There is a certain branch of Christian theology that has an incredibly strong view of human beings as completely and utterly depraved and incapable of good. Worthless. Filled with darkness. Dis-graceful.
If you watch the news for very long, it isn't hard to buy into this line of thinking.
I often hear it in the language we use, such as "I'm just a sorry sinner saved by grace." That is a fully and wholly true statement, but is that the final statement? If you follow that winding path to its end, you may find yourself convinced that to follow Jesus means to hate and detest yourself.
I mean, didn't Jesus say:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34)?
Doesn't that mean you have to treat yourself as worthless? Incapable of good and void of any good at all?
Reading Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline this morning and in the section on "The Discipline of Submission" I found this brilliant passage. Forgive me for reproducing the whole thing, but the brilliance of it for the discussion can't be undersold:
Self-denial is not the same thing as self-contempt. Self-contempt claims that we have no worth, and even if we do have worth, we should reject it. Self-denial declares that we are of infinite worth and shows us how to realize it. Self-contempt denies the goodness of the creation; self-denial affirms that it is indeed good. Jesus made the ability to love ourselves the prerequisite for our reaching out to others (Matt. 22:39). Self-love and self-denial are not in conflict. More than once Jesus made it quite clear that self-denial is the only sure way to love ourselves... (p. 114)
Is it possible that we can know we are sinners in need of grace and still love the fact that we were fearfully and wonderfully made by God? What kind of life would we be formed to live if we could stand in the tension between being redeemed and transformed for good and yet practicing healthy, intentional self-denial for the sake of others?
I think we've overstated our sin from time to time, and frankly we've done it to excuse the fact that we aren't repenting. It's easier to leave ragged edges ragged when we can fall back onto our "sinner saved by grace" instead of "growing up into the head, which is Christ" (see Ephesians 4).
Grace does not mean we never sinned, it means we are made able to move into a more mature and deep relationship with Christ where we move on our motives before our motives move us into temptation and failure.
We can never mature into the likeness of Christ if we are stuck in self-contempt because we'll never realize that we're worth redeeming and sanctifying.
We'll never realize that grace doesn't just save us from sin, it makes us increasingly alive in poetic transformation through the spirit of Christ.
Where do you fall on this? Have you traded self-denial for self-contempt and felt that to live for Jesus is to hate yourself? How do you love others if you cannot love yourself first (Matt. 22:37-40)?