It’s Good to Know I Am Not

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

I know the title of today’s post appears to be unfinished and, while I didn’t pick it for that reason, maybe it is the perfect starting point because so am I.  What I mean is I have not “arrived” in life or, as some would say, reached the top of the pyramid that is “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.  While this may seem obvious to those who know me and more than likely many that do not, this realization has been extremely important in my life.  I am not good and I am sure glad I know it.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote a number of letters in the Bible, has profoundly impacted my life through his words.  In a letter he wrote to one of his friends, Timothy, he writes, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of which I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV 1984)  The first part of Paul’s saying is something you would more than likely expect to hear from him, but the second part seems a little out of place.  Certainly, this is something you could see someone saying about someone else, but to say it about yourself is quite different.  When you add in the fact the Paul was one of the most influential Followers of Christ at the time, it is more than a little surprising.  As Followers of Christ, we have done a pretty good job of earning a reputation for being “holier than thou”.  We consider ourselves sinners saved by grace, but not as nearly in need of grace as everyone else.  Paul, however, had a very different perspective.  Paul not only considered himself a sinner saved by grace, but the worst sinner still in need of the most grace.  It would be easy to look at this as an exaggeration to make a point or false humility, but I believe it was much more.  I believe Paul truly saw himself this way and it changed the way he lived.

Paul’s next line to Timothy is, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)  I believe Paul’s understanding of the person he was on his own allowed him to see how much he needed someone greater than himself to change his life.  In other words, Paul’s recognition of his inability to be good forced him to constantly rely on Jesus and His ability to take what is broken and ugly, and transform it into something whole and beautiful.  Paul knew he was not “better” than anyone else and knew that his only chance to live differently was the power of Jesus.  I think this “sober judgment” of him kept him from believing he had life figured out and could do it on his own, and gave him the ability to spread hope and love people for who they were fellow creations of God.  

I have seen the impact of this perspective on my life as well.  A belief that I am capable of doing almost anything, both good and bad, has made me lean more into Christ and His power to change than my own abilities.  That’s not to say that there aren’t times in my life where I become self-reliant.  The ironic thing is these are typically the times that I do things I would be less than proud of.  I have learned that I am sinner, maybe one of the worst, when left to my own devices, but that I can live differently and make a difference in the world when I rely on Christ.  

This has also impacted the way I look at others and the decisions they make in life.  Apart from the life changing work of Christ in my life, I am no different from anyone else and, therefore, have no right to see myself as better or more holy.  The hope found in that truth is that the redemption and restoration I have experienced in my life is available to everyone, no matter how far away from God they find themselves.  I believe this perspective has allowed me to more effectively do ministry in Nicaragua because I believe there is hope no matter the perceived level of hopelessness.  I know that even when I am incapable of changing something, the power of Christ always is because it changed a guy like me.  

It’s good to know I am not good and even better to know I am love by the one who is.  

– James Belt


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