Your life in Christ is not a life of rags that God uses to get some dirty work done, and then later he’ll clean you up a bit. No, your life in Christ is as a new creation made perfect now (Hebrews 10:14) because the Spirit of Christ lives in you now (Romans 8:9-11) and you have been seated with Jesus in heaven now. (Ephesians 2:6.)
Simply put, you are right now the craft and artistry of God:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10.)
This good news is fundamental to understanding your life in Christ. It looks like John Piper recently forgot it, or at least that he didn’t have it at the forefront of his mind when he wrote a poem and tweeted about it: “Christ Will Not Paint on a Proud Canvas” A poem of thankfulness that God uses rags.
Mr. Piper bases the poem on the Apostle Paul’s experience with his own weakness and Christ’s strength.
[Jesus] 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10.)
Mr. Piper wrote that he heard a sermon on that passage, and the preacher asked:
“Why should I admit my moral malignancy and helplessness and hopelessness? Because Christ will not paint on a proud canvas.”
It was this point in the sermon that Mr. Piper said he wanted to hold on to, and he eventually wrote a poem about. The poem itself is an interesting look at the grace of the infallible God who uses all-too-fallible people to fulfill his holy purposes. If he had given it a different title, it would be unremarkable for any doctrinal problems. But his emphasis on the sermon and his choice to use the preacher’s poorly stated comment on 2 Corinthians 12 as the poem’s title are problematic.
Think of it: “Christ will not paint on a proud canvas.” What does this tell you about sin and the power of God? It suggests that God’s power cannot overcome sin.
The good news, though, is that the preacher and Mr. Piper are wrong.
- You’re not a faulty canvas.
- God works through people, even proud ones.
For the first point, look at the verses I mentioned at the start of this post. For the second point, look at what Jesus did. Or rather, look at what he didn’t do.
- Nowhere does Jesus tell anyone they are too prideful and therefore God won’t use them.
- Nowhere does he tell anyone to humble themselves first before God can welcome them into the kingdom of Christ.
- Nowhere does he say that pride is the one sin that keeps God from using his people to build his kingdom.
In fact, there’s one point where two of Jesus’ closest friends are rather prideful and he neglects to tell them to knock it off.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40.)
One of the most interesting aspects of this vignette is that when they say – perhaps pridefully – that they can handle the same things Jesus will have to deal with, Jesus doesn’t tell them they’re nuts. To the contrary, he tells them they’re right.
The lesson on pride of place didn’t come until later, and it was directed at the ones who did not ask for it.
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45.)
So is there ever a problem with pride? Sure. It’s listed as a sin more than once in the Bible, and humility is mentioned as a virtue. For example:
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18.)
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10.)
Notice that these verses do not say that “Christ will not paint on proud canvasses.”
Where do we get true humility, Godly humility, then? From the Son of God himself who described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29), and who has given you the Holy Spirit who lives the life of Christ in and through you. (Romans 8:9-11.) And this is true even though you may still commit sins – including the sin of pride – because God never condemns those who are in Christ. (Romans 8:1.) Rather, the Bible says Jesus conquered sin once for all and made you holy in the process. (Hebrews 10:10.)
Jesus Christ indeed paints upon your canvas even now. You are God’s masterpiece.