When Strivings Cease

Written by Rachel Denison

Lately I’ve been thinking about sin and its affects on my heart. In my pride, sin always leads to shame. I say in my pride because it’s when I am surprised by my sin that I retreat in fear and shame, hiding from the Father. Shame simply keeps me from God, by my own choice. Why would I be surprised when I sin? I think for a while I had a misunderstanding of what it meant to be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Here is what I think I believed: God made me clean and new in Christ, now I can live perfectly and free from sin. (Secretly believing, if I sin I disappoint God completely and need some time of separation in order to be sinless again. I basically just needed to forget about my sin for a few days until the shame went away.)

What a travesty! What a false, absurd and distorted representation of the truth. I will be honest. Verses like this always come to mind and throw me off. At times, I still don’t know how to make sense of it all. Philippians 3:12-16 says:

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained."

Of course a verse like this only makes real sense when understood in context. What is Paul really talking about? Does he honestly think he can attain perfection in his own strength? If he didn’t believe that, why would he say he "presses on" to make it his own?

Once I get to verse sixteen I’m struck by his words: "what we have attained." What have we attained?  This forces me to jump back to verse one. What is the context for his words on perfection to begin with? Righteousness through faith in Christ. That’s the whole deal. That’s what he’s talking about.

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." -Philippians 3:7-10

Righteousness from God that depends on faith, and that faith is in Christ, the only Son of God who died on my behalf. That’s it. What is the context of your faith today? Are you surprised by your sin? Because God most certainly is not. He would not have sent his Son. But what is the context of your faith? Is it your works? Do you believe your works can save you? Can being a good person save you? Not gossiping and always making your quiet time? Can that save us Church? I am preaching to myself here. Why else would I retreat in shame?

You see, we must stay away from sin, not because that makes us righteous or because sin makes God super mad at us, but because sin brings shame, and shame keeps us from running to Christ. Shame makes us hide from our precious Father. God calls us out of sin and death, to walk with him in his glorious light. The path is laid before us. We don't have to strive anymore when we're holding the Father's hand. Once my faith is truly founded on the finished work of Christ, shame won’t be my portion and hopefully it won't be my first instinct. But I don’t think this is something you finally come to one day in an "Ah ha!" moment. For me, I sense this being a life-long journey, daily, morning by morning, renewing my mind to what’s true. Keep walking, walking with him.

The gospel truth is founded solely on Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. Jesus.

I’m reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns, In Christ Alone:

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

This is question we must all ask ourselves daily: what is my faith founded on? Is it founded solely on the love of Christ? Or is it founded on my fears and strivings? Where is my hope? Where does my strength come from?

It’s all Jesus, and we must daily with his help learn to live from him as our strength. I believe this is the path to abundant life and peace—where Jesus alone is our righteousness through every storm and every drought. That sounds unshakable by sin and shame to me.

"And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'" –Genesis 3:10

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed." –Psalm 34:4-5

"For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.'" –Romans 10:11

"The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance." -Psalm 16:6

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." –Romans 8:1-4

Enjoy this ridiculously wonderful song by Steffany Gretzinger that sums it up perfectly.