Hope for Busted Up Sinners Like Me

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For honest Christians (should there be any other kind?), becoming like Jesus Christ—or what Scripture calls sanctification—is often an anticlimactic process.

No matter how much better we become over time, no matter how much more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled we are this year compared to last year (Galatians 5:22-23), we never progress in our character to the degree that we once hoped that we would.

Ironically, the more like Jesus we actually become, the more unlike Jesus we realize that we are.

When I first became a Christian, I had a brimming optimism about becoming a better version of myself. This, after all, is the promise of God to all who trust in Jesus—He will not merely help us turn over a new leaf; he will actually give us a new life.

As a newly born child of God, I was a new creation. The old Scott was gone, and the new Scott had come (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit had taken up residence in me, which meant that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead was living in me. This power would give me faith to trust and follow God’s word and God’s ways over my own flawed feelings, impulses, and ideas. It would give me hope in the face of life’s sorrows, letdowns, and uncertainties. Most of all, it would enhance my ability to love God and others. Along the way, I could become the kind of friend, neighbor, spouse, and contributor that might even win an award or two someday (Ha).

Like many Christians in their newfound faith, I felt really good about the kind of person that I was destined to become in Christ. I would, as the Apostle had written, be able to “do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). It was only a matter of time before I would become the very best version of myself.

Or so I thought.

Now, some twenty-nine years later, I am more of a realist. These days, I often feel more sinful and less holy and virtuous than I did in those first days as a brand new Christian. Although there are many ways in which I have become more like Christ, in other ways I still ignore and disobey and even deny him. At my best, those who are closest to me will tell you that the fruit of the Spirit is at work in my life. At my worst, those same people will tell you that I can be petty and even angry about the most insignificant things.

I get road rage.

I get way too irritated with people who eat a little too loudly.

I think about money a lot more than I should.

I find more satisfaction in the praise of people than I do in the grace of God. It is not uncommon for me to enjoy hearing the sound of my own name more than I do hearing the sound of Jesus’ name.

I can be selfish, cowardly, conflict-averse, jealous, and ambitious in all the wrong ways. I can, like the Pharisees, use my spiritual gifts and platform as a means to draw attention to myself and applause from others—applause that belongs only to God, who alone deserves the glory.

Sometimes when an immodest movie scene flashes in front of my eyes, I don’t look away.

I fear the future as much as I trust God for the future.

I am a man who lives by fear as much as I am a man who lives by faith. When I see Jesus on the cross crying out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I often think, “My God, why haven’t you forsaken me?”

I am with Herman Melville on this one. I am “dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” Twenty-nine years a Christian and the words of Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel ring true as much now than ever:

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

Can you relate to this?

Are we hopeless?

Thankfully, there is also plenty of reason not to despair. Because of Jesus, there is encouragement available to us as we experience the rupture of anticlimax, and as we face the fact that until Jesus returns, we will continue to fall short of the glory for which we have been created.

Encouragement comes from knowing that even the greatest heroes of faith were also flawed and broken—wrecked, weary, restless, and sometimes tortured sinners—even at their spiritual peak.

Aren’t you relieved that those you respect most in the faith also have shortcomings?

Aren’t you relieved that so many of the men and women in the Bible—people like Isaiah and Paul, and Rahab and Martha—are also men and women with deep, abiding flaws?

Aren’t you relieved that every last one of them is an incomplete work in progress whose less flattering features remained with them until their dying day, even as they journeyed toward perfection?

How awful and despairing it would be if the valiant, self-sacrificing, heroic disciples of Jesus weren’t also screw-ups just like us. Their failings bring me almost as much comfort as the promises of God, because if there is hope for busted-up sinners like them, then there is also hope for a busted-up sinner like me.


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6 responses to “Hope for Busted Up Sinners Like Me”

  1. Lisa Snead says:

    Scott. This is so helpful today. I often find myself sending your posts to other people for encouragement!! Thank you, brother!

  2. greg rogers says:

    Thanks for your honesty. The irony about the Christian faith is that growth should be measured by how close we are in reverence, awe and dependence upon our Great God and the closer we get to Him mainly through the reading of His Words, the more apparent our sin stained flesh will become in comparison. A less sinful self growing closer in understanding about the greatness and holiness of God will tend to recognize more keenly the gap between self and such a God and will appreciate such grace that not only saved us from ourselves and gave life and righteousness.

    The closer we are abiding in Him, the Spirit will be quicker to help us to recognize slivers of pride webbed into even the most humble sounding of gestures. The closer we get to Him, the more we recognize that the Christian life is Christ’s righteousness and His life in me for empowering the way and will to obey. When He takes front and center I liken to walking in the Holy Spirit, the fleshly, sinful tendencies are not regarded as much because it is displaced by the joy of Our Savior living through us, caring for us and helping us in a march towards the most glorious of days when we will meet Him face to face! I long to see my Savior. For all of us we should emulate Paul where to live is Christ living in us for service to His Bride, the church and to die and to see Him face to face in ultimate reality is gain!

  3. patrick says:

    Christianity has ruined me after 24 years. Now what? There isn’t a now what. If I could never find a peace and rest in the TRUTH, now what? Guess I will keep looking in His word for hope. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, very sick. Oh wait …. I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! God, could you help me to see me as You see me?

    it’s only a matter of time until I lose my mind …. and I thought I gave my all.

  4. Lisa A Kleinschmidt says:

    I really like Greg Rogers comment. He puts very humbly & positively what I would like to say. Scott these kinds of articles make me get all sappy and almost give me a license and excuse to sin. Yes I/we all still sin, but Greg gives me Someone/something (the finish line) to keep my eyes on. The day and hour we live in, we don’t need excuses to sin, opportunities (within me) are readily available, I love reading your works, please point us in the right direction.

  5. […] of my favorite authors and bloggers, Scott Saul, recently wrote, “Ironically, the more like Jesus we actually become, the more unlike Jesus we […]

  6. […] of my favorite authors and bloggers, Scott Saul, recently wrote, “Ironically, the more like Jesus we actually become, the more unlike Jesus we […]

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