Friday, October 11, 2013

7QT (Vol. 59): More than a Sinner

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Friends of ours left their church somewhat recently. They had been attending for years, but just got burnt out. Every sermon, it seemed, focused on their sinfulness and how they were compared to God. Repulsive. Disgusting. Worthless. Scum. They left each Sunday either angry or discouraged.

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We are sinners. Certainly we need to be aware of our shortcomings, that we might turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. Also, we need to stand in awe of God. It is right and just to give thanks to the Lord, our God. Recognizing his majesty and power is an important component of our spiritual life.

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But both of those can be done without degrading our human dignity. We can own our sin, acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, without being worthless. If we are worthless, then Jesus' sacrifice must have been a waste. What has no value cannot be redeemed. Jesus knew the sins of those with whom he ate and drank. He wasn't repulsed or disgusted by them. He forgave them and called them to conversion. "Your faith has healed you." Our sins are forgiven; we are restored to what we should be.

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As far as worshiping God, our praise proceeds from our (limited) understanding of his greatness, not out of shame. When you see what is beautiful and pure and sacred - perhaps a sunset or a newborn child or a great work of art - the attributes of what you see move you. You don't appreciate them because you're rotten, but because they are wonderful. So it is with God. He doesn't need to tear us down in order to build himself up.

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A shame-based "Gospel" (gospel means good news and so is incongruous with shaming) disorders our relationship with God. Ironically, it is narcissistic. Rather then repenting because we desire to turn toward God, we repent because our sins make us gross and we don't want to feel gross. Rather than worshiping God because he is goodness and truth, we worship face-down, naval-gazing and reflecting on how abhorrent we are in comparison. It becomes all about us.

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A shame-based message also disorders our relationship with others - Christians and non-Christians alike. "Love your neighbor as yourself." If my primary understanding of myself is that I am scum, how can I love those around me? They must be scum, too. If even God is repulsed by them, how can he realistically expect me to reach out with genuine love? I may be able to go through the motions, but my heart can't be in it. Not only do I struggle to reach out to scum, but I also feel unworthy to do so. I am disgusting. What could I possibly offer these people?

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Shaming also contradicts the Gospel of Life. All life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death. As human beings, created male and female in the image of God, we have an innate human dignity. For sure, we make horrible choices. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - you, me, each and every one of us. But here's the good news: through Jesus, we are heirs of the Kingdom. We are more than sinners. We are loved and valued children of God.

"You are loved. You are beautiful. You are a child of God." - Kristen Heitzmann


7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

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