Friday, October 18, 2019

The Lonely Only

After the Lord created man, He observed that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  And while the animals God created were plentiful, diverse, and wonderful, not one was a suitable mate for Adam.  Adam needed a companion of his own kind, like him.  As creatures made in the image of God, we are, at the very core of our being, made for relationship with Him and with one another.

God created mankind to first and foremost have unrestricted relationship with Him and then to exercise relationship with one another in managing His creation.  Relationship with their Creator would define their identity and value and provide significance and security.  This foundational relationship would make it possible for person-to-person relationships to develop without tension or conflict. 

But when Adam and Eve chose pride over obedience, their capacity for relationship became a casualty.  No longer satisfied to find their identity and value, significance and security in their relationship with their Creator, they turned to one another to have those needs met.  And so began a new strategy to feel good about themselves: compare and compete.  By the time Cain and Abel came along, we see Cain take this to the extreme—when his offering was not as well received by the LORD as Abel’s, he eliminated the competition.

As King Solomon has observed, there is nothing new under the sun.  As a matter of practice, we humans look to one another to find ourselves.  The consequences are devastating.  We continually find ourselves falling short of cultural (even Christian cultural) standards and looking to fit in and to meet the expectations of our peers.  And as we do so, we lose sight of who we are in Christ and short-circuit the process of becoming who He has created us to be.

If we find ourselves not fitting in, feeling like we don’t belong, not able to go with the flow, we find ourselves feeling alone.  My experience in high school was one of isolation as I sought academic challenge in a learning environment that expected mediocrity.  Our adopted daughter Ruth struggled with feeling that she did not fit in at home among her light-skinned family members and at school as she faced learning disabilities that her classmates did not share.  Some young men feel like they’re the only one among their friends who isn’t athletic, or tech-savvy.  I often hear young women bemoan the fact that they’re “the only one” who isn’t married or at least dating, or the only one without a baby.  Cancer patients are often encouraged to participate in a support group so that they do not feel alone.

It is lonely to be alone.  Aloneness is not good.  We are created for relationship.  But our experience in society does not tell us the truth.  We are never alone.  Our Creator is always with us, and we have a place of belonging in Him and in His body, the church.  He always intended us to find ourselves in Him and not depend on one another for this basic need.  This is a crucial truth because only our Creator knows how He has designed us.  And when we try to tell the potter that we want to be the kind of vessel that is like other vessels, we are failing to appreciate the creativity of the Lord of the universe.  The Apostle Paul regularly used the human body to exhort his readers to appreciate their unique roles in the body of Christ.  We can also use Paul’s analogy to appreciate the unique roles the Lord has created our brothers and sister to fill.

There may indeed be times when we are an “only.”  But those times are wonderful opportunities to appreciate who we are in Christ and to remember that only does not mean alone.  And as we support and encourage one another to be and become who the Lord has created us to be, being an only does not need to be lonely.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Justification By Faith

Those who consider themselves to be Christians embrace a fundamental Biblical truth: we are justified by faith in Christ. We trust that Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf has satisfied our sin debt before God. And so we stand before God’s throne clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Justification by faith is a theme that runs through the New Testament. It is a prominent topic in the letters of the Apostle Paul. Paul frequently found it necessary to exhort those under his care to remember that a believer’s life of faith requires dependence on the Lord for their justification and not on their Christian performance. Salvation—righteousness before God—is a gift that we receive when we enter into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.  Salvation by faith and not by works was at the heart of Martin Luther’s reformation message.

I often remind my counseling clients that bond-servants of Christ are the freest people on the planet. We are free from the penalty and power of sin. We are free from the opinion and expectations of others (even and perhaps especially ourselves). And, we have nothing to learn and nothing to prove.

Justification by faith is not merely about our relationship with the Lord. It is my experience and observation that even while we trust the Lord for our justification before Him, we relate to others as if we have something to prove. How often, when we are confronted by someone who has been hurt by a manifestation of our sin nature, do we say, “I was just….” ? We may trust Jesus to restore our relationship with Him, but we nonetheless feel the need to try to justify ourselves—never successfully—in our relationships with others. 

Please consider with me the relational power that Jesus offers us if depend upon Him for our justification as we deal with others. If Jesus is the source of our identity, value, and security, then we have the freedom to engage with others without the need to prove our worth. We need not defend ourselves when our sin nature surfaces. Instead, we can confess and repent. In doing so, we exercise important spiritual muscles as we rest in who we are in Christ. And, we bless the person we have hurt as we affirm their worth instead of defending our own. As we depend upon our Justifier, we become better able to build deeper and more intimate relationships with one another, which in turn reinforces our relationship with our Lord. It is in our relationship with the Lord and in our relationships with our brothers and sisters that we can truly know the joy of the Lord, and it is in the expression of these relationships that others will know us by our love.