A Story of Grace: My Testimony Revised

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I have been thinking lately about God’s work in my life and the great grace that He has shown me over the years. It is common to look back on your life after the fact to see God’s hand at work in different ways that you didn’t realize before. It’s often the case that we don’t understand our lives as we experience them, but looking back at experiences along the way that we are able to make sense of things.

This is going to be a unique post which tells my story of God’s grace in my life rather than covering some theological issue as I have done in previous posts. It is one of those posts where I will be looking back at my experience of God’s grace in becoming a Christian and seeking to make sense of it in the present as I believe God has given me more wisdom and understanding as of late about His work in my life and I’d like to share it with you, if you would be so kind as to listen…

I was born in northern New York, but my parents moved when I was young to Winfield, KS, a small town in south central Kansas. Eventually, my parents divorced when I was younger and began living in different places which eventually became different cities. Having French-Irish heritage, my family were devout Roman Catholics when I was young. I was born into Catholicism. I did my First Communion and went to CCD classes (Catholic doctrine classes) and even went through Confirmation classes, however, I never went through Confirmation as a Catholic. My dad met a Presbyterian woman who shared the Gospel of Jesus with my dad, and my dad converted to become a Protestant. I began to notice changes in my dad that seemed unusual, like we began listening to different music and he would try to hold back when the occasion to curse came. It seemed strange to me. One day, he explained the change to me and shared the Gospel in a basic way I could understand. I had learned that being a Christian was following all the steps the Catholic church required and going through with the sacraments and generally trying to live  good life beyond that.

I learned, however, that I was wrong. Being a Christian wasn’t about doing all that the church required or being a good person, being a Christian was about repenting of your life of sin and believing in the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gospel – that God sent His Son Jesus into the world to live a life perfectly obedient to the Law (Law of Moses), innocently died the death that all of us as sinners justly deserve willingly going to the cross, and having defeated the power of sin Himself and rising having overcome death provided reconciliation between God and man once separated (relationally and physically) because of sin now brought back into relationship with God and having sin forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ. In summary, as Christians we call this the Gospel which is first and foremost about Jesus Christ but includes all of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ who then enjoy the benefits which Christ has earned on our behalf.

I was 7 years old when I began to seriously consider what it meant to be a Christian rather than believing simply going to church and being good were all that were required, and while I didn’t understand all the ins and outs of Christian theology at the moment I understood the Gospel after my dad shared with me and I attended his Presbyterian church and reading the Bible. When I was 7, I knelt down next to my bed one night and confessed my sins for the first time to God and professed faith in the Gospel. I went on attending my mother’s Catholic church since she had custody of me and out of respect for living under her roof, but I considered myself initially a Presbyterian and then eventually a Baptist as my dad moved and began attending a Baptist church. I became very involved in youth group activities at my dad’s church whenever I could visit him and attended Christian camps in the summer and began listening to Christian music and even went on to help lead Fellowship of Christian Athletes in school.

This was my testimony for many years. I became a very good kid by most adults and many of my peers’ standards. However, despite my being a very good kid I learned that I could live two lives, not unlike Neo from the movie The Matrix. In one life I was this good, Christian kid who was obedient to parents and was a good student athlete in school, and in the other life I found that I could act entirely different from this going to parties, listening to horrible music, drinking, and swearing. I became a hypocrite.

It only got worse when my neck was broken during a wrestling practice during my sophomore year of high school which effectively put an end to any and all aspirations of football which was my passion, and I fell into depression. The parties and drinking only happened later in high school after the neck injury. My brokenness as a human being was only loosely bandaged by my hypocritical guise of Christian “goodness.” That is how I have told this story to myself and others before. However, it was more complex than a simple fake good kid and rebel on the weekends story for me, in reality, looking back I was genuinely asking questions in youth group and Sunday school, genuinely striving to help others and serve, and genuinely interested in Christianity. The problem wasn’t so much that I was living one life and the other life was fake, but rather that I believed I could live two lives together while also striving to put forth a false “goodie-two-shoes Christianity” before others. I learned how to behave and act like a Christian in church, and became very good at doing precisely that.

Things began to spiral out of control when I went to college and continued my drinking and partying habits without parental supervision. I had begun to study biology in high school and decided to pursue a career in biological science, preferably working with marine mammals, after the neck injury and finding that I could no longer play football. I continued my studies in college and enjoyed the sciences. I had always been one to ask deep questions about life and felt that science provided a natural place to ask those questions. I never found a solid church to attend at my first college as the Baptist church was unusual with the pastor playing random musical instruments during the service and nobody talked to me when I visited, and I had a number of friends who attended the Catholic church but I was no longer Catholic. I partied hard in college and was made friends with everybody, however, not unlike high school I was friends with everyone and close friends with no one. Whether it was puking on the side of the road after binge drinking or just observing behavior at the parties or both, I began to learn that a life spent partying and drinking was an empty life, unfulfilling, hollow.

I wasn’t getting answers to questions I had in my science classes and was asking deep questions about various theories that nobody else was asking and people seemed to pretend I wasn’t bringing up hard questions or just outright ignore my questions altogether and go on believing. I enjoyed science and the straight forward process to observing life and how with math you often have a simple, straight-forward solution to a problem. However, I began to discover blind obedience in science that was startling considering it was my peers and professors behind this blind obedience who had thrown the same “blind obedience” stones at religion.

So, I began to spend time in prayer and ask God for clarity with my life and what I ought to do. I enjoyed science, but felt unfulfilled. It was a clear fit in regards to my interests and skills, but it wasn’t satisfying. I began to pray before classes, then I began to pray in between classes, and then even after classes. I began to spend a great deal of time in prayer and I even bought my own Bible, an NIV duo-tone compact Bible, at a Barnes & Noble in the city. Shortly after I met some transfer students and other students on campus who invited me to a weekly Bible study near the city. I began to go and enjoyed it, but in truth enjoyed even more my new friends. In my time of prayer, I felt like God was trying to tell me something but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I went on a Spring break trip to Buena Vista, CO, to Mt. Princeton with the Bible study group and many other Christians from various colleges in Kansas. They all went to ski and snowboard on the colder mountains. I didn’t want to try that with my neck injury, so I just stayed on the warmer mountain alone and walked in the woods on Mt. Princeton and prayed. While walking in the woods, I found a large, flat boulder with a shade tree arched over the side with beams of light falling upon the boulder through the shade tree. I immediately felt that I should pray there and knelt down and prayed. I alternated between there and an Adirondack chair for a time praying.

I had bought a blank notebook before the trip and felt the need to write my prayers down in a sort of prayer diary, and I began writing in the notebook. In prayer and reading my Bible, I read Ephesians 2 and learned I had never heard about nor understood the concept of grace throughout my church experience. In discovering this, I found I had never really understood the Gospel and felt that God was calling me to truly confess my sins and believe the Gospel. Simultaneously, I felt that God was calling me to surrender my life to Him in some form of vocational ministry. I had felt a similar call to ministry before but dismissed it as irrational with my scientific way of looking at life. There on that mountain, my guard came down to God and I felt that I was totally exposed for the fraud that was, but rather than condemn me and judge me I felt that God was embracing me and calling me near to Him. Leaving that mountain, for the first time or at least the first time in a long time I felt fully alive and free from all the shame and guilt from all the horrible things I had done in the past.

I left from there and went onto a new college to study the Bible and theology, and then onto graduate school/seminary to study even more. I began to serve in ministry at my second college upon my return from that mountain and continued serving in seminary in various ministries and eventually was called to be a pastor and ordained. While in college my desire to know God more and the Bible only grew. I read the Bible as much as I could and asked as many questions as I could in classes. My theology was growing as I was learning so much both from my studies and from my friends and professors. At my Christian college I attended, my second college was a Christian liberal arts college, scholars such as N.T. Wright were superstars in the biblical studies department and on campus while more Reformed figures such as John Piper were viewed with suspicion and discouraged. So, I read all the N.T. Wright that I could in college. In seminary, it was the opposite, N.T. Wright was viewed with suspicion and discouraged while John Piper and Tim Keller were viewed as theological superstars.

I learned more about Reformed theology in seminary and had some vigorous debates with seminary friends about Calvinism and Arminianism. I began to learn more about the Bible in my classes and more about God than my arrogant, college mind would have ever thought. I learned about the history of redemption, that all of the Bible is a continuous story of God redeeming humanity rather than two separate testaments pitted against one another (a view that many Baptist churches teach whether knowingly or not, that borders on Marcionism). I also learned Reformed theology and to a great extent believed it was the best framework with which to understand life and the Bible, despite my reservations and observations of staunch legalism among Reformed adherents, I became Reformed myself to a great extent while still remaining a Baptist.

Now, I had referred to my testimony over the years as my becoming a Christian when I was 7 only to please my father and be like my dad, and becoming a cultural Christian rather than a genuine Christian which didn’t take place until my sophomore year in high school on that mountain in Colorado. However, I have been thinking about this for some time and this past Sunday I feel that God revealed more of His work in my life to me which has caused me to go back and revise how I formerly understood my testimony of coming to know Christ which I have written just above.

I was listening to a message in a church service on Mark 8 where Jesus foretold His going to Jerusalem and being killed and Peter rebuking Jesus, and then Jesus’ response to Peter’s rebuke was ringing in my head, “… But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. (Mark 8:33)”

Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die on the cross willingly for the sins of the world, that was His purpose in coming into the world and yet, Peter, thinking that His purpose was to establish some lesser Jewish kingdom on earth and liberate the Jewish people from the Romans wanted to prevent Jesus from going to certain death while ignoring His previous words about His purpose in going to Jerusalem to begin with and coming into the world to die for sins and rise again. Jesus was sacrificing Himself for humanity while Peter wanted to preserve Jesus and preserve his own idea of what God’s kingdom was to be. Peter didn’t realize that what he was asking would prevent God’s kingdom from coming about in the first place and also the salvation that humanity needed from sin. Peter was simply thinking that it would be better not to die and for Jesus not to die, however, he wasn’t thinking about dying for sins and rising from the dead but rather that Jesus would die, period.

Now, what does this have to do with my testimony of God’s grace in my life? I’ll tell you.

I was setting my mind on the things of man, not the things of God in my life. Having gone to seminary and become Reformed Baptist, I began to look back at my experience on the mountain not as an experience of God’s grace in my life but rather tried to fit my story within my newly found Reformed framework for understanding life and the Bible. The problem was that it didn’t quite fit so well.

For example, how could I within a Reformed framework which questions how one could go to God in prayer without having become a genuine Christian or how one could read the Bible and become convicted by it without having become a Christian? Further, how could someone who was not a Christian turn to God and prayer in every event of hardship from the neck injury in school to the challenges of recovering afterward to questioning what to do with my life in college? How could I claim that God redeemed me from depression after my neck injury, which He did, without truly knowing God at the time?

The answer I had before was that I had become familiar with Christian culture and things, so it was natural for me to turn to Christianity for help in such times while not actually being a genuine Christian until college. My becoming a genuine Christian on that mountain in Colorado seemed all the more real with the immense growth in my faith which occurred afterward. The process of sanctification was evident in the days and months and years after that experience on the mountain, but I would have argued that it wasn’t evident before.

My best way to make sense of my experience on the mountain with the seemingly great jump in sanctification immediately afterward was to understand my experience through a Reformed lens and invalidate my former experience of Christianity altogether for a more genuine experience of Christianity that made better sense according to my own theology. I was setting my mind on the things of man in regard to trying to cast a clearcut, clean, theological understanding over my life that satisfied my desire to appear all the more thoroughly Reformed and have a Reformed understanding of sanctification and salvation applied to my life. I was viewing my life of sanctification as a line graph where my growth in grace was steadily rising, never falling, when in reality it was more complicated than that. I was just like Peter who was theologically hot one minute in proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ and a massive failure the next in seeking to prevent Jesus from going to the cross.

What’s further? I was making the theologically error of making a distinction between making Jesus Lord of my life and making Jesus Savior of my life, as if salvation involves two separate subjective experiences on the part of the believer as opposed to the objective reality of Jesus dying for sins and rising from the dead (See Keswick theology or Lordship Salvation controversy). It is not that Jesus cannot be Savior without being Lord of our lives as is commonly held with this errant view of salvation, but rather they are interchangeable. Jesus is Savior and Lord, and our experience of Jesus doesn’t eliminate Jesus from being one or the other, but our faith in the Gospel means placing our faith in the objective truth about Jesus rather than on our subjective understanding of that truth. My understanding of these two experiences, when I was 7 years old and when I was a sophomore in college, was dangerously close to falling prey to this false dichotomy of Jesus as Savior and Lord, as if one could believe in Jesus without believing in Him as Lord or vice versa.

In summary, I believe my story of God’s grace, my understanding of it rather even, has been tainted by my desire to boast all the more in myself in having a solid Reformed understanding of my life rather than boasting of Christ and glorifying God and setting my mind on the things of God.

My testimony, revised, is this…

After being a nominal Catholic I became a genuine Christian when I was 7 years old. I didn’t understand the deep ins and outs of theology as I do now, even though I have much to learn, but I understood that I was a sinner and I believed that Jesus was the Christ, the God-man, and that professing faith in Him and claiming His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection not only as true but as necessary for me was the only means of finding forgiveness for my sins and being reconciled to God. I didn’t know the history of redemption until much later. I didn’t understand Reformed theology until much later. However, before becoming a theologian and before becoming a Baptist and before becoming Reformed, God chose and called me to be His child as the ignorant fool of a child and flawed sinner that I was.

Does ignorant fool and flawed sinner sound extreme? It’s not. I was ignorant, not being able to articulate the history of redemption, Reformed theology, the 5 Solas of the Reformation, the details of the Gospel. I was a flawed sinner because although I would say my life changed, it wasn’t night and day different as my experience on the mountain seemed to be. It was gradual. It took time. It took a lot of failing and falling flat on my face in regards to pursuing Christ as a Christian.

This meant that I was a Christian growing up living those two lives, and one life was a facade and the other was empty and hollow. The reality was that growing up I knew the Lord, but believed wrongly that I should be this very, very good person superficially by my own efforts rather than trusting in God to transform me into the person He has called me to be. I believed wrongly that I could pursue a rebellious lifestyle on the side of my good, Christian life and had to learn the hard way of my mistake and of the emptiness of that lifestyle pursuing the false promises of the world in parties.

“For the word of the cross is follow to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe…”

1 Corinthians 1:18-21

My thoughts about God’s work in my life have been clouded by the wisdom of the world, the things of man, and not the wisdom of God. It was the wisdom of God to allow me to experience the various trials and challenges I faced growing up after having become a Christian when I was 7. It was the wisdom of God to permit my neck to be broken during a wrestling practice my sophomore year of high school and to be plunged into depression after in order to carry me through it for His glory. I felt that everyone abandoned me during that time and the only solace I felt were people telling me to just move past football and get over it. It was at that time that God picked me up and carried me through one of the darkest seasons of my life connecting the dots of my life by His sovereign hand from football to injury to trusting in Him to being bitter about my injury and turning to partying to science to brokenness and to trusting Him and leaning upon His grace all the more upon that mountainside. I had wrongly viewed God’s grace working in my life as a steadily rising line on a graph when in reality it is more like a jagged mountain range with peaks and valleys and lots of blurry in-betweens that are difficult to understand. God’s grace, unmerited favor, to me was far greater than I could have imagined.

How do we make sense of that experience of God’s grace on the mountain in Colorado? If I didn’t become a Christian then but was already, than what do we make of the immense growth in grace that took place after?

Jared Wilson wrote a book called Gospel Wakefulness some years ago where he describes how we as Christians come through seasons of our lives where we feel somewhat numb to the Gospel and disconnected from the joy we once experienced in Christ, but then God brings us to a place of brokenness and awe where we come to cherish and savor the Gospel anew and even more restoring our joy and awakening our faith. Wilson defines this ‘gospel wakefulness’ as,

“… treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring His power more sweetly than before...”

Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness

I had read Wilson’s book in part a few years ago when it was published and while I have some reservations about it in regards to the possible distinction between tiers of Christians as being “Gospel wakened” and regular Christians, it gave me pause about my own life and experience of God’s grace. I found that I was putting too much emphasis on my experience of God’s grace and not enough emphasis on God’s power to save those who confess sins and profess faith in the Gospel. Despite my experience when I was 7 years old, I confessed my sins to God and professed faith in the Gospel. It wasn’t a mountaintop experience literally like what I experienced in Colorado, but it wasn’t about my experience of salvation. It was about God’s power to redeem and save me “just as I am.” 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ…”

Ephesians 2:4-5

I had experienced brokenness when my neck was broken and brokenness when puking on the side of the road in college and not finding fulfillment in science, God was leading me through these things in life in order to bring greater glory to Himself by helping me to treasure and savor Him all the more as He carried me through those times. The experience of God’s grace on the mountain in Colorado isn’t insignificant to me just because it wasn’t my conversion, but it was still my calling to pursue a life of ministry and was still a time of gospel wakefulness where God helped me to see and experience grace in a way I never had before and helped me to lean on Him for grace for all my flaws and foolishness. The shackles of sin holding me captive in my life had been cut by the Gospel when I was 7 years old, but I didn’t realize I was free to leave the prison until I was on that mountain in Colorado as a sophomore in college. That is perhaps the best way I can explain my experience of God’s grace in my life. I believe God is glorified even more as God wasn’t absent during those seasons of my life growing up but carried me through them and the various things that would seem to the world foolishness such as my becoming injured and not being able to play football is part of God’s wisdom in bringing me to a greater place of brokenness in order to experience all the more HIs saving grace and what more? To be able to share that grace with others through serving as the hands and feet of Christ in ministry as the flawed and foolish vessel that I am.

God’s grace to me shows that God can use someone as foolish and flawed as me to greater reveal His glory to both the world and even myself.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

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broken-pot

As a Christian, there are seasons where you feel as though you are doing well all things considered and by that, I mean there are times when you feel that despite being a depraved sinner in need of God’s grace, when, if we’re honest, we feel that we are doing pretty well as a Christian and so well that we even know that we should be “humbly” apologetic when it comes to speaking about our spiritual growth in the faith with others. Then, there are seasons when you almost wonder, what happened? Where did those good times go?

We don’t realize we are slipping in our faith and struggling often until it is too late and we are left in the wake of the shadow of death that is sin and wondering where it was we went wrong to begin with. It is in this place that I feel many Christians struggle, if we’re honest. We know in our head who we are by faith in Jesus Christ and maybe we even go back and remind ourselves of passages such as Romans 8 or Ephesians 2, but in our heart we feel at times as though we are stuck back in the same mess of sin that we felt perhaps that with just enough good seasons of our faith that our sin struggles will simply disappear, be no more, or that it will get substantially easier to fight sin in our lives. However, reality sets in when we find ourselves back in that place we perhaps prayed about before and now find ourselves in again. The struggle is real, but we’ve simply become better at hiding it’s devastating effects on our lives and the lives of those around us… at least, for awhile. Eventually, the struggle will catch up to us to the point where we no longer can fool those around us or even ourselves, but by that time it will be too late as we’re not simply in the shadow of death anymore but we’ve plunged headlong into that valley and buried ourselves in it.

We all still struggle with sin as Christians. The difference is that we know our weakness as it has been confessed and our need for a Savior whom we can run to for more grace, and we have God’s presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit to make God’s Word alive in us and help sanctify us. Sanctification is one of those words that many grasp in the head but perhaps have not taken to heart. The Puritans referred to sanctification as having two aspects: 1) Mortification, and 2) Vivification. Mortification is the process of the killing sin in your life empowered by the Holy Spirit while vivification is the process of being made alive in Christ.

Sometimes people drop one aspect of the sanctification process. You drop mortification and then you have a made alive in Christ focus which is a wonderful place to be in but doesn’t account for our being sinners in need of grace and totally depraved. It simply focuses on the good aspects of what the Spirit does in the heart and life of man to make him (or her) more Christ-like and bearing a renewed image of God to the world. When you focus on all the good aspects and none of the less than pleasant aspects though, you find yourself jaded by putting on a facade of good Christian faith to everyone around you all the time when in reality things are not nearly as good or you’ve gone beyond that point whether sooner or later and simply broken down from working so hard to be good and failing that you’ve come to the point of maybe questioning whether you are a normal Christian with your real struggles with sin or maybe whether you are even a Christian at all.

Sometimes people drop the vivification aspect of sanctification and when this happens which I believe is often common in more strict Reformed communities, a strong focus on depravity and being a sinner in need of grace becomes the emphasis as well as striving to kill sin in the life of the Christian. Hence, the oft quoted John Owen, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Or there is the more contemporary version in Darrin Patrick’s quote, “If you don’t know how dirty you are, you won’t see the need for a bath.” It is important to know sin and recognize yourself as a sinner and utterly depraved, incapable of saving yourself by your efforts and completely in need of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It is also important that you realize that to be a Christian means a life lived striving to kill sin in your life because indeed, it is a battle and you will have scars. However, it is equally important that you not only seek to mortify but to look to the vivify aspect of sanctification as well which means living to righteousness. For it is not enough to strive to know sin in your life and kill it, indeed, it is impossible, without looking to the only One who can save you from it’s deadly grasp.

I believe many Christians find themselves here, emphasizing mortification but failing to remember to look to the cross of Christ for more grace. Jesus said that all who look upon the Son of God with eyes of faith will be saved from death equating the look with the time that Moses was instructed to make a staff with a bronze serpent so that all who would look at the staff would be saved from the sting of death from real serpents below. Many of us look up but yet we do not always see and because we fail to know that we do not see as well as we think we do we fail to see the serpents nipping at our heals and more than this we fail to see the grace before our eyes when it is offered us. Sure, we have tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good initially, but our response to problems and struggles in our lives as we carry on as a Christian is not necessarily to look to Christ but to other things or to focus on the pain and struggle. In the thick of our battles, we fail to acknowledge that perhaps we have a one-sided view of sanctification but in reality, more often than not we are failing to kill sin in our lives or we are failing to look with eyes of faith at our Savior and we stare at the death that engulfs us as though we have the power to overcome it on our own or become afraid at what we see because we have forgotten the great truths of our faith which are that we have nothing to fear, we need only look to Christ for all the strength we need, and that we are not alone to rough it out but we have God with us because we have become sons and daughters of the living God, chosen and adopted by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to be heirs with Him and are now strangers and sojourners in a world that is not our own.

I am trying to say that there are times that we as Christians feel vulnerable, desperate, and broken by the world around us, but we fail to remember that it is such as this that God calls to Himself. For God does not care for our religiousness and how Christian we can act, but rather our broken, fragile little hearts.

Psalm 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

God desires our brokenness so that He may fill the empty vessels of our hearts and lives with the everlasting and eternal and infinite and all-satisfying fullness that is Himself. Let that sink in for a moment.

So as we go about the Christian life of sanctification we should rightly strive to kill sin in our lives but we should not merely end there, by all means, we should pursue Christ in our lives and that is the pursuit of infinite, everlasting joy. The sin is merely the excess weight and injuries that slow us down, the shackles and chains, as we run the race toward Christ, but they are not the goal and race itself or “the journey” as our postmodern world so often likes to term it is not the goal for the Christian and indeed the destination of that ‘new heavens and new earth’ are not the goal, but rather Christ is the goal so that our lives would echo the words of the All Sons & Daughters song, “Above and below me, before and behind me, in every eye that sees me, Christ be all around me.” The ‘new heavens and the new earth’ are for the Christian not so much a place for which one awaits the bus to arrive while sitting on the bench with the ticket being our faith in Christ, but rather in obedience to Christ’s commands to love Him and others and make disciples the Christian is to strive to bring Heaven to earth so that the church on earth is to be an outpost of love and grace in the world until Christ returns to bring that which is begun to completion. The new heaven and earth are important for the Christian, but it is to Christ the Christian must look for sanctification while reminding him/herself of the history of redemption of what God has done and what God has promised to do along with what God is doing presently.

Hope of what is to come is fueled by the “curriculum vitae” of what God has done in relation to His people already so that the Christian may live in that awkward present tension of a place with eyes and heart and mind and all being pursuing Christ which entails loving others and killing sin more in that race of faith along the way.

In the shadow of my own frustration with my foolish stumbling into sin and desperate, near Davidic Psalm 51 cry to God for more grace, I was playing the Lecrae album Rebel and among other songs heard this song Breathin’ to Death which made me think of myself but also became a source for the initial thinking that birthed this post. The words, whether you listen to Christian hip-hop or not, are raw and I believe resonate with all Christians who find themselves saved by grace through faith in Christ, yet, still struggle with sin and get frustrated with themselves. So, before this post comes to an end, do yourself a favor and read these lyrics or listen to the song or both for a moment…

Breathin’ to Death 

by Lecrae*

“It’s like I’m tired of life
Lord I’m wrong, why I can’t get right?
And when it’s dark, why it can’t get light?
Why it can’t be light?
It’s so heavy, why my sin won’t let me see the end?
Come get me!
Please come get me!
My thoughts, my mind, my ways all evil
I’m s’posed to be Your people, I’m s’posed to see Your sequel
I said I’d never leave You
But I’m so left, I ain’t right
Lord, I’m sleeping with death
Man, I’m cheating with death
Am I deaf? It’s like I don’t hear You
I say that I’m a Christian, but it’s like I don’t fear You
I’m on a selfish island and I am nowhere near You
God, I really need You even though I don’t appear to
I’m drinking out a broken cistern that could never hold water and I’m gonna get burned
Though I try, I never satisfy to quench this yearn
I hear You calling, but it’s like a fight for me to just turn
Lord, I deserve to burn

I’m feeling schizophrenic,
Maybe I ain’t saved, ’cause I gotta get high just to block out all the pain
Seen death, seen hurt, seen a whole lot of things
But instead of running from it I’m running away from change
It’s like I’m outside in the ice cold weather
The rain’s coming down, I keep getting wetter
I know I’m getting sick and I could die any second
But still I refuse to let Your truths make me better
I’d rather eat flies and maggots instead of bread
And it’s killing me slow, but I can’t get it through my head
You were stabbed, You were murdered
And for me is why You bled
But I spit on your bloody face as if I never cared
Lord, how dare I compare my pain?
Your father turned his back
And You were left to hang
I don’t know why You did it, that I can’t explain
How can You love this sinner who’s desecrated your name?
Lord, I deserve the flames

I know I tell lies
I know I do dirt
Apart from You, I’m nothing, but You can give me worth
I don’t know if I know You
But still I know I should
I know these days are evil and only You are good
I’ve come to this conclusion that I would like to change ’cause all the world’s money and fame cannot sustain
I know that I should turn but that’s the hardest thing
Cause do I really feel that having Jesus is a gain?
The world is so tempting
Satan is a beast
He hypnotizes my eyes to say the least
But Jesus be my treasure! To know You is to live
And I am here dying, trying everything there is
All I need here is You
Help me turn ‘way from sin
Lord, give me grace to turn away and the fear to not give in
I know that I’m not perfect but I could rest in Him
I know I don’t deserve it but still I take your hand
Lord, let me take Your hand

Help me Lord before there’s no time left
I ain’t living I’m just breathing to death [echo]
Your ways are perfect and they lead me to rest
Mine are evil and they lead me to death.”

*“Breathin’ to Death” by Lecrae lyrics from azlyrics.com

So, how is your theology of sanctification doing? Further, how is your heart? Are you dropping one aspect of sanctification and focusing on mortification or vivification? Take some time now to spend in prayer with God and reflect on your heart, your typical behavior when sin comes your way, and on the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God Almighty that He has given so costly and great a gift as His Son on account of broken vessels such as ourselves and ask Him to fill your emptiness and brokenness with more of Himself…

Amen.