In fact, I think that a good definition of “Christian” is what a Christian sees and not what a Christian does. Seeing the truth about ourselves isn’t a pretty picture. But a part of that seeing is God’s incredible grace and forgiveness. A Christian is a person who sees the truth...even if they can’t do a thing about it.
Can we really get better and better every day? What if we aren’t getting any better?
Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
What do we do? Absolutely nothing. Paul isn’t talking about what we do...but about what God does. So, for God’s sake, do nothing.
You’ve heard me mention it before and you’ll hear me mention it again. Jack Miller said that all of the Bible can be summed up in two statements: Cheer up, you’re a lot worse than you think you are. And cheer up, God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.
I would, with a fair degree of arrogance, add this: Cheer up, you’re a lot better than you think you are...and you’re going to get even better.
And when that happens, God probably won’t tell you. God only reveals stuff like that on a need-to-know basis.
So what is the nature of our getting better?
It’s a Surprise
Getting better is almost always a surprise.
Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).
There is an element of surprise in Paul’s words here. He said, in essence, “...but we’re still here. Wow!”
The reason we’re so surprised by our faithfulness is because God knows the extreme danger of self-righteousness.
Let me tell you a secret. Both self-righteousness and righteousness are hardly ever seen by the self-righteous or the righteous themselves. Self-righteousness isn’t aware of its own existence. But that’s also true of righteousness, goodness, and faithfulness. God knows that our awareness of our lack of righteousness is the very source of our power. It is God’s power made perfect in our weakness.
I recently got an email from a pastor who thanked me for the wisdom and kindness I showed him years ago. I thanked him. But after I wrote him back, I thought, Lord, I have no idea who that is or what in the world I said to him. I think God told me in response, “Of course you don’t remember. That was me. If you had remembered it, you would have then become insufferable...but I also didn’t want you to get discouraged.”
That was a “God wink.” It happens to keep us from being discouraged whenever the spurious thought comes along that we’re not getting any better.
It Feels Like Dying
Getting better almost always feels like dying.
Back to Paul: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12).
Dying won’t necessarily make you any better, but you certainly won’t get any worse.
At a staff meeting once, we were asked to pray for the family of a man who committed suicide because he couldn’t live with the hell of his addiction. The talk of addictions came around to my addiction to smoking my pipe. I said that I knew it was an addiction and then told them about a funeral director friend who had designed a casket with a hump in it so I could be buried with my favorite pipe sticking out of my mouth. Then someone on staff (a smart aleck) said, “Hey, we could post a photo of the casket on the website with the caption, ‘He finally quit.’”
Paul said in Romans 6:11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
God is in charge. Because he is God, that means I don’t have to be anybody’s mother.
Every time you can’t deal with your besetting sin, you fail or blow something important, you get unfairly criticized, or you’re rejected, hurt, ignored, demeaned or disrespected...you die a little. That’s bad. No, that’s good because of the principle: There is a correlation between the difficulty of your dying and how much you have died before you get there.
But there is something even more important. Dead people don’t worry about getting better. And getting better never happens until you stop worrying about it.
There is a narcissistic flavor to Christians who spend their lives working really hard to be holy, obedient, and faithful. They are saying, in other words, “It’s all about me.”
It’s really not.
Again from Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
It’s an Attack of Sanity
Getting better is almost always an attack of sanity.
“...As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
It’s a Matter of Seeing
If you’re a Christian and have been for a long time, you’ve been shocked with the radical change in our culture. Abortion has morphed into infanticide, sexual sin has morphed into sexual suicide, and good has morphed into evil. That isn’t so much sin as it is blindness.
There was a famous Scottish pastor, Thomas Chalmers, who lived in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth century. He was an unusual man in a lot of ways--an economist, and a leader in the Church of Scotland and later in the Free Church of Scotland. I could tell you stories, but perhaps the best thing he ever did was to preach the sermon, “The Explosive Power of a New Affection.” The thrust of that sermon was that people don’t get better by being told to get better. The truth is that we sin because we like to sin. And the only way we get better is to find something we like better than sin...and that is Jesus.
Mrs. Mauney, my Junior High School teacher, taught me to read. In fact, when she was still living and I went home, I made a point to tell her again just how important she was in my life. The problem was that Mrs. Mauney was really stiff and demanding...and dangerous. You had to see her heart to know what a gift she was. My brother, who was four years behind me in school and had heard me talk about how much I loved her, later had a class with Mrs. Mauney. After the first day of class, Ron said to our mother, “Are you sure that Mrs. Mauney is the same Mrs. Mauney Steve liked so much?”
Jesus is the Lion of Judah. He can be quite scary until you see him playing with children. But once you see Jesus and you’re absolutely consumed by his love, you become more loving, kind, and faithful. It’s because you know that if you’re never more loving, kind, and faithful, he will still love you the same. That’s a new affection.
It’s Connected to Others and to God’s Glory
Getting better is almost always connected to others and to the glory of God.
“So death is at work in us, but life in you....For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:12, 15).
A friend told me a sermon she heard where the preacher said, “Jesus told us to love others...and you can’t do that without others.”
Do you know how to glorify God? Love me when I offend and irritate you. And the only way you can do that is to let God love you. Likewise, God is glorified when I love you when you offend and irritate me. And the only way I can do that is to let God love me.
God is in charge. Because he is God, that means I don’t have to be anybody’s mother. Because he chose me, I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have to be right, and I don’t have to fake goodness.
Our getting better is all up to God. Now isn’t that a relief?
To read more from Steve, click here.