- “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." (Leviticus 11:45)
What a burden! We want to run away from a requirement that inevitably leads to frustration and failure. I certainly tried to run away but to where? To the NT? However, there too we are smacked in the face with the very same requirement:
- As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
It soon became apparent that I could not fulfill such a calling, and years later, I realized that no one else could.
For years, I wanted to turn away from this demanding God, but I couldn't. I had no other place to go.
However, Scripture slowly revealed a blessed purpose for my failures and inadequacies. In fact, there is a purpose for all of our hardships.
Paul informed us that he had suffered so that he too wanted to give it all up:
- For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Ordinarily, we like to delight in ourselves. We too must learn the lesson of self-despair so that we can learn to glory God alone (Psalm 62).
Some lessons can only be learned through despair and suffering. If we found that we were successful in keeping Jesus' commands, we would become arrogant and self-righteous, the very thing our Lord abhors (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Failure and self-despair nurtures other essential fruits. As the Spirit illuminates Scripture for us, we begin to become grateful that He would love and persevere with us, in the face of the growing awareness of our unworthiness.
I wouldn't have understood His love had I regarded myself as a successful Christian. Instead, I would have understood His grace as an entitlement, something I deserved, because I am deserving.
Spiritual growth requires the understanding that it's not about what I have earned for God but what Jesus has earned for me. He has taught me that if I have Him, I have everything that I need (Col. 2:8-10). I am inadequate, but He is my total adequacy (2 Cor. 3:5).
In this, I rejoice. However, I would not be able to rejoice in Him as long as I was convinced that it is about my performance. Yet He comforts me by assuring me that it’s about the One who took all of my sins upon Himself:
- I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I am convinced that it is only through self-despair and suffering that we could come to this assurance and freedom – the freedom from trying to prove ourselves deserving. Once we despair in ourselves, we can only look to our Savior:
- Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
It is our failures and suffering that weans us away from the love of the ways of this world and focuses us upon our only hope - the return of our Savior. Our cry becomes, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
I now know that I need to be humbled and readied for Him by the impossible but necessary commands of our Lord. They continue to remind me that it’s all about His gift of righteousness, and this is freeing.