Thursday, March 7, 2013


It is sometimes more, sometimes less obvious that there are things that we cannot do ourselves. This, on its own, doesn't stop us from trying. "Let go and let God," people say, and I am reminded of Kierkegaard, who compared telling people how simple it is to believe to telling someone sentenced to die how simple the process is. It's all very easy to tell me to relax, to "let go and let God," to "depend on Him," it's quite another to actually do so. It means dying, after all. It isn't necessarily that we don't trust God will do the job well. It's sometimes that we know what "the job" and "well" mean, and we don't want that job done well in that sense. To let God, we have to trust that his way is better than ours. We have to trust that his foolishness is higher than our wisdom.

So what, then? My point is certainly not that we should all buckle up and try harder to let go. That would be ridiculous. "Try harder to stop trying" is inconsistent when applied to itself. No, rather, we should be who we are before God. "Be still"--don't be other than you are, but be your stubborn, frightened selves. The command is "be still" not "don't be afraid." Yes, fear has no basis. And fear will leave when we understand that it has no basis. But don't lie to God! Don't tell him you aren't afraid when you really are totally terrified of what he's doing in you. Be still, though you want to run. To do what he wants, rather than what we want, is an admission that we are weak and foolish, but he is strong and wise.

But we so often don't want to do what he wants. Fine, then pray. It is not as if we can change ourselves, or make ourselves trust him more. How should we pray? Asking him to change us, allowing him to use whatever means he deems necessary to change us into the image of his Son, knowing that it may hurt. If you want peace, that is only found in Christ. If you do not see this with your heart, but do see it with your mind, ask God to reveal it to you by his Spirit, who alone can join you to that peace. If you do not see it with your mind, even, then ask God, and he will reveal it to you. If you do not believe that God is wise to know where you may find peace, then pray that he would reveal his nature to you. If you do not believe that God exists, but want to, then ask God. If it is God who grants salvation, why do you try to achieve it by works? It is finished, through and through, it is all accomplished, even, if you will, your belief, your trust in him. It is not you who works faith or trust or belief, but all of that was accomplished by Christ's perfectly faithful, trusting, and believing life and death, even death on a cross, to which we are joined by faith--this faith being a gift of God--and therefore, being joined to him in his resurrection, we have life in Christ, and that is how we have any capacity to trust God, yet this is still a trust which is accomplished, not by ourselves, but by Christ. To try to relax is to try to add to the work of Christ. To add our own work of trying to let go and let God is to deny that we have Christ's perfect letting go of his own life and letting God take it, such that nothing more needs to be added. This is not to say "don't let go, don't let God," but to say "let your letting go be that of Christ, not your own."

It is not as if good works are bad, it is that they aren't good works if they are from ourselves. We are incapable, in and of ourselves, to do good. "Be still," but not by your own strength. The whole point is that you do not act, the work is not done by your strength, but by God's. Therefore, since it has all been accomplished by Christ, since it is his work and not ours, since he has accomplished salvation, now we ought to live in it, if we are truly in it, for who can resist the will of God? Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is an awesome and powerful God working in and through you, and if it is just you working, then you are working in death. How can you resist? What do you have to lose? Christ has accomplished it, now show that it has been accomplished. If Christ lives in you, your life (though it is no longer yours, but Christ's) ought to look like it is being lived by Christ, and more and more as you come to know him and what he has done for you more and more.

And this is why fear no longer has a basis. You are saved, no one can touch you. Do you fear what humans will do to you? They cannot cut you off from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Do you fear what God will do in your life? It is for your eternal good--it will be worth it. Do you fear that you will fail? You have Christ's perfect success. What is left to fear? God's wrath has been poured out on your sinful nature in the body of Christ, to whom you are joined. "Go, do God's will" is now both blessing and command. It is command in that we ought to do it, but it is blessing in that we are empowered to do it, impelled even, by the Spirit of God with in us. God commands what he wills, but, thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus--even in us--has willed what he commands.

We still fail in ourselves, but this is no longer our own failure, it has been taken by Christ. Yet even here, we are being made into the image of Christ more and more, by the scriptures, by prayer, by preaching, by singing, by suffering, we are built up into the body of Christ to his glory. We are his children, he will not let us remain in our sins, but, even if it takes great suffering, he will draw us into what is better. Do you wish to avoid suffering? Be perfect. But you will not be perfect until you are made so when Christ returns or calls you home. Therefore rejoice in your suffering, as it is for your instruction in holiness. Be thankful in suffering, therefore, in so far as it makes you seek God, and makes you search your heart. Even that righteous man, Job, grew in holiness through his suffering. I do not say that you are suffering because of sin, though that is true, in a sense, but that you are suffering because God wants you to be holy. Would you be pleased if God left you half-done? If not, then be glad, for God is perfecting patience in you, if nothing else, by your suffering. Even apart from what God does in you, there is what God is doing through you. Even if you were perfect (and only Christ is), in your suffering Christ ought to be revealed. Is this not the highest good? That Christ would be made visible in your life? That is why you are! To image God and thereby glorify God. And since that is why you are, to do so is to be fulfilled, in that is our joy. Therefore, rejoice in your sufferings, since in your sufferings those of Christ are revealed.

To not rejoice in our suffering--to not rejoice in all things--denies the goodness of God, and denies his redemptive power. I do not say that we should rejoice that bad things happen, but we ought to rejoice in that God has wrought them for our good and his glory.

Or is the suffering of Christ to no effect? Are we not joined in his body, that he might bear our suffering? Are we not, then, sharing his suffering when we suffer? And he shares in ours. And we suffer innocently, since it is the suffering of Christ on the cross which we suffer, and we have no guilt, since Christ payed for that guilt on the cross. So our sins are payed for, though, for our training, for our benefit, our Father may still chastise us as his children, that we might learn who he is better, and thus image him better, and thereby enjoy him more. It is for our pleasure that God chastises us, not our pain. Though we experience suffering for a time, it is in order that we might be made more like Jesus Christ who lives in us as our life. Therefore our suffering produces Christ-likeness, and our being Christ-like, since it is our purpose, produces pleasure in us, which is, again, to the glory of God. Indeed, in this is a picture of the redemption wrought on the cross: we are brought from death to life, by the suffering of Christ.

John Piper says that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him," and he is right, but also, we are most satisfied in God when he is most glorified in us. And he is glorified in us when we are Christ-like, and our suffering is intended to produce that, and thus is intended to produce our satisfaction in him.

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