This week's thought comes to you from Rebecca Manley Pippert, and is found in her book, "Hope Has It's Reasons." I recently loaned the book to a friend who returned it to me saying: "Every new Christian needs to read this book." She's right. It is extremely good. J. I. Packer, the well-respected theologian and author called it, "a first-class introduction to the basics of real Christianity."
This thought has to do with the joy and liberation that comes from knowing we are far worse than we ever dared imagine or even thought possible! Yes, you read that right! To understand how that works, read on! Enjoy.
"Amazing as it sounds, we come with remorse and guilt over one thing and the Bible tells us we are far worse, much more guilty than we could ever have imagined. But surely this only confirms the accusation that the Christian faith is psychologically unhealthy. How are we ever to recover any healthy self-esteem with an attitude like that? What would ever possess a person to call a message like that, "Good News"?
The fact is that in the cross God demonstrates the deepest law of acceptance. For to be convinced that I have been accepted, I must be convinced that I have been accepted at my worst. This is the greatest gift an intimate relationship can offer--to know that we have been accepted and forgiven in the full knowledge of who we are, an even greater knowledge than we have about ourselves. This is what the cross offers.
I think the woman (who had aborted her baby) understood it intuitively, and thereby walked into the heart and mystery of the cross. She thought she was too bad ever to be forgiven, that somehow her sin had taken even God by surprise. But the surprise was on her. For what God reveals through the cross is that we are far worse than we ever imagined and yet forgiveness is offered to us. Did the revelation of her deeper guilt [that she had not only killed her baby but was responsible for putting Jesus on the cross] produce psychological unhealth in the woman? On the contrary, she experienced relief, joy and gratitude. She no longer felt condemned, she felt free! Why? Because there is nothing others can do to you when you have seen the worst about yourself and it has been forgiven.
Sin always seeks to disguise itself, but nowhere is it more unmasked than at the cross. We finally see the very thing we dreaded to discover. At last we find out who we are. The cross brings us out of hiding. It breaks our denial, but only in the very instant that it shows us the possibility of forgiveness. It shows us our corruption, but in the same breath it tells us the price has been paid.
We may keep on foolishly building a case for ourselves and pursuing our own path of self-justification, but the cross will still be standing there waiting for us to come to the end of ourselves, and kneel and repent. The Christian view of sin is radical, but that sin can be forgiven. That really is freedom. That really is amazing grace. That means that we can face our problems squarely. That means we can confess the darkest, most humiliating things of our lives without despair and paralysis. No one can say, 'All this talk about God being loving is very touching, but if he really knew me he would change his tune fast.' The biblical message to us is, 'I do know you. I know you far better than you know yourself. And you're in worse shape than you even realize. But do you think you have done something worse than killing my son? And if I am willing to forgive you for that, then how can I not forgive you for anything else?'
Jesus died and we crucified him. And the Good News is that because of the price God was willing to pay we can be forgiven and reconciled back to God. But to experience and benefit from the cure we must turn back to him and quit pretending there is nothing wrong with us. That is true sacrilege, pretending that there is nothing wrong with us when it cost God the life of His son to rectify the problem."
Nothing is more life-sustaining and life-transforming than the knowledge of these Gospel truths: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). And again,"When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son..." (Rom. 5:10).
Many people work all their lives trying to convince themselves they are good enough to be worthy of God's love and acceptance (and their own). They build their self-esteem upon some "thing" of value they find within themselves, which they can then (so they think) offer to God in exchange for His love and acceptance. "Surely God will love me because of this," they will say, "and I can love myself because of this."
Yet in doing so they condemn themselves to a life of futility and unending insecurity. A life bound (to one degree or another) by the constant fear of losing that "thing" (or set of things) which they think has secured God's favor for them, and given them the ability to love and accept themselves as well. What a miserable state of existence!
They fail to grasp the amazing message of the Gospel, which tells us we don't have to find, nor do we need to bring any such "valuable thing" to God in order to "purchase" His love and acceptance. In fact, the amazing message of the Gospel is that even if I have nothing but my brokeneness and sin and evil desires and darkness of soul to bring to Him, he will still receive me if I will simply come.
God's love, after all, is never purchased or secured by anything "good" in us or done by us. We need bring no such thing to God for His acceptance, because we have nothing of the sort to bring! (Isaiah 55:1-13 / Jer. 17:9 / Rom. 3:9-20) Pippert is right, "we are far worse, much more guilty than we could ever have imagined."
Yet that's why the Gospel is such good news! Because it tells me that God loved me in that condition (and still does) -- and nothing can be more liberating! Nothing is a more secure foundation for life and hope and eternity; for a 'healthy self-esteem' or the ability to confront the unknowns of my future, than the knowledge that I was loved and am loved (and fully accepted in Christ) even though the condition of my soul is far worse than I ever could have imagined!
Rejoice in it my friends! You'll be hard-pressed to find news that is better than that!