Having been at a week long Larry Crabb conference (see previous notes here, here, here and here), these are some of my reflections. This isn’t what Larry said. These are all things his teaching has prompted me to think. Many of them are quite new to me (even though they should have been obvious!):
I have no redeeming features. I have a Redeemer. But through my Redeemer I have some redeemed features. They are not my hope. But they are there. Not at all perfectly but really and noticably.
It’s ok to notice these features! It’s more than ok for others to notice these features – they haven’t distracted attention from the real me, clothed in Christ, hidden in God. Paul (who was quite keen on the whole ‘clothed in Christ’, ‘hidden in God’ language was also able to identify in others their real, distinct, noticable praise-worthy features!)
My identity is in Christ. But I do not, for that reason, dissolve into Him. Just as His one-ness with the Father does not dissolve away the concrete particularity of His Person, so my one-ness with Jesus does not take away from my own particular personhood.
To be lost in Christ is not like a drop lost in an ocean but more like a musician lost in her music or a lover lost in his beloved. ie I am truly found in that lostness. I am the musician and lover set free in their element to be their true selves. In this all-embracing context I am able to discover a genuine particularity that I could never find apart from it.
I am truly and particularly myself when I am entirely His. Now that I am entirely His I can truly find myself. I can know myself only when I know myself in Him. But once I know myself in Him, then I can truly know myself.
To fail to find and know myself is not a testament to my hiddenness in Christ. Quite the opposite. The person without a genuine sense of self testifies to the world that Christ has not found them, bought them, and named them. Something is wrong with our knowledge of Christ if genuine knowledge of self does not ensue (cf Institutes 1.1.1)
It is not just that I am in Christ. Christ is in me. And according to Scripture, this reality can be known to some extent by sight and not merely by faith. (e.g. 2 Cor 13:5). You can dig down and not merely descend through infinite sewage. You can actually hit Rock!
There is such a thing as a new heart!
The look within will not just reveal wickedness (though it’ll be a lot worse than I’d imagined). Paul says he knows ‘nothing good dwells in him’. (Rom 7:18) But he immediately qualifies that – “that is, in my flesh.” He goes on to say that in his inner being he delights in God’s law. Flesh is not the only thing going on in him. He digs deep enough to realise that he has no hope in himself. But he also digs deep enough to see what his ‘inner being’ is like.
We generally only look deep enough at ourselves to diagnose a problem for which Christ is unnecessary. After a brief but uncomfortable glimpse we say: “I’m stupid, I’m fat, I’m disorganised, I’m ugly, I don’t know my bible, I’m not a very good friend / son / daughter / spouse / minister / worker.” None of these verdicts get anywhere near the heart of the problem but they engender sufficiently strong feelings of self-contempt that we quickly say sorry and determine to do better next time. After a brief self-directed pep-talk (in the name of Jesus obviously), we look away.
We rarely discover anything deeper than flesh-dynamics because we don’t trust the gospel enough to be able to uncover the really ugly stuff.
We rarely discover anything deeper than flesh-dynamics because we rarely relate to others very deeply.
When someone asks me how I’m doing I could of course answer “Clothed in Christ, seated in Him at God’s right hand.” At the end of the day this is the only thing that matters. But “end of the day” answers aren’t the only ones. There’s a significant danger that this answer could avert both our eyes from realities that need addressing here and now. The ‘clothed in Christ’ answer should free me to be real not shield me from the truth.
I believe in the old saying “For every one look at yourself take ten looks at Christ.” But will I really take that one look? And will I allow you to take that look too and to point out things I just can’t see from where I’m sitting?
I believe Bonhoeffer’s saying that we should avoid constantly taking our spiritual temperatures. But I also know I have a contagious spiritual disease. It’s worth getting my cough checked out once in a while – cos it’s going to hurt you sooner or later.
I believe in Col 3:1-4. But will I read on to verses 5-9? You can’t put to death what you don’t see. And we’re very good at deceiving ourselves.
I’m a master at sinning with Scriptural back-up. I read the bible with my own sin-tainted glasses. I need you to say ‘That’s not what that verse means…’
Sin is relational. It takes a community to call it forth, a community to see it and a community to handle it.
I’m not loving you if I don’t take drastic steps to deal with my sinful patterns of relating. I don’t really believe the gospel if I a) I don’t know the freedom to repent and b) can’t take your criticism.
God doesn’t need my good works, my neighbour does. God doesn’t need me to deal with my wicked ways of relating, you do. This is gospel driven mortification not self-obsessed introspection.
Going into last week this was basically my view of self: an ugly mess of sins sprinkled with a few ministry gifts but – thank God! – united to an alien righteousness, Christ.
What I’m now seeing is that I have an even uglier mess of sin than I thought. And such a mess of sin that I have no earthly hope of untangling. But, deeper still, I have Spirit-implanted passions. I have redeemed desires. I have what the bible calls a new heart (e.g. Ezek 36:24ff).
Am I still capable of massive self-deception? You bet! Should I cast off the external word by which I am declared righteous and trust my heart? B y no means! But now I have a renewed sense that Glen Scrivener has a centre, a purpose, a direction, a concrete self. If I’d just looked within to find myself I’d have been lost in a hall of mirrors. But anchored in Christ, I’ve found an authentic me to be.
Which is nice.