Deacon or Derelict?

Deacon or Derelict?
Artwork: “Greatest Commandment,” Acrylic on Panel, Copyright 2009, by Matt Philleo.
Did you know that it is possible to be perfect?
It’s true, but we can’t be perfect–at least in the sense most people understand–in this life. As born-again believers in Jesus Christ we will be perfect, but only once we reach our heavenly home.
For those of us who have recognized our depravity–our sinful state before God–and received His free gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we often see positive, instant, sweeping change in our lives. But before long, we soon discover sinful tendencies in our life that are deep-seated and much harder to uproot.
If you have any true desire to follow Christ, and yet hit the glass ceiling of unyielding, stubborn sin, it’s not long before you can get really discouraged.
I know I have.
Here’s the deal: Jesus said, “Be ye perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect.” Easier said than done, right?
Of course, the Lord’s words are entirely true and should be obeyed. We should be perfect. However, we need to look at this verse properly.
In a sense, we are already perfect if we have accepted Jesus and His gift of righteousness to us. He takes our sin and imperfection, and trades it for His perfect record of obedience and perfection. We are clothed in His perfection and righteousness.
And yet, in another sense, we are not yet perfect. Our actual day-to-day performance is anything but perfect. Any honest person, Christian or not, knows this. We all struggle with sin. Though it amazes me that, throughout the history of Christianity, there have always been some that say they have achieved a state of sinless perfection. I don’t buy it. Our society and our churches prove it’s not true.
What’s vitally important is that we are in the process of being made perfect.
That, I believe, is the message being conveyed by Jesus’ saying.
I have wondered, why can’t we have complete victory over sin in every area of our lives? Shouldn’t sin be completely obliterated once we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? Isn’t salvation great enough to do that for us?
God showed me something recently while I was doing the dishes (I seem to get more ideas when I do the dishes than at any other time–don’t tell my wife!) I was wrestling with this idea of perfection, and yet why we still struggle with sin.
I thought of the ancient Israelites, and how after 40 years of wandering in the desert, they finally entered into the land of Canaan, the promised land. God promised them that He would drive out the inhabitants of the land. They would be moving into a land with cities and homes already built, water wells already dug, roads and pathways already paved–in other words a land with an entire infrastructure already intact.
But God also said He would not drive the inhabitants out all at once, lest the wild animals become too strong for the Israelites and overpower them. This is key.
While praying and thinking of this, it dawned on me that, today as Christians, our lives–our minds, souls, and bodies–are like this land. God goes ahead of us and drives out the inhabitants (sin) by His grace–the effective cleansing of the blood of Christ, brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And yet, He doesn’t do this all at once. Why? I asked the Lord. The answer?
Because of pride.
Aha! So those wild animals, then, are like pride. If we had complete, immediate victory over sin, pride would just as quickly fill in the vacancy. The only difference, we would be even worse off than we were before. Because now, the ravaging beast of pride causes us to look down at others, feel superior to them, and be incited to attack them with our “holier-than-thou” attitude. Not only that, but if we are “perfect” why would we feel like we even need God?
It is our constant struggle against sin that alerts us to the fact that we need a Savior. And we need Him every day.
If we feel we don’t need God, we close the door to His mercy and help for us. Jesus used this illustration to drive the point home. I will retell the story in my own words:
There once were two men. One was a deacon in his local Full-Gospel church located in the “good part” of town and the other was skid-row bum. One night, the derelict wandered around town after finishing off a bottle of brandy, and ended up sleeping on a park bench in the deacon’s neighborhood.
That next morning, the deacon was going out for his usual jog in the neighborhood park. The derelict was just waking up–his head throbbing–and he could see through his glazed, bloodshot eyes, the cleanly dressed deacon approaching. Instantly, he began to loathe himself, remembering how, not too long ago, he used to go to church and was a respectable member of society, but through many bad decisions ended up a homeless man with an insatiable dependence on alcohol.
By this time, the deacon was close enough to catch several sickening whiffs of the bum’s booze-drenched body odor. Glancing at him quickly as to avoid eye-contact, he thought to himself, “What a shame, somebody living like that. Hopeless drunk–it’s in his own fault. I thank you, God, that I grew up in the church, and my parents raised me to be respectable and not like that man. He probably has never even been to church once in his whole life.”
The down-and-outer could only look down. Waves of humiliation and shame cascaded over him.
He cried out in desperation, in half-formed mumbling words, “God, I hate what I am. Help me God! I remember how someone at church once told me about Jesus, that He is a friend of sinners. God, I’m just a no-good drunk. Please God, have mercy on me and help me out of this mess!”
It is this second man, by the way–not the first–that was made right with God. We often don’t like that. Instead, we give honor to the accomplished, respectable, even braggadocious people in our society.
God is different than us. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
So, who is better off–the deacon or the derelict? Who would you rather be? When I give my kids a choice they don’t like, they say, “nothing!” While I’m not advocating living like a person on the streets, I am saying, like the derelict, we should look at our hearts and see ourselves as we really are–sinners in need of a Savior. That is the root of humility. And we should act like we believe it, in the way we relate to God and people.
As for being perfect, we will reach that goal–when we get to heaven. For now, let’s be content with getting to the finish line, inviting others on the sidelines to get in the race, and offering help to those who trip along the way. There are a lot of lost, lonely, hurting people out there. Let’s reach them and invite them to share the joy of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ!
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
  • If you are a Christian, how has God changed your life after you believed? How has seeing sin in your life drawn you closer to the Lord?
  • If you are not a Christian, what do you think of “Christians” who look down at others? How do you think Jesus treated the “down-and-outers” around Him?
Share your thoughts!

"I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands."

Inscribed6a_500px

"Inscribed," Pencil on Paper, by Matt Philleo

One day, when I was discouraged I read a verse in the Bible, in Isaiah, 49:15-16, where it says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands." This verse brought such encouragement, that I created this original work of art to share the incredible love of God with others, including you!


Get a free 8 x 10 copy of this drawing that you can use to print, share, or as wallpaper!

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you Matt! What an important message for the body of Christ to hear. I sure need to be reminded of Gods grace for I seem to get stuck in the mode “I can do better than that” either in regards to myself thereby rejecting grace (His life in me) and forgiveness thinking “How could I have done that” (pride) or in regards to others making it “spiritual competition” (to have a better ministry than Matt) or “I didn’t do that so I’m better”. Thanks for being a brush in His hand to reveal His purpose.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the feedback, Mark! It always has, and always will be grace that saves us. I just talked to the Lord today along these lines: I’m putting all my eggs in the faith (grace through faith) basket. That is, I’m not going to hedge my bet by placing a few eggs in the works basket, so I can add value to Christ’s finished work on the cross. What an insult. If His blood is not enough to save me, I’m doomed. But I’m confident it is, and so that is where I will place my trust. It isn’t a one-time deal. Constantly we struggle against our flesh in wanting to appear acceptable before God by what we do. If we really love the Lord and want to grow in holiness, we recognize our best efforts fall so short of His perfect standard. And sometimes we feel cut off from the Lord, as the Psalmist did. But that draws us closer to Him as we cry out for that grace. God may seem to even put us off for a while because of His own purposes in strengthening our faith and resolve to be close to Him, but He inevitably breaks through our unbelief and sheer, unhindered joy of salvation sweeps over our hearts!

      Reply

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