The double attitude.
We are new; Christ has redeemed us…
We are fallen; we continue to sin…
In my previous post I stated that this double attitude would be the focus of my comments this week. As John Stott heads toward the end of his book The Cross of Christ, his last chapters deal with how we should live under the cross. Our identity is shaped by our relationship with Jesus; our purpose is shaped by His sacrifice.
He says we are called to self-affirmation and we are called to self-denial.
Let me ask which “call” would you rather hear? Jesus spent a lot of his time on earth preaching about people. People are valuable in God’s view. How much more valuable are people than birds or beasts? Humans are the “crown of God’s creative energy” for God made them in His own image.
Jesus had a positive attitude toward people. He never seemed to hate anybody or dishonor anyone. In fact He went out of His way to accept the people that the world rejected. In a patriarchal society, He spoke courteously to women in public. Little children were invited to come to Him. He delivered hope to the Samaritans and Gentiles. Of course, He allowed lepers to come to Him for healing and He defended wayward women from stoning. Stott writes in all His “diversified ministry His compassionate respect for human beings shone forth” .
One must also remember Jesus’s mission and death. He did what he did for human beings. Jesus came to serve us, not to be served by us. “He was the Good Shepherd who came into the desert, braving the hardship and risking the peril, in order to save only one lost sheep. Indeed, He laid down His life for the sheep. Stott quotes theologian William Temple who writes “My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a great deal, for Christ died for me” [from his book Citizen and Churchman].
Ok this raises a serious question.
How can we value ourselves and deny ourselves at the same time?
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” [Mark 8: 31].
We are called to be dead to sin and alive to a life in Christ. Self-denial is not so much the denial of luxuries [chocolates, cakes, cigarettes and cocktails] as much as it is the renouncing of our right to go our own way. Self-denial means to turn away from self-centeredness. In a recent study I have done on changing behavior, many Christians don’t seem to be able to assess their own behaviors accurately. Dr. Larry Crabb writes that we love the broad road of life rather than the narrow road. If life gets too uncomfortable, if the sacrifice is too great, if Jesus calls us to do too much, we back away. “Jesus lived an abundant life—a life abundant in trials and sorrows, a life abundant in difficulties and pain, a life abundant in rejection and loneliness” [Crabb, Inside Out. 14]. In short, the goodness that Jesus requires must not get in the way of the good life of comfort that Christians want.
Crabb’s book in uncomfortable because he points out that Christians are horrible in their efforts at self-denial. We practice “Vending-machine Christianity: Insert a dollar of ethical living and out comes a thousand dollars of personal well-being in an improved world” [Crabb, 12]. We are good at one type of denial; we are good at denying how poor we are in practicing a holy life.
According to Stott, Jesus calls us three times to die to self. First is His call to die a legal death. We die to sin when we join with Christ in His death on the cross. His resurrection leads to our freedom from sin which justified sinners enjoy. Secondly we die a moral death. Our old nature and our evil desires die. We are supposed to want a righteous life when we can practice continuing fellowship with God. Thirdly, we have a physical death. We lose our strength as we live our lives. Even though we grow weaker in our physical bodies, Jesus’ strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Stott writes “how have you reacted thus far, especially to the emphasis on dying to self, or rather, putting it to death by crucifying it or mortifying it? I expect (and hope) that you have felt uneasy about it” .
My feelings about the Christian self (one that can be affirmed and denied at the same time) are complicated. We like to make the world simple with our black or white perceptions. The world is hardly ever black or white, right or wrong or good or bad. People are rarely completely evil or completely good. All people are complex, mixes of evil, glory and shame. We cannot deny our fallen self any more than we can accept the affirming idea that Jesus came to this earth to save us. Most of us would love to be affirmed and stop at that, but life is not always a “bowl of cherries” [excuse the awful cliché].
“Standing before the cross, we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of His love in dying, and the greatness of our sin in causing Him to die” [Stott, 278].
In truth, Christians should have “the double attitude”. We are new because Jesus Christ has redeemed us, but we never need to forget we are fallen; for like it or not…
we continue to sin.
In our next post, we will continue “Self-Understanding and Self-Giving” as we discuss “Living Under The Cross.” We will consider self-sacrificial love and spheres of service.