I’ve had several things I’ve wanted to write on the last month, and what’s more, I’ve had more time than I’ve had in almost a year! But I’ve been stuck in a bit of a writer’s block as soon as I get part way into the post. And what I’ve slowly come to realize is that I had another issue I had to write about first, something that was more pressing. Something that, as the prophet Jeremiah described, was like a burning fire in my bones.
As long as I’ve called myself a Christian, I’ve lived in the space between my broken sinfulness and perfect holiness. I know I’m a new creation, changed from the old, wicked heart that I once had when I was apart from Christ. I do not live in abject sin in defiance to the Creator of the cosmos — but I’m not the picture of perfection I aspire to be. The one who looks just like Jesus, so that others can see me and see the goodness and transformation-power of following Jesus. I seem to still struggle with my old self. I heartily identify with Paul when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do… I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15,18-19) I know what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t do it! And what I don’t want to do, what I know is a stark contrast of the hope in me, I do, and do frequently. I struggle with idolatry, lust, pride, envy, greed, and that’s just me being gracious with myself. I want to step off of it, but I keep going around and around in a sick cycle carousel of sin and depravity. I long to be rid of all the elements of my brokenness and live a sin-free, victorious, holy life that pleases and glorifies God. I’m not too patient with this whole sanctification thing.
I know I’m not alone in this. In honest conversations with people, most echo a similar sentiment, of wishing that all sinful desires, thoughts, and actions were eliminated at the moment they believed and trusted in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. And in truth, there is transformation that occurs at our salvation! Most of us just wish that it were…. more complete.
I’ve had the privilege and honor this last year or so to lead worship at a great and Christ-glorifying church, but a couple weeks ago, I was at one of those points where I was just so disappointed with myself. I’m pretty sure I had broken all of the Ten Commandments within the span of a week, and what’s more, I had hardly spent time reading the Bible or praying to God. When it came to Sunday morning, I felt like a bitter hypocrite and as far away from God as I could be. I thought, “God, I don’t want to sing these worship songs! Jesus, I can’t raise my hands or really lead your people into worship! Just look at what I’ve done, I can’t serve you! I’ve disappointed you again and again and I’m not even sure you’re listening to this prayer.” I wasn’t worthy to sing songs that talked about the wondrous grace of God or His beauty when my own life seemed to be unfazed by it.
And as all this guilt and sorrow and shame was roiling in me, it was as if the Holy Spirit cut into my thoughts and spoke: “You’re not loved because of what you’ve done. You’re loved because of what Jesus has done. Don’t sing because you’re worthy to sing the songs, but sing because the Christ you sing of is.”
I vividly remember that moment because of how much it humbled me. In a twisted way, I had somehow believed that God was thrilled to have me on His team when I had my act together, but regretted it whenever I fell. I was trying to make it about me and my worth to God and my ability and how I felt, forgetting that Jesus is the center of it all! My sin and shortcomings are not more powerful than the triune God who is the blazing center of all worship and adoration!
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you worry that you’re just not on par with God’s expectations, so you’re just a disappointing “could-have-been”. That because of your sin and brokenness, you’re a huge failure in His eyes. But that’s where the cross comes in, because it accomplishes what we could never do on our own in all our attempts at cleaning ourselves up: it replaces our filthy rags with the righteousness of Christ. Now, when God the Father looks at us, He doesn’t see the habitual idolater, but He sees the sinless, risen Jesus. It’s not an excuse to continue in sin, but it’s an assurance that the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit in us is greater than the power of sin or our lack of discipline.
That’s the message of the gospel, that those of us who were far away, despised, destitute, strangers, foreigners, and hopeless have been brought into the Kingdom of God and given unconditional citizenship. We have new identities and are new creations, and we’re given the task to honor and glorify the King because the King is good and gracious and just, saving us when He had no obligation to. And that act of rescue should compel us to thank Him, living to make His Name famous and showing everyone the grace and glory of such a God.
And a funny thing happened: as I was singing those songs, my heart and mind were reminded of the truth I was singing, and joy and peace enveloped me in a way I can’t quite put to words. I realized I wasn’t just instructing people in the glory of God, but I was reminding myself of it. And what’s even better is that a day is coming when we won’t have to be stuck on the sick, cycle carousel of our faults and failures, when we won’t have to live in the space between our depravity and glorification. A day when we’ll be living with our Savior and King.
I am so looking forward to that.