We’re often told that Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up for their sins and yet so many do it. Maybe that’s because the advice has been understated. Maybe we should go one step further to say that Christians mustn’t beat themselves up for their sins.
I’m reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life for the umpteenth time. This quote reminded me today why this book is a classic:
What then of our attitude to Satan? This is important, for he accuses us not only before God but in our own conscience also. “You have sinned, and you keep on sinning. You are weak, and God can have nothing more to do with you.” This is his argument. And our temptation is to look within and in self-defense to try to find in ourselves, in our feelings or our behavior, some ground for believing that Satan is wrong. Alternatively we are tempted to admit our helplessness and, going to the other extreme, to yield to depression and despair. Thus, accusation becomes one of the greatest and most effective of Satan’s weapons. He points to our sins and seeks to charge us with them before God; and if we accept his accusations, we go down immediately.
Now the reason why we so readily accept his accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own. The ground of our expectation is wrong. Satan has succeeded in making us look in the wrong direction.
Our salvation lies in looking away to the Lord Jesus and in seeing that the blood of the Lamb has met the whole situation created by our sins and has answered it. That is the sure foundation on which we stand. Never should we try to answer Satan with our good conduct but always with the blood.
I used to correspond through the mail with an inmate named Lowell. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a more biblically literate person. Perhaps this was because he had come to know his desperate need for God and was given plenty of time to find him in solitary confinement. As a former member of a white supremacist prison gang, he had been placed in solitary for violent acts (I don’t know what) against blacks in the prison. Of course this was just the last in a long list of crimes committed by this relatively young man.
As his story unfolded through our year or so of correspondence, the most shocking revelation dawned on me – Lowell and I were not all that different. Had I encountered the same life circumstances which he had, I probably would have ended up in the same place. My heart reflected the selfishness, malice, and prejudice which landed Lowell in solitary. Conversely, he demonstrated genuine remorse and a desire for redemption. The last vestiges of my childish notion that humanity can be divided into “good guys” and “bad guys” melted as I figuratively gazed into the mirror of Lowell’s heart.
As a human being at the bottom of society’s dumpster, Lowell sits upon an anthropological dilemma. Should Lowell not have to “pay” for what he did? If so, who determines when the debt is paid? If not, what of his victims? During our correspondence, Lowell petitioned to be released from solitary after he had spent a year there. He was denied. The prospect of another year cut off from human contact in the name of justice nearly destroyed this man who had made so many positive changes.
So, how can we maintain the worth of an individual yet decry his evil deeds? Is such a thing even possible? The answer is yes and no. Humans will never solve this dilemma because we are incapable of separating the essence of a person from their behavior. We will never have instrumentation that precise. God, however, does have an implement which can do the job. The cross of Christ in one moment categorically condemns human evil (including mine and Lowell’s) and unequivocally declares human worth. From the cross, God in voice clear and loud declares, “I hate your murder, theft, prejudice, selfishness, and lust and I love you more than words can say.”
Lowell is probably still in prison but Lowell has found a freedom while incarcerated that he never had before. Lowell continues to suffer the consequences of his past actions but he is not defined by them. God’s scalpel, the cross has removed the sin which was entangled around the heart of a man created after the divine image. Praise God for the wonderful, horrible, crucial cross!
A new friend, Zane Gilley, who now ironically is an atheist has sent me a couple of poetic adaptations of the Psalms which it is my pleasure to post here at the savant spot. Enjoy!
Blessed be the man who doeth these things three:
Walketh not in the ungodly counsel,
Standeth not in the way of sinner’s feet,
Sitteth not in the seat of the scornful.
But he places his devoted delight
In the holiest laws of Jehovah.
He, all through the day and throughout the night,
Reverently meditates on the law.
He is like a tree planted by rivers
Of the liquid life giving sustenance.
He beareth fruit in season and offers
Lasting shade for those who under him chance.
Whatever he sets forth to do prospers
Giving the life of his neighbors enhance.
With the ungodly these things are not so,
For they are likened unto the dry chaff
That the winnowing wind that God dost blow
Carries away from the godly with wrath.
Therefore these men ungodly shall not stand
During the final day of God’s judging,
Nor shall these unholy ones have a hand
In holy righteous saints’ congregating.
For the mind of Jehovah Almighty
Knoweth the blessed way of the righteous,
But the accursed way of the ungodly
Will with gnashing of teeth ever perish.