Contentment in being a sinner

6 Oct

From my last post, it’s obvious that I’ve been thinking about contentment lately. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my sin and struggles, which seem to be everywhere and never-ending. Yesterday, I felt discouraged and depressed at the thought that I will always struggle with sin and selfishness in this life. My whole life will be like this?!?!?!? I’m not sure I can handle that, I was thinking.

But in the midst of that, I had some other thoughts. One, I’ve heard it said that the more mature Christians are the ones who recognize their sin more. So seeing my sin everywhere is actually a sign of God working in me, not me backsliding (after all, those sins have always been present, I’m just now seeing them). This is evident in the apostle Paul’s life, who describes himself in ever-increasing degrees of sinfulness. He is the “chief of sinners” in one of his very last letters.

Two, despite Paul’s awareness of his depravity, he doesn’t focus on it much. His letters are overwhelmingly about the victory we have in Christ and the new life we can now live. So perhaps I focus too much on my own sin and not enough on Christ. It’s the reverse form of pride – it’s still all about me but now, I’m just dwelling on how much I suck.

Then I read in 2 Corinthians that Paul had learned to be content with his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest on him. Roy and Revel Hession in We Would See Jesus echo that when they write:

“Grace permits us to come (nay, demands that we come) as empty sinners to be blessed, empty of right feelings, good character, and satisfactory record, with nothing to commend ourselves but our deep need, fully and frankly acknowledged. Then grace, being what it is, is drawn by that need to satisfy it, just as water is drawn to depth that it might fill it. This means that when at last we are content to find no merit in ourselves, and are willing to admit the full extent of our sinfulness, then there is no limit to what God will do for the poor who look to Him in their nothingness” (emphasis mine).

This idea of being content in being a sinner was at first confusing to me. Doesn’t being content with being a sinner mean that I resign myself to the fact that I continuously try to be my own god and that as a result of that acceptance, I will stop trying to change? But I had been thinking of contentment as a passive acceptance of reality. Instead, as I read here, “Contentment, from the biblical viewpoint, is not merely a passive willingness to bear whatever comes, but a vital, living, active power to overcome and conquer through the strength and grace of God.” So contentment and the battle for holiness can simultaneously exist in the Christian’s life.

Admitting that I have nothing good in me and never will in this lifetime is very difficult. My flesh wants to object and say, “Well what about that time that I didn’t yell at Travis, even though I wanted to? Or that time I gave $5 to a homeless man? Or what about my desire to be holy – surely that means something?” Even though I’ve said and believed that I’m utterly sinful, I haven’t understood the depth of  what that means. It means that there is nothing good in me. That I am not worth anything apart from Christ.

I have been subconsciously waiting for the day when I will feel victorious over sin. I will feel that I have conquered my old nature and am now, finally, living in the power of the Spirit. I have been expecting to, someday, no longer feel like a sinner. But that day on earth will never come. I will always be a sinner here. I will always struggle with my human nature. Instead of getting frustrated that I sinned yet again, I should say to myself in those moments, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me” and focus ever more on God’s grace to me through the cross of Christ.

This realization has been groundbreaking. Thinking about all the sins and struggles I’ve had recently, I can see that they’re all rooted in me trying to justify myself, to prove my worth, to find something in and of myself that I can hold on to and say “This. This is what makes me valuable.” My struggles with body image and jealousy of other women are just me wanting to be valuable based on beauty. My anger at Travis when he points out my sin or makes me feel stupid is just me wanting to justify myself. In short, my flesh is not content to be an empty sinner, void of anything to commend myself. It wants something more than Christ to show I’m valuable.

But my heart wants to moment by moment cast off all the things that I am trying to find my worth in, and instead turn to God and say (in the words of Mercy Me), “You are to blame for anything that is good in my heart.” Already, I feel peaceful from not expecting to feel good about myself but in looking to Christ for everything. I’ve realized it before but am realizing it again – the Christian life isn’t about becoming a better version of myself. It’s about letting Christ live through me. It’s about recognizing my need – my failures, sins and weaknesses – and instead of trying to make up for them through my own strength and efforts, acknowledging them and looking to Christ for His sufficient grace and asking Him to make His power perfect in my weakness.

That is how I can be content in being a sinner: seeing the reality of my situation, acknowledging that I am nothing and can do nothing myself, and looking to Christ in my nothingness. In doing so, I end up being conformed to the image of Christ without my even trying. Christ is the one who acts. Contentment really is a win-win.

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