July 21, 2012

The Master Artist

Many years ago, I gave landscape painting lessons in my home. One time, one of my students brought a canvas that she had started at home on her own. She knew it wasn’t right and wanted suggestions how to fix it. I was perplexed. The painting was fine in coloring and technique, but the drawing and composition were out of kilter. The painting could not be dressed up by a touch here and a dab there. It needed a new beginning.
So it is with humanity. We come up with all sorts of self-help ideas. Bookstores have full sections on the topic, but self-help goes only a small way toward fixing what we look like. The problem goes much deeper than surface appearances.

The Bible says that our basic composition is wrong, ruined by disobeying God and losing our true identity to sin. Because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we need a solution beyond ourselves. The passage that contains those condemning words also offers God’s solution.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:21–28)
The fixing is God’s doing. He created us; He alone can remove the offending “paint” and begin again with a new layer, a new life. He puts at the core of our being the very life of Christ. He dwells in the hearts of those who believe and because of Him, my composition has changed.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
If I am a new creation, why then do I still struggle with sin? This happens because God did not remove my old nature. It is separated from Him (dead) yet can paint on my canvas if I let it. This is where I have some responsibility for the results of God’s saving work.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
Like a painting, I cannot assume that if the basic drawing and composition are right, the rest of it will also be as it should and I can then dabble away as I please. Even though Christ is the artist, my old nature can still throw around the paint. I can obscure the original drawing, cover the foundation with garish colors, and make the thing an eyesore. My part in His artistry is to get out of the way and let Him do His work. 

I’m also to put myself in places of grace, places where God can add light, color and beauty to my life. These places are called spiritual disciplines. They include Bible study, prayer, worship and fellowship with other Christians and anything that helps me deny that old self, such as fasting, frugality, giving, silence, and service. I cannot create the painting or add anything to it, but I can put myself physically and attitudinally where God can work in me.

These spiritual disciplines are simple, but often difficult. My old nature can think of a million excuses or reasons to avoid prayer, or any of them, but denying self is one of Christ’s specialties. He is more than happy to fix that part of my painting too. 

Lord, I’ve fancied myself as not a bad artist, but when it comes to the canvas of my own life, I’m quite happy to hand You the paintbrush. You are a far greater artist. For by grace you have saved me through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is Your gift, not a result of works, so that I can boast. For I am Your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10, personalized) Amazing grace; amazing Artist!

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