Are We All Just Broken People?

These days it’s cool to use the word “broken” when talking about human sinfulness. There is something down and dirty and real life-ish about the word. It sounds authentic, and as everyone knows, authenticity is what it’s all about these days. “We’re all just broken people,” is what I typically hear, and what I’ve said myself from time to time. And there is something true about the statement. In one sense, sin has broken everything. Our entire personhood, from our health, to our intellect, to our sexuality has been “broken” and distorted by sin. We are not how God originally made us.

I think the term is also helpful when talking about the kinds of people who come into our churches. I want messy, “broken” people to come into my church. People whose lives are so jacked up by sin that their only hope is Christ. People whose families, and friendships, and habits, are seriously broken by sin. I want alcoholics and workaholics and sexaholics and self-righteousaholics to come into our church.

But I think we need to be really careful when we use the word “broken” to describe us as Christians. Our fundamental identity is not as broken people, our fundamental identity is found in Jesus Christ.

We are not fundamentally broken, we are fundamentally new creations in Jesus Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 -

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The old, rebellious, enslaved, “broken”, Stephen Altrogge has passed away. I am now a new creation in Christ with a new heart. So when I’m sitting around with guys at Starbuck’s (yeah I know, totally inauthentic), and one guy says, “Yeah I’m just really struggling a ton with lust right now,” it’s not right for me to say, “It’s okay bro, we all struggle because we’re broken.” (Side note: whenever guys talk in semi-emotional, sensitive ways, we must use the word “bro” to assure ourselves that we really are men.)

What I should say is, “Listen man, you may feel like you are ruled by these lusts, but you’re not! You are a new creation in Christ. You are united to Christ. The old you, that was broken and enslaved to lust is gone. You have the power of the risen Christ in you, which means that you have power to say no to these ungodly desires. You’re not broken – that’s not your identity. You’re in Christ and that is your identity.”

I once was broken. Actually, I was way more than broken. I was dead in sin, enslaved to wickedness, and ruled by Satan. But I’m not broken anymore. I’m alive in Christ. That is my true identity.

  • Brian

    If a person is struggling a lot with lust and is continually looking at pornography over and over and over, would that person be considered a "true" Christian? I ask that because I've been giving into pornography over and over and over and any assurance that I had of salvation is totally gone. If I had any identity of being in Christ I sure don't have that now.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Hey Brian,

      Great question. I guess I would want to ask, do you have any desire to serve Jesus? To me that seems to be the fundamental question when it comes to evaluating salvation. When you look at porn, do you feel sorrow because you've sinned against Jesus? If you do, that's a great sign that you really do have spiritual life in you.

      If you don't feel like you have any spiritual life in you, the first step is to ask Jesus to forgive you and to receive the full forgiveness of sins. The second step is to do whatever it takes to cut porn out of your life. Maybe that means throwing away your computer or canceling your internet. Maybe it means canceling cable. I would encourage you to do whatever necessary to cut off the idol of porn.

      IS that helpful?

      • Brian

        I have a desire to serve Jesus but the desire is so small it's close to going out. I always give into porn and all it does is make me isolate myself from others and go to bed depressed . . . like now. I'm so close to just giving up because I don't have the strength anymore. I don't see any hope and there is no hope. I just want to give up and quit.

        • anonymous

          Brian, i just wanted to encourage you to keep fighting. i have seriously struggled with lust my whole life (and i'm a woman in my mid 30s, so it's not as "normal" or "acceptable" for me as for a guy), so i know the temptation to just give in and quit trying. and when i don't want to fight, there's very little hope of victory. i've started praying recently that God would help me to WANT to fight this, and to WANT to be free, because honestly i sometimes don't. but i find that when i truly desire to fight it – not just to deny myself, but to fight for my relationship with the Lord and fight for purity and holiness and and freedom and joy in the Lord, He gives me a way out every time!
          i have been challenged by the idea of not just putting off my sin, but putting on the opposing righteousness. it's not just the don'ts, it's changing over to the do's (Ephesians 4 and 5). to combat lust, we are instructed to be thankful instead. when i'm tempted to selfishly gratify my own desires, it helps to start thanking Jesus for setting me free, for dying for me, for suffering in my place, for giving me a relationship with him, for being alone in Gethsemane so that i don't ever have to be completely alone because He is with me, for my family and friends and every blessing He's provided, for His Word, for the Holy Spirit to give me power, etc etc etc.
          and confession and accountability are key – to actually say out loud to a brother who cares about you exactly and specifically what you're doing is very hard, but God commands us to confess and repent, and it's not always enough to just confess in our own minds to the Lord, sometimes we have to force ourselves to confess out loud and ask other people to pray for us and with us and ask us about it regularly.
          Matthew 12 includes a quite from Isaiah proclaiming God's care for his struggling children, and our hope of victory in Him. there is hope!

          • benthorp

            A few thoughts (come straight out of my head, so a little bit random, but hopefully helpful)
            1. You are not alone. It seems to me that every guy (or gal) who struggles with porn feels very alone, as if they are the first to experience this problem. Again, you are not alone. If you want a verse for that, check out 1 Corinthians 10:13 – "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man."

            2. You can't win. Jesus has won. It took me a long time to work this out. If we see this as a battle that we personally need to win, then we will fail. If we recognise that our sin has already been overcome by the work of Christ, then things become easier.

            3. Freedom comes from more of God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Invite more of the Spirit into your life.

            4. Confession and accountability are (as noted above) key. But bear in mind point 2. Too many people see confession and accountability as ways of managing their sin. This might work for a time, but really the sin needs to be put to death. If you don't put it to death, then you will still struggle, and it won't be true freedom.

            5. For me, speaking as someone who is now about 7 months into becoming free from a 20-year porn addiction, I can attribute part of this to reading my Bible more. Sounds a bit weird, but steeping myself in God's Word seems to have really helped. I've been using Professor Horner's Bible Reading System, which is a little extreme, but I would recommend that you reinstate some spiritual disciplines into your life. (See point 3)

            6. There are a tonne of resources available, from accountability software (covenant eyes, xxx-church), through free e-books ('Porn-Again Christian') and other books (Tim Chester's one springs to mind, but I can't remember the title). These are not solutions, but they may provide some useful tools in the battle.

            For me personally, some of these things have helped me understand myself better, and my need for Jesus better. And as I've sought Him more, He has genuinely changed my heart, so that I can truly say that the desire for porn has lessened. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I can certainly attest to the power and goodness of God!

  • jennifer van wieren

    awsome :)

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thanks!

  • Nina

    Seriously, what is with the war on the word "broken"? It's driving me insane! Yes, we are new creations – thank you for the reminder. As you have noted, some people live defeated because they do not realize the victory that is in Christ! Having said that, I think a problem with the church today is because people don't see themselves as broken enough. It is brokenness that yields itself to Christ's sufficiency (remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12?) Furthermore, the bible speaks of man's brokenness everywhere! Paul writes in Romans 7 that there is nothing good in his flesh.. Galatians also speaks of the war raging between the spirit and the flesh. The minute we see ourselves as less than broken (fixed, I guess), then it becomes so easy to view ourselves as self-sufficient; we no longer rest on Christ (His finished work on the cross and His continued work of sanctification… Phil 1:6) but on our own perceived perfection. That breeds contempt for others, self-righteousness, and it's not biblical either. Rather, brokenness keeps us at the feet of Jesus, coming boldly before HIs throne of grace for our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Remember, we are all under construction until we are perfected in heaven. And I'm pretty sure "under construction" is just another word for broken. :)

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Hey Nina! Thanks for commenting. I definitely agree that we never want to move into self-righteousness or contempt. That wouldbe totally wrong.

      But other than Romans 7, which I don't think is actually written about Christians, I don't really see brokenness showing up in the Bible. I see Paul boasting in his weakness, but I think that is different than professing to be constantly broken. This never means we stop depending on Christ or that we rest in our own works.

      My point was that our fundamental identity is not as broken people. It is as redeemed men and women of God. Does that make sense?

      • Nina

        That makes a lot more sense; thanks for the clarification! I would argue that I do find the concept of brokenness quite a bit in the Bible, but I think those are just minor differences in our thinking.
        I believe Romans 7 is about Christians because it is to the Roman church, and Paul speaks of himself and his struggle in the latter verses (15 and onward), but I think we may just have to agree to disagree for now.
        Excellent point about our fundamental identity; yes, we are new creatures and live in His marvelous light as sons and daughters, but again (and I may be redundant) but I don't think a profession of brokenness necessarily takes the place of our fundamental identity–rather I see it as complimentary. I would not know my tremendous need for Christ had He not first revealed my brokenness. No, i don't wake up every morning chanting "I am broken," but it is something that is just so apparent in my words and actions as a human. "Treasures in jars of clay," as Paul writes, but nevertheless we keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12)!

  • Tosha

    Yay for this post! Amen and amen! There are many times that we as a church get into a lingo pattern, of "I'm a sinner" "I'm broken", woe, woe, woe is me…. But we must remember who we are – A New Creation. There was a hefty price paid for us to be able to know this and walk in this. Praise be to God for His goodness and that we are changed. Yes, I am a sinner, but now I am much more than that – I am FOREVER changed – FOREVER His – FOREVER a son or daughter of the KING.

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  • Lou

    Nina, I agree. We seem to be missing the Biblical use of broken–a broken and contrite heart. Biblical brokenness leads to true repentance, not worldly sorrow & shame._Stephen seems to point people to immediate triumphalism. While the first approach sidesteps repentance, Stephen's approach bypasses it. See sin as it truly is, repent and believe.