This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically.


Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. Shakespeare        

Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. Aristotle

Do you know the word oxymoron? It’s a great little word. An oxymoron simply describes two aspects which seem opposite, but in ways, can be similar. It’s something that seems like a contradiction on the surface, but in the end, both aspects can be true. We normally can find oxymorona in phrases. Let me show you some of my favorite examples:

  • restless sleep
  • random order
  • new tradition
  • modern history
  • cold sweat

Here’s another oxymoron. You are an oxymoron. You are a saint and sinner. That is an oxymoron. Let me explain:

  • When you become a Christian, you become this completely unique person unlike any of those around you, in particular, in relation to those who do not offer their lives to God. You are no better than anyone else, but in God’s eyes, you are perfect and holy. You are a saint.
  • At the same time, you are no different than anyone on planet Earth. At times, you act like Mother Theresa and in others, you act in awful ways. You have a tremendous propensity toward sin and doing awful things. At a moment’s notice, you could do some of the vilest things anyone has ever done—you are imperfect and unholy. You are a sinner.

When you get a chance, go listen to some of the music of Sufjan Stevens. He is a very gifted musician who writes songs that are not overtly “Christian,” but his music is some of the most beautiful and unique music I’ve listened to that are dedicated to themes of faith. On his album Illinoise, he has a song entitled John Wayne Gacy, Jr. If you want to listen to it, you can find it here (just be aware, it’s not the happiest of songs…).

If you don’t know the story of John Wayne Gacy—he was this seemingly normal guy who lived in the suburbs of Chicago, but who also murdered countless young men, burying most of them in the crawlspace of his house. When he was arrested in 1978, his neighbors were shocked to learn who he really was —no one suspected him of these heinous crimes. After this happened, Gacy in the public’s eye became the epitome of evil. I was a child at the time and can remember watching WGN news in Chicago each night and hearing of his horrific crimes. As a kid, there was no one scarier than John Wayne Gacy.

In the lyrics of his song about Gacy, Sufjan Stevens recounts all of these evil things he did and early on in the song, you get the sense that the song is just going to be how wicked Gacy was as a person. The song is haunting and I remember the first time I listened to it, sitting on the edge of my seat wondering where he would take the lyrics. In the last part of the song, Sufan Stevens through his words throws you for a loop and I remember being startled by the ending. This is how it ends:

And in my best behavior, I am really just like him;

Look beneath the floorboards, for the secrets I have hid.

I was shaken by his final words. The song seems to imply that each of us is capable of doing awful and evil things, and in reality, we each have a John Wayne Gacy in us. As the song ended, I was a bit astonished. Me? I am like John Wayne Gacy? After thinking about it, I now tend to agree. You see, I am capable of doing anything. You put me in the right circumstance, I would probably do anything: murder, adultery, you name it. I am capable of doing anything. And if I say I am not, I am either lying or in denial. As the famous hymn declares, “I’m a sinner without one plea.”

This is the problem. The Bible states the same truth about who we can be. On the one hand, the Scriptures say that we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are totally different than before you gave your life to God. You are a saint. You are holy. You are righteous. But then on the other hand, you also have Paul in the New Testament, who for all intents and purposes in my eyes is the most dedicated Christian that we find in all of the Bible and he makes two remarkable comments about himself. At one point, he says he desires to do what is right, but often doesn’t seem to follow through, is caught by sin, and often does the wrong thing (Romans 7:12-20). He essentially is saying that he knows how to sin really well and sometimes he just doesn’t know how to stop. And yet, he doesn’t stop there. Paul goes on to state in another passage that he is the very worst sinner that has ever lived. Essentially, he is saying he’s worse even than John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (I Timothy 1:15-16)

When I read this, my initial thought is this—Paul is worst guy that ever lived? He’s the best of the best of sinners?! I don’t think so. That can’t be right. But those are Paul’s own words and not mine. Here, you have this hero of the Bible stating that he is even worse than John Wayne Gacy, a man who was a serial killer. On the one hand, you have a saint; on the other, a really really bad guy. This is Paul. That is a biblical example of an oxymoron: saint and sinner. Both one and the same.

However, often those who are caught in the servant phase of being a Christian have difficulty living in this tension of being both saint and sinner. As the great Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector wrote in one of her stories “Who hasn’t asked himself, am I a monster or is this what it means to be human?” Say this to yourself: no matter what, You put me in the right circumstance and without the help from God at my side, I would do horrible and evil things. This is a truth and unless you admit that, you will always live in this danger zone. You see, this is exactly what happened to Peter. Right before Jesus is to brought to be murdered, he tells his disciples what is about to happen and that each of them will disown him. Peter is the first and only to shout: Jesus, I will never betray you—these guys might, but not me. It’s just not in me. I will be good; you wait and see. However, Jesus shakes his head in disagreement and simply says, Oh, how wrong you are, Peter. You shall see. We all know the end to that story, don’t we? Again, when we read about Peter in the gospels, he is living just as a servant and not as Jesus’ friend. As it applies to this, Brennan Manning wrote, “The temptation of the age is to look good without being good.” In Peter’s time, it was no different.

If one thinks about it this way, one of the most important “rules” that Jesus put on those who followed him was that if they were to deny him before other people, this relationship with him would be broken.

But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:33).

Jesus is basically saying if you do this one thing (i.e., deny being in a relationship with him to others), it is the Great Sin that is unpardonable; it is the one thing you can do to break the relationship between him and you. In this scene, Peter is insisting that he will keep that bargain. But we all know that didn’t quite pan out for him and on some level, he betrayed Jesus no different than Judas.

But that discussion is for another day and we will flush that issue out a little bit more in an up-coming blog post…

In: Friend to Jesus
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