“’And I Myself will be a wall of fire around it’, declares the Lord, ‘And I will be its glory within.’”
““Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will be joined to the Lord in that day and will become My people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.””
For the past several years I have begun every day with the McCheyne Bible Reading Plan which takes me through the whole Bible once a year, and the New Testament and Psalms twice a year. The impact on my life has been revolutionary as I have been reading and meditating upon the whole message of the Word of God on a daily basis. Prayerful, meditative reading of the Scriptures has proven to be invaluable in opening my heart to the Biblical Gospel of Christ.
I was reminded of this in this past week as I began a new reading project. One of the books that I am currently reading is Him We Proclaim – Preaching Christ From All The Scriptures, by Dennis E. Johnson (P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2007), in which reference was made to a truth about the gospel that was made by Rev. Timothy Keller in his “The centrality of the Gospel.” In reflecting upon the real nature of Gospel repentance Johnson appeals to a quotation from Keller.
“We need to repent not only of our sins but also of our righteousness – our efforts at self-atonement in lieu of surrender to the all-sufficient grace of Christ.” (The Centrality of the Gospel)
In a footnote Johnson calls us to note the way that Keller backs this up in “The Centrality of the Gospel” with an observation from Flannery O’Conner.
“Religious people think that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin” (Quotation on page three of “The centrality of the Gospel”)
This observation is given in a section of “The centrality of the Gospel” in which Keller asks us to reflect upon a question, “What do both religious and irreligious people have in common? They seem so different, but from the viewpoint of the gospel, they are really the same. They are both ways to avoid Jesus as Savior and keep control of their lives.”
As I reflected upon what Keller wrote here I found that it opened up a revolutionary new direction for my meditations. My flesh wants at all costs to avoid dealing with the Lord Jesus Christ. If I begin to understand that I am lost in sin, my flesh will flee from sin into self-righteousness. My lifestyle changes, but it is still me on the throne of my life. I am still in control. The symptoms of such a life are seen in the way I appeal to my own works of righteousness as the ground upon which my relationship with God rests. If I can live a righteous enough life I can earn, and control, the blessing of God, including eternal life. Any failure, sinful behaviour, or laziness in the Christian life immediately casts me into despair, because my salvation rests upon such things. My approach to life, to God, to all of my relationships, becomes a driven, merit based thing. Even though I know that salvation is by the grace of God, the reality of my life reveals that I am not living in that grace.
At its heart what this tells me is that I have become an expert of avoiding real communion with the real Lord Jesus Christ. To meet Him, is to encounter His awesome holiness, infinite power, and transforming sacrificial love. Every person we see in Scripture, as well in history, who has encountered the Lord has been completely undone by the experience. All they could do was to cast themselves upon His grace.
How do we experience this? Keller tells us that we come to this grace through repentance. That is, we turn away from everything that gets in the way of our really meeting, and dealing with Jesus. We must turn from our sin that is the serious call of the Scripture. We must also turn from another big hindrance as well. We must turn away from our righteousness. As Isaiah said, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) To turn to the Lord in this way brings a real eternal hope into my life, because I discover here that none of this depends upon me. It is all rooted in the gracious and completed act of the Lord Jesus Christ.