It’s 6AM and I just finished a very encouraging conversation with a buddy of mine named Ryan Shiozaki. Because it was a very encouraging conversation, I want to share some of it with you—especially for those of you who struggle with feelings of guilt and self-condemnation. Because it’s 6AM, there’s a good chance nothing I say will be coherent. Thanks in advance for being understanding.
part I: graduates with regrets
I am a student graduating from UCLA this June (assuming I pass my classes this quarter and during the summer, I guess). Of course, graduating from college is an incredible privilege and a joyous occasion. If I’m being honest, though, there’s also a lot of sadness. I’m not talking about the sadness associated with leaving people behind and seeing dearly loved friends go their separate ways (though that sadness is very real and is definitely present). Actually, the sadness I’m feeling weighs much more heavily, and it has to do with guilt.
The thing is, while my time here at UCLA has been full of joys and fantastic memories, it has also contained a great deal of failure. When I say “failure,” I’m not referring to getting rejected from programs or studying really hard for a test and bombing it. I’m talking about failure of the sin category, or moral failures—laziness (reflected in test scores), selfishness (reflected in weakened or severed relationships), lack of discipline (reflected in hours and hours of wasted time), and so forth. “But Winston, look at all these other great things you got to experience, do, and be involved in!” While I certainly appreciate all those things, they don’t remove the reality that there are many things I wish I had done differently, primarily with regard to my schoolwork. The regrets are still there, and they can hang on me just as tangibly as the blue and gold graduation sash I bought (for a completely ridiculous amount of money, I might add… I’m looking at you, UCLA!).
I think I’m more of a perfectionist than I’d like to admit. This leads to the kind of guilt that threatens to suffocate happiness, even the throw-your-cap-and-tassel-into-the-air-with-some-of-your-best-friends-next-to-you kind of happiness.
The scary part is this: I sometimes catch myself feeling guilty just for feeling happy because I know that I have failed in so many ways—and if I am happy despite the presence of sin in my life, aren’t I just continuing in sin so that grace may abound?
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)
Carried out in our actions, these feelings of guilt can lead to all kinds of crazy things. We become workaholics to make up for our past laziness. We punish ourselves or deprive ourselves of things to try and make things right. In fact, just over two years ago I wrote a post about something just like this that came up as I was preparing for a Mammoth trip with some friends.
part II: the root of regret
Before a proper treatment of the issue, however, we must first ask: why am I saddened when I think about these failures? Why do the regrets hurt? What did I deprive myself of by failing? What losses were incurred because of my failures?
After all, failures of the sin category lead to losses. In other words, sins have consequences. Failure to study diligently can mean the loss of a good grade. Failure to care for a roommate can mean the loss of a friend. Most importantly, there’s the classic Sunday school answer: sin separates us from God.
Why should we hate sin, according to the Bible? Because it offends God and damages our relationships with him. It pains him and it makes us callous to his love, words, promises, and authority. In Psalm 51:4, David (who had just impregnated Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed) says, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Ultimately, sin is reprehensible because of what it does to God and our relationships with him. Its other impacts—on our grades, friendships, and the rest—are secondary.
But, if I am being honest with myself, I sometimes care more about the secondary things. My regret for my failures at UCLA doesn’t exist exclusively because I am 100% committed to my relationship with God. Very often, I feel sadness because my failures have caused me to lose other things. Take the academic failures, for instance. I lose summa cum laude bragging rights. I lose the freedom to go to whatever grad school I want. I lose access to certain rungs on the corporate ladder, at least for the time being. I lose letters of recommendation from professors.
I hope you’re beginning to see the underlying issue here. The heart is a factory of idols. I often have a warped conception of success that is egotistical and materialistic.
Do I mourn that I have offended the God of the universe and deprived myself of beholding him with clear eyes? Or am I just bummed because I wanted this and that and the other, because I thought those things (and not their Creator) would satisfy me?
part III: why we should mourn
The only need we have ever had is our need to behold, worship, and enjoy the true and living God.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13 (ESV)
This explains why we should feel sorrow when we sin. We know that sin separates us from God, and so it prevents us from having our only need met. We know that it incurs his wrath. When faced with God’s glory, we become acutely aware of our shortcomings and doom.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah 6:5 (ESV)
Even for the Christian, who has been justified, we mourn our sin because it blinds us; it prevents us from seeing and loving Christ clearly.
part IV: why we also rejoice
But that’s the key. That the Christian has been justified. Our sin prevents us from having our only need met; its wages are death. But Christ lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live, and suffered the punishment for our sin in our place, so that we might be forgiven and counted as righteous. So just as we mourn our sin because it damages our relationship with God, we find that God himself has provided the ultimate answer.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 (ESV)
And having been raised with Christ as new creations in his resurrection, we know that we can live by faith. We, by his grace and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, make war against our sin and pursue Christlikeness for the rest of our lives.
part V: wrap-up
I realized after my conversation with Ryan that a lot of my sadness is due to idolatry in my heart. I cling onto things besides Christ, and so mourn when my failures jeopardize them.
It comes down to being motivated solely by a desire to know, behold, love, treasure, enjoy, trust, obey, and worship Christ. And of course, that same motive should cause us to turn away from and fight our sin. That’s repentance, and it comes with the new nature that the Christian has. That’s why Paul writes “By no means!” in response to the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
Don’t forget that God is sovereign over your failures, from laziness to not evangelizing to lashing out at roommates. Don’t forget that, in his mercy and grace, he has provided the solution. Don’t forget that he is the one who helps us put our sins to death.
Don’t forget that the Christian’s joy primarily rests not on our progress in the pursuit for holiness, or how we have performed in college or anywhere else. We have joy on one condition:
that God has sacrificially saved us for himself, choosing to justify us, make us more like Christ during our lives on Earth, and one day bring us home to glory.
Shoot, man. That makes me happy.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11 (ESV)
Even if you’re not a basketball fan, I’m sure you’ve heard about some guy named Donald Sterling by now. Long story short, Donald Sterling is the owner of the LA Clippers, he made a lot of racist comments in private, these comments got out, everyone got pissed, and the NBA banned him from the league for life.
I have a few questions I want to ask about this situation. First, though, a couple things to get out of the way: I don’t think the issue of privacy is a big issue here; comparisons between this situation and NSA surveillance or SCOTUS decisions about warrants and cell phones are tenuous at best. I think conversations about due process are a little more salient, but this is the NBA, not the federal judicial system, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems to have done his due diligence anyway.
My questions are more about the nature of our public outrage:
1. Why now?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought up a good point when he wrote the following for Time:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
The average fan wasn’t aware of Sterling’s past transgressions and didn’t know about his racist inclinations until this conversation was leaked, but Kareem’s point is applicable for NBA officials and more well-informed people in and around the league. My hunch is that what’s different this time around is the public awareness and outcry. When everyone from Michael Jordan to President Obama is denouncing the guy, it puts a lot on the NBA to do something about it.
2. What’s with the pot calling the kettle black (pun entirely intended)?
Case in point: Shaq recently mocked a man suffering from ectodermal dysplasia on Instagram. Shaq also called for Sterling’s suspension on TNT. I think the irony is obvious.
In the midst of all the Sterling-lynching, I think it would be good for us to look in the mirror a little bit. We’re most likely not overt racists like Sterling or as rude as Shaq, but if every private conversation you ever had were leaked to the world, what would that do to your reputation? If every thought that ever crossed your mind were exposed, how would you fare?
"But I’m not Donald Sterling! I don’t have the ability to hire and fire people." Charles Barkley and others have argued that Sterling’s comments are a serious issue only because he’s in a position of influence and power. I agree that Sterling’s position makes it so that the First Amendment is no good reason to let Sterling off the hook, whereas the "free speech" argument might work for some other people (but probably not well), but I disagree with the notion that the comments are bad only because Sterling is worth $1.9 billion and has numerous African-Americans in his employ. The racist comments he made are racist regardless of his position. All this to say that our racist/arrogant/jealous/resentful/hateful/spiteful/petty thoughts and words are morally reprehensible even if we’re broke students.
I am not saying I disagree with Silver’s decision. I agree with it, even if it makes me bummed that this might mean the Clippers will get a better owner at the expense of my beloved Lakers (who were supposed to have Chris Paul, anyway). I’m just saying that many of us seem to be riding on high horses right now, benefiting from the fact that we’re not filthy rich and constantly under the nation’s microscope, and need to replace our pitchforks with a little introspection.
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
—1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms…
And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, XV-XVI (emphasis added)
I could easily start off this post with a list of fifty ways Winston has screwed up in these past five weeks. From being tardy to things/irresponsible/extremely inconsiderate of others, to managing my time poorly and paying heavy prices for it (e.g. wasting at least a dozen hours playing Civilization 5 because I found a deal that I
just couldn’t pass up could have and should have passed up but didn’t), to not staying in my roommates’ lives and talking/praying with them, to being in the Word only when convenient, there have been a lot of instances in which my actions have demonstrated lots of misplaced desires and one very sinful heart. There are many things I could say about these past five weeks, but I’ll keep it to the following:
1. Talk is not enough.
I recognize that this is ironic because blogging here is one of the worst ways to talk (not talking to anyone face-to-face, audience is small, etc.). Tabling the irony thing for a moment, though, the point here is that talking well is important but not sufficient—and without living well, we can render it useless. By talking well, I mean talking in accord with biblical truth. By living well, I mean living in accord with biblical truth.
Talking well is a big thing in my mind because I a) do and will continue to talk in extraordinary excess until I am dead or someone rips my tongue out in frustration and b) understand, by God’s grace, the importance of sound biblical doctrine (and talking about it). And I’ve always heard that “orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy”/”you must walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” but for some reason living well was never very high on my list of priorities. Never above talking well, anyway.
Yet James 1:22-25 (ESV) tells us:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
I can talk the good talk about loving others to death, but I’m not forming comparable desire in my heart and resolve in my mind to show up to meetings on time or ask how I can pray for the great friends God has placed in my life. I can emphatically unpack a text about how the Gospel drives us to the Word and prayer, but taking the time to apply it in my own life takes the backseat. Though the Word commands us to talk and preach about the Word (and it does do that, very seriously), that is only part of Christian living.
I’ve heard it said that the path from the head to the heart is the longest path there is. I pray that, by God’s sanctifying power and grace, that path would shorten on the daily.
Talk is not enough.
2. Weakness is underrated but not the main thing.
The point about preaching brings me to this next point. If our lives must live up to our words, and if our words must be from God’s perfect Word, then how on earth do we do or say anything at all? Have you even read that thing?! There is no way someone can preach well if that’s a requirement, at least not without being insanely disingenuous.
This past Friday, I delivered a sermon at my church (the table is sinking under the weight of the irony, I know). For various reasons, I felt completely unprepared. I hadn’t had enough time to prepare the content as well as I would have liked, and my heart wasn’t in the best of places. In desperation, I texted Jesse, who’s my discipler, and Derek, who’s one of the best friends I could ever ask for. I told them what I was thinking and asked them to pray for me. In no time at all and with all kinds of care and compassion, they both agreed. And Jesse encouraged me to do the following: “Trust the word and the spirit and recognize your weakness and ask for his grace.”
I think that about sums up what I’ve been learning and what I’m trying to say here. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV):
But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am so thankful for last Friday, and for Jesse and Derek. I regret that it is only when I feel inadequate (which, because I tend to overestimate my own abilities, is not very often) or am unprepared by my own sinful standards that I am ready to talk about my weakness. Yet it is clear from the Bible that my weakness is inevitable and a constant reality.
I am typically very ready to talk about my weakness when it comes to what you might call the big picture of sin. And certainly, that’s where we should start. The story about how God deals with our sin—our moral failure, rebellion against our maker, and ticket to an eternity under his righteous anger—is the good news that’s at the heart of the entire Bible. Because of my sin, Christ lived the perfect life I could not live and died on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God. He confirmed his victory over sin and death in his resurrection from the grave. His righteousness is counted to me, just like my sin is counted to him. Because of that, I’m forgiven and the relationship between me and God that I broke is repaired. I’m restored to the purpose for which I was created and the joy that can be found in nothing else.
Yet in so many ways, I ignore the Bible’s discussion of my weakness and God’s grace. In Christ all things hold together (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), which means I’m powerless to even hold my own molecules together; Christ must do it for me. Only through God can anyone come to faith (1 Corinthians 2:5), which means I’m merely an instrument in my evangelism. I constantly continue to sin and succumb to the desires of the flesh (Romans 7:7-25), but God is the one sanctifying me; he is the one who works in me both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In everything I do, I am completely dependent on him. My sinfulness and weakness are inexorably aspects of my life which can be dealt with in no other way. In everything, I need his grace.
And notice that weakness is not the main point. We like to talk about our sin because being self-critical is looked upon with favor and being self-deprecating is seen as clean humor and clearly humble. But we must never forget the main point: that Christ redeems. The weakness of humanity is not the main point; the power of God is.
As what the Bible has to say about God’s strength in my weakness sinks in, so do John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30:
He must increase, but I must decrease.
The glory of my life goes to God. The glory of evangelism goes to God. The glory of my holiness goes to God.
Weakness is underrated but not the main thing.
3. Grace is the best.
Praise God for his work on the cross. Praise God for a resurrection. Praise God for his daily supply of strength. Praise God for his Word. Praise God for brothers and sisters in the church. Praise God that he uses sinners like us to grow each other, reflect his love as his disciples, and reach out to a broken and lost world. Praise God that he’s sovereign over my many, many failures. Praise God that he is glad to forgive us.
Grace is the best!
Man of sorrows, Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid
Silent as He stood accused
Beaten, mocked, and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns
Oh, that rugged cross, my salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out, hallelujah
Praise and honor unto Thee!
Sent of heaven God’s own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree
Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled
Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh, is free indeed!
See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah, God be praised
He’s risen from the grave!
A post from Winter 2012; you can’t reblog your own material, otherwise I would; now, in Winter 2014, I’d still write the exact same thing.
…along with new year resolutions, job searches, research position hunting, fresh notebooks, commitments to killing certain sins, bible reading plans, uninstalled games, plans for GPA-raising, and promises to ourselves to spend less money, study harder, hit the gym, and cut all dessert in the dining hall.
Praise God for new beginnings, indeed!
But somehow, few things change. I’m not just referring to the 5th week silent emptiness of the gyms. Or to the fact that once we rationalize ditching a single lecture, going to class seems henceforth optional. Or to the huge desire to procrastinate (and the correspondingly huge number of YouTube videos on our subscriptions pages).
Because beyond—and at the root of—all that is our humanity; the depravity, sinfulness, weakness, inefficiency, idolatry, flesh—they’re still there.
So while clean slates are wonderful evidences of grace and provide great opportunities, we need something far more powerful and substantial to answer our true problem.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
-Romans 6:5-12 (ESV)
The gospel is everything! Christ, our king and savior, has made atonement for the sinful elect by his sinless life, sacrificial death at the cross, and victorious resurrection. And by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we are new creations. Thus we have new affections—no longer chasing after the things of the world, but by grace pursuing greater knowledge of and obedience to God. We are reconciled to him. We were dead and hellbound in our trespasses. Now we’re justified and saved, via Christ’s sovereign work at the cross.
Indeed, I can’t think of a better new beginning! Or, in fact, any other that matters.
I am glad if this new quarter/semester/year finds you resolving to do better than you did in the last. Resolving is good; JEdwards did a lot of it. But let’s keep, above all, depending on grace to obey Christ, reminding ourselves of his gospel, and building on the solid rock of his Word.
2012 2014, let’s go. Soli Deo gloria!
- When people tell me their faith is weak, I ask them, “Are you reading your Bible regularly?”
- “Not really.”
- “Are you studying the Bible?”
- “Well, not exactly.”
- “Are you memorizing Scripture?”
- “Well then, how do you expect your faith to grow?” The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God.”