Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Big Fat Sloppy Sanctification

Life is messy. Sloppy, really. We like to pretend it isn't, but it is. We prefer hiding behind whatever mask we're wearing in the moment that we think hides our messiness and undone-ness from others. But it doesn't. Not really. Nowhere is this more true than inside the church. It's there that we refer to life on the ground as sanctification with the incorrect assumption that sanctification means continuous movement away from life's messiness into some type of have-it-togetherness. We equate sanctification with self-sufficiency. That's because the message we've heard for so many years has been heavy on progress and light on justification. Heavy on behavior modification and light on mercy and grace. The banner of the Christian life has become my (and your) progress. "Am I pulling it off?" has replaced "it is finished!" If it appears you aren't pulling it off like I think you should be, I morph into fix-it mode which I think gives me Biblical permission to put you in a spiritual headlock until you cry "uncle!" and superficially produce the "change" I need to see in you in order for me to be happy. At least, that's how I remember it.

But God's acceptance of me in Jesus has nothing to do with my progress or lack thereof. It has nothing to do with whether or not I look a certain way or if I fit someone's mold of what they think a believer should look like. God isn't going to abandon me in my sloppiness because his acceptance of me is due to the fact that he has declared me righteous in heaven's court apart from anything moral or pleasing in me at all. But that sounds so impersonal. Maybe this sounds better: God loves me so much that he stepped into his creation to rescue me by doing for me what I could never do for myself. Since God's standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48) and not progress (Matthew 23:27-28), he has, by grace alone, made me perfect apart from progress (Hebrews 10:14) based on the merits of another: Jesus. He has freely placed into my account the perfect record of Jesus, while putting to death my old record in Adam. In Adam, all die; in Jesus, all are made alive (Romans 5:18-19); all of this, apart from my progress or works of any kind. Jesus died the death that I deserved and in so doing, he gave to me his perfect record of righteousness and took upon himself, my bad record in Adam. God loves me because Jesus is my substitute and savior, not because I'm getting better, making progress, or becoming self-sufficient.

This is good news because none of it depends on me! God freely justifies the wicked (Romans 4:5) and when he does, they are counted righteous. That righteousness comes from outside of us. Thank God! There is no room for boasting in my progress or fretting over my sloppiness and brokenness. I'm just as righteous in Jesus on my crappy days, weeks, months, years, or decades as I am in those brief moments where I've deceived myself into thinking I'm pulling it off or accomplishing something. My righteousness doesn't depend on my progress or lack of progress. Life gets sloppy. Life gets dirty. But in the midst of all my sloppiness and undone-ness, Jesus loves me and he wants to be with me not because I'm making progress but because he loves sinners like you and me just as we are.

There is amazing freedom in that! I can't screw this up. I've mentioned before that I can't perform my way into God's kingdom and once I'm in, I can't sin my way out of it. The Bible calls that grace. While my sanctification is messy and sloppy, my justification is perfect and pristine. God loves me, not because I'm making progress, but because he has declared me righteous and no amount of sanctification sloppiness will ever change that. I'm a mess, but Jesus died for messes like me. That's good news and it sets me free! God's love is put on full display in my weak messiness. Those most intimate with their own brokenness are those most intimate with grace.
Jesus is not repelled by us, no matter how messy we are, regardless of how incomplete we are. - Mike Yaconelli (Messy Spirituality)
- Mike

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Phone Rang So I Answered It

In my previous post I wrote a blog about a good friend of mine who called it quits and walked away from the faith. It's probably a good idea to read it before reading this one. It's a post called We Don't Need Another Hero. I hadn't heard from him in many, many years but more recently, he's been on my mind. Then today, he called me. Right out of the blue. We haven't talked in so long I don't remember our last conversation. I had no idea where he was and I certainly didn't know how to reach him. But he found me. He tracked me down, found me, and called. That's crazy, even for a five point Calvinist like me.

I'm so glad he didn't call me six or seven years ago when I was so deeply immersed in performance. I couldn't have offered him hope if he had called me then. The only thing I would have had to offer then was law. An endless to-do list of behavior modification that only leads to hopelessness and despair because none of us can pull that off or ever be good enough. Instead, we talked about Jesus. We talked about the good news that Jesus loves train wrecks like me and my friend. We talked about how we got it all so wrong all of those years ago, believing God was mad at us if we screwed up. And man did we screw up. I reminded my friend how Jesus likes to hang out with sinners. He loves us in our messiness and we're all a mess. We just didn't know it then. We thought we were supposed to be strong and competent because that's what we were being told. But that's a lie and no one is like that. Some people just have so many layers of masks that they're wearing that they've become experts at hiding their true selves, or they're just better liars. But let's be honest, we're all screwed up. Jesus knows that and he loves us still. He doesn't just love us. He likes us. When he was on earth, he wanted to be with sinners. And he still does. That's good news because there aren't any non-sinners.

We talked also about Jesus' final word on the cross, "it is finished." We talked about how that means we can't take credit for any of this. Salvation is all God's doing, not ours. We can't perform our way into the kingdom and we can't sin our way out of it. That's grace! The pressure to perform and measure up is off because Jesus performed and measured up for us. We can't add anything to what he's done and we can't take anything away from it. He knows we're weak and that we can't pull this off, so he came and pulled it off for us. We have been set free!

I could tell my friend was hesitant and a little apprehensive to say much at the beginning but the more we talked and the more I shared my own crash and burn story with him, the more he was softened by the message of grace. Grace does that. Law hardens us and scares us away, but grace melts us and draws us in. And grace is so easy and freeing to talk about because it's what rescues me every day. The gospel isn't complicated. It's simple and yet so profound. Jesus came to set the captives free and rescue sinners, of whom I am chief.

We're going to talk again soon.