How often have you heard that you’re a no-good sinner and will always be a no-good sinner? Jesus taught, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” (Mat. 12:33) “Wash the inside of the cup and the outside gets clean in the process.” (Mat. 23:26)
Some will say, “Jesus was good on the inside, but we can never be.” This is only partially true; and it robs us of hope. The idea that we’re nothing but no-good sinners and will always be no-good sinners in this life is a terrible conflict with God’s refinement and redemption process.
In a busy restaurant, I recently overheard part of a conversation between two people, apparently Christian. One was saying, “But even when I’m saved and in heaven, I’m still a sinner. God only lets me in because His love is so great that He forgives me.” The other person nodded emphatically.
I don’t know where the rest of the conversation went, but I thought how sad it is that we’ve been convinced that even in a resurrected state in a perfect heaven, we still can be no different. Even then, we can’t be made new; we can only be forgiven, which, for many Christians, is the “greatest” expression and fullest extent of God’s love.
It’s so bleak, so minimal, so unworthy of our calling; and it’s hardly true redemption. If this is the best hope that the “saved” can look forward to, no wonder the “doomed” have less than zero chance and God is so underwhelming.
Like a steady sunrise, the day is coming when mankind, under the Son’s divine guidance, will have finally written it in the heart, and “thou shall not” won’t be necessary at all. The Ten Commandments themselves are a foreshadow of God’s mystery when people all over the world—Jews and Gentiles—really shall not lie, covet, worship false images, or kill.
Christ living in you means God’s Law living in you as richly as it lives in God. What Law? Love God will all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. “Just as He who called you is holy, so you also be holy in all you do.” (1Pet. 1:15) If it were impossible to be holy like God, Peter wouldn’t have said it. That doesn’t mean flawless; it means different. Changed. Set apart.
While we usually hear that God’s Law is the standard we’ll never measure up to, that’s actually right where Jesus leads us. The more like him we become on the inside, the less we need the Law on the outside. God’s Law will never go away, it’ll just be internalized rather than etched in stone.
How? By practicing his instructions, or “way,” to get rid of stuff that keeps people from becoming Christ-like: anger, obsession with others, swearing commitment, score-keeping and revenge, outer image, and hypocrisy. This is spiritual death. When we hold on to these or think they’re “good,” it’s impossible to do what Jesus does. It’s impossible to be holy, right, and good. It’s impossible to cheerfully turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you without having an aneurism, or go the extra mile without feeling put out.
That’s why we hear so often today that we’ll always be no-good sinners. Very few are teaching how to become less and less a sinner and more and more holy as Jesus and the original disciples proclaimed. You may be a no-good sinner, but you don’t have to remain that way. You can become holy—genuinely good on the inside, in spirit. That doesn’t mean flawless; it means different. The outside will soon unavoidably reflect it.
And that’s all God requires.