Sunday, February 25, 2018

SPIRITUAL INADEQUACY



        

There are many reasons that the strict moral requirements of the laws are rejected, even the New Testament laws. For one thing, they interfere with our lifestyle choices. For another, they raise the moral bar so high that we continue to fail and feel guilty about it. Take Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

·       “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)

Jesus’ call for moral perfection is echoed throughout the Bible (Matthew 5:20; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Leviticus 11:44). Consequently, the Bible never gives us an excuse to slack-off. We can never say, “Well, I do good 98% of the time. Therefore, I am now entitled to some time-off.”

Because of these demanding teachings, some preachers have entirely rejected them. Universalist, Carlton Pearson, has denounced what he calls “sin consciousness,” the depressing, guilt-producing preoccupation with our moral failures:

·       Sin consciousness, something Jesus never taught or encouraged, both prohibits and prevents self-love, something we must learn and re-learn to do, especially when we're brought up in a kind of "hate yourself" religious climate as many were and continue to be, whether, Christian, Jewish or Islamic.

It is true that many of us have reacted against the demanding legal and moral teachings of the Bible as promoting a "hate yourself religious climate.” I certainly had reacted that way. Although I didn’t reject the Bible because it frustrated me and made me feel guilty, I certainly did avoid many passages that would bring me down. Also, I couldn’t stand to hear sermons that preached “Do better; try harder.” These would send me out into the world weighed down with guilt and a powerful sense of spiritual inadequacy.

Today, there are many churches that are sensitive to this “problem.” Therefore, they preach a comfortable and unbalanced God-loves-you message, where it’s all about grace and little about our need for grace.

Fortunately, I did eventually become grounded in the many Biblical teachings about the grace for us undeserving sinners. It was these teachings that gave me the peace and confidence to eventually acknowledge that I am a sinner undeserving  of anything from God apart from His wrath (Romans 6:23). The teachings about God’s grace and His Cross gave me the freedom to honestly face myself and to be transparent with the rest of the world.

However, it was these teachings that also allowed me to embrace the law and God’s moral requirements. I began to see the wisdom and the beauty of Jesus’ teaching that I “must be perfect, as [my] heavenly Father is perfect.” Just consider this – What if you wife comes crying to you because you had hurt her by pushing her. Would you respond:

·       I will not be burdened by this “sin consciousness” that you are trying to place upon me. I have been good to you 98% of the time. So you have no right to complain that I pushed you down. Besides, God is forgiveness and mercy.

While it is true that God forgives, but we must first confess our sins, humbling ourselves to admit that we have done wrong. Even if we have done right for the past month, this is never an excuse for any sin. Jesus taught that we are eligible for eternal condemnation by merely wrongly and maliciously calling someone a “fool” (Matthew 5:22). We have to take responsibility for all of our behaviors. Any transgression of the law would place us under a curse:

·       “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:26)

But doesn’t this suggest that God has set us all up for failure? After all, how can any of us be perfect? Certainly not! Instead, He has set us up to seek out His mercy, which has always been abundantly available. It is the law and its moral requirements that continue to teach us this lesson so that God’s grace and mercy would always remain part of our consciousness. In this way, the law had led us to Jesus the Messiah:

·       But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:22-24)

Even now, the law remains a reminder of the beauty of our Savior and the blood He has shed for us. The law and its moral requirements continue to humble me. They show me that I cannot stand before my Savior on my own on the basis of my righteousness. I can have no confidence in self-righteousness:

·       Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

The law shows me who I am and points to my only Hope – Jesus. I need this sin-consciousness. Without sin-consciousness, there can be no grace consciousness. No wonder He has taught us that we must regard ourselves as unworthy of any good any good thing that might come from God:

·       “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

Therefore, I have learned to continue to humble myself by acknowledging my unworthiness before God so that He will lift me up:

·       “I tell you, this man [the tax-collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other [the self-righteous Pharisee]. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Through seeing my hopeless situation, I have learned gratefulness. I have also learned that to acknowledge my sin and unworthiness requires nothing more than the truth. This is a truth that I had hid from myself for decades, and now, by following Jesus, I can see (John 8:31-32).

I need the uncompromising truths of the Bible’s moral requirements to remind me of the surpassing value of God’s grace. Without this reminder, I tend to become complacent, self-satisfied, and jaded. Even worse, I tend to take God for granted.

I am now comfortable with the fact that I am “spiritually inadequate.” In fact, we weren’t designed to be spiritually adequate. Our adequacy is to be found only in the Lord:

·       Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)

We have been taught to believe in ourselves, but this is something I cannot nor will not do. I much prefer to find my adequacy and self-acceptance through an all-embracing relationship with my Savior.

4 comments:

  1. Betrays a foundational misunderstanding inasmuch as there is no God outside you holding anything to cause you guilt rather the Spirit of truth inside transforming you and this work has to do only with submitting to him at the points he brings up with you as an individual.

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    Replies
    1. If there is no God outside of me, how can I submit to HIM?

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  2. Thanks Daniel I enjoy your thoughtful posts!

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