One thing our culture is great at these days in encouraging self-confidence. We are told from childhood that we can do anything we put our minds towards, we are often presented with this picture of children being born innocent and being corrupted by time—in the Christian culture the corruption of our children is often pinned on the perverting influence of our culture. Walking into even a Christian bookstore we see shelves full of books on ridding ourselves of negative mindsets, of acquiring good self-esteem so that we can achieve the abundance we are said to be entitled to. I recently watched a spoken word on YouTube from a Christian guy ranting about the awesome man/woman inside of each of us that we need to unleash. The last 200 years have been filled with utopian visions of the goodness of mankind and how if we work together we can achieve boundless prosperity and happiness. Until I came to Bible College there were times when I actually thought it was a good idea to follow my heart.
It is so easy in a culture of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-you-name-it, to get the idea that we deserve things like God’s love or mercy. It is easy to get into the mindset that we can go places with our lives, attain righteousness, or—at the very least—deserve the love of God on our own.
When we attempt to understand our identity in Christ and God’s relationship to us from this foundation we find ourselves all over the place; our view of God, of ourselves, and of our sin are dangerously skewed and we find ourselves reading Scripture through the damaging lenses of these harmful presuppositions. As I have wrestled through different passages of Scripture over the last 3 years and have attempted to see my identity not in what I am or what I do but in my relation to Christ I have constantly run into the foundation I had laid before of how deserving or worthwhile I was. What I have come to see, courtesy of insights from various authors (such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, etc.), is that without looking back to where I was before the Spirit renovated my heart, without tearing down the idols and illusions of self-confidence, I would never get to a healthy place of seeing myself as God sees me. I came to the conclusion that as long as I clung to my ideals of self-confidence I would find myself floundering in my own depravity and inability as I attempted to do things by my own strength, will, and ability. What I needed to do was get a healthy biblical position of who I was apart from Christ.
What I needed to do was strip aside my cultural presuppositions and get a healthy dose of reality; I needed to examine myself apart from Christ and see myself as the truly wretched hellion I am without His grace. From this perspective of stripped down and worthless, my state before God changed me, I could THEN, and only then, look at my identity in Christ; it is from here that I could truly grasp the profundity of God’s love for me.
I set it up as a I was, I am, I am becoming contrast, starting with who I was before Christ—who am I apart from His Spirit, the darkness is that is still hiding in the recesses of my heart awaiting final destruction in the resurrection and glorification. Who was I?
– I was a child of the devil[i]
– I was of this dark and writhing cesspool of a world[ii]
– I was a sinner from birth[iii]
– I was in Adam, under sin[iv]
– I had no righteousness[v]
– I was dead in my trespasses[vi]
– I hated and blasphemed God[vii]
– I was an enemy of God[viii]
– I faced His wrath[ix]
– I knew God existed, but abandoned him in pursuit of my selfish desires[x]
– I was an idolater
– I was a murder[xi]
– I was an adulterer[xii]
– I was a liar
– my heart was and is deceitful above all else[xiii]
– I was a slave to sin[xiv]
– My mind was set on the things of the flesh[xv]
– I was and am (in myself, apart from Christ’s righteousness imputed to me) unworthy of anything but the fiery wrath of God poured out against my own unrighteousness.
– I was a man of unclean lips with dirty hands
– I was covetous and deceitful
– I was untrustworthy
I still struggle with much of this, for we are all caught in the already/not-yet tension of Christ’s kingdom;[xvi] but this is no longer my identity.
When I examine my abilities and moral capacities I realize that apart from God and His work I am unworthy of love, I am unworthy of mercy, I am unable to do anything meaningful in this life. But then came Jesus! While I was still a destitute sinner, an enemy of God telling Him to leave me alone and offer His grace to someone else, and while I did my own thing, He burst in and changed everything. He sent His only Son—God Himself, the third person of the Holy trinity—to die in my place.[xvii] He sent His Son to bear His own wrath so that I may be reconciled to God and enjoy Him forever.[xviii] He so loved His Church, of which He has made me a part, that He came to sanctify her for Himself as a bride to spend eternity with Him, her creator.[xix] He loved me so much that He reached down and took my wretched heart of stone that hated Him with all its might and replaced it with a heart of flesh that I might be drawn to Him and be raised up on the last day.[xx] He foreknew me in my wretched state and chose to show mercy on me, a sinner;[xxi] despite my lowly position, despite my nothingness, despite my lack of anything positive to earn His love,[xxii] He set His loving affections upon me in eternity past and He predestined me to be conformed to the image of His son.[xxiii] Because I have been loved and changed, because His work in me is certain, I can have the trust that all things will be worked by Him together for my good[xxiv]—that is, for my sanctification and eventual glorification.[xxv] Because of Him and His work I get to enjoy Him in this life, because of Him and His work I get to enjoy an eternity with Him for He is the end of the Gospel.[xxvi] Because Christ died I know I have forgiveness of my sins, because He rose again I have the guarantee that the work was finished and surety of my eventual resurrection to glorious life eternal with the Father Son and Spirit.[xxvii] Throughout Scripture I see that my identity is in Christ;
-In Christ I am free from condemnation through my faith[xxviii]
-Through Christ I am adopted as a son[xxix]
-in Christ I am a co-heir, awaiting my inheritance[xxx]
-in Christ I have peace with God[xxxi]
-in Christ I have access to the Father[xxxii]
-in Christ I am a new creation, the old is gone but the new is here[xxxiii]
-in Christ I have a foreign righteousness not my own[xxxiv]
-in Christ I am a part of the new covenant community of his people
-in Christ I am being sanctified by the work of the Spirit[xxxv]
-in Christ I have security for that final day.[xxxvi]
The beauty of all this is that I didn’t deserve it. Nothing in God’s character necessitated that He save me.[xxxvii] He did not have to show mercy, He did not have to love me salvifically, He would have been well within His character to pour out the white hot wrath of His righteous indignation upon my head for an eternity stripped of all providential blessings that even this fallen world has in store for His creation.[xxxviii] Nothing in me necessitated He save me, in fact it was in spite of anything I could do that He saved me: He was faithful to His good and faithful character by upholding the highest end in this universe by glorifying His Holy name in sovereignly dispensing His mercy solely on the good graces of His mercy.[xxxix]
When I take account of what the Bible says to who I am outside of Christ I am forced to come to a healthy understand of how wretched I am, of the worm I am in the presence of God’s holiness. I am forced to see how marvellously profound the love of God is for me in that I am who I am today standing in the place I am. Like a space shuttle jettisons its fuel pod and extra boosters to breach the bounds of earth’s atmosphere, I am forced to jettison the facade of self-confidence, I am forced to realize my utter incompetence and come before God in every endeavour I am to undertake. I am forced to see how all my ability and intelligence is for naught unless His Holy Spirit is illuminating His word and sustaining the gifts He has given me. I am forced to give Him glory for every good grade, every success, I have ever had and ever will have. I am forced to give up any thought that I could do it and completely surrender every ounce of self-dependence. I am forced to fall on my knees ever moment of the day to go to my source for all things.
As the illusion of my self-confidence is stripped away and I am laid bare my Father in heaven wraps His arms around me and covers my nakedness with His love and mercy, He clothes me in His Son’s righteousness to cover my disgusting flesh and I am left with a greater confidence then I could ever have had before.
In life or death I will rejoice because whether I fail or succeed, trip or run, my Father’s love was never dependent upon my success and therefore will never be lost.[xl] No force of darkness, spiritual being, earthly kingdom, mighty man, fit of depression, abyss of despair, ocean of pain, heart wrenching loss, or act of violence can ever remove me from the love of God.[xli] When trials come I know that I can rejoice for it is not my ability that will get me through but God’s gracious power at work in my faith ensuring that I will endure all the darkness that this world has to throw at me.[xlii]
In light of this I will set my sights on my maker, look towards the inheritance He has set aside for me, turn away from the things of this world, set my eyes on the kingdom above and work out my faith with fear and trembling—knowing all along that it is Him working in me so that I am able to work and to will.[xliii] I will run the race set before me with endurance knowing that He will get me through all hardship and that every hardship will only produce more endurance,[xliv] I will strive to be conformed to the image of my God setting my sights on the eternal rest that awaits and running until my abilities are spent knowing that when I hit the wall it won’t be my strength that gets me through but His Spirit, the seal of my inheritance, who will ensure that the work He started in me is completed when I am glorified.[xlv]
Praise be unto that glorious savior, praise be unto that mighty God,
Praise be unto the one who gave His only Son to drink of the full force of His wrath in my place,
Praise be to the one who holds the entire universe together by the power of His word and willed for the nails holding his arms and feet in place to exist even as He surrendered his last breath declaring “it is finished” that I might have life,
Praise be to Him who created and sustains all things by the word of His power.
Who can plumb the depths of His majestic wisdom?
Who can know the depths of the wisdom of the sovereign king of kings,
The king who would give His life to make a wretch like me His treasure.
Soli deo gloria.
[ii] as John likes to use term “world” with which all who are not of God are identified
[v] Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18, Romans 8:5-8
[vii] Romans 1:18-32, 3:18, James 4:4, Romans 8:5-8
[viii] Romans 5:10, James 4:4, Romans 8:5-8
[ix] Romans 1:16-3:20, John 3:36
[xvi] Meaning that with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ the coming kingdom which the Jews were expecting has come in part, and we see the fruits of this in the New Covenant relationship we have with God, but its fullness is still coming with Christ’s return. We are caught in a tension as we still are in this world and still struggle with our sinful desires, we still face temptation and succumb to it, but at the same time we are not citizens of this world but of God’s kingdom and have His spirit dwelling in us working through us and sanctifying us.
[xvii] John 3:16, Romans 5:10, Romans 5:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.
[xviii] Romans 5:1, 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:14, Gal. 4:5-6, Col. 1:22, 2 Cor. 5:18
[xix] Ephesians 5:2, 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7.
[xx] John 6:37-45, cf. Isaiah 54:13, Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-28, 11:17-20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, 1 John 4:7.
[xxii] 1 Corinthians 1:22-31
[xxiii] Romans 8:29, Eph. 1:3-6
[xxx] Romans 8:17, Titus 3:7, 1 Peter 3:7
[xxxi] Romans 3:20-31, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 5:1
[xxxii] Hebrews 7-8, esp. 8:11, Hebrews 4:14-16
[xxxiii] 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
[xxxiv] Romans 4:4-5, Romans 1:16-17, Galatians 2:21
[xxxv] 1 Thessalonians 3:1-7, Philippians 2:12-13, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 6:19-23.
[xxxvi] Romans 8:28-39, 1 Peter 1:1-7, Hebrews 3:14, Hebrews 6:1-20, John 6:37-44, John 10:25-30, Eph. 1:13-14, 4:30.
[xxxviii] Romans 9:18, Romans 9:22, Matthew 5:45, Matthew 6:25-34
[xxxix] 1 Corinthians 1:22-31, Romans 5:6-8, Romans 9:6-23, Eph. 1:1-23.
[xliii] Philippians 2:12-13
[xliv] Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:1-2
[xlv] Hebrews 4:11, Eph. 1:13-14, Romans 8:28-30, Philippians 1:6