Saturday, October 13, 2012

Deep Sin, Deeper Grace

         I’m so selfish and sinful that even when I tell God I love Him it normally means little more than I’m happy with the circumstances of my life.  As long as things keep going smoothly, as long as He does what I wish, as long as He does things my way, I call it love.  But when the road gets rocky, or the way gets too steep for my comfort, I rebel.  My affection wanes.
         But not really.
         If that’s what my heart means by love for God, then it wasn’t affection for God in the first place, and it couldn’t really wane.  It wasn’t love for God; it was love for me.  It was self-love all along.  It just masqueraded as piety.  Real piety, real affection for God, isn’t a masquerade.   If my expression of love for God were born of real piety, it would be rooted in His character, the shattering and bracing character found in Christ, Who upends the idols of my mind and of my impiety, and Who drives them from the temple of my heart with a whip, if that’s what it takes.    If I am really to love God, I must love the One revealed in Christ, and not in the conformity of His gifts to my desires.  My desires, after all, might sometimes be the worst thing for me.  If so, God’s goodness and love would set them aside in order to give me what I need, not what I want.
         I find it so humiliating.  Even in my moments of spontaneous outbursts of alleged affection for God, it’s sometimes nothing more than my pleasure at having reduced God to my Cosmic Errand Boy.  Even after years of faith, my best moments are still just echoes of the first sin, displacing God and putting myself in His place.
         Selfishness goes so deeply down into our hearts that we can never cut it out, never fully set it aside, not in this life.  None of us has plumbed the depth of our own evil.  We cannot.  We cannot because evil isn’t simply what we do; it’s what we are.  I’d have to shed myself before I could shed my sin.  Under every layer of my sin lies another layer deeper down.  If I could peel the onion down to its last layer, I’d still find sin, and when I’d discarded that last remaining layer, my sin would be gone, and so would I.
         I need a new me.  We all do.  That’s what God provides, and that why He provides it.  Regeneration means a new you. Regeneration means you are born again and that new life is given you.  In that new condition, you finally can alter your fundamental orientation.  By God’s grace, and only so, can you look at God’s character rather than at your own circumstances in order to see Him as He really is.  You do it by looking to Christ, by spending time with Him, by listening to Him talk, by watching Him work, and thereby learning in Him what God is really like.  You learn that God is not the magic genie who grants your wishes.  God is the One revealed in Jesus.  To know Jesus is to know God.  To see Jesus is to see God (John 14: 9).  To love God properly and well is to relate to Him in the way the Son relates to the Father.  There is no better way.  There is no other way (John 14: 6).


Jeff said...

How? I want to. I really do. But I'm desperately wicked... it's disheartening.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

You are in company with every Christian who ever lived. We are unworthy, and we are unable to change it. But God did. He changes it by means of Christ: Christ for us and Christ in us.

Christ for us is the means of our salvation. He died for us. He lives for us. He intercedes with the Father for us. And if He is for us, nothing can prevail against us, not even ourselves.

Christ in us is the means of our sanctification, our transformation. He changes us by by means of our relating to Him throughout the moments and events of our lives. As we spend time talking with Him and following Him, we learn more fully what He is like. That is important because we are to be transformed into His image, His character. To know that character requires us to learn about Him carefully in the Gospels and in our own lives. It requires that we think and act like Him.

I am not very good at thinking, speaking, or acting like Him. I often read the Gospels and find myself thinking that I would not have said or done what He did. It makes me wonder: What's wrong with me? So I try to understand better how He thinks, how He prays, etc. The process is slow, indeed painfully and embarrassingly slow, but it is real.

It often doesn't feel real because our sense of sin seems sometimes so overwhelming. But that sensitivity to sin is actually part of the progress and evidence of the progress. The closer we get to the Light, the more our blemishes show up. Emerging from our moral and spiritual darkness makes us more aware of the sin that we did not see or feel before, even though it was there all the time.

To me, then, your comment is good news. It means that the spiritual progress you desire is actually underway. So keep going forward. The way won't be easy; it won't always be plain, but it is real, and you are traveling forward.

God bless you and your journey, my friend. You are on the soul-shaping pilgrimage to Heaven, and you are not alone.

Jeff said...

Thank you for your response. Though I am swimming in a hurricane, I am still floating.