I have labored under the burden most of my life with not having reached a saints perfection. I am a practicing ‘imperfectionist’. Worse yet, I think of myself as an incompetent perfectionist. I am bothered by my many failures. I desire to be and do better but I, sadly, I am not. That very same annoyance is only magnified by my Christian walk. I have been included ‘in Jesus’. Not only is my history literally littered with failed attempts at life lived in the horizontal, when I became a Christian I gladly included a vertical dimension which has Jesus Christ at the center. In light of that fact, the trail of littered failures only grew exponentially. When compared to Christ understandably the failure factor has not gotten any smaller.
Lest my moaning confessions sound like an all too public airing of my own dirty laundry I need to add something that in the end transforms the crisis. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul says that God has illumined our dark hearts with the light of Jesus. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Vs. 6 He says it is not unlike placing a treasure inside a clay jar. What appears to be a monumental waste of God’s good efforts, he goes on to clarify has the genius of God’s purpose in it. His intention is to show that the goal of his project has little of us in it, save the storage space. His purpose is to point to himself as being our rescue—our savior. And then he says, what for the life all too familiar with failed attempts, the complicating words: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Jesus’ life is shown to those around me through my mediocre life. It seems like a bit much.
I said before that all this is intended to add something that turns my failure rate into something entirely more than a mere moaning confession. Paul’s intention is to turn my eyes off of myself and onto another. He says so explicitly—“ to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us”. It is the way God has of showing that it is his work and no one else’s, least of all our own. He first shows us it is so by saving our muddy lives and continues the project by living within us. The light that illumines my inner darkness is not somehow the light that I am somehow commanded to approximate. As Paul describes things, to show that “the surpassing power belongs to God” and not to us, he surrounds that sacred event with a veneer of failure and defeat, my failure and defeat. In fact our failure becomes a significant factor in the course of God’s plan. The first failure was the world’s response to Jesus which culminated in the cross. Since the world’s response was my first response to him, the burden to muster Christ’s life does not rest on me. After all I am the problem. My burden is to reflect not generate his light in me. I must decrease and he must increase. C.S. Lewis captures Paul’s thought in a way that only he can.
“'Originality' in the New Testament is quite plainly the prerogative of God alone … The duty and happiness of every other being is placed in being derivative, in reflecting like a mirror… If I have read the New Testament aright, … our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction, in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed; in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours. ….. I am saying only that the highest good of a creature must be creaturely—that is, derivative or reflective—good.”
Otherwise called grace, God’s labor in us is not to teach us new tricks but to let him shine through us, to point to Jesus by habits that express what God’s grace has done in us.
Oswald Chambers says it well:
“It is not a question of being saved from hell, but of being saved in order to manifest the life of the Son of God in our mortal flesh, and it is the disagreeable things which make us exhibit whether or not we are manifesting His life. Do I manifest the essential sweetness of the Son of God, or the essential irritation of "myself" apart from Him? The only thing that will enable me to enjoy the disagreeable is the keen enthusiasm of letting the life of the Son of God manifest itself in me.”
I suppose this in part of the reason that so often in Paul’s letters all of the action of the life of a disciple of Jesus is said to take place “in Christ” or of Christ being “in us” (over 160 times in a variety of different contexts).The whole idea raises a number of questions. But to side step the questions by ignoring the glory of such a remarkable event seems an odd and costly way to proceed. In fact, I suppose I may have ‘failed’ to get it right. If so, I will have to deal with that very familiar habit. Until then I motor on in the sobering and wonderful implication of his life in me.