February 12, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7
Standing at the corner of Guadalupe and West 21st in Austin in the early ’90s, I caught up with a childhood friend who had recently matriculated at the University of Texas. Somewhere in the conversation I mentioned that I’d recently placed my hope in Christ, to which he replied with an honest question, “Isn’t that a bit limiting?”
There on that mild fall evening he, in so many words, wondered if all the prescriptions and proscriptions, all the doctrine and dogma, of the Christian faith were so constricting as to make life a virtual prison. Having never considered his concern, I fumbled for an answer.
His question intended no offense and reflected perhaps a widespread perception in the world as to what it means to live a godly life. Without context, one might infer from biblical words like holiness, law, wrath, judgment, and obedience that Christianity is primarily an exercise in restraint. In a world of such abundant opportunity and possibility, an orientation to life with restraint at its core might justifiably be seen as limiting.
Sunday we heard how humility before the gospel of God in Christ expresses itself in submissiveness, sincerity, simplicity, selflessness, and security. That’s a demanding list of traits subsumed within Peter’s call to “clothe ourselves in humility”—so demanding one might think the whole enterprise limiting. But, quite to the contrary of my friend’s assertion, nothing liberates you for life like humility before the cross of Jesus. There’s a freedom for living that only trust in the gospel can provide. In the call to humility there’s an invitation to liberation. How so?
It’s an act of humility to cast all our anxieties upon the Lord. To speak honestly before God all the things that cause us concern is to acknowledge our own limitations in managing our circumstances. It also affirms the Lord’s willingness to respond to what we cannot make sense of or control. And in humbling ourselves there’s a freedom—a freedom from the self-imposed tyranny of having to account for every variable of life. It’s not an invitation to passivity; we’re called to act with godly wisdom in all things. But we’re relieved of the burden of managing things beyond our reach: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:25, 32). Rather than take the burden upon yourself, you’re freed to seek His help.
What is perhaps most liberating about humility, though, is the basis for casting our anxieties upon the Lord. It’s because “he cares for us.” It’s not an obligatory concern; nothing in us obligates Him to care for us. It’s not a begrudging act on His part. Peter wouldn’t use the word “care” if God were simply being perfunctory in that care. It’s a care He expressed in “causing us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). It’s a care He expressed in sending His son to bear “our sins upon the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24). It’s a care that will be expressed in fullness when he returns to “restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:11).
To see our unworthiness to receive that care against the backdrop of His willingness to extend it is to be humbled immeasurably—and immeasurably freed.
You’re freed from the fear of condemnation for all your sins of commission and omission. You’re also freed to seek the forgiveness of those you’ve wronged because you rest in the greater forgiveness you’ve received from God.
You’re freed from the sense that you need to prove your worth to God. The “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) champions your cause on the basis of His Son’s worth and work.
You’re freed from trying to keep up appearances, from trying to enhance your performance, from thinking you must establish a name for yourself, freed from the impulse to outwit, outlast, outplay—all because you live before a God who already cares for you. Such freedom doesn’t siphon away determination and diligence; it refines its expression and purpose so that, like a musician in a practice room, you play for the sheer beauty of the thing and not for what you obtain in applause, acclaim, or abundance. Oh, to trust so deeply in that truth! That’s freedom of the highest order.
If your life were used as an example, would it show that the gospel is limiting or liberating? Usually life feels constraining when you are preoccupied with something. What are you preoccupied with today?
The humility engendered by the cross leads us to cast our anxieties on the Lord and to trust foremost in His care. Humble yourself today. Let the cross clear your life of the limitations imposed by fear and by all the fruitless ways you seek to overcome it.