Sunday, May 13, 2007

I'm [feeling] not good: True Emotions

Inspired by a post I read the other day from Broken Thoughts of a Christian Nomad, here are some thoughts on the doctrine of Total Depravity.

Have you ever considered what a worthy Christian response should be in light of our utter depravity and helplessness before God? Paul often speaks of our depraved human nature, but he doesn’t make it out to be something that is undefeatable . . . this is, in fact, where the Gospel message finds all of its recipients. Accordingly, when this doctrine sinks honestly and deeply into our core, our natural responses will be overwhelmed by God-driven, worthy responses in humility before God, assurance from God, gratefulness to God, and a sweeping sense of mission for the glory of God.

Humility before God

When we see the fullness of man’s depravity, we will be humiliated to see our own poverty without Jesus. In the wake of this realization, our accomplishments are shattered in our minds and prior comforts are stripped from hearts[1] . . . we see them as they are—unworthy and valueless—and we cling to the overwhelming power of God’s grace.

With our pride in the matter put aside, we can get rid of this idea that “God needs us” in order to be complete or to accomplish His purpose. When God called Isaiah to service, Isaiah was not filled with pride for his worthiness of the task. Instead, we see the prophet struck with the depth of his own fall: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (6:5).
At this point, God’s awesome glory in salvation is revealed (and now our theology begins to match our prayers). When we pray to God for friends or family to come out on top of a tough situation, with God’s help, we can rightly trust that He is the author and perfector of true faith,[2] and that our friends’ and our family’s and our own success does not depend on the strength of our flesh, but the strength of God’s will.

Seeing the bent of our flesh, we will rightly begin to hold a holy watchfulness and a wholesome distrust for ourselves.[3] Do I really believe that, by nature, I am so undone that God must initiate the work? More to the point, do I believe that if God’s strengthening of my hand were taken from me, even for a moment, the remains of corruption in me would lead me back to wickedness and idolatry?

Assurance from God

Oftentimes, men look to improve their personal state when talking about it . . . refusing to see how desperately in need of Christ they are.[4] We are seeking to magnify the significance of the cross and its Bearer to their true size. We are great sinners, and Christ is a great Savior. If we do not know the first one, we will not know the second.

Throughout the whole of the Biblical narrative, we find God commands men to do what they will not do (repent, be reconciled, seek the Lord; come to Christ); most fortunately, God sent His Son to do what we could not do for ourselves . . . to fulfill the Law.[5] We live in light of the most glorious event of all time: the coming of Immanuel, whose very presence showed us: where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.[6]

We must cling to Christ, our only hope.[7] For the same God who commanded light to shine out of darkness,[8] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to sinful man.[9] If you have eyes to see, you can rest assured that God has given them to you.

Gratefulness to God

Sometimes, a man can feel as though he is the only one who knows the depth of his own depravity . . . however, we can praise our Lord all the more when we see the muck and mire from which He has saved. When our dear brothers and sisters bear witness to the work of Christ in their lives, we are compelled to rejoice with them, hearing their joy in this new life.

Knowing the depth of our depravity will lead us to wonder: “Have I been the subject of God’s workmanship?” The question is not about the sincerity of my decision, or my determination, or my whatever-I-want-to-call-it. The focus of my search is now on God’s action: “Has God done something in me?” In this way, we are bankrupt if not grateful that our God, who took pleasure in beginning the good work in us, will see it through to completion, despite my sincerity, determination, etc.[10]

If a dead man has been raised to life, or a blind man given sight, there is no boasting in determination; there is, however, cause for much rejoicing. And when all human pride is removed, what remains? Nothing of ours. But there is an infinite ocean of grace. Our earnest hope and prayer is that more and more Christians will set out on that ocean, until there is no land in sight.

Mission for the Glory of God

In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, we find Jesus at the Samaritan well . . . He is met there by a woman who has little earthly good to testify about, though she’s confident in the coming of God’s Messiah. After a discussion of ethnicity and the thirst-quenching nature of water, Jesus catch’s the woman off guard. He reminds her of some of the murkier parts of her past and present and, also, shares some of the more glorious parts about His present and future.

To sidebar for a moment, as you read this chapter from John, pay close attention to the incredible patience Jesus exercises with this sinful woman. He doesn’t get defensive about His identity when she questions Him or aggravated when she asks redundant questions. What she found out, and one thing we can learn from this story, is that Jesus sees us exactly where we are and pursues us knowing our capabilities. This should be cause for great assurance, and this sort of assurance will surely bolster patience. We are called to serve everyone in longsuffering, keeping with the Spirit’s fruit.[11]

As for the fruit in the Samaritan woman’s life, how does she respond to Jesus’ patience and bold confrontation of her state? She runs all over town bearing witness about this man who “told me all that I ever did” (29). Because of this woman’s testimony, many believed in Jesus and sought to see Him for themselves.[12] For that Samaritan woman, being confronted with her depravity, and meeting Jesus in it, filled her with a desire to share from the well.

This is the worthy response of those liberated from the dank and shadowy realm of natural man . . . To those who have received the light, a great invitation has been extended: to share in the joy of liberating others through the upward truth. We have been welcomed into God’s heritage as guides to the blind, lights to those who are in darkness, instructors to the foolish and teachers of children.[13] O, what a glorious calling—both, personal and relevant. Because we were once in the pit, we can relate to the pitfallen in a deeper, truer, God-ordained way.

And here is where we will make camp in battle with the Church today. True worshippers must have a broken heart for reaching those who have not yet received the truth by grace. In many congregations, it is as though the culture is the problem and the only safe approach is no approach at all . . . as with the lepers of ancient times, Christians should not take light into the darkness. This could be the grossest, most negligent sin of Christ’s body in our day: failing to act as Jesus’ outstretched hand.

[1] Gal. 6:14-15; Phil. 1:21, 3:3-11
[2] Heb. 12:2
[3] Rom. 7:14-25
[4] Mt. 9:36-38; Jn. 9:39-41; Rom. 3:9-18
[5] Is. 55:1-7; Mt. 11:28, 29; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor. 5:20-21
[6] Rom. 5-6
[7] Rom. 3:19-26, 5:6-10; 1 Tim. 4:10
[8] Gen. 1:3-4
[9] 2 Cor. 4:6
[10] Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 2:7, 8:3; Eph. 1:4-5, 11, 2:10; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:14 ; 1 Pet. 1:2,20
[11] Rom. 14:1-4; Gal. 5:22-25; 1 Thess. 5:14
[12] Jn. 4:39-42
[13] Rom. 2:19-20

No comments: