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The Blessing/Curse of a Christian Inner Life

8 February 2012

“We demolish arguments and every motive that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” –  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

To “be like Christ” is never to be mistaken as a strictly outward project. Decidedly choosing discipleship is to decidedly turn your attention inward. As one progresses, the simple focus on transforming outward actions and behaviors moves to include transforming every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every attitude, and every motive. introspection

No one argues that these are found inside of us, as is the Kingdom of God (Lk 17:21). So it is here, folks, that you must go – into the inner world of thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes and beliefs – if the greatest Kingdom success is to be achieved in and through you.

It is effective, horrible work.

Effective because these inner inhabitants are the source of your outward behaviors that seemed before so hard to permanently change. As you advance in the skill of inward surrender to Christ (you could call this your own crucifixion), the Kingdom’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and motives crowd out your fallen ones, and you quite naturally begin to behave outwardly in alignment with Christ. So, this is effective.

Horrible because when you do exhibit an outward behavior that is not aligned with Christ, you are now quite sensitive to the fact that this superficial and relatively insignificant action is evidence of a much deeper and profound problem: there are still inward parts of you that have not been given over to God and to love.

Before, when you began your journey into Christlikeness, you explained your outward failures with the truth that your sins are forgiven, even when you “fall”. You learned to not feel guilt, receive God’s potent grace, and accept yourself as an imperfect sinner who will always fall in one manner or another. You learned that in terms of your eternal security, your imperfection is not a serious issue. This took time to grow into, partly because it is such good news that it is hard to believe, but partly because you also knew that your sinfulness is, in fact, a very serious issue. But if not because it threatens your eternal security, then why?

Your “falls” matter because you have grown to care about pleasing God.

See, when you advance, and you learn to spend time with Christ within yourself, where he resides and works powerfully (Col 1:27-29), you learn that his aim is nothing short of perfecting you, for your own good and God’s pleasure and glory. And as you are converted further, you begin to follow Christ not merely for the selfish desire of Heavenly security, but out of a selfless desire to love and please God.

As this conversion happens, you find yourself less and less able to remain in the theological hiding place that you fled to as a spiritual child (the one that says, “Don’t dare aim for or believe that you can be perfect, for you are merely human. You are not and never will be Jesus Christ”).

When this begins to happen, it is important for you to accept something and allow it to happen: Your reasonable side is being overcome by your belief.

This belief in your perfection comes not because of some high estimation of yourself or your ability, on the contrary, it comes from your high estimation of Christ and his ability. It is from humility, not arrogance, that you must come to believe in your own perfection. In other words, humility insists that your ability to sin is not more powerful than Christ’s ability to love and transform. When you are humble and lowly enough to admit this, you read the Bible differently, at face value, believing it rather than explaining it away with your earth-bound logic and reason.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:48

“You have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

“My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:9

“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Heb 10:14

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – Jms 1:4

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 Jn 2:6

The blessing of the inner life is that we are free to believe, our frequent failures notwithstanding, that these things (perfection, fullness, holiness, maturity, completeness, Christlikeness) are indeed attainable. And we can do so without fear of thinking too highly of ourselves simply because we have finally allowed for the fact that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), and we have humbly admitted that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

The curse of the inner life is that we can no longer console ourselves that it is insignificant when we behave or think wrongly, which is any action outside of the realm of love for God and neighbor. It is a tortuously narrow road you walk, but not because you must fear losing salvation (which is also an arrogant position, by the way, to think that your sin is more powerful than your Savior’s blood), but because you fear hurting people, and worse, you fear misrepresenting Christ – who is your life.

So here is to the blessing and curse of the inner life – the life of the Kingdom – the life of Christ – the Christ who lives in you.

May God help us all.

 


 

Christ's Mission, Discipleship, The Best Life, The Holy Spirit

11 Comments to “The Blessing/Curse of a Christian Inner Life”

  1. This is wonderful thinking. qb

    • A wonderful comment, to be sure, from the likes of a thinker such as you, qb.

      This piece involved thinking, to be sure, but is more of a description of an experience. This writing is today’s purging of my soul, after I indulged a course of action that was less than Christlike this morning, and have suffered all day from it.

      I’m ashamed to admit it, not so much the outward action, which was very small and outwardly insignificant, so much so that some might laugh at, or at least be confused by, the road it took me down. But there it is – the inward reality that my outward action exposed required this work, and writing this piece has been very orienting and cathartic for me.

      Maybe it will serve other freaks like me.

      • Brian,
        Funny how several things you have shared connected so much with what I have been exploring (in my own life as well as trying to preach to God’s family). One of the “lies” that Satan has sold us is “..we don’t air our dirty laundry”–(ie: we have no avenue to confess sin and struggle). Struggle = weakness and weakness means you must not really be a christian. This hamstrings so many of us as teachers and leaders in the Body of Christ and makes us seem “too perfect” to those who come in seeking community they can connect with as fellow strugglers. When you look at Paul’s preaching models you see someone who continually shares his part of “God’s Story” including struggles, but so much of our public teaching is devoid of daily testimony from us and other family. Thanks for sharing your journey and inspiring me to do the same. ;)

        • Amen, Michael. What a tragedy if the imperfect men who have been called by God to point people to His son fall into the trap of never doing so through their own imperfection. It leaves his listeners deceived and worse, leaves himself lonely.

  2. welcome to my club

  3. I have now read this post three times and I am still struck by how different the tone is. But reading your above comment (combined with our conversation in person) helps me understand that tone a bit more. As always, your honesty is beautiful and inspiring.

  4. You might even say that our answer comes in looking upward. Our precious Lord provides both the conviction and the cleansing, not to mention the power to grow. Gotta love Him!

  5. We find this same thing at work in devoted students. Some students – let’s say students of mathematics – miss questions, shrug blithely, try to memorize the right ones in case the questions are repeated later on, and then go on. Others, whom we might call disciples of mathematics, agonize over errors, and when mathematics is called for amid daily life, these students are always conscious and conscientious about setting the problem up correctly, giving plenty of room to work out the answer, and checking their work – several times, if necessary. These latter students are easy to love, and more importantly, they end up being good at it.

    You may wish to call it “freakness,” or OCD, or whatever, but methinks that if someone else told you the tale that you’ve told us, you would have a mile-wide smile within, knowing that that person was not far from the Kingdom.

    qb

    qb

    • Rare is the gift of helping someone to feel good about who and how they are, let alone interpreting it for them in such a way that they feel absolutely grateful for their unique peculiarities.

      You have it, to be sure, qb. I just felt it. Thanks.

  6. Brian, this is really one of your best.

  7. What if it is not so much a matter of being perfected as much as it is living in the fact that you are already perfect? What if the areas where we fall are simply areas where we are still living and acting as the old instead of the new creation? What if God is already perfectly pleased with you and it is simply a matter of learning who you really are? A New Creation, a Partaker of the Divine Nature, a Son, one with God.
    What if Jesus really did “take away” the sin of the world and sin is no longer the issue? What if it is simply a matter of identity?

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