Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sinful, Yet Righteous

Complexity
Our world is complex: beautiful and lethal, hot and cold, dry and wet. There are mountains and valleys, deserts and oceans.  Our lives are also complex. They are filled with glee and agony, love and hate, life and death. Solomon recognized the complexity of the human experience in his beloved poem:

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
 a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
 a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
 a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
 a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
 a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
 a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
 a time for war, and a time for peace.
        ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Life, then, is filled with seasons. Complex seasons with complex living. In the Christian life, complexity abounds. There is no such thing as a clean black and white. Life swims in a gray ocean. Though redeemed, we still sin.


Righteousness and Sinfulness
In our Christian experience we long to be rid of sin, and to be fully immersed in the ocean of satisfaction. Though we have tasted God's goodness and experienced His joy, we feel ourselves pulled back down to our sins. Sin, though pleasurable,  falls far short of the happy life in Christ. "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly," Solomon observes (Prov. 26:11).  We are offered the joy of satisfaction and we refuse it preferring fleeting, unfulfilling pleasure. Speaking of Israel, God exclaimed, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:12-13). It was shocking to God that His people refused His infinite bliss for finite, unsatisfying living.

Sound Christian theology teaches what the theologians call the imputed righteousness of Christ. Speaking of Christ, Paul writes "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).  Just as God imputed our sin to Christ on the cross, He imputes Christ's righteousness to us. Because of Christ's work we are treated by God as righteous. 
 
We are commanded to by holy like God is holy (1 Pt. 1:16), but we fail. It is easy to become discouraged. Paul felt inner soul tension. "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate," the apostle confessed to the Church at Rome (Rom. 7:15).

Christianity and Perfectionism
Many times, Christianity's focus is not on an individual's heart or relationship with God. Instead, what is important is the external: his dress, his entertainment, even the church he attends. The Holy Spirit is not trusted to conform that person to His likeness. In this Christianity, there is an unsaid expectation of perfect, neat, clean lives. There isn't room the reality of a messy existence. Perfect, neat lives however, do not conform to our experiences. Nor are they recorded for us in Scripture. All of humanity is grotesquely marred by sin, even Christians. 

Heroes in the Bible were fallen. Moses committed murder. David, a man after God's own heart, had an affair with Bathsheba and ordered the murder of her husband. Solomon, the wise king, was a polygamist and worshiped other gods. When He needed their companionship most, the disciples deserted Christ. Peter denied Him. 

As Protestants, it's easy to paint a target on Catholicism's history with its crusades and inquisitions. But our heroes, our theological giants, were deeply flawed as well. Martin Luther was anti-Semantic. John Calvin played a role in the execution of Michael Servetus. While in his fifties, John Knox married a teenage girl. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. John Wesley failed miserably as a husband. 

Life is unendingly complex. Navigating through its calm and rough waters is no easy task. It's a messy thing to be living person. It's a messy thing to be a Christian. We can bask in the bliss of satisfaction in Christ and we can roll in the mud of sin. No one, however close to God, has it all together. No one has arrived. A Christianity that looks down on struggling people is self deceived Christianity. We are all struggling because we are all deeply flawed. 

So we are faced with a tension. We live as people marred by sin but redeemed by Christ. Although righteous, we still sin. We still fall short. But, there is refreshing, life charging, energizing grace. We should strive for holiness in our lives. But our striving should be accompanied by the acknowledgement that even the righteous sin. Our treatment of other Christians must also be seriously guided by that reality. When we sin and are faced with despair, we must remember the truth of the Gospel: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14). All our sins, He nailed to the cross. Beautiful, life giving words. Even after this redemption, Even as righteous, we sin.  Again, we turn to Solomon, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Eccl. 7:20). Solomon's wisdom, mirroring our own complex lives, leaves us in tension. And that's ok.