I hear that a lot, and I get that. We often say things like this in order to elicit a graceful response for our poor behavior.
Let me say up front, we should have grace for our own failings, or anyone else’s.
Unconditional love has no conditions, which means we don’t turn our love off just because someone has disappointed us, or even failed us.
But when we say we’re “only human” so we can stay stuck in our brokenness, resigning ourselves to being “just a sinner saved by grace,” we’re actually fortifying our unbelief. This kind of thinking only serves to build a solid wall of ignorance around our true identity. It actually moves us further away from the grace we seek.
Bill Johnson said something about this that was simply profound.
“The person who believes they’re a ‘sinner saved by grace’ sins by faith.”
This statement says it all because we will always follow what we believe. Faith acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy, either confirming what God believes or what we prefer to believe. As Jesus told the Centurion (bold-type added):
“Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” (Matt.8:13b NKJV)
I’m not saying that my shortcomings end with faith; I’m saying that when I do something contrary to God’s nature, I’m not my real self. Simply excusing myself by saying that I’m “just a fallen human being” denies my new nature in Christ.
I’m actually appealing to the wrong “me”…or should I say, the dead “me.”
Do we understand that Paul actually chastised the carnal Corinthians for acting like “mere humans”? (bold-type added)
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Cor.3:3 NIV)
Paul isn’t telling them to “knock it off” and get with the program. He’s saying that they still don’t know who they are; they’re still not walking in “newness of life” (Rom.6:4-6).
They’re still acting like they’re only human.
To show you that this is the context, here’s what he said to them earlier…
“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor.2:2 NKJV)
What did Paul mean by saying “among you”? Did it not mean that he was determined only to relate to them according to their new nature, not the old one that was crucified with Christ? Look at what he tells them later in another letter (bold-type added):
“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh…17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor.5:16-17 NKJV)
“New creation,” in this context, meaning that an unprecedented species of God-inhabited men and women, empowered by the Spirit, are now walking as Jesus is in this world (1 John 4:17).
new: καινός (kainos) – new in species, character
creation: κτίσις (ktisis) – a spiritual creation
This is quite a different thing than the “self-help” version of Christianity we often see offered to us in the West.
God isn’t interested in making you a better person; He seems to think He nailed your sorry “human self” to the cross and placed you in His glorious Son.
The old “you” isn’t even relevant anymore. Paul is saying, stop acting like it is.
But this is also quite different than the “just quit” version of grace we also see embraced by many Christians today.
We need to understand something about grace. When a Christian says they’ve given up on “trying to be perfect,” they are simply saying that they’re getting off the treadmill of performance-based Christianity, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re now walking in grace. They may have just given up altogether.
Walking in grace means living like you’re dead to sin and alive to Christ (Rom.6:11-14), it’s learning how to walk in His perfect life and in His performance. God’s grace is active and powerful, teaching us to “put off” who we’re not anymore (Col.3:8-10; Titus 2:11-12).
This is not “trying harder” to walk out a godly life; it’s the fruit of walking in the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23).
You’re not walking in grace until you are empowered by His life, to live His life.
This is what grace looked like in Paul’s life:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor.15:10 NKJV)
So let’s stop saying things that only serve to disempower us and keep us from living in the freedom that only the Spirit can bring. While we’re at it, let’s stop saying things like, “He’s God and I’m not,” like we’re separated from Him, forgetting that He now lives in us and Christ is our life (Col.3:3-4).
It really is time we woke up and shed this religious veil, this pretender masquerading as humility that’s nothing more than self-pity. We’re not just human beings anymore; we’re God-inhabited men and women, imperfectly, yet gloriously, growing up into the perfect Christ (2 Cor.3:17-18; Eph.4:13). Amen.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom.8:14 NASB)