Still a sinner though a saint

I was in an unfamiliar grocery store that happened to be on my route home, just to pick up a few things, a bit agitated trying to find what I needed in a store with an unfamiliar layout. I found the bagged salads not at an eye-level shelf like I am used to, but on a lower one, so I was bent over, head deep in the produce bins, looking for the freshest pre-made salad. All of a sudden a head appeared right next to mine and a cheery voice asked how I was doing today. I did not immediately think, “Oh, how lovely, this sweet stranger is concerned about my well-being!” Instead I thought, “How absurd!” But I mumbled, “Fine.” The head disappeared but must not have heard me: in just a second or two, it appeared again next to mine, again asking how I was doing. I muttered “Fine” in a definite “I don’t want to be bothered tone,” and the head disappeared.

I found my salad, but my conscience was smitten. Later I saw the woman who had been trying to greet me. She had a rolling cart and some kind of device in her hand, and I found other people in the store with the same apparatus, so I guessed they were doing inventory. She had her back to me, so I didn’t apologize like I should have: I scurried away, shamefaced.

I don’t know if this woman was just extra friendly or if she was trying to be an enthusiastic employee by greeting customers in odd places. I think some stores have tried to put forth a more friendly atmosphere by requiring their employees to cheerily greet any customers within ten feet of them. I don’t mind that in a natural setting, like when I enter the store, or when we pass each other in an aisle. But I have been called to across a large expanse of the store, or interrupted while intently reading a label by someone behind me asking if I am finding everything, or greeted at odd times or in awkward situations by someone inserting themselves unnaturally. I know it’s better to have too much help than not being able to find a salesperson when you need one, and it’s better to have cheerful help than grumpy help. But it’s possible to overdo it.

Some time back a friend shared about how smiling in response to someone at a store led to a nice conversation and a brightened day for all involved. My snippy reaction, unfortunately, probably had the opposite effect.

I have been convicted again and again about my innate selfishness, my preference to withdraw into an introvert bubble rather than to extend myself, my too-quick tendency to irritability, my need to be more loving. I have been a Christian for over 40 years. Shouldn’t there be more progress by now? Shouldn’t I have gotten past some of this by now?

A passage from Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (linked to my review) helped me in this regard:

Once you come to Christ and receive that cleansing of conscience, does conscience now fall silent? Quite the opposite! Christians are surprised and sometimes discouraged to find that the condemnations of conscience are even stronger after becoming a child of God. Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like this: “If I am making progress towards holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit, why do I keep feeling like a worse sinner than before? Becoming a Christian was supposed to relieve my conscience. What’s going on?”

We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens. The moment God accepts you as his child, he gives you the greatest gift he could ever give a child of God: his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit comes in to encourage you, comfort you, and be your dearest friend. But he also comes in to reveal to you any sin that is robbing you of joy and to lead you into mortal combat against that sin (Rom. 8:13-14).

When the Holy Spirit comes in, he supercharges your consciousness of sin by writing his laws on your heart (Jer. 31:33-34). He opens your eyes to see sins that you didn’t even know were sins, like pride, greed, and covetousness. He reveals to you all the little idols in your heart’s idol factory. As you read the Bible every day, you see more and more how good and holy God is and how filthy you are.

Don’t expect this struggle to get any easier as you mature in your faith. The war against indwelling sin only grows stronger…

There is generally a proportional relationship between how mature you are as a Christian and how aware you are of your sinfulness. The more you grow by means of grace, the more sensitive you become to your sinfulness. Paul himself increasingly realized his sinfulness: he referred to himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9), then “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and finally, the “foremost” of “sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Like Paul, you are growing in holiness every day. But you may not feel like it! You’re a saint and a sinner at the same time.

That explains why a Christian often feels so wretched. But then what? If the gap between what we should be and what we really are keeps growing, how can we possibly escape complete despair in the Christian life?…

Only an ever-increasing trust in Christ’s work on the cross can fill this ever-widening gap and keep us from despair. God’s solution for us to have a clean conscience throughout our lives is simple and profound: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)…

Now we can confidently approach God on the basis of Jesus’s definitive work on the cross. Now we can have a “clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18) (pp. 47-51).

None of us is a saint via sinless perfection or exalted religious experience, but the New Testament calls all true believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saints. Most of the epistles are addressed to the saints at particular locations. My sin nature won’t be completely eradicated until I get to heaven. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and relax about it or excuse my bad conduct: quite the opposite. I’m to daily seek God’s help and grace to fight against it. As I am in His Word and continue to grow in Him, He will point out more and more of my sinfulness that I am unaware of. So I confess that to Him, and then seek Him for more grace to grow more. I look forward to the time when all sin will be put away, but until then, my sin nature will keep reminding me of my need of Him, and hopefully I will continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

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Help for Changing Thought Patterns

Have you ever found yourself stuck in thought patterns? Fear, worry, and anxiety can easily set up camp in our minds, but so also can selfishness, greed, hatred, discontent, covetousness, jealousy, lust, and others. Many times we don’t even realize just how entangled our thoughts have become; sometimes we’ve just gotten so used to them that we have forgotten any other way.

Some years ago I shared reasons to read the Bible. One reason among the many is that we’re told in Romans 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” According to, the Greek word for “renew” there means, “renovation, complete change for the better.” God changes us when we are saved but it takes the rest of our lives, continually spending time with Him in His Word, to “renovate” our thinking and make it more in line with His.

Part of that transformation comes through regular time in the Bible personally and with other believers in church. In a blog post titled “‘You Have Cancer’: When Theology Meets Your Fears,” Tina Walker wrote:

Soon I discovered that cancer was not the enemy – my flesh and Satan were. I wasn’t fighting breast cancer so much as I was fighting myself. And, although I wouldn’t have articulated it this way at the time, my theology was going to determine the outcome.

By theology, I mean the type of practical theology that doesn’t always take the form of a chapter and verse memorized just for the time of need. I’m referring to the accumulation of things learned about God over time. It’s the impression, the viewpoint we have about our God.   It frames the way we think and the way we react to everything that happens around us and to us.

We also need to ask Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). We need for Him to alert us to our blind spots and make us aware of wrong thinking.

But what do we do when we are plagued with thoughts we know are wrong, and even prayed for deliverance and victory over certain wrong thought patterns? I used to pray, “Lord, change my thoughts.” That’s not entirely wrong, because we can’t do anything without Him (John 15:5); however, He has given us tools in His Word to help us combat wrong thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Someone once said that the best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. If we just chant to ourselves, “Don’t think that, don’t think that, don’t think that,” we’re going to be stuck. Erwin Lutzer, in his book How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit, says that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, then suddenly that’s all you’ll be able to think of. So rather than passively wishing and hoping our thoughts would be different, we need to actively turn our minds to right thoughts.

Sometimes that will happen during the regular course of our Bible reading: I don’t know how many times God has led me to help right when I needed it at that time. But sometimes it does take “chapter and verse for a time of need.” It helps to take a concordance and look up verses related to the problem we’re having. I’ve had the experience of angry feelings just melting away after reading verse after verse about anger. It helps to write them out, both so that they can work themselves into our minds while we’re writing them, and also so we can have a handy list to refer back to. Sometimes it helps to look up a number of verses; sometimes it helps to just take one especially helpful verse, write it out on a small card, and take with us everywhere to refer to often, pray through it, soak ourselves in it until it becomes a part of us. The more we are in God’s Word, the more the Holy Spirit can “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

It helps, too, to concentrate not just on the negative thought you’re trying to change or eliminate, but also on the positive one that needs to take its place. Ephesians 4:28 says don’t steal any more, but rather labor. Verse 29 says don’t let corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but rather that which is edifying. Verses 31-32 say, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So when I am angry, I need to focus on love, forgiveness, and forbearing instead. When I am anxious, I need to remind myself of God’s sufficiency for whatever I am anxious about.

A few other considerations help in transforming our thinking. Recently I was talking with someone about a matter weighty on their heart, but they didn’t really want to listen (evidenced by their interrupting me in mid-sentence). I know at times I have experienced anxious thoughts frothing and spilling over like bubbles in a fountain. Jesus said to His disciples once, ” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (John 16:12). Sometimes we need to ” Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a) before we can even hear or receive what He is trying to tell us. There are many verses about inclining our ears or heart to Him. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15a: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” The more time we spend in His Word, the more we learn of Him and trust in Him, the more we rest in Him and quiet ourselves before Him, the more we can receive the ministry of His Spirit conveying His truth to our hearts.

I don’t mean by any of this that our sanctification or victory over sin is all in our hands. As I said earlier, we can only accomplish anything for God through His grace and power. But He has instructed us to read and meditate on His Word for this and many other reasons.

The ultimate means of change comes from beholding Christ: II Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:3-4


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God’s Messengers

I’ve been going through some old posts lately and came across this, from when I used to host “The Week in Words.” It was originally posted August 9, 2010, and it convicted me again today:

From the Elisabeth Elliot e-mail devotionals, this taken from her book A Lamp For My Feet:

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

Sometimes the very circumstance in our lives that we’re chafing against is the one God is using to work something necessary into our hearts and characters that we would not learn or develop any other way.

That goes along with something I read at Washing the Feet of the Saints:

In a recent conversation with a delightful young friend, we considered what it means to die to self, particularly in the ordinary tasks of every day life, and to live sacrificially in our home and community to the glory of Christ.

The “dying” this young lady referenced was a simple household chore that had nothing to do with family/elderly caregiving, but it’s application was obvious. My friend lamented that it should be easier to put her desires and contentment aside for the benefit of other. “But then it wouldn’t be dying,” I countered.