Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"It's hard to manufacture victory" -- Michael Spencer

On the trip to the mountains last weekend I read our dear, late, friend Michael Spencer's book "Mere Churchianity".

I found the book at times a bit confused and grew impatient with it then, however, it is a worthwhile book for the very real insights.  We always knew that Michael had great insight, therefore, we loved talking with him on his blog.

This is a little section from p. 130, 131.

Soon after I committed my life to Christ, this sort of thing just about pushed me over the edge.  Preachers preached about victorious Christians and song lyrics celebrated it.  Book titles promised it in a few easy steps.  some people would stand up and give a testimony:  "I'm living it!  I'm living the victorious Christian life!"  They, of course, were good Christians.
but what about me?  I felt like a regular, run-of-the-mill Christian.  How could I be victorious and not just ordinary?
I did my best to follow what the preacher said on Sunday mornings.  I had accepted Jesus into my heart and prayed the recommended prayer.  I'd made a public profession of faith and been baptized.  I had a Bible.  I came to church.  I prayed... a little.  I tried to be a good witness, but I could plainly see that I wasn't living the "victorious" life.
I was still a lot like I was before I became a Christian.  I had the same sins, the same habits, and the same problems.  What was wrong?
Whenever I'd ask about it, the answers were always the same.  I hadn't  "totally surrendered."  I hadn't "given all."  I wasn't "trusting God" completely.  I needed to have an "intimate" and powerful "daily time with God."  I wasn't praying in the will of God.
I grew up attending a church that followed in the revivalist tradition.  The preacher insisted that we have constant experiences of and encounters with God, so the weekly exhortation was always, "are you sure you are a fully surrendered Christian?  Are you living in total victory over sin?  Have you done everything you can to be the best Christian you c an be?"
Measured by this standard, I was a miserable failure.  A loser with a capital L.  As more qualifiers and conditions were stuck on to what it meant to be a Christian, the worse it became for me.  I had never gone a day without sinning, or even ten minutes.  To make it even worse, the full responsibility to ramp up a victorious Christian life fell squarely on me, not on Christ and the transforming power of the gospel.  The preaching I heard every Sunday reminded me that god would help me out only after I did all the right things.  (But why would I need his help if I could manage, completely on my own, to do everything right?)
I concluded that either I wasn't living the Christian life or someone wasn't telling the truth.  I'd give it my best shot, trying even harder to get started right in living the Christina life.  I'd fail again.  Then I'd begin again, making big promises and resolutions.  This time I'd really get on top of things.  My seesaw approach to being a Christian was an every week event.  One more prayer, one more trip to the altar, one more big experience at a revival meeting, one more surrender or dramatic religious experience.

Michael describes us all.  We are all "trying" and it's not working like we think it should.  When I was trying, I did not know if I was a "Christian" at all, never mind a victorious one.  In German, a "Christ" sounds so lofty, someone who really follows Christ.  You could be "Katholisch" or you could be "Evangelisch".  This was easy.  It was your denomination.  You go to church more or less often and go to the appropriate religion class in school.  But to be a "Christian" was just something so lily-white pure, I would never have said it about myself without scruples.

The struggle Michael describes goes on after you are a Christian--a real Christian.  You start over and over and over and you are forgiven over and over and over.  This is what keeps you on your knees before the living God, who alone is righteous.   This is the right place to be in, on your knees.

However, through our Lord Jesus Christ, indeed we have the "victory".  What is this victory?  That we now are superhuman?  Certainly not. The victory is Christ's;  he has overcome sin, death and the devil, and his righteousness has become our own.  In the battle against sin, we look to his victory.  We live in this battle and we live in this victory at the same time.

We also call this "simul justus et peccator" being at the same time and completely a "saint" and a "sinner".  Both fully describe us:  we are "saints" by virtue of Christ's victory and gift and we are "sinners" due to our constant failure to live up to the standards.   We are not left to our own devices in this battle, though.  Daily we return to seek Christ's forgiveness.  We remember that we have been baptized where we have been marked as God's very own, washed clean and sanctified. We are not trying to, nor able to, earn this.   As often as possible we go to church to hear the powerful words of Christ:  "Your sins are forgiven."  As often as we can, we take his body and blood to know truly that we have been incorporated into his body and we are truly his own.   Daily, as we find that we are not "victorious" in ourselves, we return to the "victory" Christ won.  (Thanks be to God.)

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

"Daily, as we find that we are not "victorious" in ourselves, we return to the "victory" Christ won. (Thanks be to God.)"

That says it all, Brigitte.

Nice job!