The gospel invites us to believe two things about ourselves. Firstly that we are wicked, rebellious sinners, who deserve God’s wrath. In clear, accurate brush strokes, the gospel paints a picture of the horror of our selfishness, and our refusal to worship God as we should. But secondly, along side that, the gospel teaches us that God loves sinners, sends his Son to save sinners and works in us by the Spirit to make us new people. People who by faith alone, in Christ alone, by his grace alone, call God: Father, and stand before him as loved sons.
Now a common danger for Christians, is that we grow increasingly conscious of our sin, but not confidence in Christ’s saving work. We see our need to be saved, but doubt the gospel’s power to save. Wonder if we are perhaps beyond its reach, or doubt we’ve really trusted Christ.
Octavius Winslow deals with this problem in an interesting way in his book “Personal Declension and revival of religion in the soul” (current book in our Dead Puritans Society 1). His take is that our failure to delight in what God has done, and is doing for us in Christ, is a way we grieve the Spirit. His reasoning is that conviction of sin, and delight in Christ’s work, are both works of the Spirit in us. Therefore to only permit him to do half a job is grieving to him.
Here he is in his own words:
“What if you have been led into deeper discoveries of your fallen nature, your own unworthiness, vileness, insufficiency, declensions, and backsliding from God, we ask, whose work is this? Whose, but that same, blessed, loving Spirit whom thus you are wounding, quenching, grieving, denying [as you undervalue Christ’s work in you]…
“It is not pride gratefully to acknowledge what great things the Lord has done for us, it is pride that refuses to acknowledge them; it is not true humility to doubt, and underrate, until it becomes easy to deny altogether the work of the Holy Spirit in us, it is true humility and lowliness to confess his work, bear testimony to his operation, and ascribe to him all the power, praise and glory…
“And I would have you bear in mind too, that though the work of the Spirit in your heart may, to your imperfect knowledge and dim eye, be feeble… yet to the Spirit’s eye, that work appears in all its distinctness and glory.” 2
Delighting in God’s work in us is not pride, it’s the important counterpart to a growing awareness of our own sinfulness and weakness. Sin has penetrated deeper into my heart and life than I ever imagined, but by faith God has united me to his Son, and is at work in me by his Spirit, so that every dark corner might be reached by his transforming grace. Praise God!
- we meet early on Friday mornings about once a month to discuss a puritan paperback, if you’re interested in joining let me know ↩
- Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension, Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2009 ↩