(Photo by K.R. Keyser, September 2017, all rights reserved.)
Shame is absent from modern thinking. People argue that their natural inclinations are right. If they feel something, then it must be natural and therefore, it is permissible. This mindset is especially evident in the increasingly permissive sexual mores. Lust is legitimized, and immorality and perversions are no longer viewed as harmful or aberrant. Premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and heterosexuality are increasingly mocked and set aside as abnormal. In particular, homosexuality is not only tolerated it is celebrated and privileged as a sacrosanct lifestyle that one may not question. Since the essence of sin is dethroning God and usurping His right to determine our behavior, it is not surprising to see the suppression of shame along with the proud vindication of one’s lifestyle choices. The Lord, however, views things differently.
A Once Beautiful Ship, Now Marred
Mankind is not currently in the same condition as when the Creator fashioned it (Gen. 1:26-31; Gen. 2:25.) We are fallen, broken, and sinful rebels (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 3:23.) Sin twists our minds (Rom. 1:28), hearts (Jer. 17:9), wills (Rom. 7:8-11), and ultimately destroys our bodies. (Rom. 3:9-20; Rom. 5:17-19; James 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:18, 21-22.) So, looking to ourselves for legitimacy is a fool’s errand. It is just as absurd as looking at a ship (like the one in the photo above) and deeming it appropriately sea-worthy. When it was first launched, it sailed with no difficulty, but after it was irreparably damaged it was condemned as worthless and beached on the rocks of Spanish Wells. Similarly, we human beings are twisted and broken by sin and in ourselves are condemned in the eyes of a holy God.
Thankfully, our Maker does not scrap us like the pictured fishing boat. Instead, He decided before the foundation of the world to save us: a process that includes deliverance from condemnation to a righteous standing before God, as well as becoming new creatures with minds, hearts, and wills that function in accordance with His pleasure (John 3:3-21; John 5:24-25; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Heb. 10:16.) As Titus 3:4-7 expresses it:
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
God works to transform our natural state – both spiritually and physically – into the glorious liberty of His children and to conform us to His Son’s own image (Rom. 8:9-30.) By His Spirit living within and working within Christians, He transforms their hearts to love what He loves and hate what He hates. Their minds begin to think His thoughts after Him (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 2:5) and their wills desire to do His will (John 7:17; Phil. 2:12.)
I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found
John Newton, the infamous slave-ship captain turned preacher and hymn writer, put it beautifully:
“The image of God, in which he was formed, was defaced, and a far different image set up in his heart, even of him who had seduced him from his allegiance; darkness in the understanding, rebellion in the will, sensuality in the affections; the justice of God threatening a penalty he could neither satisfy nor sustain; the commandments of God still challenging an obedience he had no longer any power to yield. The very gifts and bounties of God, with which he was encompassed, designed not only for his comfort, but his instruction, to lead him, as by so many steps, to their gracious Author, became eventually the occasions of withdrawing him farther from his duty, and increasing, as well as aggravating, his ingratitude. Thus stood man towards his Maker. With regard to his fellow-creatures, self-love and inordinate desires having raised a variety of interfering interests in the breasts of all, peace withdrew from the earth. Every man’s heart and hand was set against his neighbor; and violence, rage, envy, and confusion, overspread the world. Nor could he be easier in himself; hurried by restless desires towards things either unsatisfying or unattainable, haunted with cares, tortured with pains, tired with opposition, shocked with disappointment; conscience, like the hand that appeared in Belshazzar’s feast, Daniel 5, writing bitter things against him, when outward circumstances allowed a short repose: and vanity, like a worm, destroying the root of every flower that promised the fairest bloom of success. Behold a few outlines of the picture of fallen man! Miserable in his life, more miserable in the continual dread of losing such a life; miserable, most of all, that neither his fancy can feign, nor his fear conceive, the consequences of the death he dreads,—which will introduce him to the immediate presence, to the tribunal, of an incensed, almighty, ever-living God!
Such was the state from which Jesus Christ came to save us. He came to restore us to the favor of God; to reconcile us to ourselves, and to each other; to give us peace and joy in life, hope and triumph in death, and after death glory, honor, and immortality. For he came, not merely to repair, and to restore, but to exalt; not only, ‘that we might have life,’ the life we had forfeited, but ‘that we might have it more abundantly,’ John 10; that our happiness might be more exalted, our title more firm, and our possession more secure, than the state of Adam in paradise could boast, or than his posterity could have attained unto, if he had continued unsinning . . .” [i]
Transformed Vessels, Sailing For Glory
Like a reclaimed and restored ship, the Lord is transforming believers into an eventual form where we will be suited to live with Him in glory for all eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-5:8.) Morally, emotionally, mentally, and physically they will be suited for the Father’s house (John 14:2-3.) Their formerly “natural” fallen and sinful state, will give way to the supernatural transformation of God’s saving work. Shame and self-justification will be things of the past. God’s glorified people will realize the purpose for which they were created and redeemed (Phil. 3:12-4:1.)
God’s redemptive work allows us to be honest about ourselves: we are damaged and cannot fix ourselves. It also removes our shame, because Christ’s sacrificial death enables God to forgive our sin and declare us righteous (Rom. 3:19-26.) We bow to the legitimate lawgiver – the only arbiter of truth – our Creator who made us to enjoy abundant life with Him forever. We do not need to redefine ourselves in unrealistic (or debased) ways. If we know Christ as Lord and Savior then we are said to be “in Christ,” or to say it differently, we are “accepted in the Beloved One” (Eph. 1:1-6.)
[i] John Newton, “Sermon II: On The Savior & His Salvation,” in Six Discourses (Or Sermons) As Intended For The Pulpit in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 2, ed. Richard Cecil. (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 282-284.
My Natural Way (Is A Total Shipwreck!) Or The Horror Of Myself