Words like “sinner” and “depravity” and “fallen” are used often but rarely contextualized in a healthy way (I think Rob and Iain do a good job, although I think our congregation could think more about the meanings).
What does it really mean to accept that there are flaws at the core of human nature — flaws that require redemption?
Let me make an absurd example — from a true story.
I was convinced that I was a sinner at an early age — and that I should be a vessel for the Lord to work through.
I had a black heart that could be made white as snow.
I had a spirit within in me — deeper and more important than my mind — that needed to improve its connection to God.
I could only do good when my sins were confessed and when I had arrived at some poorly-defined, appropriate spiritual level (usually a feeling).
Anything I did without feeling strongly “led by the Spirit” was “done in the flesh.”
Anything “done in the flesh” was condemnable — and possibly destructive, possibly getting in the way of God’s work.
Because I was a child, these beliefs were not “intellectual arguments” I learned but instead the social and emotional environment that I was immersed in.
This bled over into my daily life, because God was about all parts of life — so everything had to meet a high, spiritual, supernatural standard and purpose.
Paralysis and a stunning lack of confidence.
A fear of making basic decisions — what if I made the wrong decision?
A fear of planning — what if I my earthly, human plans got in the way of what the Lord wanted me to do?
A fear of sinning — what if I had too much confidence in myself, my plans, my goals and my ambitions? Would I become too “humanistic”? Would God turn his back on me? Would I lose God?
As I grew older, I envied the non-Christians: They could make decisions and plan for the future and pursue goals. They could find new ways to provide for their families, treat their friends to special events, and donate to their favorite causes.
But I felt like I should “wait upon the Lord” and remain in an unattached, un-obligated state so I could move as the Lord led me. I didn’t want to do anything “in the flesh.”
I wasn’t even sure why Proverbs was in the Bible — it was too practical, it required an application of principles to decision-making, and it involved thinking for oneself.
Thinking for oneself — that was a major sin growing up, in two totally different circles: the Independent Missionary Baptists of my schools and the non-denominational charismatics of my churches.
Oddly enough, the two groups despised each other. The fundie Baptists thought speaking in tongues was demonic and waving hands in the air during worship was just very, very wrong.
The charismatics thought everyone should be open to the Spirit just a much as they were open to the Bible (in practice, more than they were open to the Bible).
This is what I was living in. I did not buy into an argument. I grew up in a social and emotional climate. (A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.”)
Only the fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture was right; only those who were adequately plugged-in with the Holy Spirit could accomplish anything.
I tried to live inside these contexts for a long time and felt like I accomplished nothing.
I like the Reformed line: as humans, we cannot gain salvation for ourselves.
But if the language of the Bible is supposed to shape our daily lives, it isn’t really supposed to paralyze our daily lives; grace isn’t supposed to plunge us into fear and indecision.
Yet the most troubling thing of all: When people are left alone with their Bibles, crazy interpretations and applications of the texts, like the ones above, abound — and to a crippling degree. Absurd.