Monday, January 04, 2010

Chapter 4.2b Beggars and Life-Guards

So far, in "Chapter 4: Goodness" We have explored the idea that the value of a human is not first and foremost in what he does, but in who he is. Learning from Jesus that God alone is good, we began to reassess what we mean by the word "goodness" in order to learn that there are two kinds of "goodness." What we do is one kind, and, while good, it cannot conquer death. We need the kind of goodness only God does.

In the section "Of Earth and Heaven" we further explored the differences between these kinds of goodness, especially seeing how it is by pursuing our own "doing" goodness in place of God's "given" goodness that Adam and Eve first fell in the first place. We also saw how perfect our own "doing" goodness ought to be and we faced the sad fact that our attempts at it are not "good" enough. On top of that, the goodness we need most, outside of Jesus, is terribly missing.

In "Cows and Arithmetic," we explore the purpose of the Ten Commandments as a blueprint for "doing goodness," and tackle the tough reality that what the commands demand they do not help us achieve. We also learned that humans respond two different ways to this realization about our limitations. One is to repent. The other is to reject even "doing" goodness altogether.

This week, in "Beggars and Life-Guards,"

The answers to these problems, I pray you know, are in Jesus. As the book progresses this will be come clearer and clearer, spelled out in no uncertain terms. For this week, we continue to explore the depths of our malady, trusting that the more we know about our sin, the better we will appreciate our Savior.


Fallen man needs the goodness that comes from God. But the more you try to get close to God by doing whatever it is you can do – the more you work in order to make yourself good or find a worthiness within yourself – the more you actually drive a wedge between yourself and the Creator who never intended you to be a creator of goodness in the first place.1 In fact, trying to create a goodness that is not God's own goodness is the worst kind of sin. It is the original sin, the sin on which all other sins have been built.2 It is a crass unbelief in who God actually is.

What once was Adam's denial that God alone was good, for you becomes a spiritual quest to lift yourself off the earth and into heaven by pulling on the straps of your boots.3 The greater your efforts, the more you yank, the harder you squeeze your eyes shut to tap the strength within, the less you are able to look up and see the Christ who came down from heaven to earth to deal with a problem that was out of your reach to begin with. He hung on the cross for the purpose of lifting you up. He ascended into heaven on your behalf – and all by himself.

It is kind of like a beggar who is dressed in filthy rags, but is confronted with the glorious gift of a fresh, clean, white robe. Not knowing any better, he begins to wipe his face on the robe, dusting off his hands and blowing his nose into it. To his own eyes, he seems a little cleaner, and he is heartily thankful for the robe. But before long, the robe is filthy and cast aside as he wanders on, still wearing the same filthy rags.4

Christ's kind of goodness is very different than the super-pious, spiritual mumbo-jumbo of men. It is strange and even offensive precisely because at its root it points out that even all the truly good works that you actually do manage to pull off are never anything more than an beggars' clothing. It tells you that all that all that you do in your entire life will never be enough. And at the same time it insists that one, bloody, crucified corpse is more than enough real goodness, not only for you, but for all the world.5

This cannot help but grate a little on the human ego. It flies in the face of all our pride. It sets limitations and draws a line in the sand. The one who wants to hold onto his own goodness will not be able to receive this better goodness. One or the other goodness must actually be the True Good. Just as there cannot be two masters and there cannot be two Creators, it is the extreme height of Spiritual irresponsibility to try to be good enough to please God with your own goodness. This is to try to be God.

The spiritual beggar who wants to dress himself up in rags makes his deepest and most heartfelt belief the sad notion that the one thing he does not need is a Savior.6 When a swimmer gets a cramp and begins to drown, a lifeguard's task is to pull that swimmer out of the water. But there is one thing that the swimmer must not do. The swimmer must stop trying to actually swim. If he does not cease his efforts to save himself, then he will drown both himself and the life-guard.

1. Isaiah 1:12-15 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”
2. Genesis 3:6 “When the woman saw that the tree be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
3. Isaiah 14:13-15 “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
4. Confer with Matthew 22:1-14
5. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
6. Proverbs 14:9 “Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.”

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