by: Jim McGuiggan
Someone wrote me just recently wanting to know if it’s really possible to live a holy life here in this world. I may have misread the note but she sounded tired, worn out and weary because she’s been trying so hard to please God and not making a very good job of it. I tend to think that people who write the kind of note she wrote are losing a lot of battles and have begun to wonder if a war against sin is winnable. And what’s worse, they begin to doubt if God is willing to put up with them if they don’t make any better progress than they’re making.
In their worst moments they tell themselves that they can’t really be trying to be Christians, and they have the record of continued wrongs to make a good case for that view. Isolated verses fly through the air that their sensitive and rubbed-raw consciences pick up on. Passages like, “Produce fruit worthy of the name of repentance” and they’re back at grinding self-examination. “Are you truly repentant if you do the same things over and over again?” they ask themselves and they feel sure the answer’s “no”. So, if they don’t truly care about sin and holiness what’s the point of pretending? Quit! “Turn from Christ because he wouldn’t want you anyway in that state.” That last sentence is a profound lie!
It seems like a thousand years ago but I remember it vividly. I was wrestling with life and with sin and was sure I was being swallowed up by it. The same ugly, cheap and dishonoring sins over and over again. We lived in a little terrace house then and our backyard was a walled in, five by eight feet area of paved space with an outside toilet. I went out there to be alone, burdened terribly by my guilt and I talked to God about it. When I was done I promised him, “I won’t ever do it again.” He didn’t speak audibly to me but I heard his gospel assurance that it was okay. But I was back again, repeatedly in the next weeks and months that followed, making even more vows in blood-red earnestness (vows I’d break with monotonous regularity) and God listened patiently and spoke forgiveness in words like those of Christ’s, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). This was fine for a while but then the emotional and psychological lift I got with such assurances wore thin and I told myself such verses were not for me.
I clearly remember heading out one evening to the little paved square, looking up at the sky and telling God I was done, that sin had got the best of me and that not even his assurances worked any more. I was certain that he couldn’t want me in my morally pathetic state and in light of the seemingly ceaseless wrongdoing. I found myself arguing with him. Not angry with him, angry with me! I heard myself telling him that the comforting scriptures whirling around in my mind had to apply to someone other than me, someone trying harder than me, someone more successful than me. Maybe it was a whining session but I don’t recall it as that. I hated my evil, hated myself for enjoying my evil even while I hated it. The loving fellowship of the Holy Father wasn’t for someone like me. The little dialogue (or something so close to it as makes no difference) between God and I went on in my head that evening as I leaned up against the whitewashed wall in that tiny backyard.
“I’m thinking of quitting.”
“I see, Jim, was there ever a time when you didn’t care for me at all?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Did I love and want you then?”
“I know you did.”
“Suppose you turned away from me and sank like a stone and lived the vilest life of sin imaginable? Would I want you back?”
“I’m sure you would.”
“Well, if you quit and go off into a life of sin, not caring whether you please me or
not and I would want you back, why would you bother quitting in the first place?I said, “Who’s quitting?”
(I have a little book called The Power to See it Through and I’ve heard some people say they’ve found it very helpful.)
For more: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com
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