I am a creature of habit. I tend to pilfer little morsels from interactions with others and incorporate those into my own narrative. Having done so for the better part of 36 years, I have encountered some noteworthy additions while others simply have not withstood the overwhelming accuracy of truth, especially when truth is unleashed by love (I fully intend on unpacking this at a later date). What I have learned from the sum total of these relationships is this: “Every person has a story. Every story has a purpose. And every purpose begins with a question.”
“What is my purpose?”
“Where is my fit?”
“After all these hands have wrought, how am I to be repaired?”
“How am I to know, pursue, and display peace in my life?”
“What is the bottom of my joy?”
“Where is my…. hope?”
I think– at the core of the human heart– these very simple questions are truly paramount to understanding our context in this world. Such musings lead each and every one of us in a pursuit that transcends the mundane rhythm of our daily lives and into a journey of the heart… a trek in which we begin to see small glimpses of our personal narratives intertwining with the stories of others. This seems to happen naturally on an organic level, for we all desire to make sense of such things in individual pretense as it pertains to corporate community. We are being woven into a tapestry, each of us a single thread seemingly innocuous to the overall design of authorial intent. Only when the light is brightest, when the refining fires of God burn away the dross of self, are we able to take a step back and behold the altogether loveliness of Christ together, and all of our questions of worth fade.
There are those, however, whose colors are wearing and edges are fraying, threatening to somehow diminish the glorious work for which they were made. And they do so in the name of culture. The finished work of Christ on the cross as validated by the resurrection is no longer paramount. They would lead you to believe the gospel– that is, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus– is secondary to the way in which we experience it. Everything is open to interpretation, truth falls by the wayside of relevancy, and the doctrines of grace are no longer the great catalyst which lead to transformation; rather, they are sacrificed upon the alter of self-aggrandizing introspection. We are taught to believe that deep reflection upon the human condition will somehow bring about a morality that will lead us into right thinking and living, producing a self-perpetuating salvation that is adequate. Yet, how can a morality which draws from wholly broken creatures ever lead us into righteousness? Does a righteousness that is drawn from within not build its foundation on filthy rags? (Isaiah 64.6). It is absolute folly to believe that morality gives way to a living rightly that has the ability to sustain at-one-ment with God…. Morality is unequivocally self-centered.
Why do I say this? Does God not charge man with moral agency? Do we not have a responsibility to live by Kingdom ethics? Absolutely. I believe II Corinthians 5.17-21 is quite clear as to how we ought to live:
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. II Cor. 5.17-21
We reflect the Kingdom of God and, as representatives, we are charged with the message of reconciliation. This is the great work of Christ. The issue, however, is not what we are called to communicate or how we are called to live. Rather, there is a more pressing question: “What is the source from which our message originates and our right living derives?” Paul, as he is so masterful at doing, points us directly to our only hope… The Gospel. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our charge is merely a response to what has already occurred. Morality begins and terminates on righteousness. And righteousness begins and terminates on Jesus. He is the fountain from which all things flow. Yet, this is not what we hear and see played out in everyday language. All too often do I hear men and women refer to the human condition as injured and harmed, in need of repair. And, in response to this, we busy ourselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of self-glorifying works, as though to gain some modicum of good in an effort to bring about our justification.
The truth of the matter is, though, we aren’t good. “There is none righteous, not even one.” –Romans 3:10. And, if there are none who are righteous, and righteousness is the baseline for our justification which drives the response of right living (morality), then our situation, I assure you, is far beyond injured. We are not merely injured by depravity. We are terminal because of it. Consider this quote by the great Puritan theologian, John Owen:
“Poor soul! It is not your sore finger, but your hectic fever, that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin, and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.” – John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
We are sin sick. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3.23. Our holiest moments, when morality trumps self above the cross, are riddled with rebellion and pride.
“Surely no rebel can expect the King to pardon his treason while he
remains in open revolt. No one can be so foolish as to imagine that
the Judge of all the earth will put away our sins if we refuse to put
them away ourselves.” — Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace
Humanity isn’t merely in need of bandaging. It does not take an astute man to look around and observe that there is something very broken about our world. If the human condition is clearly broken and wrought with sin, there is no amount of righteousness it is capable of generating that can bring about salvation. Therefore, morality is undone and our justification with it. Our only hope is the Gospel which is this: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.