There is a Crack in Everything (Including Us)
The beginning of blessedness—and the beginning of real change—is not in realizing that we are okay, but in realizing that we are not okay.
It is not in becoming convinced that we are superior to everyone else, but that we are no better than anyone else.
It is not in believing that we are strong and capable and competent, but in accepting that we are frail and incapable and weak, while also being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
It is not in thinking that God expects us to be awesome and prettied-up and all put together, but in gaining confidence that God has first and foremost, in Christ, caused us to be forgiven, loved, faithful and free. It is from this humble place—and only from this place—that we have any chance of growing into the virtues of Christ.
It is only when we can cry out, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner” that we are sent home justified, blameless in his sight, and confident in his love (Luke 18:9-14). As a pastor friend of mine has said, “God does not love us to the degree that we are like Christ. Rather, God loves us to the degree that we are in Christ. And that’s one hundred percent.”
It is essential that every journey in Christ begin with the realization that none of us has the ability to get better apart from the redeeming and restoring work of Jesus in our lives.
The first step in becoming like Jesus is acknowledging how unlike Jesus we are. We must not suppress the doubts we have about ourselves. Instead, we must start listening to those doubts and applying the truth about Jesus to them. We must not try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather, we must realize that we don’t even have boots. We must not merely think that we have problems. Rather, we must understand that we are our own biggest problem, our own worst nightmare, our own worst enemy.
As Shakespeare quipped, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”
In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones shares a similar perspective on our human condition:
The first thing you must realize, as you look at that mountain which you are told you must ascend, is that you cannot do it, that you are utterly incapable in and of yourself, and that any attempt to do it in your own strength is proof positive that you have not understood it.
God’s call on our lives, then, is first and foremost not a call to action but a call to brokenness and contrition, for a broken and contrite heart he will not despise (Psalm 51:17).
So how do we grow toward holiness? As my friend and songwriter Tom Douglas often says, “We stumble on.” This may feel contradictory, but the call remains: In the midst of our being fractured and frail, we continue our journey towards becoming more like Jesus.
The Apostle Paul’s wish for the first-century Galatians is still our Lord’s wish for us today: that Christ be formed in us (Galatians 4:19) and that the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—become the most dominant, visible, increasing, and operative attributes of our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
Though we will remain less-than-completed and conflicted and beset by sin until our last breath, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore our pursuit of Christ and his Spirit-filled virtues. Even though we will never fully attain it in this life, we must continue to strive with all the energy Christ supplies toward the perfection for which we were made—recognizing that even the striving is a gift given to us by him.
And even our flaws and frailties and the acknowledgment thereof is a grace, a sign of God’s kingdom at work in us. As Leonard Cohen has said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
From beginning to end, our confidence is not in ourselves, but in God. He began a good work in us, and he will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). In the same way that he saved us, he will ultimately complete us—by grace, through faith, and in Christ, so that God alone might receive the glory.
And whenever God gets glory, we will get joy.