Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

May 19, 2004

John Stott on Spiritual Poverty

I continue to think about poverty of spirit. Struggling as I am through The Purpose Driven Life, I am struck by how busy and complicated its author would have our lives become. On every page there is at least one to do list, a series of essential steps, or five (or seven, or three) things that we must remember. There are key points and supposedly momentous truths and even secrets of happiness. None of these keys are in themselves very complicated, but taken together they give the sense that the Christian life is all about getting our many ducks in a row.

And maybe that's why, as I've cast about for an antidote to these glib Warren-esque truisms, the beatitudes of Jesus have begun once again to speak to my heart. This was the starting place of my faith, and the place to which I must again and again return: the place of spiritual poverty. It is here that I see myself as I truly am, and God as He truly is.

Yesterday I came across an article by John Stott called Naked Pride. I'm going to quote both the introductory paragraphs, and then the finish. Here then are Stott's opening words:
The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

As we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and of ourselves, especially in relation to each other. Instead of inflicting upon us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured it in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the "scandal," the stumbling-block, of the cross. For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely, we say, there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends? If not, we often give the impression that we would rather suffer our own punishment than the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.

And now here's the finishing up:

But we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness. Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn "Rock of Ages":

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your Cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.


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