Just remember who you are

As a Dad to two girls, I have watched the latest live-action version of Disney’s Cinderella a time or ten! The last time it was playing in our house, the final showdown between Cinderella and her wicked stepmother caught my attention. Having done her utmost to trample over Cinderella’s happy ending, the stepmother is surprised to find that the King himself has come to seek his bride, and there seems to be nothing she can do about it.

She first tries to forbid Cinderella from descending the staircase where the King awaits to return the glass slipper that would prove her identity. An officer of the King rebuffed this attempt, and so the stepmother wields her final weapons: intimidation and scorn. Her words reveal the contempt that filled her heart: “Just remember who you are, you wretch!” Driven by jealousy and spite, the stepmother seeks to put Cinderella in her place. With all the venom she can muster, she tells Cinderella that she is nothing; a worthless wretch, who is only fit to serve her and her daughters.

Here is the dramatic climax of the story. Will Cinderella believe her stepmother’s lies? Has she been broken enough by the abuse she has received? Can she believe that there is a happily ever after if she can muster the courage to go down the stairs and meet her date with destiny?

Those of us who follow Jesus have a similar enemy. He comes against us breathing out lies about who we are and what we are worth. Where there are sins and temptations, he takes delight in reminding us of them, always suggesting that we are a lost cause. Where we have been hurt, he tells us that this is what we deserved all along. In the midst of fear and tribulation, he breathes out words of despair and doubt – “How could God possibly love you? You’re a wretch; a worm. You are just not worth bothering with!” In this way, the enemy intimidates and denigrates those whom God loves.

All-too-often, he doesn’t actually need to say anything at all. When we sin, we wallow in self-condemnation until we feel we have suffered enough. When things go wrong, we rarely rise up and fight against the situations we find ourselves in. We simply accept the opposition and go on believing that it’s our lot in life. Beaten down, we kneel in the dust and let the thief come to kill, steal, and destroy, living far below the abundant life that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Our own conscience, doubts, fears, and worries suffocate the good news of Jesus Christ – that we are forgiven, loved, accepted, and included in Him.

Like Cinderella, we have a choice before us. We can continue to believe the lies, and remain holed up in the dusty attic that has become our prison. We can live out our lives in glumness and misery, and console ourselves with the thought that at least we’ll get to go to heaven one day.

Or we can do what Cinderella did. We can refuse to believe the lies, and choose to meet with our King. Cinderella’s Kit left no stone unturned in the search for his bride, even joining the search party personally. In the same way, Jesus, our King, has moved heaven and earth to seek us out. He left His home, became just like us, and died our death that we might live. He then rose again so that He may claim His bride and be with us forever.

Our King longs for us to know Him in closeness and intimacy. The desire of His heart is that we would accept His view of us, and live in daily fellowship with Him. He is willing us to step out of the prisons we find ourselves in, descend the staircase, and find out the truth – that we are truly loved by the King!

Today, shut out the voice that condemns – whether it be demonic or your own self-condemnation and pride. Turn your ear to heaven, and hear your King speak:

“Just remember who you are, my beloved!”

Jesus-centred spiritual formation – Dallas Willard and Don Simpson

I have just started reading a book that has been on my shelf for several years: Revolution of Character, by Don Simpson and Dallas Willard. The book is an abridgement and distillation by Simpson of Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart. Recent sin in my life has made me hunger again for robust and deep spiritual formation, yet I’m still wary of legalistic effort-driven approaches to personal holiness because I know they don’t work.

This summary of spiritual formation from Revolution of Character gives me hope that there really is a grace-empowered, Jesus-centred way of spiritual formation that can bring true life transformation (emphasis mine):

Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is conformity to Christ, a process that arises out of purposeful interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is an essential outcome (see John 13:34-35; 14:21).

However, we cannot manifest Christlikeness through a primary focus on external behavior. When externals are the main emphasis, spiritual formation doesn’t really happen. The process falls into deadening legalisms. This is what has happened so often in the past. Peculiar modes of dress, behavior, and organization don’t change the heart.

Externalism was a danger even in New Testament times. But “that Christ be formed within you” has always been the true watchword of Christian spiritual formation (Galatians 4:19). This watchword is fortified by the deep moral and spiritual insight that while “the letter of the law kills, the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

To illustrate briefly, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7) refer to various wrong behaviors: acting out in anger, looking so as to lust, heartless divorce, verbal manipulation, returning evil for evil, and so forth. But as abundant experience teaches, to strive merely to act in conformity with Jesus’ expressions of what living in the kingdom of God is like is to attempt the impossible. We may work hard at it and keep up a good front for a while, but eventually we fall flat on our faces.