How the Incarnation Speaks Grace When I Trip Over My Sin and Fall on My Face [PODCAST]


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The Language of Lament

Chris Rice is a Christian musician and artist from Nashville whose song Clumsy appears on his first album from the mid-90s called Deep Enough to Dream. It is a simple song with words that speak the language of lament as he expresses his frustration with not making more “progress” as a disciple of Jesus.

You think I'd have it down by now

Been practicin' for thirty years.

I should have walked a thousand miles

So what am I still doin' here?

Reachin' out for that same old piece of forbidden fruit I slip and fall and I knock my halo loose

Somebody tell me what's a boy supposed to do? 

I get so clumsy. I get so foolish.

I get so stupid. And then I feel so useless. [worthless]

I'm gonna get it right this time.

I'll be strong and I'll make You proud.

I've prayed that prayer a thousand times,

But the rooster crows and my tears roll down.

Can you relate to that language of lament? You have a genuine desire to follow and honor Jesus and yet you trip and fall over your flesh over and over again. Not only do you feel clumsy and stupid. You feel useless. Maybe even worthless. I can relate. Big time.

Paul could relate, too. Yes, that Paul—the renowned missionary, preacher, church planter who wrote about twenty-five percent of the New Testament. Listen to what he says about himself in Romans 7:15-24

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The problem is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this life that is dominated by sin? 25 Thank God for Christ Jesus the Lord!”

Longing for Rescue

That is a powerful longing, isn’t it? The desire for rescue

I imagine being a POW and waiting and wondering, day after miserable day. Is rescue coming or am I going to die in this condition? Over time, you may begin to despair and lose hope.

The longing for rescue has been the craving of the human soul since the garden, when Adam and Eve opened Pandora’s box, infecting themselves and their posterity with the corruption of sin. Paradise was lost and the human race was enslaved— not to a foreign power but to the power of indwelling sin. Paul calls this inner tyrant the flesh, or the sin nature. In verses 22-23, he confesses,

“22 I love God’s law (God’s ways) with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”

Apart from a rescue mission, you and I are under the penalty of sin, controlled by the power of sin, and have no way to escape the presence of sin. But the message of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God has planned from the beginning to execute and fulfilled a rescue mission that would deliver us from every facet of sin.

  • In Genesis, the Rescuer is the promised seed of the woman who will destroy the insurgency of the devil. 

  • In Exodus, the Rescuer is the spotless, sacrificial Passover Lamb.

  • In Leviticus, the Rescuer will be the priest of God who will make atonement for the sins of the people.

  • In Numbers, the Rescuer is the Bronze Serpent, lifted high upon a pole to which those bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness could look and be healed.

  • In Deuteronomy, the Rescuer is the coming prophet like Moses.

  • The Rescuer is the true Joshua, whose name means, the Lord saves.

  • The Rescuer is portrayed in Judges as one who fights for his people. 

  • In Ruth, the Rescuer is the Kinsman-Redeemer. 

  • From Samuel through Kings and Chronicles, the Rescuer is the true King of Kings who brings righteousness to the nation. 

  • From Ezra and Nehemiah, through the poetic books and the prophets, the Rescuer is described from a variety of angles as the one who will restore a broken and helpless people through the sacrifice of a Suffering Servant.

Isaiah speaks of this mission in chapter 53 of his prophecy. Writing seven-hundred years before the incarnation of Jesus, he reveals in vivid detail how the Messiah would accomplish the rescue.

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Finally, as the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi speaks the word of the Lord around 420 B.C., promising the coming of a messenger to prepare the way for the Rescuer. Eventually, in God’s timing, the mission was launched in a small village called Bethlehem.

The Humming of Engines

POWs in World War II told stories of hearing American planes fly overhead in the darkness. Even though they couldn’t see the planes, when they heard the humming of the engines, they knew rescue was near. And were filled with hope to press on for one more day.

At Christmas, we hear the engines of heaven humming above as the epic rescue mission is launched in the small village of Bethlehem. The shepherds heard it in the form of an angels’ song, while the wise men saw it in a star. All the signs pointed to the same event. An assault on sin had begun. The Rescuer had been sent and liberation was near.

As a brilliant theologian, Paul knew that what began in a cradle was consummated on a cross, and that Jesus had come to rescue us, not only from the penalty of sin, but it’s power and presence. With his death, the sentence for sin was served in full. With his “it is finished” declaration from the cross, we are justified. Now, in union with the risen Christ we are filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit, who enables us to subdue the power of sin. This is the process of sanctification. And yet, one day, we not only will we be free from the penalty and power of sin but from the very presence of sin. This is the promise of glorification. 

In view of our gospel hope, in Romans 7, Paul provides the perfect example of how to deal with the enemy within. He confesses the flesh and takes responsibility for it, yet he distinguishes himself from it. Furthermore, he does not remain wallow in self-loathing. Rather, he allows his flesh to drive him to the Rescuer in verse 25 by replying to the question, “Who will rescue me,” by shouting, “Thank God for Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

So, the next time you get clumsy and foolish, do something stupid, sinful, and feel worthless, let your losses lead you to the victory of Jesus over your sin. Like Paul, confess the flesh freely, but don’t wallow in it. Savor the present value of Jesus’ blood and rebuke the chains, because there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And, have a Merry Christmas. May grace and peace be yours in abundance!

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