ministry. At one point in the story, she cried for more than five minutes, unable to speak. Her pain was deep and palpable. And yet, her story is not much different from many others I meet. Bowed under the weight of rules, oughts and shoulds, too many believers try hard to live the Christian life… and fail.
Gently, I suggested there was much more to her than she thought. Terrified, and with no small amount of fire in her eyes, Svetlana asked me how I could know what was in her heart, especially since she kept that part carefully hidden. Chuckling, I began pointing out where I caught glimpses of God in her story. After all, why cry over hating her family if they didn’t matter to her? As this thought sunk in, new tears, less angry tears, began to flow. Softening, she told me about her desire to serve the God she loves, to raise her kids well, and to love and honor her husband rather than scream at him.
Like many, Svetlana could articulate that she was saved by grace but she didn’t have a good grasp on what it meant to live by grace. We are forgiven sinners. We are also new creations. The moment we trust Christ, we receive a radical new personhood, in Him, that becomes the foundation for godly living. (See Romans 6.) The change was already in her, all I did was point out God present in her and in her story.
The good news is that because of our new identity, we are no longer defined by our sin. We may struggle with sin (Romans 7:17, 20), but it is no longer our core identity as believers (Galatians 2:20). Michael Reeves reminds us in his book, Rejoicing in Christ, that “Christians are people who have given up all claim to both our badness and our goodness and instead gotten Him.”*
ACTION: If asked to describe yourself, what “sins” come to mind that define you, which you work hard to hide from view? The Good News is that they no longer define you—Christ does! Sit with that for a while. How would you describe your heart’s response to this news?
*Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ, p. 62 Kindle Edition