ALL of us have done things we wish we hadn't. And it's not uncommon to feel unworthy, flawed, less than the man or woman one would like to be. Can someone who has made a mistake earlier in his or her life find freedom without guilt and self-hate? Yes, it's possible. A man named Saul had witnessed the unjust stoning of the Apostle Stephen and was actively persecuting other Christians when he had an experience that brought him face to face with the revelation of Christ. And he was never the same again. He reversed his course, came to the defense of Christianity, and devoted his life to living its message. His complete change of character and willingness to take responsibility for what he had done are seen in the new name, Paul, that the Bible uses for him.
Later, an incident occurred that illustrates the magnitude of his character change.1 When he was feeding a fire, a poisonous snake came out of the sticks and ``fastened on his hand.'' Those watching thought that he was probably a murderer who had escaped punishment but that now his evil act was to be avenged. They expected him to die. One might wonder about the outcome had Paul agonized over the occurrence, thinking, ``Well, earlier I did....'' But his response was immediate: he shook off the snake ``and felt no harm.''
Paul's action at this time illustrates how completely he had ``put off...the old man'' and ``put on the new man,''2 to use his own words. Apparently his regeneration of character was so complete that the past had been redeemed.
We too are faced with the question ``Who am I?'' Like Paul, we have a choice. We can let the presentation of human inadequacies cling to our sense of identity or we can accept wholeheartedly the glory of our spiritual individuality.
The Psalmist asks of God, ``What is man, that thou art mindful of him?'' He continues, ``Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.''3 God has made man as the very expression of His nature. As Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: ``Man's spiritual individuality is never wrong. It is the likeness of man's Maker.''4 Man as God's creation is glorious. Man's real nature is spiritual, perfect, flawless -- of infinite worth. And that's the truth of each of us.
The human being we call ``me'' isn't perfect. But like Paul we can learn to put off that man and be renewed. And we put off the old as we put on the new. Our recognition of the spirituality and flawless perfection of the man God made, and our affirmation that we really are that man, are the essential first steps. Then we need to do the ``putting on'' and strive to live and demonstrate this selfhood. This is Christian regeneration.
More than just a pledge, such regeneration involves thinking and living in accord with the teachings of Christ Jesus. It requires honest desire, perseverance, effort. But if our motive is grounded in love of the self that is of God's making, and in a desire to see it more fully expressed, we will not fail. And the wonderful thing is that we're not alone in this work. The Bible promises that God works in us ``both to will and to do of his good pleasure.''5 The Christian Science textbook by Mrs. Eddy affirms, ``Working and praying with true motives, your Father will open the way.''6
In this process of Christian regeneration it's especially important to recognize that we're not trying to shape up a miserable, unworthy human being through human will or positive thinking but are striving to discern and see expressed more of our real selfhood. Nothing needs to be changed about who we really are. (Remember the flawless creation of God!) Our ongoing recognition and affirmation of our native spiritual worth and uprightness as God's likeness enable this reality to shine through, melting away whatever would obscure the glory of our true selfhood. God's Christ touches our lives with guidance, moral strength, patience -- with whatever is needed to enable our inherent righteousness to show forth.
What about the past -- the ghosts of mistakes, ugly experiences, personal limitations? Like Paul, we can spiritually outgrow the past. We've always really been God's perfect child, no matter what appearances suggest. The ugliness of the past never was truly part of our nature as God's child. As we put on the consciousness of our true identity, we put off the old ways of thinking. We, like Paul, are indeed newborn and can rejoice in who we are.
1See Acts 28:1-6. 2Ephesians 4:22, 24. 3Psalms 8:4, 5. 4Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 491. 5Philippians 2:13. 6Science and Health, p. 326. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26