The “I” of the Beholder

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who seems to worry, despite being a Christian, about whether he will be in heaven when he dies. I said, “You know it’s not about how much good you do, or how much bad you do, right?”

“Then what is it about? You can’t just go around doing all the bad you want, and still expect to go to heaven.”

“Well,” I replied, “that’s a good question.” I was stunned. This is one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity, and also one of the most frequently misunderstood by the public. Therefore, it should be one of questions I’m most prepared to answer. But on the contrary, I felt stuck.

The reason is, I have tried desperately to put away all the cliches and pat answers that I was raised with. Some of them were genuine and correct, and others were not, but all of them have essentially lost the ability to communicate the gospel meaningfully to my generation. So I couldn’t say it was because you say a certain prayer, or make a one-time surrender to Christ, or simply trust him as your Lord and Savior. My friend had already heard these things a thousand times, and apparently they had not done the job.

After a few false starts I said, “I believe that God judges us based on whether we’re looking at ourselves, or looking at him. Often the people we consider to be the best of the best are actually the most guilty, because they are always looking at themselves, and how they can measure up, and how proud they are of their spiritual or moral accomplishments. What are the main statements people make about their spirituality? “I am doing my best” “I really screwed up” “I need forgiveness” “I am getting better” “I believe in xyz.”

When all our sentences start with “I” we are looking at ourselves. It’s not till we put all that misplaced focus on God that we are opened up to his salvation. “I” will never cut it. “He” is the only one who can make me who I’m designed to be, and it’s only going to happen when I trust in what Jesus has done for me.

And someone who is living this way is not going to just go around doing all the bad they want. It can’t be simply about a one-time decision, but it also can’t require daily surrender without fail. And despite the fact that I feel like I gave a relatively good answer, I still don’t know exactly. If we can’t fall back on the salvation prayer we prayed long ago, and we can’t wake up every morning with our hearts in the right place, where is our assurance?

I know I’m running the risk of rambling at this point, but maybe assurance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At least not in the sense that it’s always been used. Maybe God is not interested in our self-assurance; the confidence that I’m going to go to heaven no matter what. Maybe all our assurance should be placed on him… once again, to look at him, and not at ourselves.

Because, for all my doubts, I really don’t doubt God. I doubt myself, I doubt the Bible, I doubt the will of God in my life. But God will ultimately do the very best thing, and he is so full of love and mercy and justice that he can do no other. I suppose you could say that’s my Blessed Assurance. So long as I latch myself onto the one I trust, there’s no need to worry.

Reminds me of something… “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I can’t change. But he can change me.

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8 thoughts on “The “I” of the Beholder

  1. Nice post. Love the clever title, too.You’re right. We as humans are so self-centered that Christians are definitely not immune. We must die to ourselves every day. My wife and I even began saying it aloud once as a reminder. Every morning we would pray aloud, “…I die to myself today and give all my attention to You, Lord…”Eventually we stopped doing it. And self-centeredness once again took center-stage. Oops.This post is a reminder to me to focus through God’s eyes instead of my own.

  2. Man, Ryan, I think you nailed it. You know it’s so helpful, even if confounding, to recognize all the ways in which self-centeredness manfests itself. Imagine how empty psychologists’ and counselors’ offices would be if everyone’s first recourse when facing emotional or relational difficulty was to look at oneself in the mirror and say, “My problem is that I’m too focused on myself.” Reminds me of something a Wise, old Friend once said: “Whoever wants to find his life must lose it.” I think that applies no less to the Gospel and to salvation. “We have been crucified with Christ.”I guess one of the lingering questions for me is, To what extent does God <>want<> us to be assured that we are His. Our pastor is preaching through 1 John, and the main series theme is “Eternal Assurance,” which is the actual theme of the book (the key verse of the book being 5:13). Perhaps God, recognizing our finiteness, wants us to be sure, and to know why. You might argue that if you really, truly knew, you might be tempted to laxity, but I think the NT writers would argue otherwise. I know Paul at least recognizes it as a temptation, but he doesn’t give the impression that it’s inevitable.I have to admit, though, by far the hardest part of the Christian life is exactly what you have prescribed: keeping our eyes on Jesus. You can’t really live a life that can be genuinely called ‘Christian’ without it, but looking away from yourself toward God, who is unseen, is, to say the least, a great challenge. It causes me to hope that my repeated re-turning to Christ is evidence that I am truly His.

  3. P.S. I sometimes wonder if the ‘missing link’ between focusing on ourselves and focusing on God is focusing on others. As we look away from ourselves toward others, perhaps we see God. Maybe whatever we do for the ‘least of these’ we are doing for Christ?

  4. I guess the difference with assurance is whether that assurance is in ourselves, and our own righteousness, or faith, or spiritual decision-making skills, or whether that assurance is in God himself. I think he definitely wants us to have the latter, but not so much the former.and Beloved, that last statement you made was beautiful. Think about how, if you had just phrased it a slightly different way, it could have come out sounding very humanistic. Some people do make that phrasing mistake, and get tazed by the orthodoxy police.Ouch.

  5. I have struggled with the whole balance between trusting Him and doing my part. I realized it’s about Him coming to live in me to help me “do my part” to a degree I could never imagine; really to live through me.I have to ask what you mean by this phrase,”but it also can’t require daily surrender without fail” Are you saying we can’t expect to totally live out surrender or we can’t totally rely on our ability to daily surrender or are you saying something else?

  6. Good question, Caleb.If salvation requires daily surrender without fail, then we’re all screwed.My point in that passage is that the Christian life has to fall somewhere between the one-prayer-and-you’re-set mentality, and the daily-perfection mentality. Where that is exactly, I’m not sure.

  7. My answer would be something I think you have heard plenty of times so I don’t know if I get the part that is perplexing you. Our one time surrender to Him gives us eternal life. Our moment by moment surrender is what allows us to experience that “life” now. We could very well go on doing whatever we want after first coming to God. However we would miss out on a lot and possibly cause a great deal of destruction in our lives and other’s lives.

  8. I struggle constantly with sin, in my life and anyone who is honest with himself would say the same thing, When looking at myself in the Light of God’s holiness, I see no good thing… But that is where the Grace of Our Father comes in… He sees that we are far from perfect, and loved us enough to provide a way to be reconciled to Himself, through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, His Son.I can point to a time where I accepted Christ as my Savior. and at least for me, it was not just a mumbled prayer, it was a realization that I have ho hope of Heaven without God’s mercy. As I Continue my walk through life, I realize I still have no hope except in God my Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who promised he would not condemn me, and that I would be with him in the end. It is not about how much good or bad I do, it is what Christ has done for me. I praise God for His grace and forgiveness and His promise that when I fall he will lift me up, and that the Blood of Christ will cleanse me of all my sin. In that, I truly have blessed assurance..God Bless you Bro. Ryan. I miss you dearly and hope to see you again soon. Greet Christine, John and Sondra in Jesus name. You are all in my prayers.. love in Christ, Dorian

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