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Transformation: The Posture of Generosity at the Heart of Confession

Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus



Transformation: The Posture of Generosity at the Heart of Confession

Brandon Cook

Grace is more than just forgiveness of sins, as Dallas Willard consistently taught.  How tragic that we have reduced it down to just the forgiveness of sins (though how wonderful that it includes that). “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”  It’s true!  And it’s also true that grace is also a power that fills our lives to do what we could not and cannot do on our own.[1]  It is power to live in a new way.  But we can only live in this new way if we have a sense of who we are in God.  An orientation to being must always precede an orientation to doing.  The religious game is doing (go to church, don't drink, and so on and so forth) with the goal of ultimately arriving at a place of being.  This is paradigmatic for our human minds: if I can do things correctly, I can be, with doing preceding being.  But God starts in exactly the opposite order, adopting us in before we have ourselves sorted out, or even any sense of how unsorted we are!  It is only awakening to this reality can truly and authentically transform what we do, in a way that mere religious efforts never can.  Ultimately, we have to learn to locate ourselves within a relational universe, in which we have been approached before we feel worthy of it.

Whenever I struggle with temptation, for example, I have to remind myself who I am.  I have been sober from pornography for a good while, but the temptation to dive deep back into it has never gone away.  (We each have our black holes, different in form from person to person, and we need to be aware of our unique ways of potentially falling off the cliff.)  In any moment of temptation, I have to remember my relationships: I am an adopted child of God, husband to Rebecca, father to Charlotte and Leifton.  My actions do affect my family and my friends and really, every one I meet, whether they know what I do or not.  Selfishness and sin are always communal realities, as much as we would like to pretend that they affect only us.

It is a posture of remembering others that helps me maintain an ongoing posture of confession and repentance.  That is, of humility.  A continual confession of awe and wonder that I have been included by God.  We are relational beings, and the way we thrive is by remembering relationships and becoming committed to give, in whatever ways bring life, in these relationships.  And to recognize and move away from (or fight our way free from) anything that harms these relationships.  This is how we love in action, not just in word or theory.  Truth must always be embodied, which is surely why God was embodied in Jesus.  Relationship, founded on a relationship with God, the core relational reality of the universe, ultimately tell us who we are.  We can't find ourselves outside of this context, which is yet another reality to humble our ego: We aren't strong enough to have an enduring sense of self outside of some communal reality.  Of course this must be the pattern, for God's own Self is located within a relationship, which we call the Trinity!   What frees us from our doing struggles is knowing who we are in the core of our being.  It’s no accident that Jesus’ entire ministry began with a being statement, declared over him by God the Father: “This is my beloved son.”[2]  Until we grasp the reality of being with and "in Christ," to use one of Paul's favorite phrases, we will struggle with we do.  Until we have a clear vision of who we want to be for others, we will probably be left floundering.  And the reality is that when we get clear on being and identity, all of our struggles with what we do tend to take care of themselves!  As Paul says, "Love is the fulfillment of the law."[3] 

[1] For an example, see Galatians 2:8, in which Paul says he had been “given grace” and that God had worked within him to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  This is point which Dallas Willard consistently made in his attempt to undermine the “Gospel of Forgiveness only.”  See Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other by Bill Hull.  Zondervan Books, Grand Rapids, MI.  2016.  See chapter 1, ‘The Gospel.’

[2] Matthew 3:17

[3] Romans 13:10