Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower! And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.
In fact there are many! We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!
The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live. We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.
The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.
““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3-6 NIV
I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain. “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.” Sort of like a buffet. But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal. It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to. And the first is necessary to move on to the next.
When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s. And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness! The promise? We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness! Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!
For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that! But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted. And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.
Do I have a purpose and potential? Of course! Do I have gifts I bring to the table? Absolutely! Are they of any value? For this life and the common good? Sure. But for eternity, no! My righteousness is nothing and His is everything! And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.
So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time. Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin. Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning. “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.
And the joy? It can and should be full-on crazy celebration! As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness! That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!
And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.
If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.
By the way, this why we desperately need each other! But that’s another post.
It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.