Christianity asks us to do a really hard thing when it comes to how we feel about ourselves.
On one hand, we need to be brutally honest. The key to, well, everything is looking at ourselves with truth-coloured glasses and acknowledging all the brokenness that comprises us, which we alone can do nothing about. That key unlocks Jesus, because only when we truly acknowledge what we are can we give ourselves fully to him, ask for his help to make us something different.
After that, we still need truth-coloured glasses, but we also need lenses of gratitude. Bifocals, as it were. Or a scratch-proof thankfulness coating. Because after that point, our original brokenness is a thing of the past and while we should never forget where we come from, how far Jesus brings us, it's important to live in the present. It's important to think of ourselves in terms of what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, instead of in terms of where we started, or what still needs to be done, or what he hasn't gotten around to fixing yet.
I get it. Sometimes humans are pessimistic. Sometimes we call it "realistic". It makes it hard to look at ourselves and see Christ's redemptive work around the sharp edges and cracks that are our mistakes—still happening, still causing problems, even with Christ working in us.
Paul knew what this was like. In I Corinthians 15, despite being the man we've come to know as one of the most famous evangelists out there, even he looks back to his past and the man he used to be. He says, "For I am the least of the apostles . . . because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9).
His humility is admirable, as is his honesty, but if the statement stopped here, I'd say there might be a problem with his outlook. See, Christ never intended for us to be trapped forever by who we used to be. Let it humble us, sure. Let it bring us to him, of course. But don't let it blind us to his redemptive work.
Fear not. Paul's a seasoned warrior of the faith, and he knew this, too. I know because of his next words.
"But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:10)
Paul acknowledges the man he used to be, but then he glorifies God for the man he is now. Not a perfect man, but a man who has been given God's gift of grace. Not a self-made man, but one made who he is by a great and loving God who is completing a perfect work in him one day at a time.
By the grace of God, I am what I am. That's the thankful-coloured glasses at work. I know you're still a work in progress—trust me, so am I!—but guess what? That means there has been progress! By the grace of God, we are what we are—and that's better than we were yesterday. God is at work.
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