I’d like to suggest that there is a common misconception among us Christ-followers. I hear it when someone says, “I’m a better person since I’ve come to know Christ.” What we mean is that we don’t do the same outward things that we did before surrendering to Christ. Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being happy that we don’t do the same things that once brought us shame and embarrassment. But that doesn’t make us better people than those who haven’t come to know Christ and His forgiveness yet.
This error is insidious because it gives the impression that we don’t struggle with sin as much anymore. This leads to the misconception that we don’t need Jesus daily as much anymore. In effect, we’re thanking Jesus for our ticket to get in the door of heaven, but we’re also implying that we can handle the rest of life fairly well on our own.
This can lead us to become good at changing outward behavior, all the while overlooking our heart. We can become just like the Pharisees. One of the most common complaints against Christians is that we tend to give off the distasteful aroma of self-righteousness. Actually, this is the same stinky smell that the Pharisees gave off. They kept the rules and were proud of it!
The Apostle Paul is considered by many Christians to be the most mature and godly believer who ever lived. His resume would impress all of us. He traveled extensively to start churches and suffered many dangerous situations along the way. In addition to all this, he wrote much of the New Testament. Most of us don’t hold a candle to this man. That’s why I think you’ll be surprised by what he thought of himself.
One of Paul’s earliest letters was 1 Corinthians, written to the church in Corinth. Towards the end of the letter (15:9) he claimed to be the “least of the apostles.” He never forgot that it was a privilege to serve as one of the Lord’s apostles, especially after spending the earlier years of his adult life hunting and persecuting Christians.
Many years later, Paul penned the letter to the Ephesian church. In it (3:8) he identified himself as the “least of the saints.” Surprising! After years of preaching and starting churches, he considered himself at the bottom of the heap of all Christians. But it doesn’t end there.
Toward the final years of his life, Paul wrote 1 Timothy, a letter to his protégé. In it (1:15) Paul identifies himself as the “worst of sinners.” There, did you see it? Be sure not to misunderstand his comments. The years of service to the Lord had not resulted in a broken, depressed man with low self-esteem and a grim outlook on life. Not at all! But as he grew older in the faith and closer to Christ, he became much more aware of his sin.
This is a vital lesson here for all of us who call Jesus our Savior. Though we may not do the things we did before we came to know Christ, we still have a sinful nature that wants to be boss and rebel against God. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit that changes us. Daily we need His forgiveness. Daily we need His cleansing and power. Daily we need Jesus. Until we pass from this life to the next, we will struggle against the urge to have our own way, to be captain of our own fate. Hopefully it will become easier to surrender our will to the Lord, but it will never become automatic.
Our message to the lost is NOT, “Look at me. I used to struggle with sin. Now I’ve got it all together.” The Good News we have for the world is, “Look at Jesus. He accepted me where I was, forgave me, and continues to change my life. He loves you, too, and wants to do the same for you.”
We Christians have no place to be “high and mighty” towards those who haven’t found Christ yet. We should, rather, view ourselves as parched and thirsty wanderers who have found the Source of Living Water. Now that our thirst is quenched, we must share this limitless Living Water with the other travelers around us.