The List

During my early thirties, my over active guilt glands were at their peak, self-introspection was killing me and depression had its long bony fingers firmly grasped around my neck. For several years, every day felt like a matter of survival. Every day felt like failure.

Amongst my drawer full of books that instructed me on how to be a better Christian, wife, mother (etc.), there was a self made list to which I often added new items. It was a list of my sins. A list that grew longer as each minute passed. Every night I would pull it out, stare it down, and wonder how I could ever be forgiven for all that I had done; wonder how anyone could love me who knew all of these things about me; wondered how tomorrow I’d expunge these sins from my record. The list became an obsession to the point that I could feel its presence in that drawer throughout the day. It was calling out to me the shame of the secrets that I longed to be set free from.

But the list wasn’t the exhaustive list that it should have been. The truth is that I had broken far more of God’s laws than that list represented. It was ridiculous to think that I could account for them all. As I have said before, the written law was meant to expose to us the ugliness of our heart and bring us to our knees begging for grace. The problem is that in the years of my life that I kept this list I knew nothing of God’s grace and lived trying to please him through fulfilling his law.

It was not until I began meeting with a counselor that I really began to hear the true gospel. I had spent my entire Christian life hearing and believing that the gospel was what we preached to non-believers so that they would believe and be saved. I disregarded the fact that every day of my life was sustained by the grace of the gospel and not of my own works. I truly believed that now that I was saved, it was up to me to stay in God’s good graces until the very end, never understanding that because of Christ, there was nothing that I could do to be separated from his love.

After months of counseling, I finally confessed that I had this list that I had kept and to my horror my counselor had asked me to bring it to her. With much trepidation I pulled it from my pocket in our next meeting and laid it out on the table. There it was, The List, laid out in utter vulnerability, everything that I never wanted anyone to know about me. I could not think of a more humiliating experience.

Without reading the list my counselor handed me a marker and instructed me to write “PAID!” in all capital letters across the words over which I had felt so much shame and guilt. She told me of everything that Jesus had done in order to destroy the list that I had kept. She told me of the freedom that comes with having an unsettled debt paid off. She told me of how all of that sin, every one of those acts, had been laid upon his back and died with him in his death; how my sins were cast into the sea of God’s forgotten memory (“His Be the Victor’s Name,” Zac Hicks). And then she shared Psalm 103:10-13:

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.

I’d like to say that this was an instantaneously freeing moment for me but I can’t. In fact, it angered me. I was insulted that there was nothing that I could do to make up for all of the awful things that I had done. I was offended by this gospel that she so adamantly preached to me week after week. I was offended to the point that I told myself one day that if she brought up the gospel one more time, I was going to get up and walk out of the office. Of course she did, and of course I didn’t get up and leave. The Holy Spirit glued me to that seat. I could not escape the Spirit’s furious longing for me to hear the truth. I believe that this was the day that the message of grace finally broke through my hardened pharisaical heart, and I began to believe that I could rest in my forgiveness. It was then that I began to grasp hold of the comforting truth that God’s love never shudders at the state we’re in (Francis Spufford).

The gospel is scandalously offensive to those who are trying to earn their way. Rightly so. Not one of us wants to be the weak person who needs to be rescued. All of our lives we are told to “stay strong” and “keep fighting;” while these are helpful survival tips, they are counterintuitive to the gospel. The gospel tells us to “give up” and to “boast in our weakness.” For it is in this giving up and admitting that we are weak, that we die a death to ourselves and are raised into the newness of life; a life of vulnerability, grace, and the unending comfort of living in forgiveness.