12I am thankful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, because he has considered me faithful and appointed me to serve. 13In the past I was a blasphemer, a persecuter, and insolent, but I received mercy, because I did these things ignorantly as an unbeliever. 14But our Lord’s grace flowed over me lavishly, with faith and love that are ours when we are part of Christ Jesus. 15This word can be trusted and should be accepted: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the primary example. 16But I received mercy so that in me Christ Jesus might first show his inexhautible patience as an example of who are going to come to faith in him for eternal life. 17To the eternal king, incorruptible, invisible, only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen! — 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Sometimes it’s hard to tell by the way we talk and behave, but Christianity is really a very optimistic religion. All that sin stuff seems to be such a downer. Why can’t we just talk about all the wonderful things we’re going to do through God’s power?
Today I’m looking at another lectionary text (see yesterday’s devotional). In it, Paul is telling us who he is now in Jesus Christ. He has been given strength, called to service, and made an example for other believers. But he is constantly aware of where he was before, and how he was redeemed. When grace makes us part of Christ’s body, then his grace can flow through us to the world. If we disconnect from the source, we’re going to find that things don’t work so well.
When I was separated from the church for a number of years after seminary, I was quite properly called a skeptic. A friend who knew me during those years asked me once what had changed. â€œDid you suddenly become more gullible? Did your doubts go away?â€ he asked. â€œNo,â€ I said. â€œI still doubt just as many things as ever. I’m simply a skeptic saved by grace.â€
In fact, I am constantly aware of the weaknesses of many arguments for the existence of God, for why one should trust what one learns from scripture, and the failures of the church as Christ’s body. I could spend all my time on those issues, and I would still be a skeptic in the more classic sense of the word. But I am a skeptic saved by grace. Christ’s grace flows over me, and I hope through me to others. I have to confess to being the truest of true believersâ€”no matter how hard I try to doubt God’s grace, I still feel it flowing over me.
I think that’s the state Paul is talking about. He’s ever conscious of â€œPaul without Christ.â€ But he lives as â€œPaul with Christ.â€ He never gets to the point where â€œPaul without Christâ€ is a good guy, worthy of eternal life, and capable of living on his own. For all those things he needs to be â€œPaul with Christ.â€
Now we frequently take mundane things from the physical world and use them as metaphors for spiritual things. But I want to do the reverse. Let’s take this redemptive core of Christianity and apply it to our daily lives.
Each of us is both a loser and a winner. We’re losers on our own. We’re winners by God’s power.
It’s Thursday morning. Tomorrow will probably be the worst day for it, though many will be saying â€œthank God it’s Fridayâ€ and so they won’t worry about it. What is â€œit?â€ I’m talking about the moments of regret for things that haven’t gone right during the week. I find that even in a very good week, I can find a list of items that I wish I had done differently. Jody is used to hearing it. â€œIt was a good week, but . . .â€
So the question is how are you going to look at yourself. Will you be defined by your failures? Will you be a sinner, or will you be a saint? The difference is going to be in the way you look at it. You can wallow in those failures, or you can live your daily life redemptively, always going back and applying grace to the errors and the failures, but not being afraid to thank God (and pat yourself gently on the back!) for the successes. As long as you have that attitude, you will be able to go forward.
You’re an imperfect person in an imperfect world. Live redemptively.