sanctification

Jesus: the True Victim (pt. 3)

Last season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee rather than stand during the national anthem, as a protest against racial inequality. His actions sparked controversy across the NFL, and now the President has drawn even more national attention to the protests, saying those players who protest ought to be fired.

i.jpeg

Whatever you believe about the propriety of the players’ (or the President’s) actions, I think this presents us with a foil to talk about victim culture, real injustice, and our response as Christians.

In the last post, we looked at the gospel story as applied to victim culture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. As I close this short series on Christ & Victim Culture, I want to look at real injustice, identify fake injustice, point out a tendency toward in justice that all of us have, and remember that, ultimately, Jesus is the true victim.

Christ+&+(victim)+culture-2.jpeg

Real injustice.

Justice means giving someone else their due. If you owe someone something, and you don’t give it, you are committing an injustice. Thus, you’ve suffered a real injustice if…

  • …you are denied dignity and equality on the basis of skin color, gender, etc.
  • …you were denied love, affection, care, and the presence of your parent(s)
  • …someone has taken something from you that they have no right to
  • …someone made a promise to you that they then broke
  • …a friend or loved one betrayed your trust

The list could go on. But by this reckoning, all of us have suffered injustice at one time or another in our lives. But sometimes we cry wolf. Sometimes we are victims of fake injustice.

Fake injustice.

crying-wolf.jpeg

We make ourselves victims of fake injustice when we believe we are entitled to something we don’t get, but were never entitled to it in the first place. Examples of fake injustice include:

  • Discomfort – I am not owed comfort. I might expect a comfortable life because of my socio-economic status, my upbringing, beer commercials, or jealousy of my neighbors. But my expectations do not obligate the universe—or anyone else—to meet them.
  • Disappointment – I am not owed a disappointment-free life. Wishing for something good does not mean I will get it. Wish-fulfillment is not what the universe—or the God who created it—is about.
  • Disagreement – I am not owed a frictionless life. If someone disagrees with me, it doesn’t mean they are judging or oppressing me. It could simply mean that they have a different opinion. Or that I am wrong.
  • Honest mistakes – People make mistakes. Dealing with others’ imperfections is part of living in a community filled with other humans. Since the Fall, a world without mistakes is a world without real humans.
My expectations do not obligate the universe—or anyone else—to meet them.

In my own heart and life, I see too often this tendency to blow fake injustice out of proportion. I use these and other examples of it to make myself out to be a victim. But as we said before, when I illegitimately make myself a victim, I am actually trying to grab power. Playing the victim card puts others at my mercy. Rather than humble submission in Christ, I lift myself up as someone whose needs must be met.

Jesus is the true victim.

He was the victim of the greatest injustice in history.

  • He was without sin: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
  • He was despised by people He had loved and served: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23a).
  • He didn’t even defend Himself when accused: “[W]hen he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23b).
  • He suffered willingly for US: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Christians suffer. It’s what we do.

We should expect suffering because our King was the True Victim. And because of that, we are blessed when we suffer injustice: “[T]his is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.… For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you” (1 Peter 2:19, 21).

In fact, now we can “count it all joy” when we suffer because “the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness” which in turn makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Suffering is God’s tool in our sanctification. Rather than bemoan our victimhood, we should rejoice in trials. They make us look like Jesus.

Loving Yourself Kills Your Marriage

We tend to think love is easy. We speak of “falling in love” as if all we need to do is find a hole in the ground and let gravity do the rest. 

Leaving a partner, dissolving a marriage, or breaking up a family are often justified when that force moves in the opposite direction. “We fell out of love.”

This is not love.

This is not love.

Love is not an irresistible force or a ditch which people unwittingly fall into or out of. It's not a mere emotion that takes over our faculties and robs us of agency. Love is a choice that, if it’s going to last, has to be chosen over and over and over again.

Because the only person in the world I love automatically is myself.

One reason marriage is hard is that the devil hates it. Another is this: Marriage is hard because I love myself more than my spouse.

I Love Myself More Than My Spouse

I entered this world loving myself, often to the exclusion of others (Ps. 51:5). When faced with the choice to love myself or others, my default will be to love myself. I know how to love myself better than anything else in the world. I am a self-love expert.

And if you honestly reflect a moment, you’ll admit you are too.

I could get up and do the dishes right now. Or I could sit here and watch TV. I know doing the dishes would really help my wife out. But I worked hard all day and I’m really tired. I deserve to rest and veg out for a bit….

I know he’s been discouraged by all the politics at work. He could use some encouragement. But when was the last time he encouraged me? Said something kind? When was the last time we did anything fun? I think I’ll just keep to myself.…

It’s her birthday. Crap! Didn’t Valentine’s Day just happen? And our anniversary? And now I need to think of another gift? She never likes anything I get for her anyway. It’s exhausting to try and come up with an idea only to get shot down. I’ll just have the kids get her something….

How could he say that to me?
How could she treat me this way?
With all I do for him?
After all I’ve been through for her?
He doesn’t have the right…
She doesn’t have the right…

By no means am I always 100% to blame for the problems that arise in my marriage. It takes two to tango.

Takes two to tango.

But when conflict arises, when loving my spouse becomes difficult, I am faced with a choice. I can love myself. Or I can love my spouse.

When I choose to love myself instead of my spouse, I am choosing to hurt my marriage. Loving myself kills my marriage.

Loving Myself Kills My Marriage

James 4 isn’t specifically about marriage, but it contains profound insight into what happens in our hearts when our self-love is crossed:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)

I usually think the problems in my marriage arise either from my circumstances or my spouse. But the truth is I am always faced with a choice. A choice to love myself or my spouse. And when I choose to love myself, my “passions are at war within” me. When I believe the problem is outside me, I lash out (“murder” refers here not to violence, but to Jesus’s equation of hatred with murder in Matthew 5). When I don’t get what I want, I “fight and quarrel.” When I refuse to love my spouse more than myself, conflict inevitably arises.

What it looks like when my self-love is crossed.

What it looks like when my self-love is crossed.

"He Gives More Grace"

The objection rises up in our minds: “What if my spouse takes advantage of me? What if I give and give and give and s/he just takes and takes and takes?”

Good question.

Let me ask you one: Who makes your marriage work? If loving yourself kills your marriage (and it does), but you’re afraid no one will be there to look out for you, what do you do? Who do you turn to protect you from your (potentially-selfish-because-definitely-sinful) spouse?

James gives the answer. It’s Jesus:

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.…” Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6, 10)

Grace is love I don’t deserve. If my spouse isn’t giving me the love I need, James reminds me where I can go: to Jesus! “He gives more grace!” If I humble myself before Him, ask for His help, tell Him my need, “he will exalt” me. He will lift me up.

Trying to do marriage by loving myself is like trying to lift myself up by my own hair. It doesn’t work. I can’t lift myself up. But Jesus can. Not only can He; He promises to. Go to Him in humility with your need and see if He doesn’t keep that promise.

Devil Hates Marriage

Marriage is hard. 

Marriage in the Bay Area seems to be particularly hard. We live in a place where there are precious few models of healthy, happy, self-giving marriage. As a result, many adults in our area are forgoing marriage altogether: Only 41% of adults in Oakland and 54% of adults in Alameda (our family-friendly Island City) are married. Only 51% of adults in California were married in 2016, compared with 74% in 1960. The marriages that do last—and a majority don’t—often devolve into mere contractual arrangements, rather than the deep intimacy that drew the couple to get married in the first place.  

Over the years, I’ve counseled dozens of Bay Area couples. All of them were struggling in their marriages, from minor disagreements to major infidelity. I have pleaded with couples, tears in my eyes, begging them to forgive, to give their hurt to Christ, to let Him heal their wounds, to seek reconciliation with one another. Those pleas have not always been successful. 

When I reflect on the obstacles to healthy, thriving marriages in our context—from financial pressures to lack of support network, from the demands of career to sexual temptation—one phrase best summarizes them all:

The devil hates marriage!

(I imagine this line as a song, to the tune of “Papa Loves Mambo.” Just pretend Perry Como is singing “devil hates marriage” instead.)

Why is it so hard to apologize to your wife when what you’ve said is genuinely hurtful? Devil hates marriage. 

Why is it so tempting to focus on what your husband has done wrong and using that to justify your stubbornness? Devil hates marriage.

Why is it so much easier to spend your energy on your children than on your relationship with your spouse? Devil hates marriage.

Why are you and your husband or wife stuck in a pattern of miscommunication, arguing, indifference and hopelessness? Devil hates marriage. 

Marriage: Glory-Mirror

The devil hates marriage because he hates what God wants to do with it. God wants to shine His glory through your marriage. He wants the love, the self-sacrifice, the deep knowledge of another, and the mutual submission to be like a mirror that reflects the glory of our self-giving Savior. 

God made your marriage to reflect His glory.

God made your marriage to reflect His glory.

When speaking of the union of man and woman as one person, one flesh, St. Paul wrote, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is a tangible metaphor of the grace of God in Jesus Christ

We get stuck in patterns of self-focus, mistrust, autopilot, and despair in our marriages because Satan wants to cloud over God’s glory in your marriage with lies. Jesus said of him, "there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He wants to obscure God’s glory in your marriage with lies like:

  • Marriage is too hard.
  • Your situation is really unfair.
  • You should just settle for the way things are.
  • You’ve given all anyone can reasonably expect of you.

Those lies focus your attention on yourself. Not God. Not your spouse. And when those lies take hold, the devil’s hatred for marriage wins. 

God wants your marriage to be a school of love.

In opposition to the slavery of sin and Satan’s lies, Jesus welcomes us into His freedom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…. [But] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36). The devil hates marriage. But Jesus loves marriage. And if you’re married, He wants you to enjoy the freedom, intimacy, joy and affection that come in a healthy, God-reflecting marriage. And He wants your marriage to accomplish its mission to display the glory of our self-giving God. 

We need to be honest: marriage in the Bay is hard. It’s hard because the devil hates it. It’s hard because reflecting God’s glory isn’t easy. But God wants your marriage to be a school of love, in which you learn how to love others as your love yourself. God gave you your spouse to teach you to love like Him. 

The Mold in Your Heart & the Light of Jesus

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
— 1 John 1:6-7

In his book, You Can Change, Tim Chester wrote, “Sin is like mold: it grows best in the dark.” Sin loves the darkness. It thrives in the darkness. If it’s left in the darkness too long, it grows and begins to dominate our hearts. 

This is your heart in the dark.

This is your heart in the dark.

Light dominates darkness. Darkness can’t stand against the light. When the light of Christ shines in our hearts, sin shrivels up and dies.

So how do we walk in the light? How do we get Christ’s light shining in our darkness?

How to Walk in the Light

1 John 1:7 says you need both vertical (God-oriented) and horizontal (others-oriented) to walk in the light. 

Vertically, we are in the light “as he is in the light… and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Walking in the light draws us near to God and makes us right with Him through the cross.

But how do we walk in the light? This is where the horizontal element comes in. “If we walk in the light… we have fellowship with one another.” The church—the community of God’s people—is the means God has given us to walk in His light.

The church—the community of God’s people—is the means God has given us to walk in His light.

Confessing sin happens in prayer. It ALSO happens in community. If it doesn’t happen in prayer, you haven’t confessed. If it doesn’t happen in community, you haven’t confessed. God gives us relationship with Himself (in prayer) and relationship with one another (in the church) as means to confess our sin and receive His forgiveness. 

James 5:16 helps further make this point: "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." 

Discipleship Group Is For Confessing Sin

This is one important reason we have Discipleship Groups at Grace Alameda. On our own, we will walk in darkness. We need one another to shine the light of the gospel into our lives. 

So don’t let each other off the hook! As the people of God, we are called to be a community of light, bearing burdens with one another, encouraging each other to let the light of Christ shine on our darkest places. We need each other to get at those dark areas of our lives and give them over to Jesus. 

Don't let each other (or yourself!) off the hook.

Don't let each other (or yourself!) off the hook.

Next time you’re in your Discipleship Group, confess your sins. How have I failed to follow Jesus in thought, word, or deed? 

And encourage your brothers and sisters to do the same. We live in community, in part, to shine the gospel on one another's moldy hearts. 

How many fingers…?

The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.
— Martin Luther

There aren’t many movies from my childhood that hold up. I’ve tried watching several late 80s/early 90s films with my kids, only to have them quickly lose interest… or to be totally ashamed of what I once thought was cool. 

(Ahem… Space Jam.)

But I was pleasantly surprised when the family gathered round recently to watch The Mighty Ducks. Yes, it’s campy, complete with feel-good roller blade sequences and token representatives of minority communities. But it was genuinely fun, and it did my soul some good to watch my kids leap up and cheer when Charlie scored the winning goal in the final scene. 

In one scene, a player is hit in the head with a hockey puck. While lying on the ice, Coach Gordon Bombay rushes over and asks, “How many fingers am I holding up?” (To which Goldberg the goalie replies, “He wouldn’t know that anyway.”)

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

Grace Alone and Seeing Straight

When it comes to the truth about God and ourselves, it seems like our culture has been hit in the head with a hockey puck. We’re dazed, bewildered, unable to see straight. We’re trying to figure out who God is, who we are, what the truth is, but we can’t quite make it out. It may be true that we “wouldn’t know that anyway,” but it’d be a lot easier if the picture weren’t moving around. 

In the teaching of the Reformation, grace alone goes hand in hand with faith alone. In order to understand faith alone, we have to understand that we cannot earn God’s favor by our works. In order to understand grace alone, we have to see ourselves clearly. We have to focus in on what Scripture teaches about our sinfulness and our need before a holy God. 

In order to understand grace alone, we have to see ourselves clearly.

Who better than our friend Martin Luther to play Emilio Estevez and ask, “how many fingers am I holding up?” 

Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther as Emilio Estevez?

Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther as Emilio Estevez?

Beating the Gospel into Our Heads

Luther was a firm believer in our inability to please God. Our sinfulness makes us wholly incapable of earning His love. 

The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Law is about doing. Grace is about receiving the righteousness of Christ for us. We can’t do what the law requires. 

No man can make any advance towards righteousness by his works.

This last quote is from his landmark book, The Bondage of the Will, in which he argued against one of the leading thinkers of the day, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who said we could please God by doing what lies within us. To this, Luther gave a resounding, “No!” Using the example of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he wrote, 

But look at the endeavor whereby he found grace! Not only did he not seek grace, but he received it through his own mad fury against it!

Later he writes,

[G]race is given freely to the undeserving and utterly unworthy, and is not attained by any of the efforts, endeavors, or works, small or great, of even the best and most upright men who seek and follow after righteousness with flaming zeal.

We can’t see straight because we're broken by sin. Grace alone can set us right and heal us. And to set our vision right, we need God to hit us over the head with His grace: 

Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.