Freed to live through the death of another.

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 4

See parts 1, 2, and 3.

We lose poverty of spirit because we lose sight of God. Once we lose sight of God it is easy to lose sight of how far short of his standard we really fall–we forget what we were when we were called. But someone might say, ‘but I was never an adulterer or a thief; I never killed and rarely lied. I know that I fell short, but not nearly so bad as most others.’

As far as I can tell, this one has missed the point in no less than three ways. The first is the simple truth that all are compared to God, since he is the ultimate standard. If you are truly comparing yourself against the real standard, what does it matter if you’re not bad as another man? You still fall short!

The second is that it assumes that you were already as bad as you were going to get. Sometimes we forget the pattern of sin is not a straight line. The crackhead doesn’t start out on crack. The sex-offender doesn’t start out by raping. Sin always progresses, it is never satisfied, it always wants more.

John Owen used the image of a muddy field. The first time you start walking on the field you won’t get very far… your boots get stuck. But the next time you walk out, that mud is already trampled down, so it’s easier to get at least as far–you get to the same spot quicker. But since it was easier for you to get there, you can keep going. Each time you walk out into the field you automatically start from the spot where you left off. The first time the crackhead smoked pot it was a big deal. Now he can’t get through a day without it.

Paul described false teachers in the church this way too. They never start out as bad as they end up and they’re never as bad as they will get. They continue on, going from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

So… in the midst of all this, what would ever make me think that I was as bad when God saved me as I would ever get? What is there to make me think that I wouldn’t keep getting worse? All the evidence seems to suggest that I would continue on in my sin, diving further and further into fleshly desires.

So let no one say, ‘I never did this or that,’ because you very well may have if God had not saved you when he had. Which leads to the third way in which these ones miss the point when we say that all have fallen short and none has reason to be proud over another.

The third way that this statement misses the point is that it assumes that it was your goodness which held you back from being as sinful as any other man. The only reason that one could possibly have to be proud and say that he is not as bad as the next is if he had some good in him which another did not which enabled him to resist sin.

But Scripture does not put things in these terms. The process of becoming more and more depraved is described in Romans 1. There we are told that man continually suppresses the truth of the righteousness of God in his unrighteousness. He longs for sin in increasing measure. God’s wrath on man on this world is revealed through his giving men over into more and more sin. See the picture? Who do the Scriptures place as sovereign over the sins of man? Not man, but God.

Again, there are similary frightening verses in Romans 9 (here in particular). Here we are told that God, in his sovereignty, is the determining factor in man’s acceptance or rejection of him. So God is sovereign over the sins of the unregenerate, and sovereign over the salvation of all. Where then is our reason for boasting?

Paul draws the same conclusions in Romans 12. Here he says that there must not be a single Christian in the church who thinks more highly of himself than he ought. Well, how highly ought he to think of himself? Only according to the faith he has received.

Did you catch that?

The faith he has received.

Our only reason for boasting is our faith in Christ, and that was a gift that was given to him by God, not something that he did for himself or earned for himself. Outisde of Christ we have nothing to boast of, and once in Christ we have only Christ to boast of. Let us then seek to be more and more humble, counting others as better than ourselves.

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Moorhead

    Julian, good stuff.

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