It had been on my mind for quite some time that was something about the Christian faith I just wasn’t getting. That is to say I understood well my complete brokenness before God, I grasped more fully than I had before the extent, depth and width of my sinfulness. I got that I was a sinner. That point was clear. I got as well that my heart was wayward, idolatrous and proud. To a large degree I could cry “What wretched man I am” and mean it. My heart was cold towards God and I was unmoved by what I knew should move me. And so I prayed about it. I asked God that he would teach me what I need to learn.
It never occurred to me that the very thing I needed to learn was nothing less than the very gospel that saved me. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First let me quote from Jerry Bridges’ book “The Disciplines of Grace”.
“The second error is the exact opposite of the first. It is the feeling of guilt. We have been exposed to the disciplines of the Christian life, to obedience, and to service, and in our hearts we have responded to these challenges. We haven’t, however, been as successful as others around us has appeared to be. Or we find ourselves dealing with some of the sins of the heart such as anger, resentment, covetousness and a judgemental attitude. Perhaps we struggle with impure thoughts or impatience, or a lack of faith and trust in God. Because we have put the gospel on the shelf as far as our own lives are concerned, we struggle with a sense of failure and guilt. We believe God is displeased with us, and we certainly wouldn’t expect His blessing on our lives. After all, we don’t deserve His favour.”
It’s quite a long quote but I include it all because almost to a tee that has been exactly my experience recently. I figured that I was too sinful for God’s blessing and yet I couldn’t change how sinful I was. So I was stuck in a trap unable to work my way into God’s favour and yet desperately wanting to.
My problem was that I thought I had fair justification for my thinking. I don’t deserve God’s blessing. I don’t deserve anything. I am sinful. I am wayward. I am unworthy. I tried to relate to God based on my performance or rather my lack of performance. I suppose that I thought of my relationship with God as working like a Sims game. When I did something good I got that little green plus and my relationship with him advanced. When I did something bad I got those little red negatives and I lost ground.
This broke me. It could only ever break me. For those negatives are a lot more abundant than those positives.
And then I went on New Word Alive and it seemed to me that no matter what talk or seminar I went to there was a single message: God delights in me because Christ saved me. Can mere words express the freedom this idea gives me? Even as I write them I have a stupid grin on my face because this one glorious truth blazes through my mind: God’s grace is greater than all my sins.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
Romans 8 v 1
God doesn’t relate to me based on my works. He relates to me based on the righteousness of Christ and his sacrifice for me.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
Hebrews 10 v 19 - 22
On what basis can I draw near to God? Through the blood of Jesus. How can I be free from guilt? Through the blood of Jesus. How can I be confident that God loves and delights in me? Through the blood of Jesus. How can I ask God for blessing? Through the blood of Jesus.
Jesus Christ died on the cross and took the punishment for my sin. I am free. His righteousness, his guiltlessness, his perfection is credited to me and all my sin, my waywardness, my idolatry is given to Christ. Jesus bore the wrath of God so that I don’t have to.
I am unworthy. Jesus is worthy. I am undeserving. Jesus is deserving. I am sinful. Jesus is sinless. I am broken. Jesus is whole. As Jesus himself says:
“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
John 14 v 20
Jesus is in me and I am in Jesus. And it is on that basis that I can be in a relationship with God. It is on that basis that I can ask for blessings, forgiveness, help, strength and courage.
For this is the gospel: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5 v 21. And I forgot it. I lost sight of the very truths that saved me in the first place. And in doing so I lost all confidence, all peace and all joy. For to forget the gospel is to forget the love of God, the hope of glory and the undeserved favour of God that he pours out on all.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2 v 20
In God’s grace he has taught me, or rather re-taught me, his grace. He has brought me back to the gospel and the freedom from guilt offered by Jesus and his blood. Because of Jesus I am free. Because of Jesus I can approach God with freedom and confidence. God loves me. And his love is not works dependant but there always and at all times and in all situations and despite of all sin.
The other message of New Word Alive was to look to Christ. It was a message I had to hear again and again and again and again before I began to take note. And on top of that God had to use the first chapter of “The Disciplines of Grace”, a book I bought at NWA, to hammer the point home. It is by Christ I am saved. It is by Christ that I continue to walk the Christian life.
So as the uncertain future beckons I have a clear task ahead of me: look to Christ. For I forgot the gospel and I need to re-learn it. I need to preach the gospel to myself everyday. I need to meditate on Jesus and all he has done. And I need to pray and ask of God that I would not forget and that my thoughts would be taken ever Christ-wards. For I am always going to be unworthy but Christ is always going to be worthy.