The Sea of Forgetfulness.

 

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The phrase Sea of Forgetfulness is not actually in the Bible. When people use this colorful phrase, they’re usually referring to several passages in Scripture that talk about God’s forgiveness, and our justification in Christ through accepting His death, burial, and resurrection. They’re banking on the great promise from God the Father that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive those offenses and never hold them against us again. He acts as if those offenses never happened.

It is doctrinal that God forgets our sins so completely it’s as if they had never occurred. Micah 7:19 says, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV). Verse 18 indicates that God pardons sin and forgives transgression. It is worth noting that all sin (yours, mine, your neighbor’s—past, current, or future) have been placed on Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross. Accordingly, when God looks upon us as born-again believers He sees the righteousness of Christ and not a lifetime of our iniquities. This is confirmed in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (NIV).

God is omniscient. He knows all things. So He does not really “forget” anything. Although it is beyond human capacity to grasp, He encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. I have come to understand that God is not constrained by time in any fashion. Time (whether it’s told by a wall clock, wrist watch, calendar, or sun dial) is merely a human invention. God is able to see everything that ever was, is now, and will be, all in the same instance. The word “omniscient” comes from the Latin words omnis (signifying all) and scientia (signifying knowledge). When we say that God is omniscient it means that He has perfect knowledge of everything there ever was and will be, including our works. It is impossible for God to fail to “remember” our sins. Rather, He chooses not to remember our sins. Moreover, He creates a void between us and our sins (Psalm 103:12).

Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 43:25. God tells us He “blots out” our transgressions. The idea of blotting out sins is taken from the custom of keeping accounts and canceling or blotting out the charge when the debt has been paid. God had a plan for our redemption before the foundation of the universe. Because of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, our debt has been paid. Old Testament saints had a forward-looking faith in Jesus as the Messiah; New Testament believers have a backward-looking faith that Christ in fact died on the cross as our Sacrificial Lamb. When Christ said, “It is finished,” the debt was satisfied for all sins. No punishment can be exacted for those who are washed in His blood. We are pardoned.

As Far As East From West

Looking at Psalm 103:12, we see that God removes us from our transgressions as far as the East is from the West. This is equivalent to blotting our our sins. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (NKJV). God reminds us in Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (NKJV). In each instance, the verb is given in past tense. He has blotted. He has redeemed.

The Glory of the Gospel is That Our Sins Are Already Dealt With!

WHEN BROUGHT INTO THE LIGHT

When our sins are set before us in the light of God’s glory, our first reaction is (naturally) that they are altogether unpardonable. We may not be willing to voice this fear to others, but it is quite real. This sense of dread comes from the conviction that we can never earn salvation through “doing good.” But there us no pardon under the Law because the Law knows nothing about forgiveness. Rather, the Law says, “Do this and you shall live; disobey and you shall die.” The Law can only convince us of our inability to obey and condemn us for the failure to do so.

After we become awakened in Christ, we are made aware of our litany of sins. Of course, there is no awakening if we remain in the dark—lacking honest assessment and humble surrender. Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that he gave no credence to how man might judge him, or whether the court might condemn or sentence him. Further, he did not see any benefit to judging himself. Although his conscience was clear, he remained concerned about the judgment of God. His advice was, “… judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart…” (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV).

Typically, this so-called awakening involves five distinct stages, which Dave Ferguson aptly explained in his article at Christianity.com titled “5 Stages of Spiritual Awakening.” In his research and analysis, he noted that the story of the Prodigal Son applies to nearly every believer who has drifted away from the Father only to find his or her life wanting and miserable. Invariably, they determine (as did the Prodigal) that loss of “sonship” is not worth any amount of riches or physical comfort. Indeed, even the “father’s” servants have it better than the child who has walked away. 

The following steps are critical to achieving a spiritual awakening:

  1. Awakening to Longing. Everyone eventually begins to question the value of his or her existence. It is not unusual to exclaim “there’s got to be more to life!” Each of us longs for love, a sense of relevance or purpose, and some degree of meaning to life. This is often the first of basic longings and is what goads us to set out on a journey. Although these yearnings are given to us by God, we often search for fulfillment everywhere but from Him.
  2. Awakening to Regret. Because we tend to seek fulfillment of primitive longings without God, we end up alone, directionless, and confused. I cannot count the number of times I’ve expressed the desire to start over. It’s worth noting that many individuals often get caught up in a loop between longing and regret.
  3. Awakening to Help. When we break out of the loop between longing for a sense of meaning and regretting the mess we’ve created, we have the potential to acknowledge that something needs to change. This amounts to coming to the end of ourselves. Finally, we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this on my own.’ In recovery, this is often referred to as hitting bottom. We realize we need help.
  4. Awakening to Love. At this point, we come to believe that Jesus is the One who leads us back to God. As we make our prodigal journey back to the Father, we encounter grace. We begin to recognize God’s unconditional love. He is waiting for us with open arms. Unfortunately, many of us still have to deal with the shame and guilt that follows us home. If we give in to these emotions, we tend to doubt that we are loved and accepted just as we are.
  5. Awakening to Life. Finally, we are in a place where we understand when Jesus said, “I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, MSG). The Greek word for life in this passage is zoe, meaning “of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God.” We simply cannot reach this level of life without a spiritual awakening.

THE END OF ME

Jesus tells us the way up is down. In other words, we can only achieve greatness through humility. Admittedly, this is a quality I have been sorely lacking in for most of my life. My life has frequently been rather difficult and complicated as a result. I’ve heard it said that we can only change when we become coachable. I did not necessarily believe there was nothing wrong with me or my life. My difficulties came from thinking my problems were unique; that I was different and the tried-and-true solutions proposed to me by addictions counselors or 12-step sponsors. In addition, I was often in denial and tended to hide my feelings and actions through deception. Before I could ever hope to grow, I needed honesty and humility.

The evil companion to humility, at least in my instance, was pride. My knee-jerk reaction to advice from a fellow 12-stepper was usually, “You’re not going to talk to me that way!” I’d look at their “cheap” clothes, rusty old car, long hair, tattoos, piercings, and whatever else I decided made them “less than” me and decide they had nothing to offer. Pride. Pure and simple. It made me defensive and unwilling to hear what others had to offer. Even if it would save my life. This smacks of some imaginary hierarchy where I “outranked” the other person. Thankfully, I have put that rather glaring character defect at the foot of the cross. The minute I did so I began to notice others for who they were—children of God. I remembered something an oldtimer told me at a 12-step meeting years ago. He said, “Never look down on another alcoholic. You never know if that person will save your life.” Of course, I also had to admit my life needed saving.

Pride will often keep us from realizing how much we need God!

Pride is the ultimate issue of the human condition—not just one of the “deadly sins,” but the mother of all offenses. The late Billy Graham said, “…pride can be a very dangerous thing, blinding us to our faults and cutting us off from others. Pride also can lead us into doing things that are wrong, because we think they’ll make us greater or more powerful. The Bible warns, ‘Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Proverbs 16:18).

There is an amazingly powerful antidote for pride expressed by the apostle Paul that gives me goosebumps every time I read it. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[fn] of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7, NIV). This is Jesus, the Messiah, equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, co-creator of the entire universe. I cannot fathom a better example of humility.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Here’s what I’ve learned: There is a real danger in making anything or anyone but Jesus a foundation for our confidence. This includes putting our self before Jesus, attempting to solve our own problems or “work” out a deal for our success. Unfortunately, being humbled is something we think of as a passive activity—that is, somebody or something humbles us. We are humbled by unemployment, by a failed marriage, by getting hurt on the job and having to rely on disability, by having to move back home with our parents. A shattered dream. But Jesus told us about a humility that is active—in this instance, we are the humblers. Jesus said, “Humble yourselves.”

It all starts with being honest about who we are in Christ and admitting we had nothing to do with our standing. It’s all Jesus. This attitude is something beyond humility. Meekness is closer to what Jesus is suggesting. Essentially, this amounts to submissiveness, without which we cannot hope to recover whatever the habit, hangup, obsession, or addiction. From a biblical viewpoint, meekness is synonymous with righteous, humble, teachable, patient when enduring suffering, forgiving, willing to follow Christian doctrine—attributes of a true disciple.

 

The Law of Humility

“…the requirement of humility will result in honor.”

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Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” In our journey through life, it is tempting to take pride in the positive changes we make in our lives. We want other people to recognize our accomplishments. But in God’s plan, honor is something we receive only as we learn to live in humility. It is not something we should seek on its own. Humility is the path to being honored by God and by others. The law of humility is not the easiest law to write about because we can’t point to a day in our own lives when we have finally reached the state of perfect humility—it’s an ongoing, lifelong process, much like recovery from drugs and alcohol. Moreover, because of the self-abasement that now colors our life, we can’t talk about how often we’re admired by others.

We can’t speak of a time when we were so unassuming and self-effacing that we were honored and celebrated by our peers and colleagues—that wouldn’t be very humble, would it? But it can be said that we’ve had some moments of great pride that led to painful disappointments. We have spent too much time wanting to to be honored by others here on Earth rather than seeking the ultimate honor that comes from the One who struck the match to ignite the sun.

If you are at all like the rest of us, you’ve had times in your life when you were overflowing with pride so that there was no room left for God.

Perhaps you came to recognize your own pride, and have spent valuable time trying to appear humble. When we are full of pride, we do things just to be seen; we act in ways that will be noticed by others, hoping that no one will sense the false humility underneath it all. A certain degree of honesty must be part of your “searching and fearless moral inventory.” The most important ingredient in 12-step programs is honesty. Often those who fail at working the Steps fail in the area of humility. Honesty and humility are two sides of the same coin. Without it, recovering addicts and alcoholics are left with a sense of emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Trust me when I say the devil loves seeing us suffer under the lash of our emotions. We don’t see our obvious lack of power. Simply put, we cannot drag ourselves out of the dark pit by sheer force of will.

ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS

It is only a matter of time before we finally must accept our complete powerlessness and begin to cultivate a humble attitude. It is so simple to turn it all around and find a life worth living—a life that includes infinitely more than we might think. Proverbs 29:23 tells us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lonely in spirit gain honor” (NIV). When we speak of humility, we’re not talking about humiliation. When we get puffed up and full of pride, and think we can do no wrong, those are often the times we are humiliated.

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Usually, we have a hand in such humiliation. When humiliated, we tend to seek paybacks. But humility is a choice. It is, in fact, what starts the process of spiritual maturity. Choosing humility and recognizing our powerlessness are what it takes to stop all of our self-defeating acts of futility. When we are able to truly humble ourselves before God, life starts to work out again.

The Apostle James describes a life without humility. He says that all our battles come from evil desires within us. We make ourselves miserable because we crave more than we have, and are envious of those who have more. We forget to want what we already have, instead seeking to get what we want. When proud and arrogant, we don’t see the need to ask God for anything. Moreover, our motives are so twisted that He is not likely to grant us our requests. We come to a fork in the road, where we decide whether we will lay down our lives for God or seek to keep up with the world.

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, all our doing and building and serving in order to look good before others becomes meaningless. It is much easier to humble ourselves from a place of powerlessness than from the pinnacle of pride and self-reliance. To move toward true humility, we must look inside ourselves and uncover our impure motives. We must also acknowledge that on our own we are nothing and He is everything. As we move toward true humility, we must set aside the false humility behind which we often hide. Humility simply means that we recognize God as the source of every good thing. Authentic humility leads us to the conclusion that if anything good is going to come from all the pain, filth, and struggle in our lives, it will come from God.

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One important benefit to humility is the opening of our eyes and hearts to see and celebrate the people around us. When we get outside of ourselves—a phrase I’ve heard often at 12-step meetings—we can humbly evaluate the impact of our behavior on others. This is the very crux of empathy. Because we care about other people, we want to do whatever we can not to repeat or perpetuate the things we’ve done in the past that were hurtful to them. When we’re truly humble, we care enough about other people that our own pain is no longer the focus of our existence. We do what we can to understand their pain, and what we might have done to contribute to it. We seek to help to alleviate it.  More than humble living, this is the life of an honorable person.

Humility allows us to celebrate our success and progress.  When we hit bottom and go ten days without giving in to our addiction, for example, or when we pick up a 30-day chip at a 12-step meeting, God brings honor to us through other people who have been where we are. He honors us through those who almost didn’t make it out alive, and through those who have never stopped building their character, deepening their peace of mind, and fulfilling their dreams by reaching out to help others.

GOD’S GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that allows the worst of the worst of us to find honor in Him and and through doing His work. When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he identified how living a humble life of serving others brings honor to God (and to us as well). In 1:12 Paul says, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God asks us to give up on our self-engineered crashes, admit that only He can restore us to sanity, and lay ourselves at His feet. That’s it! Recognize that you will never be strong enough or clever enough to defeat the challenges you face. But God can give you the strength, wisdom, insight, and  courage you need, if only you will humble yourself before Him and seek to know His will.

HUMILITY VERSUS PRIDE

Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend. How many recent sermons have you heard on humility? Probably not many. We hear surprisingly little from our church leaders about either of these subjects. Price and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the famous — indeed celebrities of all sorts — and even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people. Unfortunately, few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and our love for others.

Humility is often seen as a weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. After all, it was through pride that Lucifer was cast down from heaven, becoming our chief adversary, the devil.

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Pride is an anti-God state of mind. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of all sin. Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using pride as the means to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying in order to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being God-like. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she opted for autonomy and disobeyed God.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire —when it has conceived—gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

Throughout the Bible, we see the outworking of pride and unbelief in the affairs of individuals, families, nations, churches, and entire cultures. The result is a suppression of the knowledge and wisdom of God. Spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs. In their mind, God becomes smaller and they become larger. Powerful in their own right. The very essence of their being shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their own world, and God is pushed to the periphery. The result is familiar: People exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride begins to grow exponentially; arrogant or abusive behavior rears its ugly head. Every man for himself.

THE BIBLE ON PRIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

James tells us, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (4:10, ESV). Proverbs warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18, ESV). Pride leads to isolation, disillusionment, despair, and lack of breakthrough. Think about the so-called know-it-all. They tend to drive people away. A prideful person is not likely to ask for help because they are not willing to admit they need it. They choose to go it alone. Even when help is offered, a prideful person will reject input, and push the other person away. When this becomes habitual, they make others feel unwanted. This leads to isolation.

This can lead to disillusionment — a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We lose faith. I’ve heard it said that disillusionment is sometimes the aim of a seminary professor. The instructor will argue, “I want to shatter my students’ romanticized notion of church life and replace it with one that is more realistic.” After all, much damage has been caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. Disillusionment, as you can imagine, can be quite overwhelming. We would much rather hold on to our dreams.

Jesus one day washed the feet of His disciples. He asked, “Do you understand what I am doing for you?” Of course, He knew the answer before He asked the question. Jesus warned Peter in advance that he would not understand what was about to take place. To our ears, Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet sounds admirable. Humble, even. Only moments ago His disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. But there is an edge to Jesus’ reply. Why does He rebuke Peter instead of praising him? You would think that He would have been happy to see that Peter recognized there was someone at the table who was greater than them all. Peter was not putting on airs. He was entirely sincere. But he was also arrogant.

Peter’s problem was not that he couldn’t see Jesus clearly. He couldn’t see himself. He was too humble to let himself be washed, but too proud to do the washing. He doesn’t wash his own feet. He won’t wash the other disciples’ feet. And despite his conviction that Jesus is greater, he doesn’t even offer to wash Jesus’ feet. Peter’s objection looks like humility. It sounds like devotion. It is really pride masquerading as false humility. Interestingly, pride attacks us not on our weak points, but on our strong ones. Remarkably, pride is just as willing to encourage self-deprecation as self-congratulation.

LACK OF BREAK-THROUGH

It should be clear that pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride naturally gives us a sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. When that happens, we close ourselves off from learning, from listening, and from opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing. We tend to close ourselves off from break-throughs because we think we have it all figured out. Solution? Humble yourself, let the Lord lift you up to new heights never imagined. “Some never get started on their destiny because they cannot humble themselves to learn, grow, and change.” —Author Unknown.

THE MIND OF CHRIST

How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves?  To put on the mind of Christ, we need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitude must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness, and His exemplar for the same, must take hold of our thinking, our desires, our conduct. What did Jesus mean by humility? The Greek word tapeinos means having a right view of ourselves before God and others. Paul discusses this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

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Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationship with others. As Paul says to the Romans, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16). And as he said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significantly than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). As we refuse to be preoccupied with ourselves and our own importance, and seek to love and serve others, it will reorient us from being self-centered to being others-centered—serving and caring for others just as Jesus did for us.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s Word, and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God. It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root in our souls. I’ve learned that I can only be humble when I decrease and He increases.

What Kind of Mirror?

“I believe all of you, somewhere within your heart, want to be the instruments of God’s power, and therefore, even if you don’t feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or woman of fervent and effective prayer.” – a quote from John Piper

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John Piper advocates what he calls Christian hedonism which teaches that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. This happens when God’s highest pursuit (His glory) and man’s deepest and most measurable happiness come together in one pursuit – namely, the pursuit of joy in God.

Every one of us is created in God’s image. Each one of us was created to be a conscious mirror of God, reflecting His very character. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had an overwhelming longing to be used by God to carry forth His power and wisdom and love in the world. They wanted to be mirrors of His glory. That longing is buried deep within each of us today. Unfortunately, it has been smothered by sin. In a sense, the quelling is only slight, but it has a dulling effect. The wonderment of a mirror lies in its ability to put one’s face to the light and let that light shine.

The serpent, more crafty than any other beast of the field, tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree that was in the midst of the garden. God warned Eve that consuming the forbidden fruit would cause her to die. The serpent, however, said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5, ESV) [Italics mine.] But what happened when Adam and Eve ate the fruit? They suddenly became aware that they were naked, and they were ashamed. In order to hide their “reflection,” they made loincloth out of fig leaves.

We want to decide for ourselves which way to turn our faces. “This is my good side.” We want people to esteem us and admire us and compliment us. We loath the idea of being a mirror which does not reflect beauty. We tire of having to turn our face wherever the light wants to go. We want to be our own light. We want to be God. This comes with our fallen humanity. It is the very essence of sin. If honest, you will admit you too have felt this way. But this universal experience of sin is Satan’s distortion of something wonderful: Our pure and righteous longing to be used by God to reflect His glory in the world. Concealed beneath our pride, craving for self-esteem, and our love of power and influence, is a good thing that has been distorted: the longing to be a mirror of God.

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A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world. A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others. The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen. It is utterly dependent upon the source of light outside itself. Sometimes it seems God shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – but this is not because He is playing favorites. Rather, it has to do with us. The instrument through which we see God is our whole self. And if our self is not kept clean and bright, as with a mirror, then our glimpse of God will be blurred – like the moon seen through a dirty telescope.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men, who are united together in a body, aware of the importance of all the parts of the body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like: musicians in one orchestra, or organs in one body.

“For the body does not consist of one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:14-20, ESV)

Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community looking for Him together. Christian fellowship is, so to speak, the technical equipment for this search. That’s why the false prophets who turn up every few years with some patently simplified religion of their own are really wasting time. He or she may appear to be very clever; may even sound more convincing than the true men of Christ. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the very elect.” (NIV)

When all is said and done, God is the Gospel. Gospel means “Good News.” Christianity, therefore, is not theology but news. But what is the ultimate good in this Good News? It all ends in one thing: God Himself. All the words of the Bible lead to Him. Christ is revealed from cover to cover. “Salvation” is not good news if it only saves us from Hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt but does not open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God, but doesn’t spark fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage, but doesn’t lead us to relationship with God.

Unfortunately, many people seem to embrace the Good News without embracing God. There is no real assurance that we have a new heart – that our image in the mirror has changed – simply because we are motivated to escape Hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, but it is not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. Even Satan and his minions want them.

Why is this the essence of the Good News? Because we were made in the image of God, to experience full and lasting peace – shalom – and to see and savor the glory of God. He created us in such a way that His glory is displayed through our joy in it. The Gospel of Christ is the Good News that, at the cost of His Son’s life, God has done everything to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and everlastingly happy. Namely Himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed Himself as the true source of full and lasting pleasure. “You made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Then He sent Christ to suffer “that He might bring us to God.”

So here we are: image bearers. The word image means representative likeness. This tells us at once that we should be reflecting, at our creature level, what Genesis 1 shows God to be. We must always act with a godliness that comes from elsewhere, reflected – indeed, imitated – in what we say and do. Our mirror must show others what the face of God looks like. We are to be His hands, His feet, His arms, His words. God generated value by producing what was truly good – so should we. We should be showing love and goodwill toward all other persons. A distinction has to be drawn. We still bear the image of God formally – that is, we still have in us the abilities that, if rightly harnessed, would achieve a fully-righteous, God-like life – and so the unique dignity of each human being must still be recognized and respected as a gesture of honor to our Maker. This is the kind of mirror we are called to be.

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
September 4

DO EVERYTHING IN DEPENDENCE on Me. The desire to act independently – apart from Me – springs from the root of pride. Self-sufficiency is subtle, insinuating its way into your thoughts and actions without you realizing it. But apart from Me, you can do nothing: that is, nothing of eternal value. My deepest desire for you is that you learn to depend on Me in every situation. I move heaven and earth to accomplish this purpose, but you must collaborate with Me in this training. Teaching you would be simple if I negated your free will or overwhelmed you with My Power. However, I love you too much to withdraw the godlike privilege I bestowed on you as My image-bearer. Use your freedom wisely by relying on Me constantly. Thus you enjoy My Presence and My Peace.

JOHN 15:5; EPHESIANS 6:10; GENESIS 1:26-27

Pride Can Halt Recovery

With all the interest in self-esteem and self-worth, there is another element to think about when we consider pride. Some of us come from families where we were not taught healthy emotional language and habits. We did not get a balanced perspective on the world and on relationships. Some of us actually got a distorted view of where we stood in relation to the rest of the world. We felt less than. In order to make up for that, we learned to exaggerate and lie and blow our accomplishments way out of proportion in order to feel of some value. To  succeed in our recovery and in life, we have to stop thinking we are worth less than others. We need to see the glass half full instead of half empty. We have to get rid of feelings of inability before we can make progress. As we learn more about how false pride has held us back from our full potential, we come to see that our main problem centers in our mind rather than in our body. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we alcoholics don’t just have a drinking problem; we have a thinking problem.

Many of us still think our value as a human being is in what we do or don’t do, rather than who we are. We think our value is about results – the car we drive, the person we marry, the house we live in, the job we have, where we go for vacations, or the clothes we wear. We’ve shifted the emphasis from who to what. This is not emotionally healthy. Taking a look at pride means gaining a new perspective and looking again at who we are, not exclusively at what we have or what we do.

Out-of-control pride is dangerous. Too many people are convinced they wrote the book. They take false pride in their accomplishments and feel they have nothing left to learn. They are eager to tell everyone how much they know. They become unteachable. This is a sure way of closing a mind that needs to remain wide open. This kind of pride becomes arrogance, and it turns many people off. False pride and settling for inferiority will accomplish nothing. We have to stop choosing to have low self-worth, or to settle for less in life. We ask, “What value do I have as a human being? What do I have to offer others in the way of service, wisdom, and help? Who have I become, and who am I becoming in order to increase my value to the rest of humankind and myself?” The thought that must go with us constantly is, “How can I best serve you Lord? Your will be done, not mine.”

Although pride is at the top of the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, the real sin is having arrogance or false pride. Healthy pride is a necessary part of self-esteem and character growth. Remember, pride goeth before a fall. This is speaking of unhealthy pride, including character defects such as egotism, grandiosity and arrogance. No harm will come to spiritual growth from the pride experienced when we freely admit to ourselves that our progress is not made by us alone. Humble pride acknowledges the guidance of others and a faith in and reliance upon God. With humility and God’s help, we learn to have healthy pride in our progress and growth in our recovery.

When people give up an addiction, they have a great deal to feel proud about. They have managed to escape a condition that was ruining their life, and could easily have led to their death. If the individual puts enough effort into their sobriety, they will have many more things to feel proud about in the future. Feelings of pride can be one of the rewards of recovery, but care needs to be taken that this emotion doesn’t become excessive. Some people can become so full of pride that it stops them from making any further gains in sobriety. They start to believe that they already have all the answers, and may start to view other people as inferior. We have every right to be pleased with our accomplishments, but we should never allow our pride to become a liability.

If people are excessively proud, it is referred to as hubris. The definition of hubris is “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence; exaggerated pride or self-confidence.” In other words, their self-esteem is unrealistically high. They overestimate their importance in the world, and may look upon other people as inferior to them. An old timer named Wally C. used to share in AA meetings that we should never look down on another alcoholic or addict no matter what their station in life. We never know if they are the one who might save our life. (Wally died sober late last year.) Even those individuals who generally suffer from low self-esteem can exhibit excessive pride in an attempt to hide their true feelings. Most people who have fallen into addiction also suffer from low self-esteem. They can regain their feelings of self-worth once they are sober and are able to rebuild their life. A healthy level of self-esteem for people in recovery is fine, but it needs to be realistic and tempered with humility.

Humility does not come easily. I’ve heard it said that if you think you’re humble, you probably aren’t. Benjamin Franklin said, “In reality, there is, perhaps, not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.” To develop humility, we need to examine our own actions, words, feelings, and thoughts. If we regularly probe ourselves, (asking “When have I been arrogant, vain, snobbish, self-absorbed?”), we are likely to reduce the pleasures of vanity, arrogance, and the like, and loosen their hold on us.

One dimension of humility is realizing your progress in recovery is not a matter of self-sufficiency in your actions and accomplishments. You become willing to receive advice and correction. You are able to acknowledge the contribution of others to your success. This rules out hyper-autonomy, which is the excessive desire to go it alone, to be the sole author of your accomplishments.

It is significant that Peter tells us, “In the same manner, you who are younger, submit yourself to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because , ‘God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.'” (1 Peter 5:5, NIV) The first aspect of this renewed mind the Apostle Paul mentions is humility. Paul describes for us how the renewed mind thinks. In the Greek text, Paul uses the verb “to think,” or some aspect of it, four times. This shows us that humility is a matter of how we think before God. Often we can see the attitudes and behaviors of pride in others. When I act from a position of pride, I assume my recovery is complete. I begin to feel as though I am better than others. Before I know it, I believe the lie that I don’t need to work on my recovery any more. I forget that I am supposed to work out my salvation daily with trembling and fear. When in this particular frame of mind, I begin to justify my actions. Once again I live by my rules.

It is very important to note Paul’s struggle with this same issue. In his letter to the Romans, he writes,”But I need something more. For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help. I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it! I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (Romans 7:17-25, taken from the translation The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Even if we could hide our pride from others, we cannot hide it from God. This is a mindset that we have to develop before God, where we watch for episodes where we depend solely on ourselves, thinking “I got this!” Then, instead, we affirm our dependence on God, grateful that He is there. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” I have come to the point in my recovery that I am able to humbly admit I can do nothing by myself. My addiction is too strong. It waits during periods of abstinence for a weak moment when it can take me hostage once again. The convincing evidence of this is that I can stay clean and sober for 10 months, 12 months, and, on one occasion, 18 months, only to fall off the wagon.

I cannot continue to let my addiction make me do things I would not normally do. I am in the presently in the very midst of the struggle Paul speaks of in the above passage. I see now how it applies to me; especially to my struggle to stay clean. I must work on my recovery daily. I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling on a daily basis. How is it that I forget to be humble? To admit defeat? To accept help, not only from my sponsor and my pastor, but from Jesus Christ who made recovery and redemption possible? How is it that I can hurt the ones I love without setting out to do so? How can I break this addiction? By remembering that there is power in the Name of Jesus to break every chain. I no longer need to know why I can’t drink like other people, or why I can’t safely take narcotic painkillers. It is as much a fact of life for me as it is for people who have diabetes and can’t eat certain foods.

When I feel the urge to get my hands on narcotic painkillers, even through taking them from someone else’s prescription bottle, I must remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.” It is a matter of not giving in to my flesh. Of not letting the disease of addiction dictate what I am going to do. It is at these times of temptation that I must remember I can do nothing by myself, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13) Once again, I have returned to the place in my recovery where I make it a habit to thank God every morning for my continued sobriety, and I submit daily to His will for me. I ask Him to keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next 24 hours. I say to Him, “Lord, if something is not true, I pray that I don’t say it; if something does not belong to me, I pray that I don’t take it; and, if something doesn’t feel right, I pray that I don’t do it.” If I do these things every day, I will be granted a reprieve from my addiction one day at a time. To deviate from this can lead to jails, institutions and death.

Pride Cuts Us Off From God

Some people have difficulty becoming humble enough to admit they need something beyond themselves — a personal savior. That’s one reason I have come to believe that pride ranks high in the hierarchy of sins. Pride leads us to believe we are spiritually self-sufficient, and keeps us from drawing close to God. For years I acted at though I was the god of my universe. My morality compass was broken. I did what I wanted to do, and if confronted about my behavior I became defensive. I was self-righteous and felt I didn’t need God. At times I didn’t know if I even believed in God.

God grabbed my attention in spite of my unbelief. His influence was not apparent to me at first. I just blamed things on bad luck. I lost jobs and wives and apartments and cars. I continued to live the lifestyle of a party animal. I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and was using opiates on a regular basis. Of course, it did not dawn on me that drinking and taking drugs was the root of my problems. I did not see my behavior as being indicative of an underlying spiritual malady. Although I went up to the alter at age thirteen and confessed Jesus as the Son of God and my Savior, I did not accept this fact down in my soul. I think I was looking for a simple solution to my misery. Besides, I wanted people to think I had changed.

I fell into deep depression and started losing my grip on normalcy. I could not stop drinking. I don’t think I wanted to stop quite frankly. I remember admitting to myself that I was an alcoholic, but I wasn’t sure I felt like doing anything about it. I had come to the point where I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it. I have always been interested in writing, and believed I could compose things better when drunk or high. Guess I thought I was the next Ernest Hemingway. But without fail, most of my writings made no sense the next morning. I never finished any of my writing, leaving my hard drive littered with fragmented projects.

I quit drinking in 2008, but unfortunately I began abusing Ativan and opiates. For some reason, I thought I was sober. I figured pills were different. It didn’t take long until I was once again living in a fog. My life became unmanageable all over again. I started living a lie. I was teaching Bible study at the county jail, speaking on deliverance, but was popping pills. This continued for several years, getting worse with the passing of every month. I was not able to control how many pills I took, nor could I resist the temptation to take medication belonging to other people. Ultimately, my family confronted me in an intervention. I spent twenty-one days in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Today in church we skipped the sermon and continued to worship and pray. A man came to services that had been getting food from our food bank. He had the odor of alcohol on his breath today and wanted us to pray for him. Our congregation surrounded him and laid hands on him. We prayed for release of the bondage of alcohol. Then our pastor asked church members to come up front and stand in the gap for loved ones struggling with addiction. The congregation also prayed for me. I felt the presence of God. It was very moving. I am grateful that I was able to put my pride aside and recognize the need for spiritual healing. For the need of a personal savior. I have said before that my higher power is Jesus Christ. He delivers the captive from bondage. He heals the sick. He is my Lord and Master.