Sinner or Saint?

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I’ve been a Christian for 30 years. That feels like quite a long time. Certainly long enough for me to forget the impact of my conversion experience.

I woke up with a strange but profound analogy going through my mind this morning: no matter how often I use a screwdriver to prise out nails, this will never make it a crowbar. And it may well break the screwdriver. I said this to my wife and she had no idea what I was talking about, so perhaps I had better expand on that. (In her defence it was 7am – a bit early for spiritual parables.)

One of the charges often levelled at Christians is that they’re no different from everyone else. In fact they’re worse: they claim to have absolute moral standards, yet they hypocritically fail to meet those standards themselves. I feel that often this is used as an excuse to justify bad behaviour (if the Christians can’t get it right, why should we?) nevertheless, sometimes the mud sticks. So are Christians any different, and if so, in what way?

Back to my conversion experience. I was four at the time. No, I wasn’t into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (!) but I was an unruly, wilful little boy and my parents – especially my mum – found me hard work. Until the day of my conversion, that is.

“No matter how often I use a screwdriver to prise out nails, this will never make it a crowbar.”

The story goes that I was having an argument with my dad. I was insisting that I was a Christian and he was insisting that I wasn’t. Eventually I asked him if I wasn’t a Christian, why not – and he explained to me the necessity of apologising to God for all I did wrong and committing myself to “the Jesus way”. Apparently I bought that explanation and made a commitment there and then.

Some may wonder whether it’s possible for someone so young to make such a significant decision or appreciate the implications of it. All I can offer in response is the evidence of my life. I’m still here, still following that path I set out on 30 years ago and increasingly certain that it was the right decision.

As to the impact of my commitment – I changed dramatically and immediately. I became tractable, obedient, compliant and submissive. Much of this is what my parents reported at the time and subsequently – I can’t remember in detail what I was like previously. But what I do remember is the feeling that a cloud had lifted and that I had emerged into a new, light, airy freedom. It genuinely was like being reborn.

This is one of many facts from experience that makes it nigh on impossible for me to deny the living reality of my faith. Excessively naughty four year old boys cannot simply change under their own effort. No, I experienced a transformation of my nature – there can be no other explanation for the sudden and complete overhaul of my behaviour.

“I remember the feeling that a cloud had lifted and that I had emerged into a new, light, airy freedom. It was like being reborn.”

There is an evident contradiction in my life though. Despite this transformation, I still blow it, frequently and repeatedly. How can this be, if I have been transformed from sinner to saint? This is where the analogy of the screwdriver comes in. I have heard it said recently that salvation is not an event, it’s a journey. From my experience, I have to disagree. It was a profound event. I was changed in an instant from a sinner to a saint. In the place of the crowbar there was now a screwdriver. I could still be used to pry out nails, but this was no longer my function. As a saint, I can still sin, but this is not my purpose or destiny. I have an obligation to live a better life than that and this is what I try to do, no matter how often I fall short of that. I also know that if I sin too often, if I prise out too many nails, it will break me and I will need some serious repairs/re-forging.

So I would no longer call myself a sinner. That is not what I am made for. Granted, I may sin, but using a screwdriver for the wrong purpose does not change its nature. Using all that God has given me for the wrong purpose cannot change my fundamental nature as one who is saved. This way of thinking liberates me to a free and fuller life. This is what I believe God wants for all people.

Crowbar image copyright © Dustin Tinney, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

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