Posted by: Postordinandy | July 27, 2010

Cosmic plagiarism

Occasionally, we dip into teaching programmes that the wider Parish are following, and at the moment we are looking with them at the idea of change, joining the series at chapter 7 of Tim Chester’s book “You can change”: ‘what stops you from changing’.

Tim’s book deals specifically with the struggle that all Christians face with respect to recognising, and dealing with, our own sin. We all find this stuff difficult to speak about honestly, even with those we trust, and it can be painful to admit even to ourselves where our failings are. We are usually happy enough to recognise and highlight others’ areas of weakness and frailty – but Jesus reminds us that this is simply not an acceptable way to prioritise things.

Chester argues that the main reasons we don’t change our sinful behaviour and patterns are “pride, closely followed by hating the consequences of sin, but actually still loving the sin itself” (p.127). He adds that pride is “part of the definition of sin”, that we can go so far as to make sanctification our own “achievement and glory”, something that CJ Mahaney calls “cosmic plagiarism”.

Pride, as we all know, comes before a fall. But perhaps so does self-denial on other levels. When we spend so much of our energy trying to convince others of our own worthiness and saintliness, we may begin to believe our own press. But many of us are just as crippled by a sense of our own unworthiness and inherent sinfulness – we don’t change either because we don’t believe we have to, or because we believe are too much of a lost cause for it to be possible.

A search on Amazon for “you can change” type books gave me a result of over 8,500. Even allowing for multiple versions of the same book this suggests that there is a massive market out there for self-help guides in this area. We all want to change, preferably in 3 to 5 easy steps. But the Bible hints that, ultimately, successful and lasting change can only take place with the help of the Holy Spirit, and by a humble self-submission to the God who truly knows and loves us – faults and all.

Meaningful change is a hard, often painfully slow, process. The Christian community should be a place where each of us can come to the other for help. This takes us back to the issues of accountability, a subject that seems to be haunting us a little at the moment. I’m not sure that we are quite ready to ask each other the kinds of questions that Wesley demanded his followers engage with,  but certainly we would benefit from consciously finding ways of sharing our struggles with each other in ways that help, rather than hinder, our individual and community walk with Jesus.

I’m not ready to confess all on here – suffice to say that I fall short of where and who I desire to be.  But I do need to find people with whom I can be painfully honest with, and who I can give permission to challenge me to recognise and deal with my sin.

With respect to mission, the challenge is relatively simple. We need to recognise that ‘we’ are not fundamentally better than ‘those people’. It is (usually) not appropriate for us to highlight the sins of those who do not profess Christ – although of course we need to work for justice, reconciliation, peace, etc. But we can certainly be ready to talk to those who ask us why we believe change is indeed possible, and have the courage to share with them some appropriate part of our own journey.


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