The best way to understand the generosity and the delight of all that God has given us in salvation is to start with where we were to begin with. What were we like before he found us?
Well, to be precise, from his perspective, there was no “before he found us”—but we’ll get to that a few posts down the road. From our perspective, though, we started out poorly, and it just got worse until, it appears to us, he “found” us.
The Apostle John once wrote that before God bestowed his gifts on us, we were lying in the wicked one (1Jn 5.19). That could be a sexual metaphor, reinforced by God’s stark earlier language in Ezekiel 16, and it’s a powerful picture of where we came from.
It wasn’t pretty.
I’ve written before on the depth of our initial relationship to sin—that we were guilty of Adam’s sin, that we were naturally inclined to sin, and that we followed our inclinations without hesitation and without regret. Even as we saw clear evidence of God’s existence and his greatness (Rom 1.20), we suppressed that evidence (Rom 1.18) and turned intentionally from the light to the darkness (Rom 1.21), following a path that would end, if we continued, in an explosion of all sorts of unrighteousness, an orgy of abandonment to depravity (Rom 1.28-31) that not only would destroy us but would prompt us to destroy everyone around us as well (Rom 1.32).
But that’s not the whole story.
You see, the evil one may have held us lasciviously in his arms, but we did not originate with him. We have a Creator who is in fact nothing like our abuser. He is all that the abuser is not—good, most obviously, but also great, and infinite, and eternal. And when he made us, he placed in us an indescribable gift.
He made us, he says, in his image (Gen 1.26-28). And, as I’ve noted before, he delighted in doing that. He planned, he said, to make us different from everything else, in a completely separate class from even the most intelligent animals. Like him, in significant ways.
And God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Almighty, the Eternal, is not going to allow his image to lie where it is—in the arms of the wicked one. He’s jealous, in the most positive and proper of senses. He’s going to rescue his beloved. He’s going to win his wife back.
He’s going to retrieve, and cleanse, and polish, and display his image.
Whatever it takes.
And so begins a process—a really long and complex one—of retrieving us from our sin, of wooing us back into a relationship with him, the relationship for which we were created, and the only one in which we can be truly satisfied.
How does that process begin?
Well, it begins with election, but I’m not quite ready to talk about that yet; it’s coming in a later post, when we begin to think about how God nurtures our relationship with him. For now we’re meditating on how he changes our default relationship, our devoted companionship with sin.
And how does he begin that?
He begins with conviction. In the person of his Spirit (Jn 16.8), he gently, tenderly leads us to feel differently about our sin. That includes what we call illumination—he helps us see things that we didn’t notice before, because love is blind, as they say, and there are all kinds of terrible things about our lover that we just haven’t noticed—little things, you know, like the fact that he beats us, and abuses us, and despises the gifts we give him, and plans to throw us away when he’s done with us.
Little things like that.
God the Spirit kindly turns the light on in our heads, and we begin to see things. We see the flaws of our evil master, and we see our own flaws, our own selfishness, our own stupidity, our own blindness.
We don’t usually like conviction when it comes; it makes us sad, and frustrated, and angry. But it’s a generous gift from a kind Father whom we have always treated as our enemy.
And it’s just the beginning.