I tend to be forgetful at times. Just ask my wife. Countless times I have left home only to arrive back a few minutes later to retrieve something I forgot—my phone, my coffee, my water bottle, etc. Occasionally, I look frantically for my keys only to soon realize I had forgotten they were in my hand! Sometimes, I forget I have a meeting even though it’s in my calendar, but I fail to look at it because I assume nothing is scheduled.
Not too long ago, I was staying at a friend’s house while I attended a conference nearby. I usually left early before he or his family was up. One morning, seeing a set of keys lying on the kitchen counter, I put them in my pocket on the way out the door. When I returned that evening, I saw my friend going through his trash. He was looking for his wife’s keys—the ones I had put in my pocket that morning. I had forgotten I never placed my keys on the kitchen counter.
Forgetfulness is a part of being human. Some of us are worse than others, but all of us on occasion forget things. Just look at any “lost and found” at a church or school.
This idea of forgetting things came from discussing II Peter 1 with a student recently. In it we read:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (vss. 5-9 NIV)
Peter is warning his audience, and us, of the dangers of forgetting we are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy. He says our forgetfulness will lead us to be ineffective and unproductive as believers. Hmmm.
The prophet Jeremiah writes that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). The implication is then that we need them every day. But how many of us truly realize this on a daily basis? I am guessing we forget much of the time. We go through our days focused on what is in front of us, not so much on how far short we fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Of course, the overriding emphasis in our culture is not to focus on our sinfulness, but rather our goodness and how much we are loved.
It is an interesting contrast to what Peter observes. He claims in order to be an effective and productive member of God’s Kingdom, remembering our status as forgiven sinners is essential. Looking out over the spiritual landscape of our nation, it is easy to see how this is playing out. Over several decades, the overarching need for individual self-esteem has been baked into our culture. It plays out in many stereotypical ways, such as the “everyone gets a trophy” approach to competition in organized youth sports, or grade inflation in the public schools. Self-esteem is viewed as precious, necessary, and vital to healthy human development. I couldn’t agree more. Yet, as is his habit, the devil likes to take truth and twist it into a lie, which he has exquisitely done in this case. The truth is that we each are valuable because we are created by God in his image. (Genesis 1:26-27) And, as well, we are deeply loved by him (John 3:16) However, it is also true that we are sinners, who fall short of God’s glory and, as a result, would be destined for eternal death if not for the grace of God shown to us through Jesus. (Romans 5:8)
There is a delicate balance between these two truths and the devil loves to skew them to one extreme or the other—either to how much we are loved by God or to how terrible we are as sinners. Through most of history, he has skewed it toward the latter. However, with the advent of the self-esteem era, he has skewed it to the former and as a culture we are well planted there. As a result, the Church has been following suit. No longer is there much teaching on sin and the need for repentance, other than in a very general sense that we are all sinners. Rather, the focus is on how we are all loved by God. Rob Bell and Joel Osteen are two popular (and extreme) advocates of this approach, but the general approach in most churches is emphasizing God’s love for us and de-emphasizing our sinfulness.
The result of this is quite pleasing to our enemy. Forgetting that we are sinners in dire need of forgiveness feeds our pride. Instead of living in a state of humility, we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought as we hear over and over how much we are loved and valued. Indeed we are, but our value doesn’t exist apart from God. He is great; in and of ourselves, we are not. He is righteous; apart from the Lord, we are not.
The overall effect of this is our efforts in life are misdirected. We strive to be great, to be a world-changer, a person of significance. However, when it comes to living out our faith in daily life, we rest in the perceived knowledge that we are loved, and that living out God’s Word is more an ideal rather than something to pursue wholeheartedly. But Peter counters this type of thinking by telling us to strive to cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In this way, he says, we will be most effective in the things that truly matter.
This, however, is easy to forget, even those of us who adamantly pursue the Lord, as Peter reminds those to whom he is writing:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (II Peter 1:12-15 NIV)
So let us recognize the battle strategy employed by our enemy. He knows we are forgetful and he wants to exploit that. If we forget that we are deeply loved by God, then we play into his hands, as we do if we forget that we are sinners wholly dependent on God’s grace and mercy. Thus, let us continue to remind ourselves and others of how loved we are by our Creator, and, more importantly given the culture’s bent, how needy we are as sinners of God’s grace and mercy.
© Jim Musser 2018