Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The LORD, the lifter of my head

I've been taught that the "wretched man" of Romans 7 is the expected everyday lot of the Christian. It certainly seems to describe much of my Christian experience, but we need to careful when reading our experience back into scripture.

I once had the privilege of studying Romans in a small group in about 25 one hour sessions. By the time we got to Romans 7 we didn't get the impression that Paul's point was to set our expectations for a life of wretchedness. That reading might match our experience, but it doesn't seem to go with Paul's flow.

I believe the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare and a constant battle with sin, but I don't think that's the point of Romans 7. I suspect some folk teach that the "wretched man" experience is normative as an antidote for triumphalism or perfectionism, but that doesn't appear to be Paul's reason for writing it.

The problem with seeing the "wretched man" experience as normative is that it gives me little hope for any victory over sin now, and an expectation that my life will be one of continued failure and shame. But this just doesn't jive with the rest of scripture. And one such scripture that has nagged at me over recent years is:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

-- Psalm 3:1-3 (ESV)

Years ago I heard a sermon on the neglected doctrine of Adoption (i.e. that the believer is adopted into God's family, gaining all the privileges of sonship). He pointed out that few evangelicals seem to get beyond the doctrine of Justification (i.e. that the believer is acquitted of sin and imputed with the righteousness of Jesus).

The preacher said that many prayer meetings scared him because of their focus on our sinfulness in contrast to the holiness of God. His point was that we needed to move on from grovelling on the floor to enjoy all the benefits of our adoption as sons. Justification was the entry point, but once justified we should not be coming before God as if we were not.

I think this sermon started my long term itch for a closer relationship with God, and a disatisfaction with the status quo. Much of the my yearning and journey is wonderfully summed up in the following hymn by Isaac Watts:

Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?
Great Comforter! descend and bring
Some tokens of Thy grace.

Dost Thou not dwell in all the saints,
And seal the heirs of Heav’n?
When wilt Thou banish my complaints,
And show my sins forgiv’n?

Assure my conscience of her part
In the Redeemer’s blood;
And bear Thy witness with my heart
That I am born of God.

Thou art the earnest of His love,
The pledge of joys to come;
And Thy soft wings, celestial Dove,
Will safe convey me home.

I've known this hymn for years, but with little expectation of seeing it fulfilled in my life. As I write my "confessions of a former cessationist" I have to say that the truth was always out there, but I can only assume that the blindness was in me. There is so much to give thanks for in my upbringing and in the churches I've known, but I was missing something, and this hymn seems to put its finger on it.

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