Lately I’ve been thinking about the outworking of Grace in the life of the believer, namely the denying and the embracing. Speaking on Jesus’ famous passage on self-denial in Matthew 16:24-28 someone once pointed out to me that there is a wrong kind of denying self and a right kind of denying self. This is the right kind: denying ungodliness and the worldly lusts (Titus 2:12 — KJV) that beset us. I think it’s interesting that the desires of the world are characterized as “lusts”. Perhaps that is, because as with lust, whose only goal is to lust more, the end goal of these desires and this ungodliness is simply to desire more, not to fulfill. These are what are to be denied in self.
Frequently, however, we deny God-given gifts, such as an ability at dance, art, music, speaking, acting, poetry, because these don’t fit within the narrow definitions of what our traditions dictate to be “godly”. The thing is that when people who have such beautiful gifts can exercise them for the glory of God, they mirror what it is to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age in ways that others cannot. Only someone who loves art can reach the lost souls in an artist’s community.
The idea behind this is the same one that Jesus embodies: He became one of us and yet He was sinless! In the same way, true denying self allows us to become at least partially the people we’re trying to reach and yet remain sinless, once more embodying Christ to this world. Paul is the perfect human example of this as he claims, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22b — NASB) And so we must embrace the gifts God has given us while denying the desires that pull us to quick-fix, vapid promises of brief fulfillment which may come right through these gifts. It’s all in the motives: accepting the good ones, rejecting the bad ones.
God gives us many, many gifts in our lives and not all of them make sense from a human perspective, but from God’s perspective, they’re indispensable. What are your gifts? And how are you embracing them and giving them back to God in this Christmas season?