Scripture Reading: Romans 3:21-28, John 1:1-5, John 1:14-18, Ephesians 1:7-10, Colossians 1:13-14
We have certain standards when it comes to building a fire. My husband likes to construct architectural log cabins from carefully chosen twigs, before solemnly striking his single match. I like to balance a cedar bark teepee and throw a spark in a tiny nest of dry grass in the middle. We also put a lot of value on the quantity of matches used. Zero is obviously the ideal number, and six is just sloppy recklessness.
Since the weather has turned cold, we’ve been inspired to use our fire-building skills to burn out an old stump. Some people might hire a professionals to come out and grind, pull, or cut the stump down to the ground. Not us. We were determined to burn it.
At first, I lovingly carried a hot coal from another fire and set it down into the woody center. It created a perfect, simple fire, and I celebrated my cleverness and thrift. Three all-day fires later, the stump is shorter, blacker, and chastened, but it’s still not gone. I’ve also started kicking the stump. It was less fun for the fires to be about utility rather than art.
Yesterday I lit a fire at the stump using not a flint and a pile of magnesium shavings, but one of those shady fuel-soaked fire-starting sticks that will burn no matter who you are, regardless of your ideals, and in defiance of the wind direction. I held the object close to my leg as I walked past my husband, so he wouldn’t see, but I smiled because I’d found them in the house—and I know I’m not the one who bought them.
We can take pride in anything. The do-it-yourself mentality doesn’t begin or end with fire-building prowess. It runs through and through, and we’re always looking for a way to accomplish something boast-worthy. When we’ve got nothing to boast of, we’ll invent it, or take pride in the most mundane oddities. Have you ever driven a car full of seven-year-olds? They boast about who saw the truck first, and who has eaten their popsicle the fastest. We hardly know what a world without boasting is like.
Paul writes: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded” (Romans 3:27). Indeed, we learn that God shows gracious “restraint,” passing over our sinful shortcomings, for the sake of Christ. Like little children, what we are and all we have is given freely, showered on us by One who has sacrificed Himself on our behalf. He is both the art and the utility. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
There is no do-it-yourself version to salvation. The righteousness we receive is not native to us. It is “His righteousness,” given by His grace. We don’t achieve righteousness by some show of skill or cunning or willpower. It is given, heaped upon us and unmerited.
We don’t have to give up the good things that delight us: we are made to create and to strive for goodness. I, for one, will continue to both compete and hide from my husband when it comes to making wilderness-worthy fires. We can delight and boast in Christ’s righteousness, learning more and more each day to rejoice in His deeds and not our own because in Him is life, and that life is the light of men (John 1:4).