In Spite Of
Again and again I hear it said from pulpits and in individual conversations that “God uses us in spite of our weaknesses and brokenness.” I have probably uttered these words myself. The fact is that this statement borders on being profound, it seems to communicate humility on our part, while at the same time stirring up feelings of gratitude for God’s grace, power, and mercy…all of which are good things. That being said, I wonder if it is true? By ‘true’ I do not mean, “Does the statement makes sense?” But rather, “Does it really express the heart of God”? Does it really express how God views us as we partner with God in the living out of our lives?
As a 20-something Christian, new to the faith, I would have never doubted the veracity of the ‘in spite of’ statement. But today, after years on the journey, something deep within me struggles with it.
As I look at the writings of Paul I notice that his emphasis is on who we are in Christ, not who we are not. Paul makes statements stating that “we are a new creation”; “We are God's workmanship in Christ Jesus”; “We are chosen”; “We are holy”. In Peter's writings we are called a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Neither of these writers focus on our weakness or brokenness but rather highlight who we are now as those forgiven and redeemed by God through Jesus Christ. In fact, in Philippians 4:13 Paul has the audacity to declare, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul goes out of his way to communicate the radical reality of being ‘in Christ’. In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “It is not I who lives but Christ who lives within me.” These words speak of the profound unity of Christ and us while, in another passage, Paul speaks of the incredible power that resides within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The ‘in spite of’ statement does not express the wonder of who we are as Christians. Further, I believe the ‘in spite of’ statement does a great deal of harm, for it belittles who we are in Christ, as well as what God has done in us. This, in turn, makes us doubt our ability to be used by God and causes us to hesitate to step out and act. The 'in spite of' statement does not convey the ongoing transformation that is taking place within us through the work of the Spirit. It does not express the heart of God, who sees us as a holy work of art, a chosen new creation, a unique one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
In light of how God sees us and feels towards us, I don't believe God, after partnering with us, would say, “I just want you to know I used you in spite of yourself”. Instead, I think God would say something along the lines of: “Well done, good and faithful one. You did an excellent job. Now enter fully into my joy for you”.
The ‘in spite of’ statement subtly communicates ‘a lack of’, rather than the life of abundance Christ provided for us through His death, resurrection, and the subsequent indwelling of God’s Spirit. I believe the ‘in spite of’ statement is in error and is dangerous. It causes us to look at ourselves and our lack (ala Moses), rather than looking at the amazing resources that are ours in and through Christ.
God is our parent, encouraging us to embrace and own who we truly are. God is one who celebrates us and rejoices in what we do together with Him and through Him. God’s desire is that we would remember that we are God’s child and that, together, nothing is impossible. God doesn’t use the ‘in spite of’ statement in regard to us because it does not communicate the wonder of who we are as God’s child, created in and through Christ Jesus.
Let us each seek to own the wonder of who we are in Christ…embracing and living out of the abundant resources that are ours in Christ through the indwelling of the Spirit, so that we too might utter with John the disciple, "I am the one Jesus loves" and affirm with Paul, " I am a new creation, the masterpiece of God crafted and transformed by love."
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