Often we have a very much easier time forgiving and loving others than we do forgiving and loving ourselves. One of the most crucial insights of the gospel is that the man under law does not want mercy extended even to himself; he wants the chance to remain to prove his worth. We reserve the worst condemnation and punishment for our own souls. We wear our self-condemnation and self-loathing like a warm blanket; our shame and our guilt are like familiar close friends. How Paul’s confession in Romans 7 resonates with all of us!
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:21-24 ESV
The message of the gospel is this: God has directed us, we know His will for our lives very clearly. It is called the law. Our consciences constantly bear witness to it. We miss His will, we ignore His will, we hate His will. Like Jonah we run from His will daily, over and over and over. Once we are believers, and are new creatures, we still run from His will, over and over and over. Whatever wondrous transformation has happened to us in becoming Christian, we still miss the mark badly. A lot. But as He did with Jonah, God still pursues us, God still uses us, even when we loathe ourselves He persists in expressing grace towards us. As with Jonah, His grace is far stronger than our self-loathing. Even when our own heart condemns us, He is greater than our heart, and has a stronger love:
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1John 3:19-20 ESV
This is actually our greatest danger, that our self-loathing and self-condemnation will win over our lives, but the gospel promise is that in Christ there is even now no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and that we can expect favor to walk by the Spirit and not by personal resolve born of anger at ourselves for our own shortcomings.
If our own sin and our own failure and our own hatred of God’s clear will are not barriers to the favor and blessing of God, then what else could possibly harm us? Even if we have a “thorn in the flesh”, some kind of hardship or physical ailment or some such, it doesn’t trump grace:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Cor 12:7-9
In other words, even a clear absence of earthly blessing, and a clear presence of earthly hardship, can be part of God’s grace to us, and through us to others. God can even cause our troubles to work for good, that is the nature of His grace. If He can overrule our sin, our very hatred of His will and His ways, can He not overrule everything else?
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have heard people argue that there is nothing about our sin in this list, so it is possible that we can take ourselves out of this wonderful picture. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is God who justifies! No one is better or stronger, none can condemn whom He has declared just. Romans 3 forward has just been proving this very point. This is all icing on the cake, because our justification is our most pressing problem.
So grace doesn’t mean we now have nothing to conquer. When we have hardships, we persist interpreting the world from the eyes of grace. We can keep reading the love of God into our lives. We do not escape, we conquer and are more than conquerers through the one-way love of Christ! Just as Paul, we can boast all the more in our own weaknesses. How can we possibly lose?