A starting point for understanding ourselves
In his fine work, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, David Benner states:
“The first thing many Christians would say they know about themselves as a result of their relationship with God is their sinfulness. And quite possibly the first thing they would say they learned about God from this was God’s forgiveness and love.”
I don’t argue with Benner in his observation. Most of the Christianity I’ve been around, and most of the Christians I know, start with this piece of information: we are sinners. Not only do we sin, but we have a condition of sinfulness.
While I agree that theology of sin, my question is this: Is this the starting point? Is this where our self-understanding and our understanding of God begins?
Or, does God begin with a different starting point?
I think the latter is true.
In Ephesians, Paul starts from a different place in understanding both ourselves and God. He spends the first part of the book exploring the infinite and extravagant love, generosity, kindness and goodness of God.
Long before Paul introduces our rebellion of sin, he gives ample ink establishing the love of God. And when Paul does get to identifying our sin, he states:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . .” (Ephesians 2: 4-5).
Before sin, God loves. Before we are identified as sinners we are identified as being loved.
Starting with being loved seems to vitally important for us to grasp. Paul devotes significant prayer toward that end (see Ephesians 1:15ff; 3:14ff). This is what transforms us to being the people God created us to be. It’s also basis for the rest of Paul’s letter dealing with practical issues of obedience.
It seems, then, that the goal of following Jesus isn’t getting our act together. Rather it’s to know and experience a life of loving and being loved.
In the former approach, we never quite get it good enough.
In the latter we’re already there, and we’re free to live out of that existence.
I wonder how it would change us if we started there?