Where’s the middle ground in all this? Where’s the grey area? Only in our rationalizations that make us believe that “I’m a good person if I do [fill in the blank]” do you find the “moderate middle.” In other words the grey area is really just rationalization of sin.
Now while it’s clear that we’re either sons of darkness or sons of light, there’s a great subtle complexity to this black and white reality we find in the Gospel. That is, once we see and are captured by the love of God revealed in his Son on the cross and poured into our hearts by His Spirit, we enter into the now-but-not-yet tension. We still reside in the brokenness of this flesh and the realm ruled by the prince of this world, yet we are alive eternally to the Father-Son-Spirit God (Romans 8). And the truth is, in this place we find ourselves in, we can easily fall back into the ways of the flesh rather than follow the ways of the Spirit.
I might be tempted to go into all the ways we can equip ourselves to conquer our sinful hearts, the things we must do to become fruitful, godly people. But isn’t that just the way of the flesh not of the Spirit? It’s the way of fear and mistrust to come up with ways of self-improvement; it’s not the way of faith and trust in God to make us good soil that produces good fruit.
When we read or hear someone preach of the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5) or the parable of the sower (Mark 4; Luke 8) we automatically think, “I am not good soil”, or, “There isn’t enough good fruit in my life”, and then proceed to plan a way to make ourselves just that. But again this is the way of the flesh; it’s the way of fear, not faith.
I think, no wait, I know that until we grasp the battle in our hearts in every moment to either live by fear or by faith we’ll never be truly be free in the way Christ came to set us free (Gal. 5:1). Once we grasp in true absolute humility and helplessness that “I cannot make myself good, improve my life for God to like me more, I am not in control of my life” – only then are we free. Not until we come to the end of ourselves can we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and feel with our hearts the words of Jesus. Without this helplessness, we’re still bound by the fear of our flesh and love of darkness.
Where am I going with this?
Well in the last few months in my life many significant things have been taken from me, things I didn’t think would happen (unless I messed up big time, hear the fear of flesh?). But as of a couple weeks ago something happened completely out of my control. The United Kingdom Visa & Immigration office determined that my missionary organization did not meet the requirements to continue to sponsor work visas. This is very disruptive to say the least! And my family is feeling it as we face saying goodbye to our home and friends.
Now, as we wait, the temptation is to take our eyes off Jesus and to look to ourselves. It’s a little easier keeping our eyes on Jesus in this sense, we have absolutely no responsibility nor control in this decision by the UKVI. Yet we are still tempted, motivated by fear, to look to ourselves for the rescue, which leads to anxiety and forgetfulness. Once you are captured by these motivations it easily leads to all kinds of destructive outcomes: broken relationships, depression, unwise decision that abandon God, etc.
But in a circumstance like this there’s a great opportunity for thankfulness, yes thankfulness (1 Thess. 5:18). In our helplessness we have the incredible clarity to say to God, “I’m not God, you’re God, and I’m happy with this arrangement.” As we fear the Lord like this in our hearts we see Jesus. We see him as a delight to our hearts, therefore the source of our purpose, life, and help. When the eyes of our hearts are captured by him we’re guaranteed to have joy and abound in thanksgiving no matter what.
This is where passages that I’ve taught, memorized, and meditated on come to life. For instance Romans 5:1-5, it has always been foreign to think of rejoicing in my suffering, but in the midst of a helpless situation and looking to Jesus I can truly rejoice that I have him. A joy in suffering which leads to endurance, then to character, and then to hope, which will never disappoint. It’s not on me to do this in a period of suffering, but it’s merely a humble response to God offering his love to my heart by the Spirit.
In all circumstances the way of fear or the way of faith, death or life, evil or good, are placed before us and our choice always reveals our greatest affections: self or Christ.
It’s black and white.
Let me leave you with this thought, a thought that I’ve been blessed with as I’ve wrestled to keep my eyes on Jesus. How will I face the day of my death? If I fight and claw for my home, my friends, my ministry, my security and stability with fear and anxiety, then what will I be like when I face the most pinnacle moment of faith: looking death in the face? Will I fight for the last moments of life that I have no chance of keeping, or will I look to Jesus? I want to live free of Satan’s last grip on my life and peacefully join Jesus in the next life free from this wretched flesh. So here’s to a life of holding onto everything loosely but holding onto the one I love with all my strength, which he powerfully works in me.
So I’m learning and here’s my invitation to all believers: look to Jesus and live!