September 16, 2009
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6
It's not uncommon for me to reach a conclusion, and then work backwards to justify it. As my husband can tell you, I often enjoy the closure of a thing done, a project completed, or a decision made more than the process of doing it, so it's sometimes easier to just make the decision and then decide how to live with it. Forget the research and deliberation, that's for people who like options. When I see progression (ergo, progress), I'm happy.
Because of this linear tendency, being forced to redo projects - or even slow down - is cause for great consternation. It messes up the simplicity of moving from A to B to C. I desperately hate the feeling of moving in circles without a direction. Here's the spiritual catch for me - this personality trait can translate into a "been there, done that" attitude in my faith. My conversations with God can look like this:
Okay, Lord, I'm constantly confronted with the importance of the Gospel, but shouldn't it be coming from somewhere like, say, Hebrews by now? I've known the Christian message for years, and I'd like to think I'm beyond that "milk" stuff onto the "meat" course. John 3:16 seems a little old by now, don't you think you could teach me something else, Lord? We've covered this ground before, and I feel like I'm ready to move on. Teach me something new, something exciting. My conversion was a once'n'done deal, so now we can move onto the more important parts of theology. Like the mystery of the Trinity or something. No, Lord, I don't want to learn about repentance again…
On Sunday, I was confronted with just that: a lesson that needed to be relearned. My pastor had chosen a prayer from the Valley of Vision to include in the bulletin:
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many
aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance…
I don't like hearing that, after all this time, I'm still in rags. That I'm still an imperfect Christian. That even my repentance needs to be purified.
Too often, my image of salvation is someone on their knees praying the sinner's prayer, then popping up with a smile on their face and the mental white robes. Boom, instant Christian! Every day in the Christian life newer, better, deeper, further down the road of sanctification. A linear path to transformation.
In reality, the proper illustration is probably closer to the story of Michelangelo carving one of his great sculptures. The real beauty of the piece isn't found in the shape of the stone - we would've forgotten David long ago if Michelangelo had stopped with the mere likeness of a man. What makes the piece incredible is the intricate detail, the painstaking perfection of a stone so like a man it stuns us. It's so much more than a dull reflection carved out of rock. The sculptures find their meaning in the tiny chips that smoothed the rock into the likeness of life. Each chisel mark brought art closer to the surface. Ron DiCiani visually portrays this illustration with his own piece, "The Chisel," in which the hand of God chips a man free of his imprisonment. This is not a linear process - instead, it requires the constant return to the same spot until the master says he is finished.
The Christian life is not a once'n'done affair. Our faith requires - thank God! - learning the same lessons over and over, in fresh ways that jolt us back to the reality of radical grace.
"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." - Philippians 2:12b-13
Intersection of Faith & Life: Do you find yourself frustrated to learn the "same lessons" over and over again? Running smack up against those old lessons serves as a reminder that we're never done with any part of the Gospel. It will take all of our time here on earth to understand the magnitude of what we've been given. That same Valley of Vision poem ends with this plea:
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.