December 3, 2020

iMonk Classic: I’m Right on This One

Now we come to something very important. The constant emphasis on the victorious life or the good Christian life is the Antichrist as it pertains to the gospel. Here’s why. If I am _________ (fill in your favorite victorious-life terminology), then will I be in a position to be grateful for what Jesus did when he was executed on the cross? Perhaps at first I will be overwhelmed with gratitude toward Christ. But over time, as I find that I’m capable of maintaining victory in my life, I will need Jesus less and less. I still want him to meet me at the gate on the way into heaven, but right now I’m doing great without him. I’m a good Christian.

If you embrace this take on the Christian journey, it will kill you.

We need our brokenness. We need to admit it and know it is the real, true stuff of our earthly journey in a fallen world. It’s the cross on which Jesus meets us. It is the incarnation he takes up for us. It’s what his hands touch when he holds us.

…My humanity, my sin, it’s all me. And I need Jesus to love me like I really am: brokenness, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear…all of it. Take all of it, Lord Jesus. If I don’t present this broken, messed-up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of faith will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being good.

I understand that Christians need — desperately — to hear experiential testimonies of the power of the gospel. I understand as well that it’s not pleasant to hear that we are broken and are going to stay that way. I know there will be little enthusiasm for saying sanctification consists, in large measure, in seeing our sin and acknowledging how deeply an extensively it has marred us. No triumphalist will agree that the fight of faith is not a victory party but a bloody war on a battlefield that resembles Omaha Beach.

But that’s the way it is. I’m right on this one.

Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way
Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality

pp. 147-149


  1. Yup…..he was correct then, is correct now, and this will still be true for human beings who long to follow Christ until the earth fades away.

    The life of a Christian is messy, full of failure and sin, often full of suffering that makes no sense, and very much rooted in our special but confusing nature of being an immortal person and an animal with needs and wounds.

    Overcomers full of non-stop happiness, order, success and prosperity are full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green in Kentucky….they are lying to the world, themselves, or most likely—–both.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Overcomers full of non-stop happiness, order, success and prosperity…

      AKA Every Christian except YOU (and they’re always reminding you of that fact).

      • You know something hits close to home when HUG gives the humorous caricature of it, and you still flinch. Seriously, without thinking, I just shifted 30 degrees in my office chair, like I was trying to avoid a physical object.

      • This was always a fear of mine as well, crippling, for years, and led me to some heretical and dark places. And now…now I don’t care. And try my hardest to make that true.

  2. I’m plenty broken. I’ve been broken, I am broken, I anticipate continuing to be broken. I don’t experience any gratitude to Jesus in the midst of my brokenness. Nor do I have much hope. Mostly I just feel trapped, and mostly I just feel as if I’ve trapped myself and don’t know how to get myself out of the trap. But I’m living the victorious Christian life: my victory is in managing to stagger from one day to the next.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      I used to refer to making it thru some of life’s worst disruptions as, “I won that one,” or words to the effect that somehow I was victorious in spite of the ‘trial’ or the challenge or whatever…

      I may acknowledge that yes, God did preserve me thru the worst of it. but now I recognize it wasn’t a win-lose proposition at all…

      my new mantra more like, “I’m progressing…”, or I’ve progressed further along the spiritual journey I’m still on…

      so, today I’ve made progress. nope, I didn’t win anything. sometimes the pace is brisk, but mostly a slow plodding amble at this stage of my life…

  3. “I understand as well that it’s not pleasant to hear that we are broken and are going to stay that way.”
    It takes years of failure and redemption to grasp that mystery.

  4. A heart-warming program on PBS last night about people providing prosthetic limbs and devices for broken and crippled animals that otherwise might be euthanized. Pattie’s “confusing nature of being an immortal person and an animal with needs and wounds” is confusing only if we continue to self-identify with that broken animal. Paul tells us to put off the old person and put on the mind of Messiah Jesus. That isn’t possible as long as we continue to see ourself as that old person, helpless, trapped in the pit, kicking and screaming all the way to the Cross. I am not that person. That person is dying. I am trying to take care of that person in a hospice setting as best I can in God’s Love.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      How do you keep that from turning into “Spiritual Good! Physical Baaaaaad!” Gnosticism and “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just Passin’ Thru” indifference?

      • @HUG……thanks!

        @Charles…..sorry, buddy, but we ARE animals who breathe and fart and get sick and sleep and cry and laugh and shed and……well, you get the idea. We do this, so did God Almighty Incarnate. To believe otherwise, or that “I” am special, is heresy!!

        • Love to you, Pattie. I’ve got a car that I use to get around in farther than I can reasonably walk, but I’m not my car. I’m not my body either, even tho I use that to get around in too, just like Jesus did. He wasn’t an animal either tho he had the same animal heritage to deal with that we all do. He did get a little extra boost because of Who his Father was, but I don’t hold that against him.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Does this mean you get to shed your body like L Ron Hubbard?
            Or Heaven’s Gaters joining Bo & Peep behind Hale-Bopp?

            Wasn’t the original Christian afterlife Resurrection of the Body instead of floating around forever as a Soul in Fluffly Cloud Heaven? (Or is that like shades in Hades? Or like Bo-Peepers evolved to The Next Level?)

      • HUG, I’m really not sure how to answer you, it’s such an off the wall comment. How did Paul keep all that stuff you talk about from happening to him as he worked on transforming his ego into God’s Spirit? I don’t know that it was any easier for him than it is for me, but he worked at it 24/7 and apparently did a pretty good job of it. I could quibble with some of his attempts but he seems to have done a lot better job at it than I have so far. Not a bad model to follow, tho I find it even more useful to follow Jesus directly, just as Paul did. Jesus never seemed to take the attitude of indifference you speak of. I may be guilty of a lot, but I don’t recognize that one in me either. It’s really hard work to overcome this ego we’ve been given.

  5. I remember, one night long ago, arguing with my Bible college roommate about this until 3am. I insisted that we change, we grow, we gain progressive victory. He insisted that, while in this body, we stayed fundamentally the same and that Jesus was the truly good thing inside us that shone through. He said that if anything looking like change did take place it was only because we had learned to die to ourselves and let Jesus live through us a little more often.

    30 years later and I am still trying to figure this out. But I have a question; What about the “new heart” that we were promised? The one that loves Jesus and upon which God’s law is written?

  6. I disagree, I don’t think you are right on this one. Most of what you have said is a disregarding of a lot of the New Testament. Christianity is not ideas we make up ourselves that contradict the Word God has given. If you read it you will find that you have been way off the mark. Yes Jesus loves us, but He expects us to conform our thinking and our lives to the Book He has given us.

    • It’s like I just heard the gospel, and now I’m being told it’s a lie. That’s the only way I can read comments like yours, Ross. Here’s the gospel…but not really. We can’t have that. We acknowledge the gospel with a wave of our hands, now let’s focus on how we are saved to perfectly fulfill the law.

    • To be fair, I read everything through a holiness or keswickian or wesleyan (mostly) lens as if it were utterly demonic and death to my soul. It’s a cancer that has destroyed my life and many of my friends, and I will fight to purge it when I see it.

    • ->”Yes Jesus loves us, but He expects us to conform our thinking and our lives to the Book He has given us.”

      Always beware the person who says, “It’s all about Jesus, but…” or “It’s all about Jesus, and…”

      There are no qualifiers. There are no additional requirements.

      Also, if we are to be conformed to anything, it’s to HIM, not to the Bible.

      • To be fair I don’t think Ross is talking about qualifiers or requirements for salvation. In this discussion I think that’s an important distinction.

        • I think I see what you (and Ross) are saying. It’s the “You will know believers by their changed lives.” Not to be argumentative but to foster further discussion, here’s my take on the problem with statements such as “Jesus loves, but He expects us to conform our thinking and our lives.” Statements like that soon become a stick wielded by religious people who are in power. Those kinds of statements soon become, “I’m not seeing any change in your life or behavior, you must not be a Christian” or “I’m not seeing any change, GET WITH THE PROGRAM.” It becomes all about LOOKING like you’re changed and you’re “Christian,” but the heart isn’t anywhere near God and Jesus.

    • . . . but He expects us to conform our thinking and our lives to the Book He has given us.

      Then we are lost, because not a a single one of us can do this. Only He can do this, and He does.

      • I guess I’ll mention it again. When most Christians talk about things like “sanctification” they are separating that from salvation so this has nothing to do with “lost.”

        • When most Christians talk about things like “sanctification” they are separating that from salvation so this has nothing to do with “lost.”

          “Most”? Really, that means “most of the Evangelical Circus” and has no bearing on the majority of Christians world wide. “Salvation” is NOT a one-time dose of anti-venom.

    • He expects us to conform our thinking and our lives to the Book

      No he doesn’t. That’s not what the book says. He knows we are born in sin and remain so until death. He knows exactly what to expect from sinners, and he’s not impressed by your good behavior ’cause he sees all.

      • I’m not sure about this. I’ve heard plenty on this board about the horrors of “works righteousness,” yet when I read the Gospels, Jesus is not saying to Zaccheus, ‘Cheating taxpayers? Sounds good to me,” or the the woman taken in adultery, “Five husbands, sister? You’re on a roll — keep going!” In fact in Matthew’s report of Jesus’ words at the Last Judgement, Jesus separates the sheep and goats based *entirely* on their works. I realize Paul is very big on “faith alone,” but Jesus seems to say frequently, “*Do* the work of my Father.

        Is this one of those differences between conservative and liberal Christians? (I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, pretty liberal.)

        • You bring up a good point. But I’m not sure it’s a distinction between liberal and conservative Christianity so much as a misunderstanding of gospel, grace, faith, and obedience, which flow in that order. Consider, for instance, Ephesians 2.8-9,

          “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

          But there’s a corollary to it, namely Ephesians 2.10,

          “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

          The opposite of this progression (i.e., from gospel to grace to faith to obedience) is “cheap grace” or antinomianism, or what James meant when he wrote that “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2.26)

      • We are not saved by what Jesus taught, and we are certainly not saved by what we understand Jesus to have taught. We are saved by Jesus himself, dead and risen. “Follow me” he says. It is the only word that finally matters.

        R. Capon

    • That’s a failure to properly distinguish the law from the gospel.

      Which most churches, most preachers, and most Christians have a big problem with. Indeed, so many have never heard that law and gospel need to be distinguished…and wouldn’t have a clue as to why that is so.

  7. Dan Crawford says

    Last night, I watched in stunned disbelief as I heard one of Benny Hinn’s shills announce on TV that for a $300 or more “seed” gift to Hinn’s ministry, “Seven Passover Promises” were guaranteed to come one’s way. It breaks my heart to think of how many people will send in that money to support the ministry, the houses, the planes, the opulence, the scams – and how they will believe that this is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  8. Yes. This. So right on.

    We humans find a thousand ways to cover up the fact that we are all broken and limping on our journey of faith. You see it every day.

    I really miss Michael’s writing and thinking.

  9. My current experience:

    I am pursuing a middle way, a tension. I am always broken, always needy. My recent story: I’m about to turn 31. Because of significant personal crises that have popped up over the past 3 years, I had finally begun to explore the experiences and issues in my life that I had buried for years and years.

    I have been involved in discovering family history, patterns, and secrets. They have been dreadful.

    I have been accessing the grief in my soul from divorce, trauma, suicide, and the complete lack of a healthy environment as a child. It has been DREADFUL.

    I’ve been tracking the patterns of my life, how I respond to things, and why I have the limitations that I have. More dreadfulness.

    I fought through a year of depression. That was during a year of full-time seminary, and my first year of marriage. Dreadful.

    Amid all of the dreadfulness, I have experienced God as my Father for the very first time.
    Amid all of the dreadfulness, I heard his voice for the very first time.
    Amid sorting through the dreadfulness, I am discovering my identity, and the best of who God has made me to be.
    Because I’m dealing with the dreadfulness, I’ve been more equipped and more transformed and given more grace and compassion to see people through their own dreadfulness.
    Most of all, I have experienced the Gospel in terms freedom and new life. I am emerging because Jesus is my savior, and my healer, and my sanctifier, and my king (C&MA plug right there).

    This is the victorious life for me. Identifying WHY I need a savior, and going back to him over and over and over again. I address the human junk and the spiritual junk. I have baggage from my family, and I also have spiritual warfare stuff to work through.

    I’ve been through formal counseling AND healing prayer sessions. The Gospel is holistic.
    When I talk to people about faith, and about their pain, I tell them about a savior who identifies with it AND works you through it. The Gospel is holistic.

    The fact that my family failed me will always hurt, and I will always bear those scars. Yet I know God as a Father to the childless. I know Jesus as the one who said “I will not leave you as orphans.”

    I’ve come to treasure his presence, and I’ve come to not discredit or dismiss the kind of person he wants me to be. The televangelists and the celebrities have stolen a piece of our inheritance. There is a difference that a life in Christ makes. For the first 7-8 years of my Christian experience, I wore the mask. I fronted. I faked. I hid my porn and my wounds and my trauma. I had a crisis, or two, or three, and if I didn’t take the dark side of my life to God, I probably wouldn’t be here anymore. There was no “BAM I’M HEALED” moment. I had to dig, and dig, and dig. Uncomfortable conversations with family. Confession. Repentance, Bringing everything to the light. And in the midst of all of that, I began to experience him. And then a few moments of healing, and release, and dare I say, supernatural stuff began to happen.

    Just this past weekend, I went to a cabin from Thursday night to Sunday morning. There was more junk to process through. I prayed and fasted. I had a team of friends praying for me. There were blocks. There was darkness. It sucked, and I was alone, and I was hungry. But he showed up, as I asked him to shine the light. He did.

    I’m not a super-spiritual person. This stuff is life and death for me. If this is a testimonial about anything, it’s about how I remain broken, and he remains with me. And he is very, very interested in bringing freedom for the captives.

    • And now I’m having a vulnerability crisis because of what I just wrote. Happens every time.

      *Hides under desk*

      • No need to hide. Thanks for sharing your story, Brother in Christ!

      • Sean thanks for being vulnerable. The circumstances for all of us are different, but the brokenness you struggle with now is what we all struggle with now. It is this brokenness and desperation for Christ that bonds us together as believers. This is being part of the Kingdom. This is what drives us to show Christ to the world that struggles like us. Our “victory” is in Him alone.

        • Sean…it is ok, in fact it is WONDERFUL to be real in a fairly safe place like this. May I add I am old enough to be your Mom (have a son your age) and it will all make more sense in another ten years. Trust.

      • Thank you for sharing. I always am encouraged by people who keep seeking Christ through their junk and slowly but surely find healing and grace.

      • Sean I too am broken. And I can identify what you are saying. I too am broken. And I don’t know a way forward. In my case I have been broken by the following:

        Christianity has broken me
        John Piper has broken me
        Bad church experiences has broken me
        Sexual purity and accountability groups has broken me
        Mormonism has broken me
        Agnosticism/Atheism/Secular Humanism has broken me
        Christians have broken me
        Past Bible studies have broken me
        Porn has broken me
        My Mom’s pancreatic cancer has broken me
        My Dad’s brain tumor has broken me
        My sister’s schizophrenia has broken me
        Various jobs I have held have broken me
        Aging parents have broken me
        Abusing food has broken me
        Anger and confusion has broken me
        A friend who made a false accusation once has broken me
        Dishonest Pastors and Christian Ministers have broken me
        “Happy Clappy” evangelicalism has broken me

        Really I am amazed I can walk into church. Sometimes I feel like I am hanging on by a thread. I am also amazed sometimes that I am in a small group. I’ve processed throguh so many theolgical systems to include agnosticism that I came to a point where I realized that I need God. Yet I find myself at odds with the mentality of so many evangelcials who have the “victorious mindset” It almost is a reverse of the 12 step program, where you walk into chruch and bang! New creation no more problems! No more doubt, no more anger, no more porn, no more confusion, etc… So many parts of evangelicalism is crushing.

        I’m waiting for the next scandal to play out, and in the process hear chruch words like “honesty”,”accountability”,”confidentaility”,”authentic”, etc.. only to turn around and discovered I’ve been betrayed or stabbed in the back yet again. I have also come to realize that many evangelicals don’t realize how sick, or how ill evangelicalism is in the United States. Church upon church and ministry upon ministry have shown that to me. I’ve seen it in California, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. and its sad. Yet what other choice is there? Atheism? Joining the “Nones?” Or trying to be the odd man out in evangelicalism today which is where I am.

        I’ve searched and been crushed by the victorius life. For many Christians, evangelicism is nothing but “sin management” which in the end is nothing but spiritual suicide. I’ve watched friends implode, play the system and walk away. And I have done that also. But I came to realize that God loves me just as I am.

        Your post so moved me yesterday I wanted to sit and reflect upon it before I responded.

        • Eagle, thanks for sharing this glimpse into your life and past. Your list of “things that have broken you” would make one helluva poem.

    • Bless you, Sean. I pray that you’ll find healing in this life and the next. It sounds as if you’re doing something right.

    • David Cornwell says

      Sean, thank you very much for daring to share this.The truth will set you free.

    • Sean, thank you. (Like Pattie, I’m old enough to be your mother…) God bless you in the steps you are taking to seek healing. My parish rector put a little blurb in one of the bulletins that has stayed with me for several years, by a contemporary Greek monk: The holiness we seek is not to be found at the end as some kind of perfection; no, the holiness is precisely in the struggle.


    • “I remain broken, and he remains with me.”


      And that, Sean, is why we simply cannot permit you to remain under that desk. Come back on out. 🙂

    • Christiane says

      In the worst times, I’ve found comfort in this thought:

      “” Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it.
      He came to fill it with His Presence.”

      (J. Claude)

      I have supposed that He Himself must be the ‘Peace that surpasses all understanding’

    • Thank you Sean and Eagle.

      If the human race could have straightened up its act by the simple pursuit of goodness, it would have done so long ago. We are not stupid; and Lord knows, from Confucius to Socrates to Moses to Joyce Brothers, we’ve had plenty of advice. But we haven’t followed it. The world has taken a five-thousand-year bath in wis¬dom and is just as grimy as ever. And our own lives now, for all our efforts to clean them up, just get grimier and grimier. We think pure thoughts and eat wheat germ bread, but we will die as our fathers did, not noticeably better.

      Once again, the world cannot be saved by living. And there are two devastatingly simple reasons why. The first is, we don’t live well enough to do the job. Our goodness is flawed goodness. I love my children and you love yours, but we have, both of us, messed them up royally. I am a nice person and so are you, except for when my will is crossed or your convenience is not consulted—and then we are both so fearful that we get mean in order to seem tough. And so on. The point is that if we are going to wait for good living to save the world, we are going to wait a long time. We can see goodness and we can love it. We can even love it enough to get a fair amount of it going for us on nice days. But we simply cannot crank it up to the level needed to eliminate badness altogether.

  10. This… this is why I so miss Michael’s writing.

  11. I miss Michael Spencer…. there is no replacement for him.

    • Lord, grant remission of sins and rest in a place of verdure and light to the soul of your servant, Michael, and make his memory to be eternal. We are grateful for his life, and look forward to renewed relationship at the Resurrection in the Never-Ending Day of Your Kingdom.


    • Christiane says

      We all miss Michael, EAGLE.
      He had a gift for helping, and he used it to our benefit, and we can thank God we had him for a while.
      I am also grateful that his legacy is being continued on ‘imonk’, which is a blessing in itself.