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The Ouch! and Ahhh! of the Gospel*

I was recently given the assignment to tell my story to a small group of trusted friends. It wasn’t the kind of story telling I am used to, however, but was an exercise for me to see the Gospel themes woven throughout my entire life. This means creation, fall, redemption and consummation (which we anticipate but only get small glimpses of now.) I couldn’t pull it together in a clear and organized way. I told them it felt like a collision between my ADD and perfectionism which resulted in a sloppy mess. But something interesting happened as I just started talking (and talking and talking). The repugnance of my sin overwhelmed me as it somehow felt more overwhelmingly “sinful” in my telling.

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. John 8:33-35

As I recounted the way I gave in (without a fight) to sin’s lure to take the image of God with which I was made and to be my own God instead, I felt that enslavement come over me. Ridiculous as it sounds, the image that came to mind was of the way those Twilight books (yes, I read them) describe vampires smelling human blood. The “good” ones knew they couldn’t act on it, but it took everything in them to turn away. Sin is more powerful than that because there is nothing in me than can turn away…it takes advantage of our particular glory lusts, hunger for control, demand to be worshipped ourselves and is merciless.

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. Romans 7:12-13

Apart from the righteousness of the person and work of Jesus, the total and complete fulfillment of every letter of the Law, sin was not utterly sinful to me. My arrogance actually seemed pretty cool to me. My disdain for the majority of the population, who do not fit extremely narrow parameters for my admiration, was not abhorrent to me until I encountered the person and work of Jesus. I felt genuinely powerful, unquestionably superior and worthy of praise until my eyes were opened to the One who, being in very nature God, made Himself nothing and took on the nature of a servant. (Phil. 2:6-8) And suddenly, the only One who can be called “good” produced death in me as I began to see how utterly sinful my sin really is.

(1)Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has (2)reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (3)But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, (4)that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:1-11

1. Those dogs – I assumed these to be, like I’ve written before, sinister atheists who lurk about in dark cloaks in shadowy places. But I am one of these dogs each time, as the writing goes on, I encourage other believers to find peace, restoration and any form of righteousness within their own selves. Whenever my Bible study teaching ended with a charge to do more and try harder at “pleasing God” and omitted the only One with whom God has ever been fully “well pleased”, I have been an agent of death/mutilator of the flesh.

2. reasons to put confidence in the flesh – with the right education, the right resume, the right connections, the right travel destination diary, the right accomplishments, the right wardrobe, the right vocabulary, the right disciplines…it is impossible with man (ever since Adam) not to place confidence in the flesh. 3. whatever was to my profit I now consider loss – I always thought this was just one of those nice, humble things people say, like “I married out of my league!” But, it’s piercingly true. All those “right” things give me false security and sense of being “fine” and even outstanding. They blind me from seeing what is true about the self-worship in my heart, the glory thief that I am and the people hater that lies beneath my arrogant disdain for others. “Woe to me!” is impossible to utter until the sinfulness of my sin is exposed to me.

4. found in Him – Here is the only place where “Woe to me!” is met with “Glory to God in the Highest!” Here is where the sting of death, the sinfulness of sin, no longer has the final word or the power to define my life’s story. My life’s story, from creation through the fall, gets to find its ultimate identity in the person and work of Jesus.

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:3-6

*expression totally plagiarized from Anne Henegar

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