Sunday, May 9, 2010

Amazing Grace to the Humbled

When you are left alone for 10 hours a day, with no distractions, you tend to reflect on a lot of things very deeply. What does it mean to be made in the Image of God? How can I better share the Gospel with my fellow tree planters? When should I start planning for what this next year is going to hold? How can I, or how should I, show more appreciation and love to Kendra so that she knows how much I care about her? These are all questions that are on my mind as I fill my bags with trees to plant in British Columbia. There is nothing like an extended period of solitude to sharpen the mind (but more on that later - I've got a series on Jesus' temptation in the wilderness coming up in the next few weeks). Here is one of those questions: How does my relationship with the Creator of the cosmos work? What, if anything, is there in me that could possibly please Him?

God Humbles the Proud
When I'm talking to non-Christians (and even to some people who claim to be Christians), they tell me that you shouldn't have to believe in Jesus in order to have a relationship with God. "Okay, well why not?" I usually reply, with sort of a puzzled look on my face. "Because all the religions and philosophies and stuff," they say, "they teach the same morality. And if we live up to that, God should still accept us." But, how good do you have to be? Do these people honestly believe that they -or anyone else- could stand before God one day and say with a straight face that they are righteous? According to Romans 12:3, this kind of thinking is pride, which is the sin of thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to. But as St. James once said, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." It sometimes surprises me that if the people who say this are Christians, they are considered humble because their answers don't offend or seem judgmental. But instead, their answers shows that they are very prideful because they think that they are righteous enough to please God by their own efforts.

God Gives Grace to the Humble
The best way to approach God is with humility, seeing ourselves as Jesus describes us, which is 'evil'. In the Sermon on the Mount, He once said to His followers "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11) Examples to follow are the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, who declared that he was a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5) and the New Testament Apostle Peter who fell down at Jesus' feet and declared himself a sinful man (Luke 5:8). People who see this as the foundation of their relationship with God are often derided as prideful, because their viewpoint is that everyone is desperately wicked and in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ. Since the so-called 'humble' (who are actually prideful) don't like the message, they brutally characterize the messengers as 'prideful' (when they are actually humble). In reality, people who believe this and preach this are the humble ones, because they come to God beating their chests begging for mercy, and not expecting their sheer awesomeness to save them.

Why This Grace Is Amazing
Everybody else is spending time trying to convince themselves that they are wonderful. They go to conferences to psyche each other into feeling better about themselves. The speakers that they listen to are New Age gurus who talk as if they are hypnotized, and they have to repeat mantras to make themselves feel okay. But it is a sickness. These people aren't free. They can't seriously confront the bad that they have done, and they can't look themselves in a mirror without putting on a mask and hiding behind a thin veneer of self-esteem. The rest of the world condemns itself to living a lie, drowning out their guilt with mantras and distractions and alcohol (don't shoot - I'm not condemning alcohol). They can't face themselves with honesty, and as a result they can't know what it's like to be forgiven. They are denied twice, by the very mindset that is supposed to make them happy.

But in Jesus, we have freedom. We can face ourselves and honestly see our sin and our shame, and we can confront ourselves without having to moralize or explain things away or drown our hidden guilt in distractions or addictions. But also, we can know the heights of absolution because we have come to God in the depths of our own self-realization. Forgiveness is the most wonderful feeling of all. This is the foundation on which we Christians stand. Words can't explain the experience of grace, which is why so much Christian writing about it is dry and boring, but Martin Luther comes closest to giving us a clear picture:
"God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God, neither can he do the work of God, but he remains confined within his own work and makes of himself a fictitious, ostensible, false, and deceitful saint, that is, a hypocrite"

-Martin Luther

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. It was helpful to see spelled out what I have been trying to put into words for the past few weeks. The whole section "God Gives Grace to the Humble" was amazingly coherent to me... Very helpful, thanks Sean!


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