UPDATE: Part 2 of this post is now up.
I have a quick confession. I technically ascribe to the “flavor” of Protestantism called “Reformed” that takes the roots of its doctrinal tradition all the way back to the leaders of the Reformation. The first church I really learned much of anything about Christianity and theology is Reformed…ish. The seminary I went to prides itself in being the bastion of orthodoxy for “Reformed” theology. My church is a member of the Reformed Church in America family of churches.
But, I’m not a good Reformed man.
For better or worse, there’s this primary strain of thought behind “Reformed Theology” that heavily emphasizes “God’s Glory” above all things and violently attacks anything that may try to steal some of that glory for itself. It emphasizes that the “direction” of all good and godly things is not from us towards God, but rather from God towards us. It talks a lot about our own weakness and our addiction to building our lives around everything else but God–about how apart from God’s unmerited saving and cleansing work in our lives we could never love God or be pleasing to God.
The good news (as it is presented) is that Jesus has come and lived a life pleasing to God and so when we trust in Him, we are mysteriously “joined” to him and his perfect life, so when God looks at us, he sees Jesus’ life and good works and is suddenly able to delight in us.
And I absolutely believe all these things. I do. So what’s the problem?
There are times I don’t simply want to have been made pleasing to God; I actually want to please God. Let me unpack this a little…
I really want to be able to offer God something of my own, as small as it may be, that will be pleasing to Him. I want to be pleasing to God. I want so badly to have something inherent to myself that God delights in (as opposed to just what Jesus has done for me and dressed me in).
But this isn’t good, traditional Reformed thinking about this. The usual Reformation thought is that if there is any ounce of something “delightful” in me, then that is an ounce of myself that Jesus did not have to cover with his blood; it’s something I can “glory” in.
But is there a way to believe that God’s subsequent, “post-union-with-Jesus” delight in me is not merely “legal” or a begrudging obligation on his part because I happen to be joined to His Son? Or is it a genuine delight: but only in His Son, and He merely looks right past/through me to him?
I’m not sure which thought is worse.
Am I alone in this sentiment? I want to hear and read those words “Well done, my good and faithful servant” and “This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased” and not just believe he’s talking to Jesus in/on me, but that God can truly be speaking to and of me.
I mean, I’m genuinely not wanting to take any glory or credit or whatever. It’s not me wanting to have “earned” any salvation. It truly is that I love this God so much that I want to lift my feeble, weak hands and know–just know–that he takes some pleasure in what I can offer–that he smiles over me and not just “Jesus in me”.
This has had some interesting implications in my life. I have no problem believing God loves me. I mean, he “gave his only begotten Son…”. But, if I’m honest, I have a really hard time believing he has any sort of real “liking” towards me. And this ends up being a root cause of much anxiety in my life–of my seeking this sense of being “liked” or “wanted“.
But Advent has helped me so much this year.
How? Well, tune in tomorrow.
In the meantime, has anyone else felt this sentiment before? How would you help someone feeling this way?