I was on my Monday morning transit commute sitting near a group of people who loudly reminisced about their weekend exploits. Without embarrassment they relived what could be remembered of a wild party’s excitement, exploits and emissions—despite the presence of strangers and a few grandmas. The visualizations were a challenge to forget.
That commute wrecked me for a couple of days. Not only did it bring back memories of what I never want to return to, but I was deeply grieved by the brazenness of it all. Perhaps you’ll say I’m judging or over-reacting, but I don’t think that’s the case.
If I were judging, I would have thanked God that I was not like them. Instead, their conversation led me to the humble realization that we’re all so much alike. The Spirit of God has undoubtedly embraced a large renovation project in messy me. I’m a work in progress, with my own proud banners that need shredding.
We all wear banners—sometimes proudly—when Self is placed on the throne of life. In I Corinthians 6, Paul names a smattering of these: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. There’s more than enough there for all of us to wear at least one. Apart from Christ, these are some of our labels and descriptors. To be proud of them should be seen as a flagrant foul of indignity and met with great sadness. Those who become followers of Jesus come to the end of their ropes with this fruit of our own lordship. In Christ, those things increasingly become what we were.
Listen, this is not about what expressions of sin deserve the most criticism. If we live in our sin, we will perish in it. All of us. If we think otherwise as Christians, it is because we have forgotten that the gospel is the declaration of another way. The real debate is not about gradations of whatever sin wiggles its way out of us; it is whether Self or God is on the throne of our lives. That is the fundamental issue.
Our culture has been hoodwinked into debates about who gets to call themselves most moral, but morality always flows from our conviction about who has authority to sit in the driver’s seat of life. If I’m on the throne, I can justify everything and judge everyone against that.
But if God is on the throne, then I begin a life ruled by his truth and grace. I become part of his loving advance in history. I cling to the foolish wisdom of the cross that judges sin in all of us and confronts all our banner-waving. In fact, I no longer wave the banner of anything other than Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. I lower my old flags, but elevate Christ alone. This is our great privilege and the place of our greatest passivity as a church.
Truth be told, this is an unwelcome message in a culture in which our proud banners and bus-ride boasts get “liked.” But then again, is that really any different than proud Corinth, where the Lord encouraged Paul to not keep silent (Acts 18:10)?
Phil Wagler (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Surrey, B.C., and is pretty sure John Newton was talking about him when he said, “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.”