Something went wrong. The till has come up short. Oscillating questions have my theology on a spin cycle and I can’t make it stop. Make it stop.
The message that I received is that God is light, and in him there is no darkness, but man is dark and corrupt. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. Our sin has separated us from God.
So the Father sent the Son to redeem us. To buy us back from slavery. To bridge the gap of separation. To overcome sin and death. To atone for us, and to set us free.
We argue about that freedom. Some say we are sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption, regardless of how we live our lives. Others say we have been set free but with the capacity to choose sin again, effectively selling ourselves back into slavery. Maybe that comes with renewed condemnation, maybe not. We argue about that, too.
There’s a little confusion about the Law that was given to the Chosen People so long ago. Paul seems to make it clear that righteousness, i.e.: right standing before God, does not come through obedience to the Law, but by faith. He says that the Law was given as a tutor to bring us to Christ.
James doesn’t actually say that obedience to the Law will save us, but he does say that we have to work at obeying it for faith to have any power or effect in our lives. Faith without works is dead and all. Interestingly, both writers use the same patriarch to prove their points.
So the message delivered to me was that I was a totally depraved sinner incapable of right standing before God on my own. Metaphorically speaking, I am Cain, and only by faith in the sacrificed Lamb can I be accepted like Abel. Offering the fruits of my own labor just won’t cut it.
But once accepted, then what? Well, in the Old Testament, the Law was given to show the Chosen People how to live and how to continue making sacrifices by faith to be accepted again when they disobeyed the Law.
The hope of the gospel is that Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice. He is the eternally living one constantly making intercession for us at the throne of God, the Father. In him we are accepted once and for all. We are His beloved.
That’s fantastic! Except it doesn’t change anything about us or our earthly experience. We still struggle against temptation. We still succumb to it. We still wreck our lives with sin.
God’s character requires holiness and righteousness. It’s not possible for you to be righteous on your own. So Jesus became your righteousness, but to partake of His divine nature, you must be faithfully obedient….Which was the problem to begin with. Spin.
I was taught that we are helpless on our own, but that in Christ we have victory over sin. I was taught that in him I am a new creation, and that his Holy Spirit indwells me, guides me, and works in me to will and do of His good pleasure.
But that’s not my experience. In practice, I still struggle with sin and fail regularly. The same sins haunt me today that always haunted me, but the consequences get bigger as I get older. When I ask where is this victory? Where is this power? I am told that to receive the blessings and promises of God, I must be faithful in obedience. But that brings me right back to the Law. If blessing only flows through obedience, then what was the point of the cross?
Sure, we talk about trust and relationship over duty and law, but in practice it amounts to the same thing. We need to do the right thing in order to receive the blessing. And when that doesn’t work, we say that we need to do the right thing for the right reason to receive the blessing. Then we can safely blame any negative outcome on our sinful nature.
This is what James does in his epistle when he says that we do not receive because we do not ask, but then when we do ask we still don’t receive because we ask selfishly for the wrong reasons. Ask or don’t ask, either way you’re not going to get what you want and it’s always your fault.
I perpetuated this cycle for many years until I realized that this was the pattern of someone stuck in an abusive relationship. Finally, I stopped and asked, “Where is the power of God to free me from this sick cycle carousel? Isn’t freedom from this hopeless defeat supposed to be the good news of Jesus the Christ?”
No answer was ready, so I set out to find it. This is Jedidiah’s Journey.