A few days ago I got the chance to visit with my best friend Katy in Chicago and she and I happened to meet an old acquaintance. I had not seen him in thirty years. It was great to share a meal with him and chat a bit. But I realized a curious thing after we had parted. The conversation over our meal had been, at least in its themes, a repeat of the last conversation I had had with him over thirty years before. But as if this were not extraordinary enough I realized in a flash of insight something even more important although outwardly unrelated to our pleasant mealtime conversation: I had not changed in thirty years; I was still the same destructive, self-destructive, arrogant and cold-hearted sinner that I had always been. Just in case the reader think that I am being too hard on myself, consider that the apostle Paul says as much; he refers to himself in the present as a sinner. (I Tim. 1:13) But here’s the rub, or more precisely the beautiful dialogue into which the Bible leads us, we are also completely changed, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, look, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17) Paul expands on this good news in another place “ I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” In other words, we have died and the life we now lead is entirely by the faith, the establishment, the “amen power” that raised Jesus from the dead. As Mahalia Jackson sings “I woke this morning!” How? by that faith, a power completely outside ourselves that comes straight from heaven and goes directly into our hearts. Truly, we walk by faith and not by sight. Do we understand the indescribably good gift that God has given to us? * So you see, we are changed; we are the first fruits of the change, of the immortality that is to come (I Cor. 15), but lest we get on our high horse and ride off into the sunset of delusion, the Bible and life itself reminds us from time to time of what is also the truth; one that is less weighty but revelatory and saving: that we are still what we ever were, as Paul puts it, “Oh wretched man that I am” (note the present tense). No need to worry about getting a swelled head, our loving Father keeps us from that and all evils.
*Actually, we can't understand this, if we think we live by our own faith, if we do, the life in Christ becomes not an indescribably great and gracious gift but rather some kind of dubious exchange with God. But if faith is something quite different, if it is the power with which the Messiah is girded and strengthened, if it is what the King James Bible translates as establishment in reference to Samuel then we learn what gratitude really is, then we learn how boasting is totally excluded.