August 14, 2017 | Faith

Over the course of history, in every generation, there is perpetual discussion about what story might qualify as the greatest story ever told. I have an opinion as well. The greatest story ever told is great because it’s common to every person who has walked the earth. The greatest story ever told is great because it begins before there is a beginning. The greatest story ever told is great because it intimately intersects with our lives and addresses what we all know to be true: Things are not the way they ought to be.

The very foundation of the greatest story ever told is God. Eternal, infinite, and sovereign in all things. God spoke everything we see into being. Yet, He is independent of His creation. God is holy and indelibly righteous. As this great story unfolds, we will see He is frighteningly just, yet full of mercy and grace.

In Genesis 1, the crown of His creation is humankind. “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). He declared His work very good. Not only is man made in the image of God, he is called to image God—to “Be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 11:45). Yet, mankind finds it impossible to image God’s holiness. This humbling challenge is met with daily reminders of incredible inadequacy. Genesis 3 narrates the devastating story of the very first failure. And, it looks a lot like mine. Adam and Eve rebel against God. Rather than imaging Him, they choose self-sufficiency, and sin makes its debut into the story. Man’s difficult battle against fleshly desires begins. The inherent nature of God’s holiness requires that He be responded to accordingly, so punishment must come. God’s wrath is revealed, and mankind is given over to a common set of sinful desires. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, . . .” (Romans 1:18). Curse and death are ushered into the greatest story ever told.

Even with curse and consequences, sin and rebellion become humankind’s pattern. Flesh, that package of human desires that oppose the rule of God, is implacable. Rather than imaging Holy God, man constantly strives to exalt self. So much so that at the time of Noah in Genesis 6, humankind has become so wicked that He wipes them all out with a flood—saving only Noah, his family, and animals. As the earth fills again, people embark on a strategy of self-sufficiency and human accomplishment in striving to build the Tower of Babel (Gen. 10-11). They put their minds and their skills together in order to demonstrate their ingenuity, cleverness, and superiority upon the earth. They express their independence from the God who created them in His image. He puts down the rebellion and scatters the people throughout the earth.

But the greatest story ever told doesn’t end there. Genesis 12 marks an extraordinary turning point. God does not give up on the idea that mankind might image him to the world. He builds a nation through Abraham. Over and over His people continue to fail. The Hebrew people end up in Egypt as a slave nation. After four hundred years, God miraculously leads them out from under the yoke of Egyptian slavery through His servant Moses. He gives them the Law and says He’s making them into a “Kingdom of Priests” that they may be used to bring other nations to God. Once again, God desires that they image Him to the rest of the world.

Even as God’s treasured nation, Israel is plagued with sin. They battle that desire to make their own name great, just like I do. They strive to build their own kingdoms rather than His. They find themselves caught in a rueful cycle of wanting to please God, yet miserably and with great consequence, failing time after time. Flesh is weak. The devastating impact of sin is its power to distance humankind from imaging holy God.

Yet, in the greatest story ever told, God’s next move is cataclysmal. In spite of Israel’s chronic failure, God’s love is relentless. He does not give up on them, although He’d certainly be just and right in doing so. I imagine the heavenly hosts standing in stunned wonder as this next chapter unfolds.

“Through His sufferings unto death the son of God bore the penalty of our sins, making it righteously possible for a holy God to receive sinners into His saving grace without punishment for their sins.”[1] One would think Jesus, Savior of the world, would be welcomed with open arms. But He is not. He is crucified. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the climax of the greatest story ever told. Its impact is felt in every age, in every nation, in every people group. It ushers in God’s glorious grace—that unmerited, undeserved favor from Holy God that is essential to justify us, and at the same time repulsive to the part of us that longs to remain self-sufficient.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

In the greatest story ever told, each individual person has the opportunity to receive that gift. “Our brokenness and violence are met by the grace of God, who suffered violence for our sake and in turn graces and empowers us to reorder our desire, to recalibrate our ultimate aims, and to take up once again our vocation as humans, to be his image bearers to and for the world.”[2] Our contribution to the story is our faith, and it comes in three parts. We gain the knowledge of what Christ accomplished on our behalf—that He purposely bore the penalty for our sin. We assent/agree that we believe it is true. And we commit by entrusting ourselves to that reality. There are degrees of strength to these three elements of faith, and we grow and mature in them.

In the meantime, what about the sin that continues to plague us? What about our skewed picture of what we think we want life to be? “What we love is a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like.”[3] So often it leads us directly into sin. In Romans 6, Paul illuminates how our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ impacts our battle with sin. The moment we choose to place our faith in Christ, there is a realized reality of our transfer from slavery to sin. We become dead to sin’s dominance. It’s not a magic button to no longer sinning, but it’s a transfer of masters. The reality of Romans 6 is “Sin is not my master. The ruling authority of my life is now grace.” Three commands are outlined by Paul in Romans 6:1-14 that help us understand how to live it out successfully. First, know there has been a change. “I’ve been united with Christ.” Second, consider or reckon, “I no longer have that old relationship to sin.” Third, present your body and its members as living sacrifices—a fancy way of asking yourself, “What would it look like today to present the members of my body as instruments for doing good rather than evil?” It is only by identification with Christ’s death and resurrection that we can defeat sin. As Dr. Anderson so poignantly said in class, “We undersell our identification with Christ.”[4]

Thankfully, we are not left on our own to battle those fleshly temptations. According to Lewis Sperry Chaffer, “He knows better than we that we could never produce any such quality of life; yet He is not unreasonable in His expectation, since He stands ready to supply all that He demands.”[5] As Jesus left the earth following His resurrection, He sent the Spirit to indwell believers. The metaphor of indwelling indicates the most intimate connection possible. The Spirit manifests fruit in the lives of believers—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control—the very things that are counter to the fleshly desires in all of us (Gal. 5:22-24).

Further, in John 17, Jesus prays that there will be unity among the people who believe. Miraculously, He uses them to build the Church. The Church is the new plan, under a new covenant for all people. The Church picks up the commission originally given to Israel: To be a kingdom of priests. These chosen people who make up the Church will image God and demonstrate Him to the world. Like Israel, the Church can’t get it right either. Those common struggles persist—self-sufficiency, desires to make our own names great, celebrations of ourselves rather than imaging God. But we know the end of the greatest story ever told. In the final episode, God Himself will usher the Lord Jesus onto the stage as The King, creating a new heaven and new earth. He will set up His reign upon the earth and we will reign with him forever. Sin, sorrow, and death will end. The rule of God, the image of God, the kingdom of God will be demonstrated everywhere on the earth. Things will finally be the way they ought to be.

Personal Reflection

The greatest story ever told intersects with my life as His creation, as His daughter, as His flawed follower who is humbly grateful for His mercy, grace and forgiveness.

I’ve been amazed as I’ve truly begun to understand what His plan for me to image Him really means. Everyday living, moving, parenting, serving, writing, and even resting has taken on new depths. As I live victoriously, through the power of the Holy Spirit others are drawn to Him. As I’m patient when a foster child blatantly disobeys; as I love when that “hard to love” person corners me after the nine o’clock church service; as I demonstrate kindness to my family when a writing deadline looms. These are the times my life has the potential to image Him and reflect who He is to the world around me.

One thing I’ve learned about myself as I’ve traveled through time in the story of God, is that the pull I regularly feel in the direction of sin is not something to ignore, and it’s not something I have to muster the strength to overcome. It is a struggle that is perfectly nestled in the middle of that package of human desires that oppose the rule of God. And no matter how I might try to dress it up and call it something else, it’s sin. It’s that same sin that Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel builders, Israel, and the body of Christ in the Church battle—self-sufficiency.

I like progress and I know how to get things done. These things can cause me to lean even more heavily toward self-sufficiency. It’s easy for me to trust structure and systems and rely on those rather than on the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction.

One of the greatest take-aways, and the outline for how I might move forward and grow, comes from Paul’s directive in Romans 6 and 7. He points out the futility of trying to dig deep into my own strength and effort in order to deal with chronic sin. He offers a prescription for leaning into grace and living victoriously.

For my situation, it looks something like this: When self-sufficiency rears its ugly head, know there has been a change of “masters” because I’ve been united with Christ. Reckon that I no longer have that old relationship to self-sufficiency. And then ask myself, “What would it look like today to present my life, my schedule, my to-do list, and my best practices to God as instruments of righteousness instead?” Victory in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit is available to me today, and every day ahead. In that I find rest for my weary, insufficient self. Oh, how grateful I am for His perfect sufficiency on my behalf, and that He allows me to participate in the greatest story ever told.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual: A Classic Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Spirituality, [rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1967), 119-120.

[2] James K. A. Smith, Cultural Liturgies, vol. v.1, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 180.

[3] Ibid, 52.

[4] Vic Anderson, “Module 6—New Identity for the Quest” unpublished class notes for PM101OL. (Dallas Theological Seminary, Summer Semester, 2017).

[5] Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual: A Classic Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Spirituality, [rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1967), 101.

Discussion

Shari Campbell - August 15, 2017 at 01:53 pm

Wow…well done! I thought for a moment I might be reading Tozer. 🙂 This is a good reminder for all of us, because even though I think many of my strengths and weaknesses may be different, “self” and “sin” always find a way to appear in my daily life. Loved this! Hope you all are doing well. 🙂

    Sandra Stanley - August 21, 2017 at 09:10 am

    Thanks Shari! Hope you’re well. This was a synthesis of the summer class I took at DTS. Loved this class!

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“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).