Wednesday, December 2, 2015

But I'm Not Perfect

    I've spent a lot of time in thought this afternoon. Radical grace is an understanding that is fairly easy to understand but oh so difficult to comprehend, and I continually struggle with understanding how it applies to my life, whether I'm on top of the world in close communion with Christ or I'm walking through the fog in the valley.

    The all too common idea in Christianity is that being a Christian means you are a "little Christ", a miniature Christ. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that phrase used to preach a message of "push harder so you look like a "little Christ"! "You should be a sermon in shoes" as the kid's song goes.

    I don't know how long it takes to get a bit disillusioned with that message, but in my case, I am by now. I'm going to make a very different argument today, one that has nothing to do with preaching a sermon with our lives or becoming a miniature Christ by our self-will. I'm pretty sure if it were possible to become that little miniature Christ in our flesh, Paul never would have penned his words in Romans 7.

    Tonight, I ran across another passage of the Bible that speaks volumes to me about who I am in Christ. Rev. 7:9-10, 13-17 says, "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?' I said to him, 'My lord, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

    "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.'"

    I struggle with who I see in this passage. See, my first thought is that these are the perfect ones, those church members and elders who just aced their life here. That one who prayed the long, theological prayer from the pulpit on Sunday? That one who had every answer to every question? That one who never seemed to doubt, whose faith and confidence in Christ never wavered? Those are the ones I see in this picture.

    But as I look closer, we don't see the perfect ones. We see the doubting Thomas, the foot in mouth Peter, the murdering, adulterous David, the thorn in the flesh Paul, the prostitute Mary somewhere in there as well, the murderer Moses, the questioning Job, the suicidal Elijah. We see this crowd of failures, mess-ups, and doubters. We see that guy with the tattoo, that girl with the nose ring, the guy who struggled with pornography, that girl who struggled with self-harm, that former headhunter, and over there we have an Indian temple girl.

    How did they get here? We look closer, wondering where the saints are. Where are the perfect ones? Where are the saints? And as our eyes shift from the crowd around the thrown, they rest on the center of attention, the object in the center of the room. The thrown, surrounded by this sea of faces, and on it, sits the Lamb.

    And then, out of nowhere, a thought pops into our head. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you from darkness into His wonderful light." And then another, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God... For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Suddenly, we see what it means.

    Who are these failures? These are the saints.
    Who are these sinners? These are the perfect ones.
    Who are these screw-ups? These are they who have washed their robes and been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  
    Who are these people? They are we.

    The crowd around the thrown is us, the screw-ups. The failures. The ragamuffins. The sinners. That's us! The crowd around the thrown is us. We are the saints.

    But we're not perfect! Maybe some of y'all are like me, at this point you're thinking in your head, "Brother, that sounds great and all, but you don't know me! If you knew my doubts and my struggles and my temptations, you wouldn't group me in this bunch! If you saw my average thought life, you'd kick me out the door! If you saw who I really am, you wouldn't be so sure!"

    But realize it or not, that's not who you are. There's two pertinent details here. 1.) In God's eyes, you're righteous. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation... He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ in Him." (2 Cor. 5:17-19, 21)

    2.) We are in the process of not just being recognized as perfect, but have even our natures transformed into perfection. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6) Not only has He declared us righteous and imparted His righteousness to us, but He is even transforming us, even if we don't see it, more and more into His likeness.

    We are those saints, those ragamuffins, whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. That's us. We don't realize it. We don't always see ourselves in that crowd around the thrown. But that's us, the mess ups, the sinners. We're the failures who have been made perfect and are being made perfect. We are they whose robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Not ivory, or dinghy gray, or dusty brown, or any shade lighter than black but darker than white. We have been made white. Thank God!

1 comment:

  1. Wishing there was a way I could record this so I could listen to it during the day...