I was in an unfamiliar grocery store that happened to be on my route home, just to pick up a few things, a bit agitated trying to find what I needed in a store with an unfamiliar layout. I found the bagged salads not at an eye-level shelf like I am used to, but on a lower one, so I was bent over, head deep in the produce bins, looking for the freshest pre-made salad. All of a sudden a head appeared right next to mine and a cheery voice asked how I was doing today. I did not immediately think, “Oh, how lovely, this sweet stranger is concerned about my well-being!” Instead I thought, “How absurd!” But I mumbled, “Fine.” The head disappeared but must not have heard me: in just a second or two, it appeared again next to mine, again asking how I was doing. I muttered “Fine” in a definite “I don’t want to be bothered tone,” and the head disappeared.
I found my salad, but my conscience was smitten. Later I saw the woman who had been trying to greet me. She had a rolling cart and some kind of device in her hand, and I found other people in the store with the same apparatus, so I guessed they were doing inventory. She had her back to me, so I didn’t apologize like I should have: I scurried away, shamefaced.
I don’t know if this woman was just extra friendly or if she was trying to be an enthusiastic employee by greeting customers in odd places. I think some stores have tried to put forth a more friendly atmosphere by requiring their employees to cheerily greet any customers within ten feet of them. I don’t mind that in a natural setting, like when I enter the store, or when we pass each other in an aisle. But I have been called to across a large expanse of the store, or interrupted while intently reading a label by someone behind me asking if I am finding everything, or greeted at odd times or in awkward situations by someone inserting themselves unnaturally. I know it’s better to have too much help than not being able to find a salesperson when you need one, and it’s better to have cheerful help than grumpy help. But it’s possible to overdo it.
Some time back a friend shared about how smiling in response to someone at a store led to a nice conversation and a brightened day for all involved. My snippy reaction, unfortunately, probably had the opposite effect.
I have been convicted again and again about my innate selfishness, my preference to withdraw into an introvert bubble rather than to extend myself, my too-quick tendency to irritability, my need to be more loving. I have been a Christian for over 40 years. Shouldn’t there be more progress by now? Shouldn’t I have gotten past some of this by now?
A passage from Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (linked to my review) helped me in this regard:
Once you come to Christ and receive that cleansing of conscience, does conscience now fall silent? Quite the opposite! Christians are surprised and sometimes discouraged to find that the condemnations of conscience are even stronger after becoming a child of God. Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like this: “If I am making progress towards holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit, why do I keep feeling like a worse sinner than before? Becoming a Christian was supposed to relieve my conscience. What’s going on?”
We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens. The moment God accepts you as his child, he gives you the greatest gift he could ever give a child of God: his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit comes in to encourage you, comfort you, and be your dearest friend. But he also comes in to reveal to you any sin that is robbing you of joy and to lead you into mortal combat against that sin (Rom. 8:13-14).
When the Holy Spirit comes in, he supercharges your consciousness of sin by writing his laws on your heart (Jer. 31:33-34). He opens your eyes to see sins that you didn’t even know were sins, like pride, greed, and covetousness. He reveals to you all the little idols in your heart’s idol factory. As you read the Bible every day, you see more and more how good and holy God is and how filthy you are.
Don’t expect this struggle to get any easier as you mature in your faith. The war against indwelling sin only grows stronger…
There is generally a proportional relationship between how mature you are as a Christian and how aware you are of your sinfulness. The more you grow by means of grace, the more sensitive you become to your sinfulness. Paul himself increasingly realized his sinfulness: he referred to himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9), then “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and finally, the “foremost” of “sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Like Paul, you are growing in holiness every day. But you may not feel like it! You’re a saint and a sinner at the same time.
That explains why a Christian often feels so wretched. But then what? If the gap between what we should be and what we really are keeps growing, how can we possibly escape complete despair in the Christian life?…
Only an ever-increasing trust in Christ’s work on the cross can fill this ever-widening gap and keep us from despair. God’s solution for us to have a clean conscience throughout our lives is simple and profound: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)…
Now we can confidently approach God on the basis of Jesus’s definitive work on the cross. Now we can have a “clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18) (pp. 47-51).
None of us is a saint via sinless perfection or exalted religious experience, but the New Testament calls all true believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saints. Most of the epistles are addressed to the saints at particular locations. My sin nature won’t be completely eradicated until I get to heaven. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and relax about it or excuse my bad conduct: quite the opposite. I’m to daily seek God’s help and grace to fight against it. As I am in His Word and continue to grow in Him, He will point out more and more of my sinfulness that I am unaware of. So I confess that to Him, and then seek Him for more grace to grow more. I look forward to the time when all sin will be put away, but until then, my sin nature will keep reminding me of my need of Him, and hopefully I will continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
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