Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Longer Identified By Sin

[No Longer Identified By Sin]

In the second of twenty articles that I wrote for Heartland Vineyard Church between 2005 and 2007, I decided to "introduce" myself to the rather large congregation. However, while I did mention some details about me and the activities in my life at the time, the main purpose was not to talk about "me," but to point to the Christian's identity as "saint" and not "sinner." (Note: I fully understand the difference in opinion among my friends here of the interpretation of the Apostle Paul's words about "sin that dwells in me." That's all right, and it's not the focus of this article).

Hi, I’m Joel Brueseke. It has been no less than a wonderful, joyful experience for the past 5 years for my wife and I to worship with and connect with the various parts of Christ’s body who call the Vineyard their home, as we do. Along with our two children, Jared and Noelle, we thank God daily in our prayers for extending our family by a couple of thousand people! I work part time at Covenant Medical Center as a Courier and I work part time at the New 89.1-The Spirit (aka KWOF-850AM in Waterloo). You might know me as Joel Sommers on the radio, and if you do know me in that capacity, my sincerest apologies!

As I share a little bit more about myself, I’ll use someone else’s words to describe my thoughts:
“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Paul, in Galatians 2:19-21, The Message)
My friend Mike Kapler (also with KWOF and this church) has often brought up that we humans tend to identify ourselves by what we “do.” You find out what other people “do” and you tell them what you “do.” “I’m a salesman.” “I’m a hairdresser.” “I do construction work.” “I work in radio.” “I race cars.” “I’m a pastor.” “I work in a factory.” In introducing myself above, I first told you what I “do.” But because what I do is generally the fruit of who I am, or even the fruit of who I perceive I am, I first want to grow in and be grounded in who I am.

The Bible says that my identity – who I am – is not “me” anymore! When I was born, I was identified with Adam and unfortunately it was a life which didn’t quite cut the mustard when it came to being right with God. So, as an act of His great love for us, God made a way for all of us who were born in Adam to be “born again” into Christ. But in order become this “New Creation,” as Paul phrases it in II Cor. 5:17 and Gal. 6:15, it was necessary for the old “me” to die. So, that identity was crucified with Christ. It is dead and buried, expired, six feet under, bereft of life, pushing up daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It’s stone dead. (Thanks to a Monty Python skit for those synonyms for DEAD!) My new identity (who I really, actually am) is identified by the very life of Christ in me.

Plainly put, before coming to Christ we were identified as “sinners.” Now, after coming to Christ by faith, we have a new identity as saints! As Bill Gillham writes in his book, “What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity,” and as our pastor has often said, we are not “sinners saved by grace.” It is grace alone which has saved us, but now in addition to having been forgiven of our sins, we have been made holy, blameless and righteous - saints! That is actually, factually what God has made us to be! He doesn’t just “see” us as holy and righteous. We are holy and righteous.

We do contain the capacity to sin, and the reason is that sin dwells “in” us (see Rom. 7:17,20). The good news is that we are not identified by what is in us but rather by who we actually are! When you have a virus “in” you, you don’t say “I am a virus” or “I am a runny nose and swollen tonsils.” What is in you might temporarily have power over your bodily functions, but it does not define who you are. In Christ, sin doesn’t define us. We are defined as a saints. Nothing we “do” can change that identity, just as nothing we did created that identity in the first place. It was all the work of God and it will always continue to be the work of God. The prodigal son didn’t lose his identity as a son, even when he went off and squandered his inheritance.

The book mentioned above says, “Believe you are a ‘sinner saved by grace’ and you’ll act like one; believe you are a holy, purified saint who admittedly sins at times, but who hates that life-style, and you’ll be highly motivated to act like such a saint.” Our new life in Christ is lived by trusting and resting in what God has already done, and in His very life which is in union with ours!


  1. YES, What a WONDERFUL piece of writing.

    I just love the "When you have a virus “in” you, you don’t say “I am a virus” or “I am a runny nose and swollen tonsils.” part. It explains the total, complete, as far as the east is from the west, forgiveness and grace so beautifully.

    THANK YOU Joel!!!

  2. Joel,
    Thank you for posting this letter/ excerpt you wrote for Heartland Vineyard. I really appreciate it, as it further expresses who you are and your amazing heart. It's so good to learn more about you.

    I love your references from The Message, the words Paul used. I see many similarities to you, Joel, and him!
    I love how you minimized the aspect of what we do career/profession-wise, and keyed in on who we are in Father Son Holy Spirit. Indeed, this is where are true identity is.

    I also love your use of the illustration of a virus/germs to our identity as saints, as Believers in Christ Jesus, rather than sinners. Nice!

    ~Amy :)
    Author of "Orphaned Into Belonging"
    Walking In The Spirit

  3. Because I have been set free from the Law of Sin and Death I can now walk as Christ walked; the same Spirit animates me. I live by the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ. I believe that as my mind is renewed to the truth of who He is in me and I am in Him and just what that means that my new nature will express itself. I live out of who I believe myself to be. I am the Righteousness of Christ.

    Thanks, Joel. Great post. :)

  4. Joel,

    For years I have felt anguish for those hearing the legalisms and poisons being fed to congregations, which are being driven into spiritual bondage by legalistic drivel.

    It's very refreshing to see someone who has tasted true GRACE, and preaches it.

  5. Lennart... indeed, as far as the east is from the west, He has taken our sin away and it no longer defines us in the least!

    Amy... I really love how the Message words this passage. When I first read it... and ever since then... I beamed with joy as I found myself relating to it so much! That's the wonder of grace! And yep, who we are in the Lord is our true identity. Everything we 'do' flows from who we are.

    RJW... Set free indeed! Now, rather than being animated by sin and the flesh, the Spirit animates us and our minds are daily renewed in Him. Wonderful truth!

    Aussiejohn... I fully relate to your anguish over all of the legalism that has been preached over the years. The good news is that there seems to be a growing community of believers who are saying "NO!" to the spiritual bondage that you're talking about, and who are embracing the truth and freedom of pure grace! Let's never stop preaching it and living it! :)