Two Interesting Perspectives on the Christian Life

16 Jul

I found these two items recently and thought they were both thought-provoking. I have long been suspicious of a view of the Christian life as one uninterrupted mountain climb of victory. That has not been the experience of my own life nor of most of the Christians I know, nor of the characters in the Bible. There is real conversion and real transformation for sure but for most, the journey on the road of sanctification is exceedingly slow. This is also true in churches. I think one of the things that causes many professing believers to check out on Christian living is the slowness of sanctification. When you take that out to a corporate level, what causes many highly motivated believers to check out of church life is likewise the slowness of sanctification within a congregation. The first piece I found that speaks to these thoughts was an excerpt from a 2009 interview with Mark Galli, one of the editors at Christianity Today. Then I found an interview with Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS on the topic of Suffering and the Christian Life. Read Galli’s comments and listen to Duncan if you can.

Here is the link for the Duncan interview and below are Galli’s words.

Mark Galli — “I just keep on coming back to Luther’s truth that we are simultaneously justified and sinners. I keep on looking at my own life, and at church history, and I realize that when the Gospel talks about transformation, it can’t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature, except in a few instances. It must be primarily eschatological; it must be referring to the fact that we will in fact be changed. The essential thing to make change possible has occurred—Christ died and rose again. (And in this life we will see flashes of that, just like in Jesus’ ministry there were moments when the Kingdom broke in and we see a miracle. And these moments tell us there is something better awaiting for us and God is gracious enough at times to allow a person or a church or a community to experience transformation at some level.) But we can’t get into the habit of thinking that this dramatic change is normal, this side of the Kingdom. What’s normal this side of the Kingdom is falling into sin (in big or small ways), and then appropriating the grace of God and looking forward to the transformation to come.
Now, some people would say that it’s depressing that I can’t change. Well, it’s not depressing, it’s freeing! It’s depressing and oppressive to think every morning that I somehow have to be better than I was the day before to justify my Christian religion and to justify my faith. That’s the oppressive thing. The freeing thing is to realize that I am a sinner and God has accepted me as such. And yes, of course we’re called to strive and be better and to love and all those things—duh!—that’s not the issue. The issue is the motive out of which that comes and what we actually expect to happen as a result of that.
A lot of this is driven by my own personal spiritual journey and is hammered home by the biblical message, and something that Luther got really well: the harder I try to be a good Christian, I notice the worse Christian I am: more self-righteous, more impatient, more frustrated. But when I stop trying to be a good Christian and just realize I am a sinner and that God has accepted me, and that’s the way it is, that, for some reason, releases the striving part of me that makes life harder, and all of a sudden I find myself, surprisingly, more patient, more compassionate, less judgmental and more joyful. So I think that kind of personal experience is a merely reflection of what the Gospel truth is. And those moments when I experience that, that’s wonderful.”

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