One of the issues that I wrestle with, both personally and pastorally, is the idea of making progress in the Christian life. To put it in context of missions, one of the most frequent barriers that people need to overcome is their own sense of worthiness to share the good news. As we noted last week the Gospel, i.e. the good news, is precisely good news because it meets us in both our brokenness and our guilt and makes us new. The Gospel isn’t about good people becoming better, but rather it is about enslaved wretches finding freedom and life.
But why don’t we make more progress in the Christian life? What if I am still struggling with this sin or that, does that mean I am not getting closer to God? What does it mean for mission?
Recently John Newton has been my teacher in these areas. His short letter entitled The Advantages of Remaining Sin has given me fresh eyes to the work that God is doing in our lives. What Newton highlights is that the goal of God’s work in our lives is not independently moral and upright people, but rather a people that live in grateful, loving, intimate, dependence with their Father, Savior, Redeemer, Friend, and Counselor. To that point, what Newton highlights is that our need is what keeps us at the feet of Jesus, leaning on his loving breast (to quote a hymn). Here are some lines from Newton himself that capture much of this same thought. I offer them for encouragement, that in our struggles and in our need, God has us exactly where he wants us and there is no better springboard from which to tell out the Good News!
I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face.
I hoped that in some favoured hour, At once He’d answer my request;
and by His love’s constraining pow’r, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with his His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried, ‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’
‘These inward trials I now employ, From self and pride to set thee freeIndeed let us find our all in him, and invite others to do the same! Are we worthy of mission? Probably not. But our Savior is infinitely worthy to be lifted high!
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou may’st find thy all in Me.’