Heart Work, Introspection, Self-Examination and the Gospel of Jesus

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Heart Work, Introspection, Self-Examination and the Gospel of Jesus

What is the purpose of self-examination and introspection? It is, briefly put, to identify and examine what things in our lives are being allowed to function as a Savior in the place of Jesus Christ. This identification and examination process is very messy, sticky, frustrating, and sometimes grueling.

On the one hand our hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately wicked such that I can't know what's really going on inside. To that extent any efforts at examination seem immediately deemed useless and vain. On the other hand the fact that Christ lived a perfect life for me and died my death for me necessarily means I am dead to sin. And that fact obligates me to identify and examine my heart for functional saviors in my life, and destroy them through the gospel-work of repentance so that the supremacy of Christ is not eclipsed by something blasphemously less beautiful.

This battle is never depicted in Scriptures as ever ending before we get to heaven and see Jesus face to face. Because of the sinfulness so deeply inherent in the very fabric of all creation and humanity, there is no rest from this "heart-work" until that day. To rest is to allow an immediate breach in the wall of our hearts and minds. And to arrogantly consider that we have finally won or achieved complete victory over a functional savior is to deny both the necessity of our final consummation in Christ as well as the absolute certitude of what God says about my heart in Jeremiah 17:9.

If my heart is the most deceitful thing in the universe and if it is therefore beyond complete comprehension, then the thought that I might have made such inroads of victory over that sin that has already been conquered by Jesus once and for all is simply ludicrous. In fact, compared to the reality of our sin as God knows it, the previous statement is a ludicrous understatement.

There is a big "however" to all this which is also an understatement, and that is this. Every battle in which we engage with idols, functional saviors, and besetting sins cannot and must not eclipse the vicarious humanity and death of Jesus Christ. To allow this to happen is to retreat to a lifestyle of works-righteousness where I conduct my life and pursuit of God with reference to my own repentance absent the underlying reference to my Substitute's work for me. And since it is the gospel that proclaims such good news for me about the promised destruction of my sin, any heart-work must weigh in heavier in Christ's work over and above the work of self-examination.

There are two assurances here that build hope. First, my infinite Savior died in my place for the infinite nature of my sin. The only one who can know my deceitful heart is God. And seeing me for who and what I really am, He gave His Son in life and death for me simply because He is the only one who could meet the punitive demands placed on me because of my sin. His infinite love and goodness and kindness meets my seemingly infinite sinful heart at every possible point and every conceivable level.

So I magnify and glorify the work of God in the gospel when I carry this truth about in my mind simultaneous to the heart-work of self-examination. Whatever I find (1) has already been forgiven, (2) has already been destroyed at the cross, and (3) has therefore already been sabotaged in its present power through the enabling of the Holy Spirit in the first two truths.

It is this third truth that boils deep within the regenerated heart with the effect that it becomes the overflowing well-spring of joy from which a saint fights against and repents from the sin he finds. The fact that I am forgiven is itself a supernatural power inside of me guaranteeing both present and ultimate victory over any sin. Conversely the failure to make wise use of this supernatural power is a guarantee of my failure in present struggles with sin...though thankfully and graciously not an ultimate failure in the end. For it is God who keeps and preserves this saint against this horrible ending to my life.

May God be praised for giving, in regeneration, the ability to see what has offended and blasphemed His holiness. May he also be praised for enabling me to agree with His assessment of it all. And may he be praised even more for the perfection He lived and the death He died so that I would no longer be held accountable for what He sees!

I am held secure with the rope of promise around my waist and chest and arms, with my feet firmly planted in His work...while God graces me with the experience of being lowered over the very pit of hell which I deserve every moment of my life. This is a strange yet good place to be - where I can see and smell and even taste the wickedness still bound up in my heart, and the penalty it deserves, yet gripped by His promise of infinite forgiveness and planted in His work for me.

This is the razor's edge where it seems God would have His saints live - our eyebrows singed with the flames of just judgment while our entire being is supernaturally stabilized in grace and forgiveness until that day when we will enter an unspeakable and imaginable rest without ever a thought again of the sorrow and suffering we experience now in our fight against sin. Until that day, however, there is indefatigable hope residing within us. And His name is Jesus Christ, lover of sinners.

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