April 17, 2009

Going low to get high

It feels a bit like being right, like I have won a prize or bested an adversary, but there the resemblance ends. God’s way of giving me a high is by first taking me down.

As a Christian, I’ve discovered that the lowest low is sin. When I disobey God, I feel terrible. At first it took something big, but now even a bad attitude that no one else knows about will bring me into an emotional slump. I don’t like being there, but the human way of proving myself right will not work. In fact, that sort of effort just makes matters worse.

Instead, the Bible tells me that if I want to be on top of things, I need to keep my conscience clear. 1 Peter 3:16 says, “Having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

This verse is in a section that instructs Christians what to do when mistreated, falsely accused, and put down, certainly the very times when I most feel like fighting back or being right. However, it doesn’t tell me to fight, not even for my rights. Instead, it says to have a good conscience. How so?

Comparing that to being right or having won, I usually feel good when I get the better of someone who puts me down, yet this is a precarious stance. As all winners know, very little time passes and someone else steps up to take the podium. The sense of being right or of winning feels good, but pride and gloating are fleeting.

In contrast, when my conscience is clear, I’ve nothing to be proud of, neither can I gloat nor boast. Instead, a good conscience is the result of humility and confessing sin. It is knowing that I am prone to selfishness and pride and that my sinful nature is always sneaking up on me and preventing me from living under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

A good conscience means that I am aware and continually remembering that this lovely sensation is possible only because Christ died for me and my sins are forgiven. It does not mean that I am a sinless, top-of-the heap winner, but that I am a loser living by grace. As Peter says, when I live with a good conscience and am falsely accused or abused, those who do it will eventually fall to the condemnation of their own conscience. They cannot stay on their pedestal for very long.

Even so, I’ve known people who spend most of their waking moments striving to be right, to be the best, to keep on top of things. I’ve had those tendencies myself. It is the “feeling” that we go for, the sense of freedom and power up there on that pedestal. Even if it is momentary, we want it. The fear of losing it is the only spoiler.

Having a good conscience is like that, only better. Being free from guilt is amazing. Only Jesus can do that in my heart and after several years of experiencing this wonderful freedom, He continues to teach me more about it. For instance, in the beginning that fear of losing it was my best incentive to quickly confess any sin that threatened it, but now I’ve found that this high place is like that because it is the place where I am close to God. When I am in full communion with Him, there is no greater joy.

When I sin, it seems like God turns His back, but I’ve learned that He doesn’t move away; I’m the one who turned my back. Confession and repentance clear my conscience and turn me around. He removes that burden of guilt, and takes away that sense of being wrong.

Best of all, the sense of His presence, of being near Him is strong and a blessing. After years of repeating this up/down experiences of a clear conscience/stumble into sin thing and learning the value of it, He has taught me that winning in the human sense of having my pride elevated is nothing compared to the deeper satisfaction of knowing that He is pleased with me. This is not because I’ve never failed, but because He has impressed upon my heart the great value of having very short accounts with Him.

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