The Mystery of How God Works

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“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes… (John 3:8)”

The late Rev. Billy Graham once said in a sermon that also appeared in a popular dc Talk song, “Can you see God, have you ever seen Him? I’ve never seen the wind. I’ve seen the effects of the wind but I’ve never seen the wind. You see? There’s a mystery to it…” 

There are seasons of life when it can feel as though God is silent or absent, that even in the midst of your prayer life, attending church services, reading the Bible, and perhaps even reading good, life-giving, Gospel-filled Christian books that nothing seems to catch in the heart and you are left wanting, waiting, wondering…

Sometimes in these seasons you can wonder… is there something wrong with me, some deficiency that I can fix? There must be something I can do to change this? Or maybe you are asking other questions not so much about yourself, but about God like… what is God doing? Does He even care about me? Why is he letting this happen? Has He forgotten about me? Does He even care at all?

There is a mystery to how God works in our lives. At times, we can feel like we have a pretty good handle on Him and how He works, and at other times, we are left guessing. I believe there is a danger if we aren’t careful in relying too heavily on how we feel as God works in our lives and allowing our feelings of God working in our lives to be the normative measure by which to gauge our understanding of not only the reality of God working in our lives but perhaps the extent to which God is working in our lives.

What do I mean by that? Well, there are some good Christian songs out there by some Christian artists who intentionally make the Gospel of Jesus Christ echo throughout their lyrics so that one receives a good dose of Scripture and Gospel in listening to songs, but there are also some artists who base much of their lyrics not so much on the objective truth of the Gospel and the redemptive story of God’s plan in Scripture, but rather on how we feel in light of what God has done or is doing. This means that these songs are less about God and what God has done, is doing, will do, and more about us and how we can celebrate how we feel in light of what God has done. If we’re not careful with music like this, we can use lyrics such as this to frame the fabric of our relationship with God in our lives which can be based more on a transaction rather than based on grace.

When you walk into a coffee shop to purchase your coffee, you place an order, handover the money or your card, and then you receive your coffee in exchange for the money you provided. You were not given the coffee, but rather you purchased the coffee and your receiving of the coffee is simply receiving what is due to you. We can treat God in like manner. When we base our relationship with God off the things He gives and how He makes us feel, we can cultivate a relationship all about praising God for the gifts while neglecting to really and truly praise God at all. We lose sight of the Giver in light of the gifts. Music that bases it’s lyrics on how God makes us feel can teach us without our realizing it that we can rejoice and celebrate God for how He makes us feel. The problem therein lies in when we don’t feel good and there seemingly isn’t anything we’ve done to change that. We can think that God owes us the joy and satisfaction that come in the grace of God in Jesus, and when we don’t feel that joy and satisfaction we can get confused with God, angry, bitter, despondent. The trouble is that we’ve based our relationship on how God makes us feel and perhaps what we can get from God, rather than God Himself and His Word.

God’s Word doesn’t change, quite like God Himself is unchanging, but we are constantly changing just as our feelings change.

In New England, the weather can go from rainy in the morning to sunny around noon to snowing by the afternoon to clear and sunny and back to raining by the next morning. This is why there is a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.” What a great metaphor for how often our feelings can change. One moment we are happy eating our favorite food or listening to music we enjoy, and the next minute we are honking a car horn in traffic angered at how somebody can change lanes and not see that we are there (another common New England experience by the way). One moment we are hot, the next cold. Our feelings are changing all the time just as the experiences that we have cause us to change ever so slightly. Basing our faith on our feelings about God or on how God makes us feel rather than on His unchanging Word is a dangerous, shaky, constantly changing foundation that over time will leave you feeling as though perhaps God has abandoned you, or that God is not being faithful, or that maybe you’ve done something wrong for God to ‘make you feel’ the way you do.

The truth is that God hasn’t changed. The good news is that God is unchanging and always faithful to His Word. A reality that is hard for us, if we’re honest, to wrap our minds around as we are basically the opposite. There will be seasons of your life when you feel like your heart is overflowing with joy and gratitude, and there will be seasons when you feel isolated, alone, and perhaps numb to the things that once gave you so much joy and seeming fulfillment. What is important in both good times and bad is that we aren’t basing our ultimate hope and joy on our feelings, but rather on God’s Word.

When you look at the Psalms or when you think of them, perhaps you immediately think of the highlights where such great imagery is provided about the attributes of God or the more prophetic passages detailing the coming and experience of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion. However, not all the Psalms are full of joy and gratitude. There are Psalms that are honest to God about the times when we feel alone, isolated, weak, vulnerable, and numb to things that used to give us joy in life. There are 150 Psalms, but in the 30s you get highlights like ‘joy comes in the morning, ‘blessed are the forgiven,’ some about the ‘steadfast love of God,’ ‘taste and see that the Lord is good,’ ‘great is the Lord,’ and then you have Psalm 38 which is an honest to God plea to God for help. It is a pouring out of one’s soul to God. The Psalmist David writes that he is feeble and crushed, that all his longing is before God and his sighing is not hidden from God, that the light from his eyes is gone, there is no soundness in his flesh, his strength fails, his friends and family are distant or removed, adversaries seem to be thriving, and all there is is waiting for the Lord to help. David has confessed his sin to God and yet he is mourning. Mourning is something you do when you experience loss. However, the state of his heart was that of mourning. David begins his Psalm boldly claiming that God’s wrath is the source of his pain, but also that God’s wrath is justified because of his own sin. Yet, David is pursuing good, he is penitent before the Lord, he is mindful about his sin and lays it before God, and he is looking to God for help. The Psalm doesn’t end with highlights about God’s attributes or great rejoicing, but ends where it begins with a desperate plea for help and feeling helpless, weak, vulnerable, and alone. David acknowledges that God is able to save him by calling God his salvation and is obviously looking to God in his prayer which is right, but he hasn’t experienced the salvation he is seeking. He is left wanting.

Perhaps closer to the mark is Psalm 88 which comes after the source for the famous hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken (Psalm 87) and just before a Psalm about singing of God’s steadfast love forever which sounds like a more contemporary worship song (Psalm 89). However, Psalm 88, a psalm from the Sons of Korah, the psalmist writes that his soul is ‘full of troubles’ and that they feel like someone who is dead. The writer feels like they can’t escape and as though everyone is shunning them and that they are in a pit. He writes that every day he calls upon God but seemingly gets no answer. They feel utterly cast down and in a dark place where no light seems to be able to break in. He writes he feels helpless, dead, and ironically asks the question, “Do you work wonders for the dead? … Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?” Let’s look for a moment at Psalm 88 and think about how difficult a place the writer is in. Perhaps you have been in or are experiencing a difficult place in your life as well…

“O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness. (Psalm 88, ESV)”

Life isn’t always ‘rainbows and butterflies,’ but it’s hard. We go through times when something goes wrong and we are looking for a break, and then something else goes wrong and then something else goes wrong, and when we think to ourselves that nothing else could possibly go wrong or get any harder, somehow, it does. This is also why I love reading the Psalms because the Bible isn’t full of surreal examples of magnificent faith by perfect individuals who never experienced any of life’s problems or hardships, but the Bible comes to us from flawed people who experienced real life, the ups and the downs, and the Bible testifies about One who experienced all that we experienced, who suffered what we suffer, and who lived a perfect life and died so that we who are dead in our sins, incapable of saving ourselves, might have life in Him by faith in the Gospel of Christ.

The author of Hebrews writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV)” So we may experience seasons where we feel distant and alone, isolated from God and others, but we can take comfort in the fact that God knows what we are going through not simply because we believe He is omniscient, but that God has willfully out of sheer grace and love and compassion for sinners come into this world Himself to experience the suffering that we experience. God knows our suffering because He has suffered Himself. God has experienced the hardships that we face and the temptations that we face and has overcome them. God’s steadfast love has been declared from the grave and for those in the grave in Jesus Christ dying for our sins and rising from the dead in order to provide hope, peace, love, and mercy to those who are dead in their sins, hope beyond the grave. The good news of the Gospel is that God does work wonders for the dead. God does cause dry bones to live and come to life. The first evidence of this is what God has done in Jesus Christ, but there is also what God has done in and through Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him. The shackles of guilt and shame because of sin fall off, and we are free to live in light of the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus whereas before we were once incapable by our own power and effort to do anything to save ourselves. God has provided our salvation in Jesus.

There are seasons in our lives when we may feel helpless and alone and isolated or perhaps even that we feel dead and that we are in a pit like the psalmists, but we can take comfort in that God hears our prayer, God is still there, God is still faithful to His promises and Word, and although we may not feel great joy and gratitude from things that once caused our hearts to overflow, we can cling to God who is faithful and to His Word which is unchanging, timeless, and true. Our feelings may not comfort us, but God’s Word can transcend even our feelings in times of darkness and allow us to see the light.

I’m a surfer. There are times when I am surfing and I go out and have a great time, catch many waves, and have many memorable moments. There are also times when I go surfing and get incredibly frustrated with the conditions being not half as good as the forecast and not half as good as last time or as good as they could be, or my board doesn’t seem to be working for me. I can end a surf session and feel like it was nearly a waste of time. Maybe I didn’t catch many or any waves like I normally would, however, what I have found is that on the days that where conditions aren’t good and I still go out, I might not have the most fun, I might not catch many waves, and it might feel like I’m paddling in the water against the current as though somebody were literally holding me back from catching any waves, but when conditions are better and actually good everything is much easier and I am far better for having gone through those days where nothing seems to be going well. The same is true in our lives. We don’t see how a circumstance and experience of a dark season is going to or how it could possibly benefit us at all, but God sees far more than what we can see. We see a centimeter of our lives, God sees a mile. God sees the whole thing and He saw it before we were born or even a thought in our parents’ minds. Hard times and seasons of life test faith. They cause all that clouds and fogs our hearts and minds to be laid bare before God, and all that we truly believe to come to the surface. Some of it is good, some of it, often, is pretty bad. However, like the psalmists it is important that we keep looking to God and that we trust in God’s Word.

How God works is often a mystery and we might not know what or why God is allowing something to happen in our lives, but we can take comfort in the reality that God is still good, that God still loves us, that we haven’t been forgotten, and that God has a good purpose for what we are facing even if we can’t see it. We know all these things about God because God’s Word says so, but we also know these things when we look back over the history of God’s faithfulness in our lives. God’s people often had to remember how God had been faithful to them as a people because when faced with hardships they would forget. Remembering God’s faithfulness and love are crucial in seasons of hardship, when you feel like you are in a pit of despair (not The Princess Bride pit but an actual place of hardship).

I don’t know what you are going through or facing, but if your life is anything like mine or that of any other human being, know that you are not alone. That we all suffer. However, we have One we can look to in our pit of despair and darkness who can sympathize with our troubles because He has experienced suffering and hardship Himself. We have a God who is compassionate enough to come into time and space, to step into His own creation, to enter into our problem of sin and death and all that is wrong in the world in order to make all things new and to turn death on it’s head through the cross of Christ. Jesus suffered. Jesus wept. Jesus died. He didn’t partly die or come close to death, He actually died and He died willingly in order to save sinners like you and me. He died because He loved us. He loved us before we were born. He loves us even now. In the world we will experience trouble and we may like Job have things stripped away from us, but one thing remains that nothing in heaven or on earth can take away, and that is God and His love for us. Who we are in Christ might not feel full of joy and fulfilling at certain times, but we have to trust God’s Word over our mere feelings. To trust God’s Word we have to look to God’s Word and that means looking to God’s Word when we don’t feel anything or don’t feel like going to it at all. It’s funny how we have a hard time hearing God speak to us at times, but it’s often in those times that we aren’t listening to God either. Go to God in prayer. Go to God at His Word. Your situation and circumstance might not change. Bad things can and will still happen. I mean, Jesus was put to death and He did everything right, so we can’t trust our efforts to save us. However, we can find comfort in God and His Word. We might not leave the pit, but we can find Light enough to endure it.

Crawling In My “Sin”

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Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal, fear is how I fall, confusing what is real…

When I was in high school I road tripped with some friends to the city to see the band Linkin Park live, in concert. It was a memorable night as we had an ice storm where I lived and it was declared a national emergency. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band at the time, but loved their new and breakout album at the time Hybrid Theory. It was one of those albums that as an overly emotional teenager in the throes of high school that seemed to identify with parts of your experience and felt like a good album to jam to whenever you’re frustrated with something which as a teenager, let’s face it, is a lot of the time. Also, it was a good album to listen to when working out and I played a lot of sports in high school, probably why I’m so athletic today (surfing, gym, and hiking regularly). When I was younger, I enjoyed listening to this band and in particular their album Hybrid Theory because I felt like it connected better than most music with the experiences of my day to day life.

Linkin-Park

The lead singer of the band, Chester Bennington, who could somehow balance a great harmonic voice with controlled yelling, committed suicide not too long ago. It was a tragic thing and as with so many musicians who have died in recent years, it’s as though everyone is asking the question, “Why did they have to die? How could they do this to themselves? I never saw that coming.” The interesting thing is with Linkin Park’s music is you can really hear the internal tension in the lyrics as Chester is singing them.

In the song “In the End” he says, “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter.”

In the song, “Numb,” he sings… “I’m tired of being what you want me to be Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface I don’t know what you’re expecting of me Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow Every step that I take is another mistake to you Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow… I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there…”

In the song that I will be primarily dealing with in this blog post, I feel that Chester was transparent about his struggles with life in many of his song, but I there is one song in particular that I believe connects with the Christian life well that I will be dealing with in this post. That song is their breakout hit from their first album Hybrid Theory, “Crawling.” The song “Crawling” is perhaps one of the most hamartiological songs in secular music without being written from a Christian experience or perspective. Hamartiology is the study of sin.

The song “Crawling” is an honest, genuine wrestling with the struggle of sin while simultaneously denying it’s reality and existence. Because of the secular nature of the song, there is no acknowledgment of sin and naturally, no redemptive quality in the song. However, whenever I hear the song as a Christian, I can’t help but think of Paul’s argument concerning sin in Romans 7, where the Apostle Paul deals with indwelling sin. Many disagree as to Paul’s audience in Romans 7 when he speaks about struggling with sin and whether he is addressing his struggling from a pre-Christian perspective, a Christian perspective, or using a purely hypothetical example and not referencing his own struggles at all. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, is dealing in Romans 7 with the purpose and function of the Hebrew Law, the Torah, the first 5 books of the Christian Bible. If the Law wasn’t meant to save people from their sins and Jesus was, then what purpose did the Law have at all? That is part of what Paul is addressing in chapter 7 of Romans. Look at what Paul says in Romans 7:7-25 for a moment and really focus on what Paul writes in verses 15-24 (READ Romans 7), you can certainly read all of Romans 7 if you want for more context. Now, volumes can be written about this passage and indeed, have been, but I would like to focus on one particular part of Romans 7. Understanding there is disagreement among Christians about from which experience Paul is referring in Romans 7:7-25, pre-Christian, Christian, or a fictionally hypothetical not referring to himself at all; let’s assume for the sake of this post that Paul is referring to his own struggle with indwelling sin as a Christian.

Much Christian teaching and preaching deals with battling sin as a pre-Christian who hasn’t heard or responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but there isn’t much that deals with the reality that most Christians live with the struggle of facing sin having heard and responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is the assumption by some, that once you become a Christian, you leave a life of sin and enter into a life saved by grace through faith in Jesus and live a life free from sin to the extent that the struggles against sin if not immediately ended upon becoming a Christian end soon after. Often, among Christians, there is a great emphasis on morality and becoming Christ-like to the point that the belief that the righteousness of God in Jesus being transferred to the believer is not something that is given by God but rather something that is worked at and for by the Christian who has the new ability to pursue righteousness as a result of having received the gift of the Holy Spirit upon repenting of sin and believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When this is the case, there is a great emphasis on behavior modification and the assumption that real struggling with sin is something that happens for those who aren’t Christian while Christians simply need to work at changing how they act and do things, but their lives are for the most part sinless while still imperfect. I’m not saying this view is right, but simply that many churches teach and preach this emphasis leaving the Christian in the pew who may be struggling with sin asking the question, “Am I a Christian at all? Are Christians supposed to struggle with sin or is that just something non-Christians deal with? Am I normal?”

The reality, as opposed to what some churches teach and preach as depicted above, is that most Christians struggle with sin. The fact that it is acknowledged to be sin and that it is a struggle and that one believes to look to Christ is a decidedly Christian mindset. The truth is that our lives are not always as simple and straightforward as depicted by some sermons, indeed, our hearts can be an utter mess at times. Just read the Psalms and you’ll find a full range of the human heart depicted in the prose. If we’re honest as Christians, we can humbly admit that we are deeply flawed while still being deeply loved and cherished by God in Christ. Sometimes, we emphasize the deeply loved and cherished aspect of that statement at the expense of the truth and reality of the other, or we pretend like the flawed part isn’t true and make ourselves miserable in the process.

What I like about the song “Crawling” is how open and honest it is about the human condition, granted, it is a complete acceptance that we as human beings are truly, deeply flawed, however, there is no salvation, there is no redemption, there are no loving arms to run to, there is no grace. Having Read Romans 7:7-25, read the lyrics of the song “Crawling” for a moment…

Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real
There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, confusing
This lack of self control I fear is never ending
Controlling
I can’t seem
To find myself again
My walls are closing in
(Without a sense of confidence I’m convinced
That there’s just too much pressure to take)
I’ve felt this way before
So insecure
Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real
Discomfort, endlessly has pulled itself upon me
Distracting, reacting
Against my will I stand beside my own reflection
It’s haunting how I can’t seem
To find myself again
My walls are closing in
(Without a sense of confidence I’m convinced
That there’s just too much pressure to take)
I’ve felt this way before
So insecure
Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real
Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing, confusing what is real
There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming (confusing what is real)
This lack of self control I fear is never ending
Controlling (confusing what is real)

I believe that when we are overly exposed to a culture that promotes struggling with sin to primarily be a pre-Christian experience and over-emphasizes the aspect of sanctification the Puritans called vivification (being made alive in Christ) at the expense of the other side of that coin the Puritans labeled mortification (putting sin to death), there is a great joy and excitement at having become a Christian but once real life sets in and Christians face sin and fall prey to it, there is a great feeling of sadness, disappointment, a feeling of hopelessness, and near despair that echoes the words of Paul in Romans 7,

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Roman 7:18-24).”

linkin-park-chester

Have you ever told God and yourself that you are done with a particular sin, then over time you find yourself right back in the same, frustrating place you said you would never again go to? It feels like a place of utter hopelessness. You begin to question and wonder if there is any way that God can save you from that place or if it is something you will simply have to face for the rest of your life. Maybe you believe God can save you, but you wonder why perhaps God hasn’t saved you from that particular struggle. The reality is that as Christians, we may believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ but we often still carry with us old habits that are marked by our pre-Christian lives and often marked by the culture that surrounds us that we’ve taken on whether we realize it or not. We think we can believe the Gospel on the one hand, but live as we did before on the other hand. The people of Israel were the same way when they stood below Mt Sinai having been redeemed from a life of literal slavery in Egypt by God, and yet, rather than give glory to God they worshipped as Baal worshippers crafting a golden calf and simply called their idol God.

How many of us have rationalized our sinful pre-Christian lifestyles and have lived with the label of Christian on our lives without having permitted the Gospel to transform the whole of our lives?

For some of us, living as a Christian who struggles with sin can feel less like the false Christian scenery depicted in the question above, but feel like nothing less that walking around with a sort of half-life, with poison in your veins, feeling like sin is literally crawling in your skin. The truth is that sin indeed does confuse what is real and confuses what is true and good. From the beginning, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s Word but only after Eve was confused about both God’s Word (“Did God actually say…?”) and God’s character (“God knows you will be… like God…”) did humanity disobey God’s Word and sin. They believed they wouldn’t really die, believing against God’s Word that they would. They believed God was holding back from them not desiring them to be like God when God had already created humanity, male and female, uniquely in His image and likeness.  Sin confuses us about God’s Word and confuses us about God’s character to the point that sin seems like a reasonable option to pursue. We suddenly believe what God promises for us in Christ to be true of sin even though within those veiled lies are truly only death. We begin to eat and feast on what promises to be sustaining and joyful and good, but only find that we are left wanting and ashamed in the end. We can lose sight of the promises of God in sin as Christians and believe that there is no hope, no salvation for us, that we are left to live enslaved to sin. We forget Paul’s words in Romans 6 about being freed from sin to be slaves to righteousness, and we turn those words around in our hearts as sin twists and warps God’s Word and mangles our hearts. “… these wounds, they will not heal…” Sin confuses what is real, what is true, with what is false, and what is simply a lie and we believe it. We begin to serve sin and forsake God, and worship the creature over our Creator when this happens.

Someone once said that one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian was that the Christian turns to God for salvation when he/she sins, whereas, the unbeliever turns simply to more sin. I think there’s some truth to that.

When life gets difficult, when stress invades, and when things go wrong in your life, you are left to search for joy and happiness outside of your circumstances and you either look to sin to give you what only God can give, or you look to God to give you the joy that only God can provide and fill you with. 

It is one thing to be mindful of your state as a sinner, that you are deeply flawed, but it is quite another to realize your need for a Savior and to look for and reach for Christ in your life. It is a gift of grace to come to know that we are sinful, but it is also a gift of grace and work of the Spirit in us to look to Christ. Somewhere in the Christian world, it became the norm for people to assume that Christians are to be perfect in the here and now. Many unbelievers believe that Christians think of themselves as being perfect and better than others. However, Christianity isn’t about God sending His Son to save perfect people to live perfect lives, it is about God sending His Perfect Son to save imperfect, deeply flawed people to live imperfect lives as they pursue Christ together trusting in the only Perfect Life there has ever been, that of Jesus Christ. We are to run the race of faith and throw off all that weighs us down and slows us down in that race, yet, perhaps what it looks like to be truly Christian isn’t looking perfect to the world around us as much as it is becoming increasingly humble enough to admit how deeply flawed you are freely to others while simultaneously not being ashamed to reach out in faith to Christ. We live in the tension of being deeply flawed, sinful people as Christians while being deeply loved, and cherished by God in Christ through faith. Maybe some of our confusion and frustration in the Christian life is our mistaking that race to being a 100m dash as opposed to a marathon?

Whatever the case, I hope to encourage you, whoever you are reading this and wherever you are. It’s okay to admit as a Christian that you struggle with sin, that you aren’t perfect, that you are deeply flawed, there’s a measure of freedom in that, but the fullness of that freedom comes in acknowledging your confusion about God and His Word in those instances with your heart and life and turning back to God for salvation as opposed to turning to sin and asking for it to do what only God can do. We may feel as though sin is crawling within us and that there is no escape from its literal death grip. However, there is hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the life of faith is a war against sin and the battle is waged over and often upon our very hearts. Let us not become confused about which side we are fighting for and which side we are fighting against. We may get hit in this battle and become wounded, but we don’t need to fear death for God has already overcome it for us in Christ and the war, no matter how hard the present battle, has already been won by Christ at the cross. There is no wound that the Gospel cannot heal. A struggle with sin may be too great for us, but there is no struggle or sin in our lives that is too great for God. The war imagery is useful, but often in a war there is a winner and loser and time of peace after. With God, there are not two equal opposing forces and sides, there is God and there is evil and sin and Satan which stand no chance. God has won the decisive battle against sin and the power of sin and death has been defeated at the cross, although the reality of sin continues in the world it will not always be so.

The war isn’t over and even though God has won that decisive victory Christians are still entrusted to fighting it’s effects in the world beginning on the battleground of our hearts and extending to the weak and poor and oppressed and powerless in the world while using the weapons of grace as opposed to our own, futile efforts. Sin may crawl within us and may feel like poison in our veins, but the anti-venom has been given, the serum has been applied, the reverse of the curse has come in Christ but we still need to look to our Savior, we still need to turn with eyes of faith to our Lord, we still need to cry out with the sinner, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” There is hope for the Christian who struggles with sin, but that hope lies not in working harder at defeating the sin but in trusting in and believing in the Gospel which is to own up to the lies that lie at the heart of the struggles of the Christian life of faith. We have been saved by the Gospel, not from the Gospel. We have been rescued by the Gospel and rescued to the Gospel. We don’t become faith graduates, but we become lifelong students of Christ, lifelong Mary’s who sit eagerly listening at the feet of Jesus, lifelong Peter’s who profess Christ on Sunday and still deny Him by our actions at times during the week only to return to the foot of the cross once more.

We are all of us deeply flawed sinners, but we have been gifted a deeply loving, gracious Savior via a deeply good, loving, gracious God so that we though flawed are yet deeply loved to deeply love God and others as the flawed, imperfect people that we are. We will be better for admitting our flaws. The church will be better for it. But it doesn’t end there, we must turn to and show the world to turn to Christ as well.

Christianity is not about politics though it applies to and concerns politics. Christianity is not about homophobia and racism though it applies to homophobia and racism. Christianity is not about a church building and a Sunday service, though those are aspects of Christianity and Christianity applies to those things as well… Christianity is about God who humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross out of love for humanity in order to save humanity from its sin and God in Christ taking upon Himself the sins of the world in order to put them to death on the cross and to rise from the dead defeating sin and death in Himself in order that all who believe through, by, and in Jesus Christ might have their sins forgiven, their chains broken, and their lives transformed as they become a righteous infection, a pleasing plague of love upon the earth until Christ returns.

This is what Christianity is about, it is about what God has done in Jesus Christ for sinners. We must remember who God is in fighting sin, but we must also remember who we are, and to avoid confusion we must look to and trust God’s Word concerning the truth about God and ourselves rather than the lies and subtle changes to God’s Word we make in our hearts to justify our ungodliness and sinful habits of our old lives. We may have been wounded by sin, but unlike the song, these wounds they can be healed.

We have been saved by grace through faith in the Gospel, let us then live by faith in the Gospel.