Living with roommates can be challenging. Sharing facilities like a washroom and kitchen means that sometimes I need to wait my turn to use them. It has also given me a rather gross analogy regarding sin and good works.

Over time I've learned that it's a good idea to wait at least a few minutes after one of my roommates (or guests) has … "done their duty" in the washroom. After they have "made a deposit" so to speak. Or "dropped the kids off at the pool," to use one of my friends' artful euphemisms. Our washroom lacks a working fan, and so that exasperates the problem, since it sometimes takes awhile for the lingering odors to dissipate.

Of course, that can be rather inconvenient when I have to "go." So thinking myself to be quite clever, I bought a cheap air freshener and put it in the washroom.

Was the problem solved with the aroma of wildflowers? Hardly. Now after someone has done a "number 2" in the washroom, there is no longer a poop smell to deal with … there is the smell of poop mixed with flowers. Poopy flowers. Which in a way is actually worse than poop alone.

This illustrates the way that sin corrupts what's good. Adding good works to our sins doesn't cover the sins. The sweet aroma of our good deeds is tainted by the stench of our sins. What we need is the removal of the foul odor, which is something our good deeds can never do. For that, we need God's help, because He can do what is impossible for us.

As a new Christian, I wondered about a question along the lines of: "If we are saved by grace, not by works, why bother working anymore?" Or as Alan Scholes put it (in the title of a chapter in his excellent book The Artful Dodger) "What if I accept Christ and keep on sinning?" Eventually I was able to reconcile grace and works after reading and truly understanding what both Paul and James have to say and how they compliment eachother.

Tonight I was reading Watchman Nee's book The Normal Christian Life which is essentially a commentary on Romans. As Nee described how our sins (plural; ie, things we have done wrong) are dealt with by the Blood of Jesus, and our sin (singular; as in our nature as a sinner) is dealt with by the Cross of Jesus, I for some reason thought of a joke told by Demetri Martin.

It's probably better if you listen to him tell the swimming joke here (about 30 seconds) but if you can't or would rather not load a YouTube clip, here's the gist of it:

Swimming is a confusing sport. Cuz sometimes you're doing it for fun … and other times, you're doing it to NOT DIE.

You can usually tell by the outfit:
Pants? Uh oh!
Swimming trunks? Okay!

Grace and works is kinda like that. A person doing works to try to be saved (a futile endeavor) may be doing the exact same actions as someone who does works out of gratitude (response to grace). But the person who realizes they are saved by grace is not doing things to AVOID DEATH, they realize that they have already avoided death.

And like the swimming analogy, you can tell which is which by a person's outfit … ie, by what attitude they are doing things, how they approach their tasks, what goal they have in mind, and why they are doing them in the first place. A grace-filled person has "put on the new self" as their clothing. (Ephesians 4:24)

I guess the answer to the question "If we are saved by grace, not by works, why bother working anymore?" is that working is only a chore when it's an obligation. Serving out of gratitude, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, is an entirely different thing than desperately paddling away trying to save yourself. That doesn't mean that serving in the church is always less stressful or frustrating or costly than serving outside (I know that all too well!) but it does help explain the difference. And it makes all the difference in the world!

A duckling hatches. Unlike most ducks, which lay their eggs near bodies of water, this duckling has, for whatever reason, been born inland, with no water nearby.

Our duckling grows up into a duck in an arid climate, seldom feeling the cool, wet caress of raindrops. In those rare rainy moments, he steals brief glimpses, takes a small foretaste, of something more. Yet he is content in his environment, never having known anything else.

One day, a fierce wind begins to blow. Try as he might to weather the storm, he decides to venture out of his comfortable surroundings in search of shelter. He walks (for he has never had a need or occasion to fly before) as the wind continues to intensify, filling the air with sand and debris. Steadfastly, he pushes ahead, sometimes allowing himself to be blown forward by the wind, other times pressing headstrong against it. He walks, and walks, perhaps for hours, perhaps for days, it's difficult to have any sense of time or direction.

Then, suddenly, the wind dies down, and as his eyes begin to clear he can scarcely believe what he sees.

Water. A billion, trillion times more than he has even seen before.

He has been led to the ocean.

He stands, then sits, then stands once again, staring at the magnificent scene in front of him. At length, be approaches timidly, dipping at first a single webbed toe, then a foot. Although scared by this new experience, this foreign environment, nonetheless he intuitively knows that he is on the threshold of greatness.

Still, he hesitates. It's unfamiliar, untested, even scary.

Yet, he takes a step of faith and jumps into the water … and for the first time, swims.

It's unlike anything he has experienced before, but at once he knows. This is what he is meant for. Not just his perception of the world has changed; he has changed. It's not that he is abandoning everything about his life on land, but now that he has experienced the fullness of this new environment, he can never go back to the way things were before … he is home.

Photo credit: spyros_tav

The experience of encountering and walking with the living God is not like putting a feather in your cap; it's more like putting on glasses and really being able to see for the first time. It is the fulfillment of cravings of which we are only given a foretaste in the natural world.

C. S. Lewis once said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." This, I think, captures part of the transformative power when a person realizes that they have finally been freed to become the person they were always meant to be.

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jesus

Is it possible that God has been at work in your life all along? Maybe it's time to explore your world beyond your current boundaries in search of the ocean, and ask the question: What does your soul crave?

I just started reading through John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress (I read part of it for one of my classes, but have never read through it in its entirety) so there may be most posts of this nature in the coming days/weeks. :)

Skeptic: There is no right interpretation. In fact there have been lots of interpretations over the many years since the Bible was written. Who are you to say you know what the Bible means? We can't know what it really means.

Christian: So let me see if I understand you correctly. You're saying that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that there is no salvation without Him.

Skeptic: What? No, that's exactly what I'm not saying! I'm saying you can't conclude that, there are many valid interpretations of the texts.

Christian: So you're saying that there is only one correct interpretation and we should try to find it.

Skeptic: No, no, why are you twisting what I'm saying? You know I'm not saying that.

Christian: Are you saying I am interpreting your words incorrectly?

Skeptic: Yes, you are!

Christian: So, it seems to me that a person could be interpreted wrongly. If that's the case, then some interpretations about what the biblical authors wrote could similarly be wrong, couldn't they?

There are no doubt passages of the Bible that are difficult to understand. Perhaps, for some, we will never be sure of the correct interpretation. But most are not so difficult, and even some of the difficult ones are only so because we choose to make them so. As with most things in life, the interpretation with the best reasons to back it up "wins"; we make educated inferences to the best explanation. There ARE correct interpretations of the texts. That doesn't mean I claim to be 100% right about all of mine, but since I believe there are right answers, and I care about finding them, I will be willing to change my mind if I am convinced otherwise.

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