One of the joys of my job is the drive time. It gives me abundant opportunity to listen to teaching on Christian radio or on tapes or CDs. I keep a note pad and pen by me in the car so that I can jot down scripture passages when a particular teaching is something I want to consider further. Some days I come home with hastily scribbled words or references that I put into a pile on my desk until I have the time to sit down and review and meditate on them. Today was one of those days.
David Jeremiah never fails to teach me something new. Today he was teaching on the topic of grace, something that all of us who’ve experienced Emmaus know something about. But he was talking about what is a necessary prerequisite for receiving God’s grace- repentance. And even before repentance must come conviction, the awareness of one’s sinful nature.
In February, one of the intercessory prayer topics for a group that I participate in was for repentance for our nation. It seemed to me that before we spend a lot of time interceding for people to have repentant hearts, we must first intercede for them to be quickened in their spirits by the Holy Spirit to feel conviction and understand the difference between good and evil. In our morally ambiguous culture where few people profess belief in objective, ultimate truth, I think that is the missing aspect that keeps us from experiencing large scale revival. We lack a clear theology of sin and therefore lack conviction and understanding of the need for repentance. Without those prerequisites, there is no understanding of the need for a Savior and no grasp of the profound appreciation for the sacrifice of Christ.
David Jeremiah pointed out an interesting progression in the apostle Paul’s understanding of his own sinful nature. We know that in his preconversion life, Saul considered himself a righteous and zealous Jew. After his conversion, in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul says he is “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Then, in a later letter, Ephesians 3:8, he says of himself that he is “the very least of all the saints (a word used to describe believers in the early church community). Then in one of his last letters, 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the foremost.” (Some translations say “chief among sinners”)
Isn’t it interesting how the further along in his spiritual journey he went, the more clearly Paul saw himself with decreasing importance in relation to others-to the apostles, then to believers, then to all of sinful mankind. And his opinion of himself seemed to take on sharper focus, too- from “least” apostle to “very least” saint to “foremost (chief) sinner”.
What is our own opinion of ourselves as we journey with Christ? Do we gain clarity about the true nature of our sinful selves? Are we humbled by the fact that sin is a pervasive stain that can only be covered by the grace of God? Do we, like Paul, admit that at times we do not understand our own actions, that we “do not do what we want, but we do the very thing we hate?” (Romans 7:15) Or do we begin to think well of ourselves in “holier than thou”, spiritually elevated terms because of our knowledge, our experience, our understanding, or our ties to a particular religious tradition?
Christ made it clear time and time again that the “last shall be first”, “the least shall be the greatest” in the kingdom. Our spiritual growth should not be making us bigger and bigger as pillars of the church or shepherding saints with a growing flock. It should be making us, like Paul, more acutely aware of our failings and of our need for greater dependence upon Christ.
To whom are you comparing yourself? How clearly do you see your own capacity for sinfulness?
Are we, like Paul, becoming less and less so that Christ may become more and more?
Grace and peace, Cathy Byrd