The Gospel

Monday, July 13, 2009

I highly recommend this book! Here's an excerpt from the last chapter, "Leaning on the Second Bookend."


If you take even a cursory overview of your life with an eye to self-reliance, we expect you'll quickly detect it. If you don't, simply place your last twenty-four hours under the light of the following questions:

How many times was I consciously aware of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, instead of on myself?

How many times did I acknowledge God's sovereign hand and power sustaining my every endeavor-voluntary or involuntary, conscious or unconscious?

But seeing our self-reliance is the easy part; the challenge is rejecting it. Self-reliance is like the poison ivy one of our neighbors had in his backyard. By the time Mickey, his wife, their two toddlers, and his mother-in-law developed unspeakable cases of itching and oozing, he decided he'd had enough. He called it The Enemy.

At first, Mickey attacked it with his John Deere garden tractor. He tried to mow and scrape it to death. It popped back up within a few days. Next, he decided to douse it with kerosene and light a match. Instantly, thirty feet of spectacular black smoke rolled off the backyard. Two weeks later The Enemy was back.

Then Mickey got desperate. He put on rubber gloves, severed every visible vine, and yanked off every last leaf. Come midnight, he actually thought he could hear the poison ivy laughing outside his bedroom window. Sure enough, it eventually came back with a vengeance-twice as bad as it was in the first place.

To kill poison ivy, or self-reliance, you have to get it by the roots. The tap-root of self-reliance is ultimately found in the statement, "I will be as God." Adam and Eve embraced it as the motive for the original sin (Genesis 3:5-6). Long before that, Lucifer (Satan) said essentially the same thing: "I will make myself like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14). This constitutes a declaration of independence from God. It's cosmic treason. But this attitude isn't limited to the likes of Adam, Eve and Lucifer. It's at the root of the remaining sin nature in all of us.

All three gospel enemies spring forth from this common root. It's the essence of our self-reliance with its unspoken claim that I can do it myself. It's behind our ever-present bent toward self-righteousness, as well. If I'm my own god, I determine what's right and wrong, and I declare myself good enough. Even persistent guilt has its root in this statement, because it's a refusal to acknowledge and embrace the solution God has provided for our sin dilemma, as if to say, I will be my own judge.

Therefore, the focus of the battle with all three gospel enemies, and self-reliance in particular, should center on making a deliberate, repeated counter-declaration: "God is God, and I am not." And once we make that pronouncement each day, we must pray for opportunities and strength to apply it.

Mickey eventually used a herbicide designed to kill the roots of the poison ivy. But by the time The Enemy surrendered, there were sizable bare spots in the landscape. That's when Mickey got smart. He planted and cultivated two varieties of hardy perennials, daylilies and yellow irises. Three years later, the area that had once been a war zone was so thick with the new plants, there was no way poison ivy-or anything else-could take root there again.

Taking a lesson from both Mickey and the Bible, our daily war plan calls for us to kill self-reliance and replace it by planting and cultivating the daylilies of humility and the yellow irises of godliness.

C. J. Mahaney defines humility as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of GOd's holiness and our sifulness." We could easily substitute our word seeing for C. J.'s word assessing. John Stott described the best place to find the basis for such humility:

Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves. . . until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.

Why is a fresh view of the cross needed in order to cultivate humility? When we see Jesus there bearing our sin, we also see exactly what we deserve from God for each sin we commit. Then and only then can we begin to honestly assess ourselves. The One whose flesh was nailed to the cross should have been us: "He was pierced through for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5). At the cross we see t he holiness of God as well-his perfect justice served by unleashing his undiluted wrath against sin, as he punished and rejected the sin bearer in our place.

As we revisit the cross and linger there in meditation focused on its unending and unfathomable wonders, we cultivate a thick patch of the daylilies we call humility, and when this happens, there's no longer any room for the pride that leads to the desire to be like God.

Now for the irises. We define godliness as "the attitude of regarding God in everything all the time." We display this attitude when, no matter what we do, we "do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). The godly person is a God-centered, God glorifying, God-esteeming person. The opposite of godliness is ungodliness, the disregarding of God. All expressions of pride are rooted in ungodliness, because you must first disregard God before you can be prideful. So for us, the battle for godliness is the linchpin of our war plan.

How do we fight for godliness? It starts the same way we fight for humility-by seeing the cross as the overarching message and meaning of life and the universe. From there we must discipline our minds to practice the presence of God, "and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Seeing and rejecting self-reliance and replacing it with humility and godliness always results in a shift of our dependence. But that shift isn't permanent; it must be continuously renewed daily at the foot of the cross.

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