David G Benner
Knowing ourselves as we really are inevitably brings us up against what the Bible calls sin. It doesn’t take much self-awareness to recognize that there are some very basic things about us that are not as they should be. Let me speak for myself. If I am honest, I must admit that my motivation is never as pure or noble as I wish it to appear. My ability to realize my potential as a person made in God’s image seems to be sabotaged by some inner agenda over which I have no control. This is an important part of what it means to be a sinner. Daily experience impresses upon me the painful fact that my heart has listened to the serpent instead of God.
As James Finlay says with brutal honesty, ‘There is something in me that puts on fig leaves of concealment, kills my brother, builds towers of confusion, and brings cosmic chaos upon the earth. There is something in me that loves darkness rather than light, that rejects God and thereby rejects my own deepest reality as a human person made in the image and likeness of God.’
Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong – or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two.
Sin is a corollary to our primary status a greatly loved children of God. First we were loved into being, created in the good and sinless image of our Creator God. And although sin damaged that which had been utterly good, it allowed us to discover that God’s love is directed toward us just as we are, sinners. The sequence in important. We must never confuse the secondary fact with the primary truth.
Real knowing of ourselves can only occur after we are convinced that we are deeply loved precisely as we are. The fact that God loves and knows us as sinners makes it possible for us to know and love our self as sinner. For it to be meaningful, knowing ourselves as sinners must involve more than knowing that we commit certain sins. Sin is more basic than what we do. Sin is who we are. In this regard we could say that sin is fundamentally a matter of being, not simply morality.
If all we know about ourselves is the specific sins we commit, our self-understanding remains superficial. Focusing on sins leads to what Dallas Willard describes as the gospel of sin management – a resolve to avoid sin and strategies to deal with guilt when this inevitably proves unsuccessful. But Christian spiritual transformation is much more radical than sin avoidance. Knowing our sinfulness becomes most helpful when we get behind sins to our core sin tendencies. Now we shift our focus from behaviour to the heart.
From chapter 4 of The Gift of Being Yourself – the sacred call to self-discovery, published by IVP 2004