Paul's Passing Thoughts

TANC 2015 – Andy Young, Session 1: Challenging Presuppositions of the Believer’s Identity

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on September 9, 2015

So I had originally chosen a few other topics on which to speak.   And then several weeks ago Paul and I were chatting on Facebook, and I think it was following something he had just posted on the blog – I don’t remember the exact circumstances now – but I had been sitting there thinking about this, and the thought came to me, “Believers don’t really know who they are!” And I was overcome by the realization of this, how profound this was. Here we are, some 2000 years after, if you want to call it the “birth of Christianity”, some 500 years after the reformation.

What do we have?

  • Grand churches with their grand buildings and their programs
  • Christian schools
  • Christian universities
  • Seminaries turning out all these pastors
  • all these resources

And with all of this, people are sitting in churches Sunday after Sunday, and they still don’t even know who or what they are. They are not aware of the reality of their existence. And that is what it really boils down to is this philosophy of existence. Who are we? What are we? And I don’t want to delve into a fundamental discussion about what is man. That’s a really esoteric subject, and not that it’s not worthy of discussion or that it’s not relevant, but I’ve only got so much time here, and I want to focus on something more specific.

Specifically, what is a Christian? You remember that it was in Antioch of the province of Syria that the term “Christian” was first coined, but not in a good way. It was a pejorative. It was meant as an insult. In the Greek, the word literally translates, “Christ ones”. We can make it sound even more derogatory by saying “christers”. You’re one of those “christers”. One who goes around talking about Christ. It was meant to be an insult. In fact, every time you see the word “Christian” used in the NT, which isn’t often, it is generally used in a negative context.

Of course, the fact that is was meant as an insult is what caused the term to be adopted as badge of honor in later decades and centuries, in a sort of ironic fashion. And to this day the word “Christian” is very common and normal and doesn’t carry the stigma with it. People in churches gladly call themselves Christians. Now granted, in recent years there has been a growing intolerance of what passes for Christianity, but for many years that wasn’t the case. It was almost popular to be a “Christian”.

But we’ve seen, I’d say in the last 10 years or more, a growing animosity towards Christians once again, and that isn’t necessarily for the reasons that we think of immediately. You know the first thing that comes to mind is this conflict between government and religion and the whole separation of church and state issue. But more and more I see that being a secondary issue. What we really have is a growing hatred for those who call themselves “Christians” because of what they represent. And that is, on an institutional level, on a theological level, on a philosophical level, it has to do with this seeming indifference to abuse and suffering both inside and outside the institution. Christians are viewed as uncaring and insensitive. You have Hollywood actors referring to God as a sadistic monster. And I can’t necessarily blame them for that kind of assessment. You look at the way “Christians” behave, especially toward each other.

And if you don’t believe me, watch what happens when you try to ask a question in Sunday school that questions the orthodox position. Or you leave a church over doctrinal matters and see how many of those people who you thought were friends continue to have contact with you. Or you watch how downright vicious they get with you when you try to present a rational argument in a Facebook discussion. One has to ask themselves, if they treat a fellow brother like that, how do they treat a lost person? How do they treat someone they are trying to evangelize?

And you don’t think the world sees this? You don’t think the world looks at the behavior of Christians, and then we wonder why they don’t want to have anything to do with us. What did Jesus say?

John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Does the world see us loving each other? How can they believe anything we have to say? Dear lost person, I want to share with you the gospel because I love you. Oh, like you love that other guy who calls himself a Christian? I see the way you treated him.

The blame for this rests squarely on Augustinian/Reformed/Protestant orthodoxy. Traditional orthodoxy has created a god in its own image that IS without a doubt a sadistic monster. And so as a result, you have followers of this god going around treating people the exact same way that they believe their god treats them. Why should we expect any different. And this is the reason then that the term “Christian” has become a pejorative once again. And it is for this reason why I no longer refer to myself as a “Christian”. I call myself a believer. Or follower of Christ. A disciple of Christ. I prefer believer.

So along those same lines then, this becomes the foundational premise for why those who call themselves “christians” don’t even know who they are. What is the primary defining term that traditional orthodoxy uses today and has used for centuries to determine our identity as believer? When you sit in that pew, or that stadium chair, or whatever kind of seats your church uses, and the pastor/elder/bishop/apostle or whatever he wants to call himself, stands in front of the plexiglass podium, and he’s standing up there, and he’s looking so hip with his goatee or soul patch, in his blue jeans and turtleneck and sports coat and brown suede shoes, and he starts to deliver his sermon, what is the one theme that is driven home to you over and over and over again? What does he want you to know about yourself? What are you?


This is the theme. This is what defines you. It’s in the songs we sing. Only a sinner saved by grace. Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me. I need thee every hour! And I could go on. We see it in the pithy little memes on Facebook. Here’s one I saw recently….I’m not a christian because I am strong and have it all together…Of course the question we should immediately ask ourselves is, why do Christians need a savior? But we never ask those questions, do we?   Here’s another one. I’m not that perfect Christian, I’m the one who knows I need Jesus. Of course there’s a subtle snarkiness to this one. It’s almost a kind of holier-than-thou attitude. It almost seems to contradict the very humility it’s supposed to be trying to convey. I’m so humble that I know I’m not perfect, but at the same time, I know something you don’t know. I know I need Jesus and you don’t. And of course at first glance, no one is going to argue with that. How can you say you don’t need Jesus? But what they don’t realize is that, wait a second, believers already have Jesus. We’re already saved. Why do I need a savior over and over? But you will see this theme over and over all over the place. Don’t forget, Christian, you’re a sinner!

Now of course what do they mean by that? Well they say, well I still sin. Right. They like to ask that question. Did you sin today? Then you’re a sinner. And of course they think they trick you when they ask you that question. They think they’re being clever if you come to them with some notion of righteousness. And of course their mistake there is equating righteousness with obeying the law.

But the fundamental flaw in this assumption about being a sinner is this. If you make this your assumption that because you sin you are therefore a sinner, what you are doing is allowing your identity to be defined by a practice or a behavior. (let me say that again.) You are allowing your identity to be defined by a practice or a behavior.

Now on a certain level this is not necessarily incorrect. This is something we do all the time in our everyday life. We tend to categorize ourselves and others by what we do. We do this in our jobs. I have my own business. I earn my living by cooking food. So since that is a behavior in which I engage, I can legitimately say, I am a cook. Or Paul writes for a blog, therefore Paul is a blogger. Or Cam Newton plays football for the Carolina Panthers, therefore Cam Newton is a football player. (I threw that one in there for Zach). Ok, all of these are examples of behaviors or activities that we use to categorize each other and to compare ourselves with others to help organize our world, and so all of these things are true. But do those things define us as individuals? In other words, aren’t we more than just cook, or blogger, or football player?

There is a tendency to divide people up in to groups and call them “communities”. And these so-called “communities” are defined by the behaviors and actions of those who would identify with them. And so what ultimately ends up happening is you have those who say they are part of this “community” as if everything they are, who they are, is defined solely by the behaviors that are common to those in this community. The LGBT crowd is a great example of this. How do they refer to themselves? They say the LGBT “community”. Well what does that mean? Their whole identity is wrapped up in a specific behavior. Now I’m not going to get into, is this a choice or are they born this way, that’s irrelevant to this point. Even if you assume you are born this way, it is still a behavior, and you are choosing a behavior to be the basis of your identity.

Why don’t we do this with other behaviors? Why don’t we have a pedophile community? Why don’t we talk about the serial killer community? Or the alchoholic community? And I’ll stop there because I don’t want to go too far and have the analogy fall apart, but I think you should begin to see the point I’m trying to make here. We don’t define ourselves by our behavior. And this has tremendous ramifications.

So how do we define ourselves? I think a great place to start is asking how does God define himself? Is God defined by His attributes? We say God is love, God is just, God is holy, God is immutable. But again, is this how God is defined, or are these all abstract concepts that man has assigned to God to help organize the world around him, and so we create these aspects of God so that we can try to understand Him? How did God define Himself? How does God identify Himself?

Moses asked this very question at the burning bush. You remember that he was to be the leader of Israel, and he was concerned that they would not follow him, and he asked God, who should I tell them sent me? How will they know You sent me? And so in Exodus 3:14 God answers Moses, and He says:

Exodus 3:14 “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

God said, I exist! Do you realize what a profound declaration that is? God was not just being coy with Moses. In this simple three-word declaration in Hebrew, God was establishing the fundamental definition of self. I EXIST. Who am I? I am me. I am who I am. I exist! That is such a profound declaration. To declare your own existence is to acknowledge your right to self. But there is even more to this, as I was discussing this very point with Zach last week, as he pointed out, and I agree, that there is a corollary to this truth. That when God declared I EXIST, at the same time He declared, YOU EXIST. To recognize self also means to recognize the existence of other “selfs”. This is especially profound when we consider that God made man in His image. That God is “self” also means that man is self. So that man can also legitimately declare, I exist! I am! And because he can declare this, he must also recognize other “selfs”.

So if we truly understand this, we can see that man cannot be legitimately defined by actions or behaviors. He can only be defined as “self”. He is who he is. Who am I? I am me. You are you. That is who I am. That is the definition of my existence. You can categorize me anyway you want, but that is not who I am. And I’ll let you ponder all the ramifications of that.

But this is where we must start before we can even begin to discuss who we are as believers. What is means to be born again. Because first and foremost we are creatures made in God’s image whether we are born again or not. Everything I just said must be true of all mankind. We have to begin with the right assumption about man in general. Only then can we have a valid discussion and understanding about who we are as believers.

So that was a big long introduction. And now we’re finally ready to get into the meat of this whole topic. But that was some necessary ground work. So, as believers, who are we, really? If we are not defined as “sinners”, if we are not defined by behavior, who are we then?

Born again

I want to start off with this right here. This single statement by the apostle Paul is the single-most emphatic statement regarding the reality of the new birth.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

In fact the structure of this verse in the Greek is rather interesting. I’m not going to get into a deep study of the grammatical structure of this verse, but there are a couple things I want to point out for starters. Most obvious in this verse is this contrast Paul uses between old and new. And I’m going to speak in depth on this contrast in the next session. But what I want you to see here are the words that Paul uses to express this contrast.

First of all, the “old things”. Now Paul uses a word here that is rarely used for “old”. In the NT there is another Greek word for “old”.

“Old” – παλαιος (pal-ay-OS) – antique, not recent, worn out. Paleontology.

This is the word used most frequently. In other words, when you are reading through the NT and you see the word “old”, most of the time it’s going to be this word “palaeos”. What is worth noting here about this word is that there is an age aspect involved. So this is old with respect to age. I might say, my grandfather is “old”. Or my car is “old”. I’m talking about it being old in years or months or whatever. And like I said I’ll talk more about this in the next session.

But Paul uses a different word here. And this is the word:

αρχαια (ar-KAY-ah) – original, that which was from the beginning, the former.

This is old not with respect to age but with respect to comparison. Someone might talk about his old school or his old job, or his old girlfriend. Now the old girlfriend might not like being referred to as “old”, but in this context we mean former or previous. This is the idea behind the word “archaiah”. So when Paul talks about the old things, he’s talking about the former things or the previous things. Now this is going to be important to understand later on when we talk about this again in the next session, because there is a time aspect involved in that we are referring to something that was in the past, but we are not specifically referencing the age of something. OK? So keep this in mind, we are differentiating between previous things and the age of something.

So Paul contrasts these old things, or these former things, or these previous things, with new things. He says all things are become new.

“New” – καινος (kay-NOS) – new with respect to freshness as opposed to age. Different. A replacement.

“He got a new job”. “My son just transferred to a new school.” “He has a new girlfriend”. You see the meaning here? We’re not talking about the age of something. When I say he got a new job I don’t mean a job that didn’t exist before. Although that could be the case, but fundamentally I’m referring to it being different. Different from the one he had before. This word presents the perfect inverse comparison with “archaiah”. It’s a comparison not of age but to indicate a difference or a distinction between the two. He left his old job; he started his new job. He left his old school; he’s going to a new school (Not one that was just built). He broke up with his old girlfriend; he’s dating a new girlfriend (not one that was just…what? can we say born? Let’s hope not. But you get the idea.)

It’s a profound distinctiveness. There is nothing that remains of the former. You don’t keep any of it around for sentimental reasons. It’s not like you took that which is former and restored it. Or rehabilitated it. No, you completely eliminated the former, the previous, in exchange for a different one. You have something now that is different from what you used to have. And this is a description of the new birth.

Jesus taught this very thing. In the middle of the night, a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask him questions about His teaching. And he came at night because he didn’t want to be seen talking with Jesus. It would not have been good for him to be seen with Jesus. Because Nicodemus was genuinely interested in what Jesus had to say. And almost immediately Jesus responds to Nicodemus by teaching him about the new birth. He says In John 3:

John 3:3-7 “Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.’ ”

This expression that Jesus uses is two words in the Greek.

γενναω ανοθεν (gen-AH-oh AN-oh-then) – to be born on high, from above

Now Peter takes this expression that Jesus uses, born from above, and he takes that idea with the proper understanding uses a different word altogether. He takes the word “genAHoh”, and combines that with the prefix “ana”, which if it’s used alone it means “up”. But when you combine it as the prefix of another word it adds a meaning of repetition or intensity. So in 1 Peter 1:23, Peter uses the word

αναγενναω (an-a-gen-AH-oh) – to be born again, to be reborn.

1 Peter 1:23 “Being born again, (αναγενναω) not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

These are the only two passages in the NT where you will see the expression “born again”.  It is important for believers to realize they are born again. Why? How is this significant regarding a believer’s identity? Well here it is. Being born again is the basis for righteousness. Let’s run through this again. Why did Jesus die? Did Jesus die to shed his blood to be a covering for our sin? No, Jesus died to end the law. Specifically the law of sin and death. Jesus didn’t cover our sin, He took it away, as far as the east is from the west. What did John the Baptizer say when he saw Jesus coming? “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!” This is the imagery of the scapegoat from Leviticus 16. You remember this? (See video below, mark 37:00, for summary of the scapegoat).

This is what Christ did for us. When he died he ended the law and took away all our sins. They aren’t covered, they are gone! Because what happens when we believe? When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the old man dies. That old man that was under law is dead. The law can’t touch him any more. He was crucified with Christ. And a new man is resurrected in his place. A new man is reborn. The old law of sin and death can’t touch him. And where there is no law there is no sin. Where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. There is no condemnation for the new man. There is no condemnation for the one who is born again because there is no sin because there is no law to condemn him. I know it sounds like I’m repeating myself, but I want this to be clear. I want you to get this.

Now if that wasn’t exciting enough, consider this. You tell this to any of your protestant/reformed friends, you tell them that you are righteous – not just positionally righteous, or forensically righteous, or declared righteous, but that you ARE righteous. That’s your identity. Righteous. Righteous because you are born again. What’s the first they will say to you? “Well did you sin today?” And they are so smug when they say that. They say it like they just gotcha. Ah ha! See! And if you say, no I didn’t sin, then they will immediately pull out 1 John 1:8

1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Of course this is a proof text taken out of context, but they won’t hear you on that because it doesn’t fit in with their reality. Remember what is their reality? What is man? For that matter what are believers? SINNERS. To them, that is our identity. But let me show you something else John said in that same letter. And I tell you, I’ve read this passage in 1 John many times, and I’ve struggled with it, but then I was preparing this lesson, and I had one of those lightbulb moments, and my jaw hit the floor! And the reality of what I read just thrilled me! And I’m like, of course! That’s it! Let me show you this. Look at 1 John 3:8. Let’s start with that first.

1 John 3:8 “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”

Now the protestant/reformed crowd has a hard time with that verse because that would suggest that if believers still sin then we are still of the devil and not really saved. So they reinterpret it to better fit the orthodoxy. In fact the ESV translates that verse by saying “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning”. So the idea is that a believer sins, but he doesn’t make a practice of sinning. Which,if you think about it, is still an outright contradiction because according to them if it is our nature to sin then we can’t help it anyway, so calling it a practice means that somehow you can choose not to. So this is just one more example of the blatant hypocrisy in reformed doctrine. They play these word games with the text and try to get you to think they don’t really mean what they say.

But then we come to verse 9, and this is where the lightbulb went on. Remember we’re working with the conclusion where there is no law there is no sin. Did you sin today? You can state most emphatically, NO! Why?

1 John 3:9 “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”

Do you realize what this says? The reality of this is incredible! John says plainly, the born again believer does not sin. Not only that, he CANNOT sin! Is this talking about ability? One would think so, but think about what this has to do with the law? Where there is no law there is no sin. The believer CANNOT sin because there IS no sin! This is yet another contrast between the old and the new. Verse 8 and 9. Verse 8 is the old. Before you were born again you committed sin because you were under law. The law condemned you. Therefore you were of the devil. But that was then. The old passed away (the previous, the former). It was replaced with the new (something different). You were reborn and the law was ended and sin was taken away. Therefore you CAN no longer sin because there IS no sin. But it doesn’t end there. John goes on later in the letter and says the same thing again.

1 John 5:1 “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.”

Again, talking about the new birth. Who is the one that begat? That would be God, the Father. We are born of God. Not only do we love the one who begat us, ok, not only do we love the Father, but we also love others, we love everyone else who is also born again. We’ll talk about this some more later on in another session as well. So we have the reality of the new birth once again. But then he continues. Look at verse 18 same chapter.

1 John 5:18 “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”

Do you see how all of this so wonderfully fits together with the rest of what scripture teaches! How wonderfully consistent this is when we understand it in context. There is no conflict here. We don’t have to twist the words around to make it fit. It is logically consistent. This is the reason why believers are righteous. This is why we can say without a doubt, nope, I didn’t sin today. I am not condemned today. See and that’s really what they are talking about when it comes right down to it.   Sin has to do with condemnation and judgment. Their reality says that when you sin, you need another covering to keep you from being condemned. But you see, this is what they don’t get about it.

So, what is our identity as believers? Are we sinners? No, we are born again. We are righteous. We cannot sin because there is no sin. The law was ended and our sins were taken away. We are truly righteous by virtue of our new birth.   Do you see how important this is to understand? This reality alone is so liberating. Once believers come to the realization of who they are because of the new birth and what that actually means. This has got to be such an encouragement. To get out from underneath this burden of being constantly reminded that you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, and to suddenly realize that no, I cannot sin. Not just I do not sin, but I cannot sin. How tremendously freeing that has to be for someone who’s been told otherwise all his life. So that is where I’m going to stop for this session. We’ll look at some more examples of the believer’s identity in the next session.

Session 1, Blog TalkRadio Podcast

Session 1 Slides:


Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12 Slide13 Slide14 Slide15 Slide16 Slide17

5 Responses

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  1. Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on September 9, 2015 at 2:31 PM


    You are too kind. I know you are not one to throw away a compliment, so coming from you that means a lot!


  2. Ryan said, on September 9, 2015 at 9:16 PM

    I totally agree Argo. And thank-you Andy for your contributions to the conference. I’ve learned alot.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on September 10, 2015 at 9:45 AM

      Thank you too, Ryan, for your kind words!


  3. gracewriterrandy said, on September 13, 2017 at 9:36 PM

    Yep, the world clearly sees you loving others when the owner of this blog calls a believer in Christ a “bitch.” Now that is what I call showing love.


    • Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on September 14, 2017 at 8:54 PM

      Let’s be clear; you are not my brother in Christ because you are under law and deny the biblical new birth like all of the Reformed. Also, I called you an “arrogant bitch” not just a bitch. A bitch is a female dog, and I must admit, Peter didn’t clarify when he spoke of those who return to their vomit like a dog. So, my apology.


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