“The best defense against hypocrisy is love; yes, it is not only a defense but a yawning abyss; in all eternity it has nothing to do with hypocrisy.” – Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of restoring broken pottery by mending the breakage with lacquer mixed with precious metals like gold or silver. Kintsugi artists believe the damage gives identity and history to these everyday objects and it should not be minimized or hidden. I love this picture of taking something that is seemingly useless and instilling worth and meaning to it.
As I read my Bible, I see the way that God uses our everyday, mundane, chipped on the edges, or even shattered to pieces lives. In Psalm 51:17, David says, “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.” God often uses broken things.
For example, Jesus took a young boys bread and broke it. Then, and only then, was it used to feed 5,000+ people. A woman lovingly comes to Jesus breaking open her alabaster jar of perfume. Only then could its fragrance escape and fill the house–and the world. His last night before his execution, Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body which was broken for you.” Even about Jesus’ death, Isaiah writes, “The Lord was pleased to crush him severely” (53:10). If such was the way that Jesus went, shouldn’t we follow.
In many ways our lives are fragile. Relationships can end with a wrongly worded message. Academic success can crumble with one exam. Loved ones are lost in an accident. Emotional health takes an unexplained nose dive. We are, as Paul describes, “jars of clay” (2 Cor 4). We are fragile everyday objects. But, that does not mean that we are worthless. Far from it. Paul says that we carry an incredible “treasure” in this jar of clay–“the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Multiple things in my life have broken my heart and crushed my spirit. The strength to keep going has only come from taking my attention off of my circumstances and pressing on with the truth that I will know and see God for all eternity. In the mean time, I trust that he is doing something with all this mess, because I often feel incapable of putting the pieces back together.
God may be slow to change your circumstances because his goal is to change your character. He’s doing something with your pain and heartache that can only be called miraculous. Lay your shattered pieces before the one who uses such things, and God will make something beautiful out of your brokenness.
Psalm 34:18 — The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.
2 Corinthians 4:16–18 — 16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
In evil long I took delight
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object met my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career.
Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb,
The Lamb on Calvary,
The Lamb that was slain and liveth again
To intercede for me.
I saw One hanging on a tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near the cross I stood. [Chorus]
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look,
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Tho’ not a word He spoke. [Chorus]
My conscience felt and owned my guilt,
And plung’d me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there. [Chorus]
A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive,
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die, that thou may’st live.” [Chorus]
Thus, while His death my sins displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too. [Chorus]
John Newton, 1779
I see the crowd in Pilate’s hall
I see the crowd in Pilate’s hall,
I mark their wrathful mien;
Their shouts of crucify appall,
With blasphemy between.
And of that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one;
And in that din of voices rude,
I recognize my own.
I see the scourges tear His back,
I see the piercing crown,
And of that crowd who smite and mock,
I feel that I am one.
Around yon cross, the throng I see,
Mocking the sufferer’s groan,
Yet still my voice it seems to be—
As if I mocked alone.
’Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed Him to the tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that blood avails,
To cleanse away my sin,
And not the less that cross prevails
To give me peace within.
Horatius Bonar, 1857
Recently, I was floored by the accidental death of a child at my son’s preschool. There was no negligence, no foul play. This child was sent to the school that morning by a mom and dad who would not get to talk to their baby again. All of their hopes and dreams for that child–all of the memories they planned to make were gone. Where is God in this kind of loss?
In an instant Job lost all of his children, 7 sons and 3 daughters. He lost all his possessions and even his health, but to lose all of his children in an instant…this man was crushed. And yet he says, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He worships God in his grieving, and it’s said of him that throughout all this, Job did not sin or blame God for anything (1:22). Throughout the rest of the book, we see that Job had some serious questions for God. He wrestled in his mind and with his friends to understand why all of this had happened.
And then God shows up.
He shows Job a glimpse of his power, purposes, and personality, and Job is blown away. He says, “I had heard reports about you, but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). Seeing God gives Job context for his pain and loss. He gets a glimpse of an infinitely caring, infinitely powerful, infinitely wise God. Job’s loss is then used by God as a means of grace towards Job’s friends, his family, and eventually us. God has used the life of Job to comfort countless people.
Thinking about the loss of a child, I was comforted by the end of Job — 42:10 and following. Verse 10 says that God restored Job and doubled everything that he had before. But then we run into a math problem. God doubled everything, but it says that Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters–the same number he had before…
God is helping us to see with eternal eyes here.
Job’s children were not lost to him forever. They were only separated from each other for a little while. Job lived 140 years after this. And on the day that he died, he came face to face with the God he had only seen a glimpse of before. At that moment, he met the one who perfectly understood his grief and loss–but then it was removed forever to make way for eternal joy. And then, he ran to the arms of the 10 children that he had been away from for so long.
Love Constraining to Obedience
A hymn by William Cowper
No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright:
And what she has she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress;
I toll’d the precept to obey,
But toil’d without success.
Then, to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its power within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
“What shall I do,” was then the word,
“That I may worthier grow?”
“What shall I render to the Lord?”
Is my inquiry now.
To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
The Providence of God
“But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”” (Romans 9:20, CSB)
I’m into some of the weightier chapters of Romans. A lot of ink continues to be spilled over this theological battlefield. What do election and predestined status mean? How does God “harden” hearts? How do I teach the theology and practice of these passages straight from the Bible without driving people further into their preferred camps?
Here are some of my convictions:
- God is sovereign.
- We can trust that God’s designs are good.
- Righteousness only comes by faith.
- Until we have a great love and appreciation for our salvation, these matters are elusive.
- We will never fully understand the Providence of God because we are not God.
I love Luther’s summary of these chapters…
“In chapters 9, 10 and 11, St. Paul teaches us about the eternal providence of God. It is the original source which determines who would believe and who wouldn’t, who can be set free from sin and who cannot. Such matters have been taken out of our hands and are put into God’s hands so that we might become virtuous. It is absolutely necessary that it be so, for we are so weak and unsure of ourselves that, if it depended on us, no human being would be saved. The devil would overpower all of us. But God is steadfast; his providence will not fail, and no one can prevent its realization. Therefore we have hope against sin.
But here we must shut the mouths of those sacriligeous and arrogant spirits who, mere beginners that they are, bring their reason to bear on this matter and commence, from their exalted position, to probe the abyss of divine providence and uselessly trouble themselves about whether they are predestined or not. These people must surely plunge to their ruin, since they will either despair or abandon themselves to a life of chance.
You, however, follow the reasoning of this letter in the order in which it is presented. Fix your attention first of all on Christ and the Gospel, so that you may recognize your sin and his grace. Then struggle against sin, as chapters 1-8 have taught you to. Finally, when you have come, in chapter 8, under the shadow of the cross and suffering, they will teach you, in chapters 9-11, about providence and what a comfort it is. [The context here and in St. Paul’s letter makes it clear that this is the cross and passion, not only of Christ, but of each Christian.] Apart from suffering, the cross and the pangs of death, you cannot come to grips with providence without harm to yourself and secret anger against God. The old Adam must be quite dead before you can endure this matter and drink this strong wine. Therefore make sure you don’t drink wine while you are still a babe at the breast. There is a proper measure, time and age for understanding every doctrine.”
- Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
From Groans to Glory
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CSB)
Perhaps no other verse defines my daily efforts than Romans 8:18. Why? Because life is hard. I am disappointed by people, including myself. The world is evil. I see more and more atrocities of man the longer I live. But a robust theology is an anchor for my soul.
Sufferings. Most often in the New Testament, this word refers to the sufferings of Jesus. Jesus was misunderstood by his family, ridiculed by his countrymen, considered a heretic by his religious leaders, abandoned by his friends, homeless, beaten, exposed, and killed. By God’s grace, my life is not like that. But the hard times in my life need to be faced with a similar trust in God. A trust that comes from a relationship with God and knowledge of God’s Word. If I am faithful in the small challenges, I should be faithful in the big ones.
I consider [these sufferings] not worth comparing. In the journal of my heart, I waste no ink on them. In the quiet moments of my day, I don’t give them time. I don’t hold my sufferings in one hand and the glory of seeing God in the other and wonder which one is more important. Sufferings are tossed aside.
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, CSB)
“Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13, CSB)
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:4, CSB)
The glory that is going to be revealed to us. Have you ever seen a jaw-dropping sunrise? You see, we live in the morning twilight of this world. The era of the church is like that time before the sun comes up fully. It’s still dark, but we can start to make out what’s going on around us. The darkness is being pushed back. If that was the only light that we ever had, we would become happy and content with that little bit of light.
But when the sun rises, there is no comparison. Those twilight hours are completely forgotten when the sun rises in all its glory. So many are satisfied with their compartmentalized God. Their self-defined view of God is not going to inspire hope when life gets hard. Long to see God’s face. Trust in a big God. This is not a state of denial. It is perspective. God at the center of every relationship, heartbreak, and choice.
The Death of My Humanity
“Since I am speaking to those who know the law, brothers and sisters, don’t you know that the law rules over someone as long as he lives? For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband. So then, if she is married to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. Then, if she is married to another man, she is not an adulteress. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the body of Christ so that you may belong to another. You belong to him who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions aroused through the law were working in us to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.
What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. And sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the law sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life again and I died. The commandment that was meant for life resulted in death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Therefore, did what is good become death to me? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure.” (Romans 7:1–13, CSB)
Read it slowly.
Then read it again. And again.
Those looking for affirmation of their attachment to “the letter of the law” will be disappointed. The sole function of the law is to remind us of our sin, to kill us by our sins, and to make us deserving of eternal wrath.
When we are confronted with sin, a cycle begins. Either we see our sin and are mad that it is called sin–maybe our case is an exception, or we try to fix our sin with good works. When our works aren’t enough, we become frustrated and hostile because of this oppressive law.
Our will and humanity are bound by this law. The law is what we wanted in the Garden–knowledge of good and evil. And we got just what God warned us of–death. The law is not evil. It’s our evil nature that cannot handle the way that the good law demands good from us.
But when our old self dies with Christ, then our will is free.
“Not that conscience should now do nothing; rather, it should now for the first time truly cling to its second husband, Christ, and bring forth the fruit of life.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
Our will is free to be bound once more to a better husband. We are free to “serve in a new spirit” and “bear fruit for God.” We are removed from the original tree that caused us to only produce evil, and we are grafted into the True Vine and source of life.
Illustratively, this reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back. When Luke feels the pull towards the cave on Dagobah, he asks, “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”
The cave motif is used extensively in literature to show metaphorically what lies beneath the surface of a person or an internal struggle–think Odysseus. For Plato, the cave was a false reality for persons who were trapped and confused.
What Luke sees in the cave is the evil Vader, who is revealed to be Luke himself. This fear of the evil within, wanting to fight it but not knowing how, it shapes the rest of Luke’s story.
“But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” (Romans 6:17–18, CSB)
There is an enemy in our midst. His perpetual goal is to dim the light of God in the world and enslave us. There is nothing gained from our enslavement, just empty promises and death. Our enslavement doesn’t only harm ourselves. Just as Eve took that forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam, we are active in enslaving others and leading them towards death (6:21). Not only that, but sin always has collateral damage in the lives of those around us.
But thank God, Christian, that’s who you used to be. As certain as your sin produced rotten fruit and your only end was death, now Jesus’ gift produces good, satisfying fruit and your only end is life with him (6:22-23).
The counterpoint in these verses is what I find compelling. Most Christians will say that they consider themselves free from sin, but few will say that they consider themselves enslaved to God. Paul shows us here that our “all in” attitude is a direct consequence of our salvation. Sanctification is visible in our life through our love for and obedience to God’s way of living.
You obeyed. We are not our own anymore. God has bought us at a great price. The Spirit awakens our heart to proper gratitude and love for the gift of grace. Once a rebel at arms against God, we throw down our weapons in surrender. This language of obedience is used often in the New Testament with regard to our salvation. Peter says that our obedience to the truth is what purified us (1 Pet. 1:22). The truth is the message of the Gospel and the commands of God. When this message is heard, a fork in the road appears: believe or disobey.
From the heart. There is no obedience without affection. Obeying God without loving God is empty. This is the argument that James makes in his faith vs. works discussion. Works without faith. Faithless works are meaningless to God. Think about the strong words God had the prophets deliver to Israel and Judah–I hate your sacrifices. I hate your festivals. I hate your songs. The peoples’ actions were all devoid of affection for God. True faith will obey God and be productive.
But grace makes the law lovable to us, so there is then no sin any more, and the law is no longer against us but one with us. – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
That pattern of teaching. We have a God who has given us clear designs for our daily life. He has told us how to think, feel, and act. These teaching are not pragmatic, constantly adjusting to changes in the world. They are a firm foundation that we build our life upon. They are consistent, a pattern that we can step into and apply. These teachings are not loosely organized requiring us to wade through exhausting commentaries, they are systematic and simple.
To which you were handed over. This phrase can be read in two ways. (1) Our pattern of living has been passed down to us by faithful men and women. Not just the prophets, apostles, and church fathers, but also your grandma, parents, and Sunday school teachers. We now enter into this responsibility of reproducing and passing down our Christian confession and God’s pattern of living. Making disciple-makers. (2)This is the new master that we have been given to. As a Christ follower, there was never a time when we had free agent status, and we chose to start following Christ. You must be a slave to Christ, or you have not been set free from the Enemy!