Good Morning Friends.
I hope that you are all beginning a brand new week in the gracious presence of Christ. We are re-visiting a conversation we began on Friday of last week. Upon further study of the following quote from James Bryan Smith in his book, “The Good and Beautiful God,” I ask what it means to you.
“The chief point is that there is only one thing that separates us from God, and it is not our sin. It is our self-righteousness. Our self-righteousness does not turn God from us, but us from God. It is my sin that moves me away from God, it is my refusal of grace, both for myself and for others.” (page 102; Kindle edition)
As for me, I have wrestled with it for a couple of years now, because this statement is not what I was taught when I first became a believer.
I first began attending church at the age of 31. Up to that point, I had no experience with religion at all. So unlike many of you (most likely) I am able to pinpoint where my beliefs originated. I find that most folks that grew up in the church can tell me what they believe, but they can’t tell me why. I figure this is because you have believed since early childhood and don’t remember where you learned it. (Good for you, by the way, to have grown up steeped in scripture – that is a true gift.)
So here it is. My perception of this relationship between God and me developed from this narrative:
God is perfect. I am a sinner because I do bad things. God can’t be in the presence of sin, so therefore I am cut off from Him. Jesus took away my sin on the cross, and that is how I am reconciled to God and can be saved.
This view of God paints a very judgmental picture to an unbeliever. It is condemning, and offers no chance of sanctifying grace. But on the outset, this made sense to me because I knew I was a sinner. I knew that I needed a Savior. So this belief became a part of my foundational narrative about God.
Now I see things a little differently. After walking daily with Jesus for over a decade, I am more comfortable with Smith’s assertion. Here is why.
1. Jesus (who is God incarnate) was neck-deep in sinners all his life – and appeared to love it. He was always seeking out those people who were sick or far from God in deed or attitude. You know, those people who weren’t allowed to come to church because they weren’t good enough in the eyes of the religious folks. According to scripture, Jesus spent far more time eating, drinking, and hanging out with sinners than He did with the church leaders.
So, I don’t believe my daily sin (envy, gluttony, selfishness, ignoring the needy, and all the other things I continue to do as a believer..) separates me from God. I think those are things that draw Him closer to me. He continues to chase after me, to reclaim my heart. His Holy Spirit continues to engage me in conversation about my life and how I should strive to do better. He is both a convicting presence, but also an encourager and sustainer for my efforts to live a more Christ-like life and to be reconciled with God.
I do not believe that God turns His back on sinners like me, I believe He embraces us with overflowing measures of mercy and grace. I believe He will always leave the 99 to chase after the 1 lost sheep (Luke 15:4.)
This is the foundation of our separation:
2. It is not my sin that separates me from God. It is my refusal to heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit that separates me from God. The prideful side of me, the one that says “I am good enough because I am better than most…” that is my downfall. How can someone help me if I refuse to listen to their advice? How can I be saved if my pride won’t let me admit that I need saving?
3. We are not separated from God because He is an angry God that wants nothing to do with sinful people. We are separated from our loving Father because we don’t want to hear Him tell us where we are falling short. We don’t want to submit ourselves to His authority and to allow Him to change our hearts. Our Father in heaven is our biggest fan. He wants to see us do well and grow. And He is in it for the long haul because He has promised to “never leave nor forsake us.” – Hebrews 13:5
This is my opinion, based upon my faith walk for the past few years. Maybe it has not been your experience, and that is ok. However, given this belief, how does that impact how I live? How does that belief guide my decisions and my spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer and Bible Study?
Well, it is a lifelong relationship. So I don’t have any quick answers. But the first thing I have figured out is that our relationship will only grow as deep as my humility will let it. If I am open to what God wants to do in my life, then I believe He will do amazing things with me. However, there is a cost. Sometimes those changes will have a sharp edge to them. Sometimes, walls need to be broken. And those things can be painful.
So do I put aside my pride and learn what God wants to teach me? Or do I deceive myself into thinking that I am perfectly ok just the way I am? Through His grace, the choice is always 100% mine.