Reflections on Uganda - Realizations about Trussville
Shame Erasing Grace
By American standards, Ugandan cleanliness doesn't measure up. Floors are concrete, or dirt. Kitchens are mostly outdoors. Lizards are often crawling on the walls of bathrooms, and bedrooms. In fact, one night we even had a bat flying around the dining room, just over our heads. That’s right. A bat! Yet at the same time, Ugandans also seem to take something as basic as hand washing much more serious than Americans. Before every meal, or tea break, a pail of water and a bar of soap are passed around so all can wash their hands. Outside of every latrine is a water bucket for washing. Maybe upon further reflection, Ugandans know their environment is not overly clean, so they are diligent about cleansing themselves.
How about us? For many of us, we too try to clean what we can see. That’s the thing about dirt. You can see it. There is no hiding it. Soap and water will clean it. But, there is a different kind of filth that cannot be seen by the eye, and cannot be cleansed with soap and water. It is the filth of sin.
Over the course of these reflections, I’ve been talking about knowing Jesus. A big part of knowing him relationally, is knowing our desperate need of him. For many years, I was one of those who knew about Jesus, without truly knowing him. To a large degree, my knowing about Jesus was a factor of my only knowing about sin. For me, sin was a generality. It described the bad people, and I certainly didn’t consider myself to be one of them. You see, I hadn’t yet come to see the filth of my own sin. I still considered Jesus to be the Son of God, but he was not yet my personal Lord and Savior. My inability to see was not my only problem, though. I had dug my hole deeper by fostering an identity as one of the good guys. It was an identity that would be threatened, if and when I took an honest look at myself.
Identity. This is where we move from Sunday morning preaching to Monday morning reality. Identity is where so many of us struggle. For so many of us, we are confused as to our true identity, because we are wrapped in shame. Shame is our mask…a mask first adorned by Adam and Eve in the garden. Their’s consisted of fig leaves. Our’s consists in posturing and posing, trying to pretend we are something we are not, so that no one will know who we really are.
Maybe this sounds familiar. That is why we started with a discussion of the new birth and the heart transforming power of grace. It is the transformation wrought by the new birth that allows us to see with new eyes. With new eyes, we are able to see, not a smudge of dirt on our skin, but the filthy record of our past sin. Then, with this 20/20 clarity of sight, we are finally able to see the astounding love of Jesus, and his astounding love is worth more than any false identity we’ve created for ourselves.
Romans 3:10 tells us that none are righteous. I am included in that “none,” and so are you. But in Christ, this bad news becomes the good news of the gospel. Continuing on to Romans 3:23-24… “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
That redemption is probably best explained in 2 Corinthians 5:21. There we read, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse describes the glorious transaction which took place on the cross. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin…taking all our sin upon himself. I describe it as glorious because what we received in exchange was not Jesus’ sin (because he knew no sin), but his righteousness.
I really don’t mean to be too crass, but I am trying to get the picture across. Ugandans don’t all have access to indoor plumbing. In fact, most use pit latrines to do their “business.” The smell is something you can only imagine.
On the cross, Jesus was covered in our sin, a filth somewhat akin to the bottom of the pit latrine. Every bit of our sin…past, present, and future, was thrown on Jesus. The perfect one was made to be sin for us. This is what it means for our guilt to be taken. It was thrown on Jesus, who then on the cross bore the full wrath of God, for all the sins of God’s children, for all time. There on the cross, our legal guilt was removed!
And what I’m telling you is that as incredible as this sounds, it was only half of what took place. Jesus took our sin, and in exchange, gave us his perfect righteousness. This righteousness he had secured, not merely on the cross, but by virtue of the totality of his perfectly sinless life. His perfection was given to us! It is no wonder that in Ephesians 2, Paul cannot even finish a sentence without crying out — “BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED!”
For us, the Biblical response is not merely to break out in song about grace, but also to repent of our sins and turn to Jesus in faith. Rather than merely knowing about him, we are to cling to him as the rock of our salvation. This gospel message is not merely the entrance window into the Christian life. It is the ongoing content of the Christian life. This good news becomes the occasion for rejoicing in our new identity in Christ.
The gospel truth of redeeming grace is not merely that Jesus removed our legal guilt. He died to cover our shame…to give us a new identity. He knew who we really were, and he still came. Brothers and sisters, my prayer for you is that you would know this truth of shame erasing grace, and in knowing the truth, you would live in the joy of Christ. Come to grips with who you are (or were) apart from Christ, so that you can be released to the joy of new life in Christ.