The Christian Union weekend away has come and gone and it gives me pause for thought and reflection as it marks the anniversary of my conversion three years ago. In 2009 then God took the question: “Are you living a distinctive life for Christ?” and used it to open my eyes to the truth that I wasn’t and that I should be. That evening I came to Christ, aware for the first time of the hopelessness of my condition without him and that in him lay the only way to salvation.
It’s been quite a ride since then, time has flown by and it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime as a Christian not just one thousand and ninety six days. It’s a misconception to think that conversation is the be all and end all of the Christian experience. Far from it! Conversion grants us immediate and compulsory enrollment in year 1 of the School of Christ with a set of courses and lessons perfectly tailored to our weaknesses and needs. For God is not unconcerned with his people, he loves us too much for that and he sets about completing the good work he has started.
This School has one main goal for all its students: holiness, being like Christ and growing in love for both God and man. The only graduation students see is the graduation of moving from this life to the next. It is without question the best and hardest school in all the world.
I should probably add that though I can highlight a lot of lessons I’ve learnt they are in the same breath a lot of lessons I am still learning. After all, the first rule of the School of Christ is that there is no end to the School of Christ!
I’m more of a sinner than I thought
The odious black pit of my heart, there is nothing commendable about it, even in acts of good there is pride, in acts of prayer unbelief, in acts of holiness filth. The inner thoughts, the unexpressed cruelty, the inherent selfishness, the fundamental downward tendency of my flesh, the ease at which it is to sin, the swiftness to ignore the law of God, the cold stubbornness of my heart! A little faith, a little joy, a little peace, a little patience, a little love, far less than there could be, far less than there should be and far less than I want there to be. Slow to learn, slower to remember, slowest to relearn all the lessons God has sent my way.
It used to be a real struggle for me to accept that Paul was speaking truthfully when he calls himself the worst of sinners because I knew that he was a better man than I and I did not want to think of myself as the worst of sinners. Now though, I understand why he says such a thing and occasionally, in moments of clarity, I see myself as a real rival to the title. And now I feel the agony of Paul when he writes:
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7 v 18 – 19, 23 - 25
Each year finds me more aware of the sinfulness of sin especially that of my own heart.
Righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ
“But that’s just the gospel!” I hear some of you say but if there’s one lesson I can never take enough times it is simply that of the gospel. It was necessary to save me and it remains necessary to make me holy and see me safely home to glory. If I do not preach the gospel to myself then oh-so-swiftly does striving for holiness become legalism, love become nothing more than cold hearted formal duty and performance the basis of my acceptance before God. In good times I need the gospel to remind me of my poverty and in bad times I need the gospel to remind of my riches.
When I sin tell me of the forgiveness found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; when I am sad tell me of the love that God has for me that he sent his only Son that I might be saved, when I am afraid tell me that my name was written in the Book of Life before this world began, when I am tempted tell me of Jesus, my High Priest, who was tempted and yet was without sin.
As the classic hymn goes:
“Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.”
God loves me
Of all the lessons I struggle most to learn then this is probably one of the hardest. It is easy to believe that God is good to me on some generic level but harder to believe that his steadfast love is set upon me with a tender kindness that none can match.
“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3 v 17
I find it easy to conceive of God as a stern task master rather than of one who rejoices over me with singing. It is a continual struggle not to conceive of God’s love as coming to me in the form of earthly prosperity but in ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’. That is to say, when things go wrong, my faith in God’s love is one of the first things to go. This is especially foolish given the next lesson…
Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life
If one statement was to be stamped over my Christian life so far then it would be: “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2 v 13) Let me be the first to testify that as David writes in Psalm 23: "surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life". Let me testify that my God is a covenant keeping God, he has kept every promise he has made through his Word to me, he has kept me his despite, at times, my desires to the contrary. God has been faithful and forgiven me all my sin when I confessed them, has comforted me when I was weary, guided me when confused, returned me to him when I strayed, rebuked me when I erred and lifted me up again when I fell. Though at times I thought he had deserted me I look back on three years and smile, knowing that his goodness and mercy have never left me and never will.
To him be all praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever!
To be continued...