It’s popular in evangelical Christianity to call ourselves “sinners saved by grace.” While we may still commit sins, the Bible only identifies us as “saints.”
Paul always addressed the churches under his care as “saints” (see Rom.1:7; 1 Cor.1:2; 2 Cor.1:1; Eph.1:1; Phil.1:1; Col.1:2; 1 Thess.3:13; 2 Thess.1:10; 1 Tim.5:10; Phile.1:5). For instance, he didn’t write to the carnal Corinthians, “to the sinners in Corinth…” No! It was to the saints in Corinth.
Some have construed the statement in 1 Timothy 1:15 to mean that Paul still thought he was the “worst” of sinners. But if you look at the context, you’ll find it’s clearly not the case. I addressed this in “Did Paul consider himself a sinner?”
Part of the reason for this misidentification is because of our overemphasis on sin instead of sonship. If I’m only forgiven of sin, I’m no more than a pardoned criminal. I may have been released from prison but I personally haven’t changed.
Why is this important? Because we will always act out of identity…how we perceive ourselves. As Bill Johnson has said, “If we teach people that they are sinners saved by grace they will sin by faith.”
By the way, I think it’s rather ironic that the self-appointed heresy hunters have labeled Bill Johnson a false teacher because he says such things when it is they who are not teaching the truth. To use my metaphor, they are teaching “caterpillar” Christianity.
Again, Paul didn’t teach this. He emphasized that we’re a “new creation” in Christ!
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 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 *)
Notice that something forever changed with Christ. Even though we may still sin, we no longer identify ourselves “according to the flesh.” We don’t identify ourselves according to our performance; we identify ourselves with Christ.
When I focus on sin I’m taking my focus away from identity. When I focus on my true identity in Christ, I allow for my current experience to begin to line up with this reality.
Looking at caterpillars and butterflies, here are just a few of the differences and similarities between them:
A caterpillar is just a butterfly that hasn’t been transformed.
Caterpillars are stuck to the earth; butterflies can fly in the “heavenly realm” because they’re not bound by the earth anymore.
Caterpillars eat their environment. Butterflies help to pollinate their environment, depositing the “heavenly” nectar of flowers, plants, and fruit wherever they go.
Caterpillars only live in future potential; butterflies have already realized their God-ordained potential (Eph.1:4-5).
It would be quite peculiar and even sad to see a butterfly acting like a caterpillar.
We’re no longer sinners or slaves, we’re sons and daughters! Here’s my “Butterfly” paraphrase of two passages in Romans and Galatians:
6 knowing this, that our caterpillar was crucified with Him, that the caterpillar might be done away with, that we should no longer be caterpillars of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom.6:6-7 PP *)
6 And because you are butterflies, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a caterpillar but a butterfly, and if a butterfly, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal.4:6-7 PP *)
Now let’s talk about paradox. While we’re not sinners anymore, we still struggle with committing sins. To use my analogy, we don’t feel or act much like butterflies! So this brings up the question, how do we realize our potential as “butterflies” in Christ?
This apparent contradiction is because our transformation is like that of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis. While the caterpillar is technically a butterfly, it can’t experience the “butterfly life” until goes through its transformation process.
To use the Bible vernacular, we need our minds renewed. To quote Bill Johnson again, “The Kingdom of God works through the renewed mind.” And when we renew our mind to what God says about us, He transforms our experience (Rom.12:2; 2 Cor.3:18).
Here’s something very interesting that I learned from Steve and Wendy Backlund (Igniting Hope Ministries) at a leadership conference I attended about a month ago. The caterpillar’s metamorphosis starts when it begins to spit pure silk out of its mouth which actually creates the chrysalis that will facilitate its transformation. Here’s what the UCSB Science Line website says about it:
Caterpillars secrete silk which they can then wrap around their bodies to make a cocoon. The silk hardens when it comes into contact with air. First they stick themselves to the underside of a stalk, and then they spin silk around their bodies all the way around to their head (since they are hanging upside down that’s actually the bottom!). Now they are sealed inside the cocoon and ready to metamorphose into their adult form.
So, analogy time…guess what kind of “silk” is supposed to come out of our mouths? You guessed it, “God silk!” What God declares about who you and I are in Christ, not what seems to agree with our current experience.
When we begin to agree with God about our true identity in Christ (the Greek word for confess, homologeō, literally means “to say the same thing as“), we begin to facilitate our own transformation process.
So, beloved of God, stop calling yourself a sinner (“caterpillar”) and start proclaiming some God “silk” over your life. Let the transformation begin!