Ok folks. If I’m honest, I’m really only okay being a needy sinner for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days maybe. But at a certain point I feel like I’ve wallowed in that gospel-neediness long enough and it’s time for me to get out there and DO something. Old habits die hard.
I know it’s cliché, especially in a job interview, to say you’re a “recovering perfectionist”—maybe in Christian circles it’s just a nicer way of saying “repentant judgmental Pharisee” (very likely)—but truly, I am. Here’s the problem: I see my deep, gaping need for a savior. All the things I’ve heard mature Christians say for years (The more you walk with Christ, the more you realize you need him. Greater knowledge of God leads to greater humility.) I see and understand. But the problem is:
I really, really, reeeeeally, REEEEEEALLY want to be good in and of myself.
I am so tempted to just try harder. I hope I’m not alone in this. I deeply believe the truth of the gospel, I understand that my righteousness unto justification is found in Christ alone. But I desperately want to add my righteousness to this. Especially when I see some area in my life that I’m lacking.
Here was my old legalistic pattern:
1. Identify a sin in my life.
2. “Repent” and develop steps to overcome it.
3. Implement steps to overcome the sin.
4. Fail, go back to Step 1, and Repeat.
Notice the lack of Jesus in this pattern? I put “repent” in quotes because what I was doing wasn’t so much turning away from sin to the gospel of Christ (to a substitutionary need for Christ) but a turning away from sin toward an attitude to do better, for God’s sake.
Here’s my new pattern:
1. Identify a sin in my life.
2. Repent and acknowledge the gospel (i.e. recognize Christ’s substitutionary righteousness over and above my own. Thank God for my status of justification IN Christ).
3. Implement steps to overcome sin…attempt not to fall into legalism.
4. Fail, Go back to Step 1, and Repeat.
See what I’m saying? I so, so desperately want to be good in and of myself that I feel like every time I even take a step in overcoming sin, I fall back into my same legalistic pattern as before. I haven’t figured out “gospel-empowered sanctification” on the ground. I believe that grace propels us to obedience, I just don’t quite know what that looks like. Am I missing something?
Is my problem in “implementing steps to overcome sin”? I think not, because Paul exhorts us to work out our own salvation and I am no Antinomian (I don’t believe grace negates the law). And how could we ever change our actions without actually doing something? I am overthinking this, I realize. You guys are getting a small taste of my analytical craziness.
Perhaps I’m missing a step between 1 and 2. Maybe I need to pray that my repentance would be genuinely grace-fueled and that the motives of my change of heart and actions would be pure, God-glorifying, and not out of disgust for myself and my “gospel-neediness” as described above. But, (look out, here comes the crazy) then that prayer could easily become another legalistic step I would create for myself. And if I do need that step, then if I didn’t pray for my repentance before I repented I’d have to repent of my wrongful repentance.
I’m gonna stop now before I scare you away for good. Thanks for listening. Help?