Every true saint lives with the awareness of his or her ‘dereliction.’ (Dereliction is a fitting word to describe the brokenness, guilt, alienation, and depravity that is the human condition by reason of sin.)
Consciousness of personal sin makes the believer’s conscience restless. There is a corresponding sense of justice that calls for some form of judgment upon us. The conscience, with its principle of strict justice, demands punishment or atonement. When our conscience bothers us, we feel the burden of “not measuring up.” We feel disqualified for God’s blessing.
Thoughts of “what we deserve” circulate in the conscience as a permeating sense of disqualification orineligibility for God’s love, acceptance, and favor. The fact that we do not measure up to God’s standard tends to put our focus upon personal unworthiness. A form of “spiritual paralysis” sets in; we are prisoners in the grey “castle of self.”
This is why it is so important to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. Only by fresh acts of faith in Christ, as He is set forth in the Gospel, can the verdict of an accusing conscience be overturned. Only the sacrifice of Christ can cleanse to the depths of conscience so that its defilement is purged (Heb 9:14).
God’s only basis for our full acceptance is Christ’s Person and work. We have no standing before God in ourselves. When we preach the Gospel to ourselves, we are consenting to be accepted upon God’s terms. We are again consenting to be protected by Christ – we are fleeing to Him for refuge from the wrath our sins deserve. We are taking Him as our righteousness. This is the only adequate motive for the pursuit of holiness.
How foreign it is to natural reason to think that God is glorified when the guilty sinner runs to Christ for mercy and grace – but God is glorified when we do so. He is glorified when we run to the atonement and receive all we need in Christ.
Our natural, carnal wisdom contains a subtle form of pride when we disqualify ourselves for God’s favor freely offered in Christ. Divine grace crosses the grain of our instincts of self-preservation. The flesh wants control, not dependency. By contrast saving faith is self-renouncing in that it looks away from self to Christ as the source of our favor and acceptance with God.
Faith in Christ alone can take us off of self. Faith that truly trusts in Christ is willing to regard self as the ongoing object of divine mercy, compassion, love, and pity. The person in that faith posture is in a position to worship (Is 12:1-6).
By contrast, pride argues and disputes about eligibility for God’s love and favor – pride says, “I don’t want to be a ‘charity case’ one more day – I’d much prefer to operate on the basis of personal merit.” The flesh is more “secure” when performing for love.
The Gospel overturns our pride. When Christ conquers us by His love and mercy, we become willing to receive God’s love – we actually consent to be loved by God “for no good reason in us!” Think of it; Christ has taken out of the way everything that disqualifies me for a love relationship with the Trinity!
What a source of liberty this is. The message of the Gospel of Christ believed gives us full permission to receive God’s grace, and to keep going to God for His grace. Faith in the Gospel transforms our thinking. As we consent by faith to receive His love anew each day, the posture of our souls becomes characterized by trust and peace.
Out of this trust comes joy. Joy has as its cause a virtue that is inexplicable to the natural man. It is a virtue supernatural in origin – we literally learn to trust God above self. In so doing, we grow up into Christ (Eph 4:15).
Trusting God above self (Prov 3:5, 6) releases God’s strength and boldness in us. Have you ever noticed how this strength and boldness seems to dry up when we are stuck in a mode of self-protection, self-absorption, and self-recrimination?
Much of our self-rejection is a byproduct of refusing to reason by means of the Gospel. But Gospel reasoning is the only means appointed by God to think accurately about ourselves. When we are marooned in the quagmire of preoccupation with self and the spiritual condition of self, a sense of inferiority and unworthiness spoils our joy and ability to receive freely from God.
The Lord’s solution is always a return to the Gospel way of reasoning. We must not evaluate ourselves without Christ by our side. Right-standing with God is freely given to those who are in union with Christ. For in the Gospel, God’s way of man’s right-standing with Him is uncovered; the way of faith (see Rom 1:16, 17).
When hounded by inferiority and self-rejection, we can’t seem to get our eyes off of how we are doing. Fresh faith in Christ and the Gospel will deliver us – for the Gospel gives us full permission to receive God’s love, grace, and favor just as we are – without any qualification coming from us. Christ is our eligibility. He became a man in order to qualify us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col 1:12). As faith in Christ and the Gospel becomes increasingly habitual, our union with Christ is attended by the comfort the Holy Spirit brings (Rom 15:13).
The Gospel believed, as a habit; as a lifestyle, opens the door to victory.
Patterns of defeat begin to fall away. We begin to treat the promises of God’s Word as having more authority than our fears, our doubts, and our opinions. Scripture becomes even more real than the fearful messages we infer from our circumstances. Our pessimism concerning what we fear we deserve from God because of our failure is replaced by holy expectation that He desires to bless us for Christ’s sake.
As the Spirit enables us to take hold of Christ as our entire eligibility and qualification for God’s ongoing grace, we learn to live the life of sonship; the son has faith that his Heavenly Father indeed has an eternal inheritance for him. Thus the trusting saint pleases God by his faith. God is honored when we expect Him to keep His promises – He is pleased when we leverage ourselves upon His promises, basing our entire welfare on His oath to perform them.
Faith in the Gospel keeps settling the disputes about our eligibility which are raised by the conscience. By Gospel faith we keep displaying our crucified and risen Savior to the accusing conscience. But why do we do this? That the conscience may accept the fact that justice has been done on our behalf by the death of our Substitute.
Only the Gospel can quiet the conscience. We will fail if we attempt to make a Savior of our repentance, of our contrition, and of our remorse. It is fresh faith in the Gospel that overcomes our innate tendency to try to earn merit and favor with God.
Faith in the Gospel gives us the warrant and the confidence to expect God’s goodness to exceed all that we could ask or think. Let us remember that Christ is our life; Christ is our completeness. All of God’s promises are “Amen” in Him.