I have an extremely embarrassing confession to make. As a teenager, I couldn’t put certain words in alphabetical order without singing the alphabet song, or at least part of it. In other words, if you gave me the words, “rocket” and “tree” I’d have to go, “Q, R, S, T… oh, ok, R comes before T, so ‘rocket’ comes before ‘tree.’” For goodness sakes, I was a 15, not 5! Here’s another weird thing about my academic abilities (or lack of them). My dad, determined to make me the math genius that Asians are known for, had me begin to memorize my multiplication table at the age of five. However, they were all in Chinese and I was seldom quizzed on individual facts but instead had to recite the entire table every time I was quizzed. So whenever we played games like “Around the Word” in school, or whenever I was quizzed on the facts using only flash cards, I always got lost because if you gave me a problem like 7×8, I would have to recite the seven times table in Chinese, get to 7×8, then translate it back to English before I could give the answer. By that time, I was far behind the other students in my class who recognized the problem and could give the answer right away.
While it may be quite embarrassing to be fumbling with the basics when it comes to reading and arithmetic, much more than pride is at stake when we begin to fumble with the basics of our salvation. In my blog post titled, “Spiritual Special Education,” I discussed how many of us can appear to be very literate, but really have no comprehension skills and do not understand a word we’re reading. When this happens in matters pertaining to our salvation and our relationship with God, it often leaves us defeated and despairing. How do I know this is true? I have lived it for the past 8 years.
In the first few posts of this blog, I discussed how I finally realized that our salvation is secure regardless of what we do and that all our sins past, present and future are paid for in full. However, there was a second part of that work of justification that I still hadn’t learned. That’s the part that had to do with my conscience. To help me illustrate my point, I’m going to once again enlist the help of my Jack Russell Terrier, Colby.
Colby usually is never further than two feet from me. His favorite spot is right under my feet as I sit at my desk to write or craft. If I leave to go to another room, it isn’t long before Colby senses my absence and comes to see what I’m up to. There is one major exception to this however, and that is when Colby knows he’s done something wrong. When he’s had an accident in the house, or when he’s chewed up something other than his food or toys, I have to go hunting for him. Usually he’s found hiding under a table crouching as far away from me as possible. His guilty conscience is separating him from me.
The same happens to me when I do something that I know displeases God. For the last eight years since I received Christ, I have weighed my approachability to God by my most recent behavior record. If, say for the last week I had been having consistent devotions, if I had not had any suicidal thoughts, if I didn’t have any outbursts of anger or manipulated anyone, then I felt okay about approaching God. Here’s the problem though. That is almost never the case. I can always find something that I have done in the last five minutes, much less the last week that has displeased God. One hundred percent of the time I fall short, so my conscience is never clean, and therefore my relationship with God has always been strained at best and non-existent at worst.
Last night I began reading a book that my pastor recommended to me. The book was The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I was so surprised to see in the very first chapter that he described the exact same dilemma I expressed above. However, instead of offering the expected solution of “try harder to please God,” Nee showed us that the problem with our conscience has already been taken care of. Look at what Hebrews 10:21-22 says, “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience…” It’s already been done! The blood of Christ has already cleansed our conscience so that we can approach God just as if we had been perfect all week. How can the blood of Christ cleanse our conscience? By satisfying God’s requirement for the payment of sins, it removes the sin-stain from us so that we can walk in with spotless, white garments. Just like your confidence returns to you after you remove the spaghetti stain from your white blouse and you can now return to the office or party boldly without shame, once the stain of sin is removed, we can now return to the presence of God with confidence and boldness. I realized that I had been living a life very similar to the wedding guest in Matthew 22 who refused to put on the wedding clothes that he was offered. The means by which I am able to approach God boldly has already been provided for me. The only thing left for me to do is put the clothes on and go in.
My former pastor used to tell a story about a football coach whose team was struggling to win games. After losing a lot of games, the coach brought the players together, held up a football and said, “This is a football.” Many times when we’re finding ourselves fumbling all over the place, it may be an indication that we need to start over from the basics. While there are few things more embarrassing than not knowing your alphabet, not knowing the alphabet of salvation and justification is not so much embarrassing as it is tragic. Just as we forfeit a wonderful life of stories and written communication by neglecting to master the alphabet, we forfeit a wonderful life of peace and intimacy with God by neglecting to master the alphabet of salvation. So for those who are still wondering if R comes before or after T, get Watchman Nee’s book and learn that alphabet once and for all!