If you ever do the myers-briggs test, you can find out your personality. You are asked a whole series of questions which you answer on a scale of Strongly Agree through to Stongly Disagree. At the end, you are given your personality score. I am an INTJ, if you care about that sort of thing.
The problem with the myers-briggs test is that you answer the question yourself. The verdict is very much your personality as you perceive it, not necessarily how others perceive you. We may well answer the questions in line with what we want to be true about ourselves rather than what actually is true about ourselves. Mine comes out the same whether I do it or my wife does it as if she’s answering for me, which is precisely what you would expect if my personality is as it tends to come out.
But it is interesting how many get their personality test score and then act in line with it. If you believe you are a wild party animal, a personality test score lets you determine that is not just a preference but part of who you are innately. Those who would prefer to sit at home with a book can content themselves that they are not just antisocial but it is part of who they are. After all, you can’t argue with science, even if it is not actually a science and only based on your personal answers to a test on the internet.
Something similar happens in the Christian life too. If you live your life fundamentally under the belief that we are sinners – that is essentially what you are – we can very quickly give up on ever trying to serve God faithfully, push towards obedience or strive for the holiness to which we are called. After all, if I am a sinner and I am nothing but a wormy, unworthy worm whom Jesus died for despite myself but I remain fundamentally a sinner nonetheless, why would I bother trying to be faithful? I can’t be faithful. I am just a sinner. What’s the point? After all, sinners gonna sin.
Of course, we are sinners. We may trust in Jesus but we remain sinners. But if that fundamentally who we are in Christ? I don’t think so. Whilst not wanting to undermine the doctrine that we are simultaneously justified and yet sinners, how does God fundamentally view us in Christ? Outside of him we might be essentially sinners, but in Jesus, that isn’t what we are in essence. We become sons of God adopted into the sonship of Christ. Outside of Jesus, our sin puts us at enmity with God; in Christ, we become loved children with a loving heavenly father.
This matters because how we fundamentally view ourselves will make a difference to how we act. If all we do is focus on the fact that we are sinners – if that is fundamentally how we view ourselves – we are quite likely to give up even trying to obey. Let’s just wait until we get to glory when we will be made sinlessly perfect. No point before then, no? We can’t do it so why bother trying?
But if we view ourselves fundamentally as loved children of a loving heavenly father, obedience becomes much more likely. My children, though not perfect, still often gladly do what I say. They don’t always do it, but they do much of the time. They obey me primarily because I am their father, they are my children, they know I love them and I know they love me. Though they aren’t perfect – that much is a fact – their imperfection is not fundamentally who they are. It is not central to their person. It certainly isn’t something that we feel the need to major on every day and make sure they know they ain’t perfect. That would be both perverse and demoralising. They aren’t fundamentally imperfect people to me; they are my children who I love.
In the same way, whilst it is simply a fact of matters to say that we remain sinners until glory, in Christ, it is not fundamentally who we are. Jesus doesn’t feel the need to remind us (or the father) that we are horrible wormy imperfect sinners every day. In fact, 1 John 2 tells us quite the opposite. Whenever we sin, Jesus advocates for us to the father and reminds him that we aren’t fundamentally sinners; we are beloved children. We aren’t without sin; but we are no longer fundamentally defined by our sin. Our core identity is that we are children of God, loved by the father, fully justified in Christ.
This matters because we tend to act in line with what we believe we are. Getting this right changes everything. There is a point in obeying. There is value is striving to be holy. There is a purpose in seeking to please God. Will we do it perfectly? No. Are we still sinners? Yes. But is that fundamentally who we are? Not if we belong to Jesus. In him, we are beloved children of our loving heavenly father. That is the identity out of which we ought to act because that is how he views us.