Christian intellectuals laudably relay this really powerful and appropriate Christian message: “Know yourself. Know your sins. Dig deep into the sins of your life and sacrifice them to God.” We seek to motivate the complacent, uninterested, non-invested sectors of Christianity, and rightly so.
But analytical enthusiasts can take this call to action too far. We can seek to know our deep sins with such fervent earnestness that the responsibility becomes a self-sanctifying pressure. This occurs especially among the intellectual Christian community: some of us take on the heavy burden of uncovering our flaws, adjusting in light of the illumined flaw, and trying to be really careful not to overcompensate.
For example, a fellow college student might see the various ministry opportunities around his campus and decide to participate. He joins an evangelistic ministry in steady alignment with Christ’s Great Commission. As his education grows, he realizes that sin can even lurk in the purest-seeming parts of his soul. Being sharp and inquisitive, he starts to question the motives behind his ministry involvement. He notices that some reasons he is in ministry are quite sinful: he does it to look good before others and give himself peace of mind. Therefore, he cuts back his participation a little, but not too much, constantly assessing and reassessing both his reasons for involvement and the satisfaction he finds in the ministry.
We try so hard to know ourselves, our deepest desires, and our various ambitions so that we might attain better grounding in Christ. But if we are so preoccupied with self-awareness, analysis, and even over-analysis whatever happened to Christ’s ostensibly easy yoke and light burden?
Paul addresses the Ephesians, who struggle with the inability to understand the mystery of Christ’s gospel and wrestle with the tendency to pursue deeply intellectual Gentile ways, reminding them of what Christ is doing:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
Here, Paul is not very concerned with what Christ’s work allows them to do, but what work Christ is actually doing in them. Christ stands as their peace, breaks down hostile walls, creates one new man, and reconciles them to God. There’s a lot of talk of what Christ is doing, to the end that peace replaces hostility and oneness with God replaces division.
The peace is important for Paul. It even shows up in the armor of God, “…shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
In this passage Paul could have said, “gospel of salvation” or “gospel of Christ “ or “gospel of truth,” but he chose “gospel of peace.” Why the gospel of peace, specifically? Because the fact that Christ orchestrates and completes our oneness together, in peace, with God is good news. It’s good news because we’re attaining to a peace with God. Even better news: we actually aren’t the ones doing the attaining: Christ is presently making this otherwise impossible peace happen.
This peace is not a feeling of coziness with God, but a dissolved hostility and resultant oneness with God and fellow Christians, through Christ’s work, not just on the cross, but in our daily lives. Notice that such news would have prepared the ministry enthusiast student for ministry, not led him to unduly second-guess his ministry motivations. He thinks he might be involved because it gives him peace of mind, when Christ’s work within him actually gives him the peace of mind in preparation to do God’s work in reliance on Christ.
All this to say the pressure to expose hidden sin rests under Christ’s jurisdiction. And it’s our responsibility to listen to his exposing judgments. We will naturally fight against this, but Christ’s work in us will bring even our tantrums against Him to our attention.
We need not worry about a pressure to over-analyze ourselves. We can instead rest in Christ’s peace-forming work within us, which conforms us to His very likeness. One sure way to attend to Christ’s work in us involves noticing consistent messages that come our way.
Again, take the example of the student involved in ministry. It’s one thing for him to assess his motives to the point of madness. It’s quite another to hear a message on finding identity in ministry at Church, and then hear a buddy say, “You care more about ministry involvement than the people with which you are involved,” and even see a billboard on the side of the road saying, “Is your work your livelihood?” And still think nothing of his ministerial motives.
We cannot pre-determine the messages we encounter. We cannot even ensure that we will connect the things we notice in life’s encounters, though we can take steps to improve observation. Situations, messages, observations, and memories sometimes just come to us, vividly. This is the power of Christ within; the peace of Christ is powerful, not requiring our own power but showing-off Christ’s.
This is not to say that a Christian cannot cultivate careful and observant instincts, but that reliance on himself to do the cultivating results in a less reliable cultivation than a hearty dependence on Christ. Christ’s peace working within us is a power beyond our own, yet mysteriously accessible to us. We need not struggle to make sure it will be attained; but we must struggle to remember our place as his patient. We need to let Christ do what he does best, His Father’s healing and redemptive work.