Constant Need: Redemption Groups Immersion part 3
The last two posts concerning Redemption Groups have – I hope – driven home the idea that God has been taking me through an intense time of rediscovering who I am and where my allegiance lies. The first post (Ashes) focused on God bringing me to the point of complete desperation and dependence on him alone, and the second (Discipline) highlighted the ever-present and active role that God plays in our suffering and trials – that they are not the backhanded disapproval of a vengeful god, but rather the merciful discipline of a loving Father who wants much more for us than we could possibly secure for ourselves. In this post I’ll set out to show that God not only wants our best and his glory, but accomplishes both in the cross of Christ.
Our culture is replete with drivel masquerading as ‘self-help’ books and ‘fix this part of your life and everything else will fall into place’ literature. To our shame, many Christians have hijacked the gospel and turned Jesus into a guru of whatever topic the author chooses to twist Scripture to fit. Now, just so I am clear, there are surely times where we need to seek the wisdom and support of others in making decisions and living life and books are a great source of a lot of that wisdom, so don’t hear me saying that getting other peoples’ input is wrong or bad. I do, however, want to point out the insidious underlying motives behind much of this genre, and see how we can view it through a gospel-centered lens.
This world mimics the pattern of original sin in the Garden of Eden – that is, that rather than following what God has revealed and instructed us to do, we come up with our own plan and strike out on our own course. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 both say that there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. In Eden man’s way resulted in banishment from the Garden, a curse for all of creation, and lots of other bad stuff. Today this looks like us forsaking the counsel of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit for logical conclusions, excusing sin for various reasons, and ultimately taking God’s rightful place as the ruler and sovereign lord over our lives. I would submit to you that there is a way that seems right to a man about how to use and apply Scripture, but in the end if it’s not anchored with the full counsel of Scripture, led by the Holy Spirit, and in accordance with historical orthodoxy, then it will most certainly lead to death.
So if we use Scripture as God’s instruction book, a list of good morals to live by, how to manage your money, how to rightly order your family and home, or how to eat healthier, then we’ve completely missed the point of Scripture. Of course the manifold wisdom of God is to be expressed in the way that Christians live life, handle their finances, love their spouses and parent their children, but the main point of Scripture is not what we do, but who God is and what he’s done. You see, when we start boiling down God’s self-revelation to a how-to or a list of helpful anecdotes we’ve forsaken God’s most precious gift – himself – for common grace gifts and an easier temporal existence (or at least what we think will be easier..).
Let’s take this a step further and delve into it a little further. How about using the Bible as a sin-eradication tool. Maybe you don’t want to have a ton of cash or have the best sex, life, job, etc. Maybe you don’t have that high and/or greedy of aspirations. Maybe you just want to be rid of some frustrating circumstance… maybe you’d like to stop driving around the same cul-de-sac of sin and finally live in true victory over it. I would say to you that even the desire to be free from sin can itself be sinful if you don’t view the cross as the ultimate goal in your life.
If you’re only wanting to live in victory over sin or in some other state of existence without bowing at the foot of the cross and walking the hard, narrow pathway of true heartfelt confession, repentance, reconciliation, and restoration, then you’re short-circuiting the significance of the cross and the entire redemption process. In effect you’re forsaking God’s magnificent sacrifice of himself on our behalf for the gifts that he freely gives his children. The cross must not be some historical event that we at one time trusted in – rather, we must live our lives as an echo of Martin Luther’s first thesis: that ‘all of life is repentance.’ We must never move away from the cross – it must permeate everything about who we are and what we do and we must let our weakness and meekness and neediness be the place where God’s strength and grace shines through our lives.
I think this is the heart of Paul’s reaction to struggling with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:7. Paul asks God three times to take away some kind of temptation or struggle (it’s not completely clear what he’s referring to specifically) in his life, but then realizes that God allowed that darkness (‘messenger from Satan’) to stick with him so that Paul would not grow conceited. See, Paul realized that being free from sin and struggle wasn’t the point – having more of Christ and a closer relationship with him is. So rather than shuffle past our sin and telling ourselves we’ll do better next time, let’s confess the full extent of our sin and throw ourselves upon the mercy of God who calls us to do so. Let’s realize that there is no way that we can out-sin God’s grace if he has called us into his family. Of course this doesn’t give us license to sin – Romans 6 deals with that very firmly. But it does mean that we who are redeemed live not in light of our constant sin, but in light of our constant need of the cross.
One day we will be sin-free and glorified in the presence of God for eternity (see Revelation 20-22 for a vision of this awesome future reality), and we yearn for that day like the rest of Creation (see Romans 8:18-25), but it is not a reality yet. So let us in the mean time struggle well in a redemptive way.
Let us cling to the cross with all that we have and count this world as a temporary home. Let us lean not on our own understanding, but on the grace that God gives us freely as his children. And may we realize that our primary end in life is not to be free of sin and struggle, but rather to know Christ more deeply and live in light of our constant need of the cross.