Excavation of the Soul

This morning I woke up unnerved. Like an anchor weighing heavy on my little soul, threatening to derail my morning before I’d even thrown off the covers and landed a foot out of bed.

So naturally, I reached for my phone and scrolled through my Instagram feed. Yep, more runners logging a bajillion miles in their underwear; too many friends sharing awkwardly intimate photos of their cats.

Luckily my second move was to grab my Bible. And like a perfectly-timed Jesus bomb, this scripture leapt off the page:

“… [H]e has reconciled you unto himself through the death of Christ … as a result he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it.” Colossians 1:22-23

I’ve been wrestling with these sentences all day long.

Can I be holy, blameless, without a single fault, YET still imperfect?

For 10 hours now I’ve contemplated this, scribbled in my journal, highlighted verses, and underlined passages written by my spiritual heroes. I’ve been so occupied with this pursuit, I haven’t even brushed my teeth, for which I’d apologize, but you’re safely shielded by my computer screen.

How do I take Paul at his word about being holy/blameless/faultless and reconcile it with the painful realization of my natural disposition for sin?

Furthermore, Paul doesn’t just casually declare that as Christ-followers we stand blameless before the God of the universe and then move on to his next point. He pauses long enough to instruct us not to second guess its veracity.

“But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it.”

It took me like 70 repeats, but I’m finally reading this statement in a new light.

Here’s what it means to me now:
I’m six years old, and St. Paul bends down to look me square in the eyes. He gently grips my shoulders and reassures me, “You’re going to be tempted to wonder if this is really true, if this holiness stuff really applies to you. It is, and it does.” Overcome with wonder, I throw my arms around him and bury my head in the folds of his toga.

Hope is a beautiful lifeline.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of how many different paths these two simple verses have driven me down today. But, if you’re game, I’ll share a few readings which steadied this sojourner’s heart.

From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (pg. 93-94)

“Many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian virtue because they think (before trying) that it’s impossible. Faced with an optional question during an exam, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer; you won’t get any for having left the question blank.

“We may be sure that virtue will not be attained by mere human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself, but just this power of always trying again.

“For however important any virtue is, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. On one hand, we learn that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”

From Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (pg. 20-21)

“Spiritual growth and vitality stem from what we actually do with our lives, from the habits we form, and from the character that results.

“True character transformation begins, we are taught to believe, in the pure grace of God and is continually assisted by it. Very well. But action is also indispensable in making the Christian truly a different kind of person—one having a new life in which, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, ‘Old things have passed away and, behold, all things become new.’ Failure to act in certain definite ways will guarantee that this transformation does not come to pass.”

From David Brooks, The Road to Character (pg. 207)

“As people rise up and seek to meet God, their desires slowly change. In prayer, people gradually reform their desires so that more and more they want the things they believe will delight God rather than the things they use to think would delight themselves.

“The ultimate conquest of self, in this view, is not won by self-discipline, or an awful battle within. It is won by establishing communion with God and by doing the things that feel natural in order to return God’s love.

“This is the process that produces an inner transformation. One day you turn around and notice that everything inside has been realigned. The old loves no longer thrill. You love different things and are oriented in different directions. You have become a different sort of person. You didn’t get this way simply by following this or that moral code, or adopting a drill sergeant’s discipline or certain habits. You did it instead because you reordered your loves, and as Augustine says again and again, you become what you love.”

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