Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Self-Improvement and Self-Acceptance vs. Forgiveness

In the popular psychology/spiritual world, it seems like there is a small battle or contest between two ideals, two approaches to handling and dealing with one's own self.  Self-improvement and self-acceptance.

I feel I really ought to back that statement up with cited evidence, but walk into your local bookstore (or browses the Kindle store) and look at the "self-help" section.  What do you see?  You'll see all sorts of books on ways to improve this or that aspect of your life, and then you'll see all sorts of books on ways just accept who you are.  This is the larger struggle we see culturally and politically - are we to be focus upon morals or tolerance?  Is the key to a better you, a better school, a better society making sure you behave better or making sure you simply accept who people are for what they are?

And this debate, this distinction has spilled on over into the Church at large.  Do I need to point to the folks who think that morality, self-improvement, progression in sanctification is the only way that the individual and the church will be saved?  Do I need to give examples of the Churches that play the "acceptance" card - where the only great sin is not being tolerant and welcoming, because tolerance and open arms is what will save the individual and the church?

Except both of these miss the point.

Neither Self-improvement nor self-acceptance is enough.  Even together in balance they don't fix things.  We need forgiveness.

Consider - if the "solution" is self-improvement... when is it done?  When is it over?  When have you improved enough?  And the answer is never - because it's a lie.  While we might be more outwardly disciplined, that doesn't mean there's been improvement.  Often it means we just hide our sin better - or even if we do objectively "improve" - sin is still there.  Go talk to an addict who has been sober for a while - sure, they are behaving better - but nothing is fixed.  No, this is a path of self-justification by works.. I'll just do better and more and everything will be alright.

Or consider acceptance.  It sounds like - but what good is it to accept something that is bad, that is harmful?  What good is it to pretend that everything is hunky-dory when everything is crashing around you.  This becomes another path of self-justification -- I am what God made me to be... it was the woman (um, I mean the body/mind/desires) You gave me God. 

There must be forgiveness.  There must be redemption won by Christ's death and resurrection, because neither improvement nor acceptance solves the problem of sin and death.  The wages of sin is death - you can't improve your way out of it, and if you merely accept it, you still die. 

And this shows us how the old Serpent works.  There is a grain of truth in the self-improvement game.  We ought to strive and struggle against our sin.  A Christian will.  There is a grain of truth in the acceptance game.  A Christian will accept the fact that he is a poor, miserable sinner, and not try to soft sell or deny that truth.  But we are tempted to stop there, to leave the focus there - to delight in our struggle, to delight in our tolerance and patience.  To keep the focus upon ourselves.

No, it is all about Christ - He is the One who struggled and suffered for us upon the Cross; He is the One who with His blood wins us forgiveness and makes us acceptable; He is the One who with His death destroys death and with His resurrection wins us life.  It always, ALWAYS has to drive to Christ.

Otherwise, what are you left with?  Just death, just the wages of sin, but a smugger, polished version.  Sinners in a sinful world that is messed up, but holier-than-thou and sanctimonious because we are "better" than you or because we are "more loving" than you.

I don't need to show that I am better or more loving... I need a Christ who is Perfect and who is Love for me; I need a Redeemer.

Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith!

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