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Living With Feet of Clay (Part 3/5)

“For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust.”

Ps.103:14

“Hi, I’m Scott and I am a sinner.”

It is the pattern at AA meetings when introducing yourself to the group to verbally admit, “I am an alcoholic.” This blunt confession could be thought of as embarrassing, if not cruel. It could feel like a label from the past which limits and impedes progress. But the confession is necessary for growth. It is a recognition that regardless of how long a time of sobriety, they remain an alcoholic. This awareness is not just a step towards wholeness; it is fundamental to it. To become something new, we must confess what we are. Christians may have forgotten that.

“Do not sin … but, when you do.” (1 John 2:1)

We are sinners, forgiven, redeemed and beloved, but we remain sinners. We live in the tension of the Apostle John’s words; commanded not to sin but failing to live up to the standard. Our sins are persistent, repeated, continual. They do not deny the work of Jesus for us, nor are they cause for compromise to the commands of Scripture. Our sins run counter to our godly intent and reflect the internal Pauline battle of doing what we don’t want to do and not doing what we desire to do (Rom.7:19). All who want to advance in their spiritual walk and experience the godly growth of their soul must face this dilemma. How?

Living a Life of “Should”

Many try to resolve the dilemma of our sinful state by living a life of “should.” I should be praying more. I should be more loving. I should be reading my Bible more consistently. I should be better than I am. There is no denying that the “should” is true. Each one of us ought to be better than we are. Jesus called us towards perfection and a practice of righteousness that exceeded the applauded of His day (Matt.5:20,48). Of course we should be better! But while a spiritual walk that is saturated with “should” sounds right, it proves to be insufficient.

We see the space between what we are and what we ought to be and feel overwhelmed. We may despair and think that holiness is for saintly others, not us. So, we settle for less. We may “act” the role of goodness and hide the truth behind a smiling facade at church. We can become hypercritical of others, venting our own sense of failure on the shortfalls we see in them. Most of all, the space between what is and what should be is filled with guilt. We know what we should be, but we are not. We feel shame and a deep-seated unworthiness which translates into self-condemnation. There is another way.

Walking With Feet of Clay

The spirituality modeled and taught by Jesus never side stepped the standard of holiness. Righteousness was never compromised. He called for repentance, obedience and sacrifice. Yet people who had an earned reputation as sinners felt comfortable in His presence. Prostitutes, dishonest tax collectors, adulterers – all sensed a welcome from Jesus. He knew what they were but invited them towards something they were meant to be.  The space between what was and what could be was filled with grace. It remains true for us.

On the ladder of spiritual ascent, we are closer to the bottom than the top. We tend to focus on the heights above us and think that an engagement with Jesus is delayed until we ascend higher. But Jesus meets us where we are, as we are. We offer our present condition to Jesus and lean upon Him to carry us, rung by rung. Honesty and authenticity are required to grow our souls. Remember, to become something new, we must confess what we are. We present our real souls to Jesus, not the ones we imagine we ought to have. Everyone who follows Jesus does it with feet of clay. We are made of dust, not steel. So how can we progress in our spiritual pilgrimage with faltering feet? Consider these six essentials:

 

1.) Live in Humility (Romans 12:1-3)

The root sense of humility is “of the earth.” We are literally grounded people, and that doesn’t change after conversion. We are biblically described as blessed paupers, welcomed children, lepers in need of Jesus’ touch. Beggars have nothing to offer. Children are prone to mistakes. Lepers suffer shame and distance because of their sickness. But Jesus extends grace to those with diminished status. He is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet.5:5). When we are agitated over our recent failure and berate ourselves that we should have done better, that is an expression of pride. The proud think that spiritual achievement is within their grasp. But beggars, children and lepers know they must be enriched, helped and healed. Admit and accept the condition of your soul. That doesn’t suggest a tolerance for sin or settling into spiritual lethargy. It is an admission of our state. We are made of dust and without the grace of our Lord, this is as good as it gets.

2.) Practice Repeated Confession and Repentance (1 John 1:8-10)

Confession and repentance are more than an entrance to the spiritual life, they are the means of it as well. Confession is an agreement with God about our soul’s condition. It strips through our pretense to the truth. Repentance is a sorrow about what is and a committed practice of what is new. These disciplines can’t be reserved for “major” transgressions or only for those that are public. Confession and repentance are a daily practice, immediately at your sin. Don’t delay until you feel better about yourself, or until you think God’s disappointment is dwindled. Don’t follow your own evaluation to guide your confession. We invite God to search us, to shine His light on the corners of our soul.  These soul habits need to be saturated by the Word and prayer.

3.) Rely on His Grace (2 Peter 3:18)

A reflection on the debits of our soul can morph into morbid introspection. We are not called to self-flagellation, as if punishing ourselves purifies our being. We recognize our sinful state, but do it within the shadow of the cross. Celebrate what Jesus has done for you. Soak yourself with the truths of His sacrifice, atonement, and resurrection on your behalf. We are not changed by weighing the magnitude of our sins but by perceiving His glorious grace. Learn to see yourself through God’s eyes. Be as gentle with yourself as God is with you. Bemoaning and condemning yourself for failure only agitates despair. Recognize your sin, but embrace the grace given you by the Father, through Jesus and affirmed by His Spirit. A parent runs to a child hurt by a fall. Jesus does the same for us. In the moment of our failure, Jesus draws near. He meets us in our mess, weak and broken as we are.

4.) Practice Self Denial (Romans12:1-2)

Recognizing that we have feet of clay does not condone nor tolerate sin. Every traveller begins a journey from where they are, but there is a destination to reach. Our spiritual journey is towards holiness. We are called to obedience and are therefore compelled to make choices. Saying “Yes” to godliness means saying “No” to other things. Those who think they will never be robbed don’t lock their doors and windows. But believers know that we are vulnerable, and that sin impoverishes us. We set our lives, as we can, in a manner which prevents sinful temptation and traps. Abstinence is the practice to avoid that which tempts or dulls the soul. Since every soul is unique and the seasons of our souls shift, no set list of avoidance will do. We give ourselves to biblical commands and personal, practical wisdom. Let the Spirit of God guide you in those decisions. Listen to the counsel of trusted mentors and the community of faith. Learn from your own past and isolate your trigger points. Every day, pick up your cross, deny the natural urgings of our fallen nature and follow Jesus. Learn to say, “No” and say it often.

5.) Simply Start Again (Psalm 32:8-9)

Every life is filled with failures and mistakes. We score low on a math quiz, hurt someone we love, suffer bankruptcy because of bad decisions, get pulled over for speeding. We learn quickly to persevere through our mistakes. We study harder and score higher. We apologize and do differently. We open a new business with a different model. We commit to driving in the slow lane (maybe). Life would not be possible if each and every mistake halted us in our tracks. Spiritual life is the same.

When we fail, the answer is to start again. We recognize and confess our sins and stand in His grace; then begin anew.  The failed prayer life can be started afresh. The damaged relationship can be renewed. A lustful thought life can be pointed back to God. There is no final sin. There can be despair or rebellion; but even those failures can be brought to Jesus. We convince ourselves that God won’ t welcome us. That’s a lie which denies the Gospel. Pilgrims discover that the only way to finish the journey is to continue. The path to spiritual growth is clear; when we fall, lean on the grace of Jesus, and simply begin again.

 6.) Be Patient (Romans 8:23-25)

Wisdom from Francis De Sales: “We cannot require of ourselves what is not in us.” And we do it all the time. We blame ourselves for deficiency of virtues, for a lack of spiritual strength, for falling short of our own expectations or not knowing what we do not know. Granted that our hopes and intentions are appropriate, we simply lack the maturity to match them. At times we are like school children at the start of a new year, worried and self-critical that we do not know what we will be taught. But we will be taught.

God is at work within us and around us. He knows how to shape clay for His own purposes according to His own timing. The power of the Gospel saves us. The power of the Gospel shapes us. We may stumble and fall, find ourselves at dead ends, cover much of the same territory repeatedly, but God knows how to lead us. Even feet of clay can make the journey by His grace. So be patient. The heart that longs for God to lead will be led.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

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