Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nowhere to hide - No safe place to stand

I have been thinking about Paul’s “boast .. in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14) and about its opposite – shame, or to be ashamed. A couple of images are useful in describing their difference in Biblical usage: one’s foundation, and one’s covering.

If you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, you want the ground to be firm, lest you take the big slide into the big ditch. If you are on firm ground, you have good reason to feel confident, and you can boast in your solid position, and you can enjoy the view. No worries.

In Paul’s experience, he has exchanged his boasts for his shames. All that gave him solid footing in his social/religious/political world was stripped away, and once those garments that denoted success and acceptance and honor were rendered useless, he was left with his shame. And the Bible uses this ugly picture of exposed nakedness as a way of conveying shame.

That will be the experience of many when they stand before God. If a person seeks to present himself in the garb of human achievement of any kind, he will suffer complete humiliation even as he receives the penalty that he deserves. There will be nowhere to hide, no safe place to stand.

Paul had witnessed this truth from at least a couple of different perspectives. In his youth, as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, he was taking part in a shaming activity. From Old Testament times, stoning was an extreme way of proclaiming that this person was not worthy to be a part of the covenant community, and that the members of that community could only show their faithfulness by punishing his faithlessness. So do your part, and pick up a stone.

Paul also was confronted with the risen Lord on the Damascus road. His previous, mental image consisted of Jesus, affixed to a cross, suffering the shame of exclusion a by temple and religious authority, sentenced to death by political authority, and abandoned by his own social circle - humiliated, in every way. But now, the stone that was rolled up tight as the seal of his humiliation was rolled away, and Paul was confronted with a crisis. “The stone rejected by the builders has now been made the head of the corner.” Jesus, and him crucified, is no longer the definition of shame, but rather of God’s vindication. For Paul, it was time to step to a whole new foundation, where the definitions are changed, even reversed.

And so we trust in Christ that we might be clothed in Christ, so that when we stand in judgment, we will not be ashamed. The guilt of our rebellion as been washed away, and we stand in the righteousness of Christ.

So do I now embrace my new boast, and flee from my current shame? Or do I wallow in things which I claim are things of shame, Am I guilty of dressing myself in filthy rags, even under the outer clothing of Jesus Himself, seeking to have a bit of both worlds? And do I think that Christ does not know when I make a compromised boast, or harbor a hidden shame?

You see, doctrine is practical. And the wonderful doctrine of imputed righteousness is to be complemented by a hunger and thirst for experiential righteousness. And I call into question the former when I deny through my actions the latter.

Let me give you for your own reflection the references to at least some of the verses on “shame”, in various verbal forms:

Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 13:17; 14:9; 16:3; Rom. 1:16,27; 5:5; 6:21; 9:33; 10:11; 1Cor. 1:27; 7:36; 11:4-5,22; 12:23; 13:5; 2Cor. 4:2; 7:14; 9:4; 10:8; Phil. 1:20; 3:19; 2Tim. 1:8,12,16; 2:15; Heb. 2:11; 11:16; 12:2; 1Pet. 2:6; 3:16; 4:16; 1John 2:28; Jude 1:13; Rev. 3:18; 16:15

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