From a solid place – You

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Before-and-after photos are such a normal and expected part of marketing these days that advertisers will often go to great lengths to make them impressive. I remember many years ago noticing that the weight-loss advertisements simply showed the person’s belly relaxed in the before and tightened in the after. There was really no change. But the ones that really got noticed were those that actually had different people in the two photos. Sometimes you can see a tattoo or even a different skin color between the two pics.

One of the keys that will allow us to move into new areas of life with confidence is understanding the truth about ourselves. Who you were before vs who you are now. If there has been a change, you want to acknowledge that change.

When Jesus saw the man who had been born blind, He immediately saw the man’s need. He saw him as a blind man who needed healing. That’s important. Jesus didn’t see the man as a lower class Jew. He didn’t categorize the man. Nor did He see the man as an object lesson. He saw the true need of the man’s life. That was before.

Then Jesus healed the man.

Later, after the man was questioned and rejected by the Jewish leaders, Jesus found him again. Notice that Jesus sought the man out. When Jesus found the man, discouraged and still alone, it was important to remind him what had happened.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.” (John 9:35–38, NKJV)

“You have seen Him,” Jesus said, “and I am He.” The man had met Jesus and his life was entirely different. Everything was new…because of Jesus. That was after.

Abusers will not want you to escape your past. They will try to keep you where you were weak and confused and discouraged. They will try to ignore the changes that have happened, the new you. And they want you to forget. Your value to them lies in their ability to manipulate and control you. If you have changed, that ability is gone. So, you must never leave what you were before.

But Jesus has reached into your life and made a difference. You are not the same person you were. The blind man was no longer blind! The only people who would think of his blindness were those who knew him before, and they could no longer call him “the blind man.” They didn’t quite know what to call him yet. But listen: anyone who met him from that point on would not associate blindness with the man.

And anyone who meets you after Jesus touches your life will not know the you of the past. You are only the “after.” The new you. The old you, as Jesus said, is gone. There may be those who remember. You may remember. But you are not that person.

You see, there is great strength in knowing the truth about yourself. If you allow the evil ones to convince you that you are still that weak and compromised person, without hope or promise, then they will continue to control you. But if you embrace the new life Jesus has given you, they cannot touch you.

The new you is part of the truth you must remember and trust. It is a gift from the Lord who loves you.

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What does it mean to “mourn”?

It’s Monday Grace!

It is important to remember that our perspective will almost always proceed from the world in which we live. Jesus, on the other hand, saw reality from the world in which He lived. He might have walked in this world, but He was never out of the presence of the Father, never parted from Heaven.

So, when we read something like “blessed are those who mourn,” we tend to think of those who have lost friends or family members and are grieving. Adding the promise of comfort fits our perspective quite well. But on the hillside that day, surrounded by the multitude, Jesus took the idea much further.

Perhaps he saw someone who was recently widowed or had lost a child or parent. Perhaps he saw someone dressed in the clothes of recent grief. He spoke lovingly of the healing comfort of the Father toward that person. But the words He used would have been familiar to the people, especially those who knew the Scriptures.

Isaiah 61:1–3 (NKJV)
1“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
3To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

This section of Isaiah is about the Messiah and the promise of the kingdom. Who are those who mourn? The ones who look at the past and see the need of their people for the Savior. The ones who know their own sin and need for the deliverance of the Lord.

These words come immediately after and tie to the idea of the person who is “poor in spirit.” The people had been taught to do good works and keep the rituals so that God would see them and bless them. The ones who did this best were, of course, the teachers, perhaps the Pharisees. They inferred that God would notice, even owe, those who did these good things.

But what about those who looked honestly on their lives and saw that they brought nothing of value to the Lord? What about those who understood that their spiritual poverty meant they had nothing in their hands? When they thought of what they had lost through their own foolish choices, what they had suffered and how they had caused others to suffer, nothing was enough to overcome their debt. These were the ones who mourned their sin and were ready for the Savior.

To mourn, then, meant something far more than to suffer from grief. To mourn meant to see the real loss. The loss of the loved one is great, but the loss of hope and promise and life is truly devastating. When we finally understand that we bring nothing in our hands to the only One who brings hope and comfort, then we are ready to embrace the grace of God.

The theme of the Sermon on the Mount, as I outline in my book, is very simple. Jesus offers Himself as the answer. He says, from beginning to end, “Follow Me!” The answer is found in Jesus. If you think your good works will save you or even bring about the blessing of the Lord, you don’t really understand your need. Only Jesus is enough.

Now, I want to be sure that we all see the rest of the story. Yes, we came to Jesus mourning our sin and poverty, but then we found our comfort and hope in Him. We are no longer poor in spirit, and we no longer are mourning. The kingdom of Heaven is ours, and Jesus is our comfort.

Jesus is the center point. On one side, there should be a sense of poverty and grief rather than pride, because we do not have what we need. On the other, there should be a sense of fullness and joy because of what we have. The message of grace simply asks us to remember which side of that center point we are on.

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From a solid place – God

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have always been aware that the topic of narcissism draws both Christians and those who do not consider themselves to be believers. While I write primarily for believers, I truly desire to give hope and encouragement—as well as simple advice—to anyone who reads here.

There is a deep need in each of us to be loved. For most who have found themselves in narcissistic and abusive relationships, the desire for love opened that door. We opened our hearts and lives because we wanted to be valued and respected. When we discovered the truth about the relationship, we felt betrayed and used. We trusted that love was reciprocated, but we were deceived.

According to John 9, the man who was born blind was a beggar. I can only imagine the loneliness and rejection this man felt day after day. He could hear the sudden pause of conversations as people walked by him. He knew that their footsteps carried them to the other side of the path or sped up to get past him quickly. Even those who gave him a small coin usually did so without comment. And many simply ignored him.

The little details of this story tell us much. The path Jesus and the disciples were on would take them past this beggar, but Jesus saw the man. He stopped and saw him. While others tried not to look, Jesus purposely looked. While even the disciples saw the man only as an object lesson, Jesus saw his need and his pain. And Jesus stopped to heal him.

The fundamental truth of the Bible, whether you have heard it or not at church, is that God loves you. He has always loved you. He knows what you are going through. He knows what others have done to you. This is the one message that flows through the whole Bible. God loved Adam and Eve. He loved Israel. He loves the Church. He loves the lost. He loves you.

Yes, you may be suffering. You may have suffered a long time. People have been cruel or indifferent. You often feel as though no one cares. These are real feelings from real struggles. But you have never been alone. No matter how far you have been from Him, God has always been near to you.

I am kind of a wimp when it comes to suffering. I read stories of those who have suffered, and I hurt for them. There are many things I have never been through and, frankly, I don’t want to go through them. But I have always been amazed when I see how strong people become through their suffering. They may not feel strong or see themselves as strong, but their endurance is evidence. To keep going, day after day, is evidence of something I don’t see in myself. It is easy for me to see them as superior.

Yet, others have looked at me and my life and have said they see that in me. I can only say it is the grace and strength of Someone else. There is no pride in my endurance, but I am grateful to the One who has been with me.

God loves you. Jesus saw the man. He stopped to look, and He chose to make a difference.

I think most people today would say they don’t know much about God. They don’t know what to think about things like creation and miracles. Most just try to get something good out of their days.

I also think most people will acknowledge their need to be loved. There is something missing, something important. Family love, friendship love, so important but rarely pure and sufficient. The love we need is the love of Someone greater, Someone who truly knows.

So, whatever else you know or whatever you don’t know, please accept the love God has for you. In those painful times, He will be there for you. In those struggles, He sees you through.

As Francis Schaeffer wrote, “He is there, and He is not silent.”

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What does it mean to be “Poor in Spirit”?

It’s Monday Grace!

“What a blessing it must be to be poor!”

Huh?

Among some of my former legalist friends, there was an idea that poor people had a special blessing from God. My friends didn’t get that blessing because they had good jobs, nice houses, and enough money to meet their needs with something extra. Those little children in third world countries who have to beg for their food are “blessed in spirit,” these friends suggested. This idea was strong enough for some that they resisted helping the poor get out of their poverty. That would rob the poor of their blessing, they said. The best my friends could do was act poor.

I believe that we will understand the Beatitudes best by picturing Jesus on that hillside with the crowds around Him. All kinds of people were there, whoever lived in the area. They came to hear the Teacher. I think Jesus always saw the hearts of the people. He knew their struggles and desires and sins.

And Jesus knew how people treated each other. He knew that some didn’t want to be around others. He knew that some kept their pain hidden so others didn’t gossip about them. He knew that some thought themselves better than others. He knew that some thought themselves to be less than others. All of this was in His heart as He looked at the multitude.

So, when Jesus speaks of the blessings, He seems to point to or look at or just have in mind a person who would be blessed. This is very real to Him.

He begins, perhaps, by seeing a poor person. We know that Jesus saw the widows and orphans and infirm. He saw them when others looked past them. On that day, Jesus saw someone who had very little of life’s bounty, and He taught something for all of us.

He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

And, from that time on, some people have thought that the poor are closer to Heaven because of their poverty. But He didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor.” He specified the “poor in spirit.” I know that some people think this is about poor people being “blessed in spirit,” but that is an error. That’s what has led some to think that poverty brings some spiritual blessing. But the grammar is clear that “poor in spirit” refers to a certain mindset.

He uses the word for “beggar.” I suspect that He sees a beggar in the crowd, someone the others are pulling away from. But He makes the point that those who are “spiritual beggars” are blessed. In fact, all of Heaven belongs to them.

Picture the beggar. He holds out his hand for whatever coin the passers-by might give. They might point at him or ignore him or laugh at him. They might pity him. But he sits there in the public place hoping that someone will have mercy. In order to eat, he humbles himself to the lowest point.

And Jesus says that those who come to God with that mindset will receive the glories of Heaven. Surrounded by Pharisees and teachers and others who have worked to be noticed for their “goodness,” Jesus affirms those who come to God with nothing. The blessing does not come to those who brag to God about their spiritual accomplishments. It comes to those who bow low before the Almighty and confess that they bring nothing of their own.

When you or I think God ought to notice us for our sacrifices and offerings, for our hard work and spent time, we do not understand the nature of the blessing. The blessing is a gift of love to those who cannot earn or deserve that love. When we reach out our empty hand to God, we discover His kindness. He is gentle and welcoming.

So, those who come to God with no bargaining and no expectation of earnings receive Heaven from His hand.

Grace is about receiving. Never earning. Never deserving. Just receiving the gift of God’s love in Jesus.

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1 – Proceeding from a solid place

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I grew up next to a creek. Where I live now, that creek would be called a river, but it was only about fifty feet across. Of course, much of the time I would cross the creek simply by wading in, but there were times when I wanted to cross and didn’t want to get wet. You don’t have to be very old to learn that you want to step from a solid place to the next solid place. If you try to step from a loose stone or log, you will probably get wet.

I usually use this illustration when I am talking about the mysteries of theology, but it fits equally well for life in general. There are so many things we don’t know. Puzzles and mysteries and confusing events that we are supposed to navigate. The thoughts of others, the coming troubles or blessings of the future, the seemingly random effects of the decisions of others—these things are almost impossible for us to predict or understand. Yet, we have to step across the creek.

So, always step from a solid place. If you are on a solid rock and try to step onto a floating log, you can step back to the rock without falling in the water. Start from what you know to be true.

I love the book of John. In that book, we see Jesus interacting with people and showing His amazing love. One of my favorite stories is that of the man born blind in chapter nine. After Jesus heals the man, the Pharisees and teachers want to know how this was possible. They question the parents of the man to see if he was truly born blind. Then they question the man. They ask how Jesus, whom they think is a sinner like everyone else, could bring such a miraculous healing.

The man doesn’t know the answer. He could guess. He could draw on his own reason to try to answer, but he doesn’t. He just says:

“Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”

The one thing this man knew was that he was healed—and Jesus did it. He didn’t have the theological answers, he just knew the solid truth of what happened to him.

As you and I walk through the mysteries and potential dangers of daily life, we need to find confidence from the firm foundation of truth under our feet. As we struggle to make decisions and plans, we need to remember the reality in which we live. If we can always step back to reassuring truth, we don’t have to be afraid to step into unknown areas and situations.

Read the story of the blind man in John 9. I am going to use him as a way to remind us all of some firm truths in our lives as believers. These truths will be a way for us to live in daily confidence and victory.

The first of these truths is that God loves you!

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What does it mean to be blessed?

It’s Monday Grace!

I want all the blessings God wants to give me.

We used to be connected with a group that held suffering and struggle as goals for believers. I guess I was too much of a wimp to make it in that group. I like the promises of Jesus to bless His people. I like hearing that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.” Those folks never knew what to do with that idea.

At the same time, I don’t think that my working goal in life should be to strive to get these blessings. I know people who work so hard to earn the blessings of the Lord. They twist and turn and climb and jump to get God’s attention. Then they hope they do it well enough to get a blessing. But, of course, they rarely do it well enough to get the amount of blessing they want.

They might be content with disappointment and suffering, but you don’t have to be. The Lord loves you. He wants to bless you. In fact, the blessings He promises are already yours.

Over the next few weeks, I want to look at the Beatitudes. It is fascinating, though not surprising, that such a well-known section of Scripture should be so misinterpreted. From almost all perspectives of grace and legalism, the Beatitudes are greatly loved. Why? Because we all want to be blessed by God.

But what does it mean to be blessed?

Almost all Bible versions translate makarios as blessed. That’s the right word, but it doesn’t help when that word is misunderstood. Here are some synonyms: happy, fortunate, privileged. Those are official alternatives to the translation of the Greek word. Here are a couple of my own (take them for what they are worth): satisfied, filled, encouraged, content, favored, honored.

When you translate words from one language to another, you have to capture the idea. Languages are not mathematical with direct equivalents for each word. I’m not a big fan of the Amplified Bible because people tend to misuse it, but the idea is good. You need to get a feel for the meaning of a word.

To be blessed is a good feeling, a rich and full and happy feeling. You are blessed when you look to the Savior and see Him smiling. You are blessed when you are comforted and cherished. When you are blessed, you want to linger in the glow or the warmth of that feeling.

Most of us were taught to recite the Beatitudes using the word, “bless-ed.” Two syllables. That has led many people to believe that those who are bless-ed are gifted. Like some kind of special award or recognition has been placed on you for others to see. You become more special if you are bless-ed.

But to be “blest” is to be given something. Not something you earned, but something that came to you from the love of someone else. It is a gift or a kindness, rather than an award or wage.

Now, I realize that this may be only relevant to my background and the pronunciation I learned. Yet, I have observed this widely over many years of ministry. There are those who think of God’s blessings as something deserved by adequate or superior service, and there are those who simply receive the love of God as blessings.

Under grace, we learn to receive. We know a Savior who is generous and kind. He knows us as needy and small. So, all that we need, all that we have, comes from Him. And we are grateful.

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Fear

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists and abusers are everywhere! You can’t tell whether someone is ready and willing to hurt you! Every relationship is a risk!

Well, that’s depressing.

While even my own writing could foster those thoughts, the truth is that most people have supportive and loving relationships in their lives. They are safe and happy. Many of those who do encounter abusers at work or in their families handle the situations well. And even most of those who have had the misfortune of a close and hurtful relationship with these cruel people survive and live well after.

No, you don’t have to hide under your bed. You don’t have to be afraid all the time. And you don’t have to push people away.

Chances are that you still go out in public, knowing that Covid and other things are out there. Chances are that you drive a car, fly occasionally, use electric appliances, eat foods with dyes in them, and walk outside in the rain from time to time. All of these are dangerous activities. But you grew up knowing you should be careful, and you learned to protect yourself. You also know, as my father used to say, that “something’s gonna get you someday.”

Hiding under your bed is really not safer than meeting people and interacting with them. It only sounds safer. You cheat yourself and others when you hide. You were made for relationship, and you owe it to yourself to have connections with other good people.

You can enter relationships with wisdom. Just like you can cross the street carefully and safely, you can connect with others carefully and safely. Let’s face it: most accidents happen when we are not careful.

There are normal cautions you can build into your life that will help you avoid harmful relationships. No, they will not create a perfect protective shell around you. But they will help.

Strong foundation in truth – the more you know about yourself and the world around you, the better you will wisely navigate relationships.

Boundaries – Saying “no” and declining offers or demands is more than your right, it is your responsibility.

Open eyes and ears – knowing that there is risk is not the same as living in fear. You do risky things every day.

Wise evaluation – Evaluating the actions and attitudes of others is not the same as judging (condemning) them. You must be willing to see and acknowledge behaviors that are a risk to you and those you love.

Slow commitment – It is not selfish or wrong to be cautious about making connections or agreements that could be hard to get out of later. It is wise.

Exit strategy – The most important part of any exit strategy is the willingness to do it. If you are willing to leave an abusive friendship, church, club, or even marriage, you will find a way.

We will be talking about each of these in the weeks to come. The point is that you don’t have to be afraid of relationships. Just realize that there are risks and the risks are serious. You can and should be careful. There are also many pleasures. Don’t deny yourself by your fear.

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Saints or Sinners?

It’s Monday Grace!

These days everything seems political, doesn’t it? And it’s all about who controls the narrative. If your side tells the story, you get to paint the picture the way you want. If the other side tells the story, the slant may be against you. You might even be misrepresented and have little opportunity to change the story. Those who control the news and the social discussions tend to control the way people of the culture think. None of this is new.

So, when you talk with other believers about grace, you have to know something about how they like to tell the story. To many believers, the Christian life is about behavior. Sin is the primary topic—its beginnings, its dangers, its prevalence. How to control sinful behavior is the most common message in many churches.

And, if the message of grace is told from the story of behavior, it loses its power and joy.

That’s why legalist churches and teachers cannot convince people of the joy of God’s grace. Their people hear the message but continue to be afraid and discouraged.

The question of whether we are saints or sinners illustrates this. Are you a saint or a sinner? We have talked about this recently. It depends, doesn’t it? It depends on how the discussion is framed, how the narrative is designed. Let me explain.

If you think of the Christian life as a process of learning to control behavior and becoming better and better as you obey, then you will see yourself as a sinner. You will look at your days, at some of your words and thoughts, and remember that you have done both foolish and wicked things. You will realize that you don’t measure up to any ideal, let alone the common idea of a saint. No one would look at your recent action or thought and suggest that you are saintly.

So, if the Christian life is about behavior, you are still stuck in sin. Maybe a few things have changed for the better, but you continue to fail. And you have little hope for significant change in the future. No wonder so many in the church are depressed!

BUT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOUR BEHAVIOR!

No, the Christian life is about your relationship with Jesus. Without that relationship, there is no Christian life. With that relationship, the definition is complete. Nothing will matter when you die but your relationship with Jesus.

If a saint is someone with a relationship with Jesus by grace through faith, and a sinner is someone without that relationship, then those who believe are saints and no longer sinners.

By the way, that seems to be the definition of Scripture. Do a search for the word “sinner” in an online Bible. See if you can find any reference to a saved person being a sinner. You can’t. (Some might suggest that James (4:8 and 5:20) refers to people of the church as sinners. I think that’s a misunderstanding. James is quite aware, as we are today, that there are unsaved people in the church. Notice that the sinner has “wandered from the truth” and that those who reach out to him may “save a soul from death.”) Otherwise, sinners are always linked with the ungodly and with being lost or separate from Christ.

When you talk with people who don’t understand the message of God’s love and grace, don’t allow them to define these terms according to the narrative based on behavior. Nor should you allow a mixture of narratives. You can’t be a saint in your relationship with Jesus and a sinner according to your behavior. You might have thought that was a reasonable distinction, but it will only confuse people more and misrepresent the truth. The Scriptures define these terms as opposites BASED ON RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, so don’t bring them together in one person—either yourself or someone else.

But, but, but…

Yes, I know that we still do sinful things. I know that true believers can do all kinds of evil when they allow their flesh to guide them instead of the Spirit. That does not make them sinners. If I had to come up with a word, I would go to the Scripture and choose the word, “carnal” or “fleshly.”

And, like James, I know that there are people in the church who claim to believe but have never come into relationship with Jesus. They pretend to be saints, but are still sinners. Beware of them. Their behavior might be better than yours, even exemplary, but their hearts are yet unredeemed and their loyalties do not lie with the Savior.

Someday, the legalist may realize that all his work and struggle and sacrifice has not changed his behavior, especially in the secret places of his heart. Be ready with the Good News. Help him (or her) come to Jesus. Victory over sin, both eternal and temporal, is found in Him.

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Confusion and Truth

It’s Narcissist Friday!

For the last twenty years, I have been writing and teaching about narcissism and narcissistic abuse. Over those years, narcissism has become a popular topic. The word was not used very much when I first started writing, but you will hear it often now. In fact, you will hear it from people who have no idea what it is.

Some say that narcissists are broken people in need of change. Others say we are all narcissists. Some suggest that narcissism is evil, while others say that a little narcissism is good. In a culture like ours, a common word seems to be up for a lot of personal interpretation. Some will proudly announce that they are narcissists, while others will boldly warn everyone against narcissists. Some accuse many people of being narcissists, while others reserve the term for specific diagnoses of psychological and sociological symptoms.

Whatever we think of all of this, it is here to stay. It is normal for a word to become vague in meaning as it comes into common use. So, you don’t really know what a person means when he or she refers to narcissism. You have to look closer.

This has led me to two things. First, I regularly caution people against calling others narcissists. While it may be true, it is less helpful than we would like. Some who hear the word will consider it to be innocuous, no big deal. Others will ask if and how you came to that diagnosis. Rather than use the term, I encourage people to describe the behavior. Even that will meet with mixed receptions, of course, but it will be more helpful.

To that end, I have tried to reduce the use of the term in my writing and teaching. Instead, I refer to “abuse” and “abusers.” It does seem like that’s a step toward something even more vague, but our culture is waking up to the fact that abuse means more than physical attack. We are beginning to understand that abusive situations can be subtly manipulative and often difficult to either discern or document.

But victims know something isn’t right. They feel uncomfortable or manipulated or used or disrespected. They feel that someone has gone “too far,” even when they might have difficulty describing what has happened.

Is that open to misinterpretation? Of course. Just because someone feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean the other person has abused them. And we want to avoid situations where someone is accused of something they really didn’t do. Education in the workplace (and the culture in general) is important but won’t solve everything. We must find ways to help people listen to their hearts and stand up for themselves.

Rather than focus on identifying abusers and finding ways to punish them, we should be building our confidence and discernment as we walk through our days. The truth should be so clear to our minds and hearts that the lie is exposed simply by its incongruity. In other words, I may not be able to point at someone and say that he/she is an abuser, but I know that I have the right and responsibility to protect myself and evaluate their actions toward me.

Our culture is changing rapidly. There is a purposeful distortion of truth, particularly in relationship and lifestyle issues. Things that are clearly wrong and hurtful are redefined as acceptable or even good. (I didn’t read “50 Shades of Grey,” but it seems to me that anything that tries to link love and abuse is dangerous.) There is great risk when discernment is compromised. Our young people are growing up confused about what is harmful and who they are.

So, one of my goals as I wrote posts “to my grandchildren” was to help them and other readers see both the risks and the way to victory. We must deal in truth. The truth about ourselves and the world around us will give us strength.

This is not a time for us to live in fear, it is a time for us to live in confidence. Confidence will come as we understand who we are and how we should live in this world. Others will not find it as easy to manipulate us when we stand up for ourselves according to the truth. We have the right to refuse, to change, to grow, to believe—to accept and value ourselves. The truth gives us strength and sets us free.

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What does it mean to be a saint?

It’s Monday Grace!

There’s an old story about an evil man who died. The way I heard it, he was a mobster involved in all kinds of criminal activity. Everyone knew what kind of man he was, but his brother wanted to be sure that something good was said about him at his funeral. So the brother, a criminal himself, went to the preacher and offered him $1000 to say that the deceased was a saint. A thousand dollars was a lot of money to the preacher, but he knew he couldn’t get in front of everyone and lie. He really could use the money, though.
When the time came for the funeral, the preacher stood and said what everyone knew. The deceased was an evil man who hurt people and committed all kinds of crimes. Then he said, “But compared to his brother, this man was a saint!”

Well, that’s where the story ends. I’d like to know what happened next.

The term “saint” sure gets a lot of pulpit time. Even grace teachers like reminding believers that they are not sinners but saints. The problem is that most people have been taught the wrong definition.

One popular Bible teacher gave the interpretation of the word “hagios,” the Greek word translated as “saint” in the New Testament. His first definition is all about behavior. Words like pure, clean, perfect, blameless, and virtuous are used. That’s the primary definition, according to this teacher.

No wonder believers associate the word with behavior. No wonder certain people are accepted as saints, while other believers are not. No wonder the world looks at believers with skepticism when we call ourselves saints.

Listen: behavior is the effect, not the definition. No one becomes a saint by their behavior.

The real definition of “saint,” is to be “set apart unto the Lord.” That which belongs to the Lord is holy. (To be fair, that’s the secondary definition given by the teacher I mentioned.) Whenever you see the word “holy” in the Bible understand it to mean “set apart for the Lord.” The holy things of the Tabernacle and Temple were those things especially dedicated to the Lord’s service. To be a saint, a holy one, is to be set apart for the Lord.

Now, how did you become a saint? By good behavior? By sacrifice? By generosity? That’s what many people have been taught. If you do enough good, you might get to be a saint, they think. So-and-so was so good that she should be called a saint. Behavior and good works are the criteria for determining sainthood, they have been told.

But that’s not how you were set apart for the Lord. In fact, while you were still in your sins, God loved you and sent you a Savior. While you were His enemy, Christ died for you. You were not a good person when you came to Jesus. You were a sinner in need of forgiveness and redemption.

When you welcomed Jesus as your Savior, He changed you into something holy. You became a saint. You were recreated, a new person, fully cleansed and free and holy. You were filled with the life of Jesus. All these things set you apart from others who are without Jesus.

Our perspective on what is good is compromised by our relationship with sin. Sin is such a normal part of the world around us, even as believers, that we find it hard to judge what is right and what is wrong. The flesh in us battles against the Spirit of God, and the evil one deceives us. So, we really have little idea of who has been good and who has not. For us to judge whether someone should be called a saint—based on their behavior—would take more information and more wisdom than we have.

It is quite possible for a person to act like a saint while remaining apart from Jesus and true holiness. It is also quite possible for a person to fail to act like a saint even while belonging to Jesus. We know this in our own lives.

To accept that those who belong to Jesus have been set apart for God through their relationship with Him is not hard at all. In fact, that makes sense.

If you belong to Jesus, you are a saint—whether you act like one or not. The call to believers is to walk in relationship with Jesus day by day so that our lives fully reflect who we are in Him.

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