Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Disgusted with Self?

I think that we all experience some disappointment about our perceived lack of spiritual growth. I certainly experience this just about any time I travel. Red lights and traffic jams send me into such a frenzy that I shock even myself, even while I try to control myself with some comforting verses!

I wonder, “Why do I still struggle with this same garbage? Shouldn’t I be further along the spiritual road by now? There must be something desperately the matter with me or at least with my approach to God!”

This isn’t an isolated perplexity. We struggle with the same doubts about our brethren and even the church. In fact, some have become so disgusted with the church that they are trying to revamp what it means to be a Christian and consequently are overhauling the church. Some have even abandoned the centrality of Scripture and theology in favor of simply following Jesus. Out of a sense of desperation, they are simply endeavoring to become good, loving and relational Christians. The more mystically minded are re-conceiving the essence Christianity in terms of “experiencing” Jesus – anything to distance ourselves from our personal and corporate failures.

But perhaps there is another way of salvaging peace and hope in our Christian experience, even in the face of the ugly things that we find in ourselves! Perhaps we’re looking for Christian growth and maturity in the wrong places? While the Bible instructs us that we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) – and there should be fruit that reflect this fact – the Bible also warns us that the spiritual road is filled with bumps:

• For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)

Paul also wrote about his inability to do the right thing (Romans 7:20). Therefore, intense struggle characterizes our lives, even repeated failures (James 3:2). Why? In love, God is working overtime to make us like Christ (1 Peter 4:12, 17; Hebrews 12:5-11). These trials teach us that it’s about Him – His strength and righteousness – and not about us (2 Cor. 4:7-11; 1:8-9).

As we undergo this remodeling ordeal, we’re not going to look very pretty. God’s glorious work is not going to be readily apparent:

• Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

I think that John is trying to comfort his brethren that, even though our lives might look pretty disappointing, this is to be expected as part of the process. It is only when our Savior returns for us that we shall look “like Him.” Any remodeling site is a mess. Our hearts will only be put to rest when the work is completed, and the trash is all collected for the dumpster. Meanwhile, what we truly are is “hidden in Christ”:

• For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4)

Only the Master Carpenter can truly “see” the finished product in the midst of hodge-podge reconstruction site. It is only when He returns “in glory” that we shall be able to behold our own glory.

I think that it was C.S. Lewis who stated that our God purposely prevents us from seeing our ultimate glory in Him because, if we did, we would begin to worship ourselves. It is this danger that is antithetical to spiritual growth. Because of this, He will humble the proud and self-confident, and will exalt the humble (Luke 18:14).

It might be offensive to the prevailing culture that we regard ourselves as “children of the light” and “new creations’ in Christ, but this is precisely what the Bible insists that we are! It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in and through us (Gal. 2:20). Consequently, as hidden new creations, our culture is in no position to judge us (1 Cor. 2:15-16) and we can’t even judge ourselves, at least not fully.

Therefore, I think that we need to be patient with ourselves and with others. We can’t judge God’s workmanship in our lives (Eph. 2:10) before the “appointed time”:

• Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)

Who we are is hidden in Christ. The inner man – the real you – can’t be seen. Paul made this very distinction about his own life. Although he was a sinner, this wasn’t the real Paul:

• Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:20)

According to Scripture, when we mess up, it isn’t the real “we” who is creating the mess, but the sin in us, which madly struggles for supremacy (Gal. 5:17). Therefore, don’t be discouraged by your many failures. They are a necessary part of the remodeling process.

I pray for the day that the red lights and traffic jams will no longer induce me to go ballistic, but meanwhile, He is humbling me through my failures and causing me to look to Him alone. This is what He had done with Israel:

• He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut. 8:3)

If it requires humbling circumstances to teach us this lesson, then our prayer should be, “Humble me, Lord!”

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