“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 New Living Translation
I came to Christianity as a young adult, and the first church I went to with any regularity was the one my parents attended. A woman who lived two doors up the street from my parents also went to church there. As far as I know, Sister Dell had been in church her entire life. Certainly, she was part of the old guard in that congregation. I hadn’t been a very good girl prior to my conversion, and one Sunday Sister Dell opined to me that once we’ve made a mess of our lives—the implication being as I had done—the Lord just had to pick up the pieces and make the best of it.
I’m not sure what Sister Dell’s motive was for saying that to me. There could’ve been any number of reasons behind such a mean-spirited remark, including taking a shot at my mom, who was never shy about challenging the old ways of doing things. But whatever this woman’s reason was and despite her standing as a pillar in that particular congregation, I knew, even in the moment, that she was dead wrong.
Following my acceptance of Christ as my savior, I had immersed myself in the gospel accounts and Paul’s writings, which had convinced me that no person born into this planet is righteous. Not one. The playing field is completely level in that regard. Very early in my life as a Christian, I came to the belief that my faith in Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection had renewed me. I didn’t understand it, really, but I believed I had a fresh start. My gospel was—still is—that I became someone altogether new and everything in the past was bygones. There wasn’t going to be any picking up pieces and trying to make the best of them. The past was dead, or at least I was dead to it, and anything was possible.
Yet my biggest struggle post-conversion remained having to contend with myself. With my appetites and habits, my deep-rooted fears and flaws. Oftentimes, I fell short—very short—of my seemingly reasonable expectations of myself. But I wasn’t alone in this struggle. I found that Paul, great influencer that he was, battled the same dynamic and wrote about it. “I don’t really understand myself,” Paul wrote, “for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:15, 18-19 NLT)
There’s a story in Greek mythology commonly known as Pandora’s Box that attempts to explain how bad things came into the world. (We all know—instinctively—that the world isn’t as it ought to be.) In the myth, Pandora is entrusted with a jar that she’s told not to open. But the girl is curious and opens it anyway, releasing into the world sickness and death and all manner of evil. Pandora closes the jar quickly, but not quickly enough. Only Hope remains inside.
Who can deny that there’s evil in the world? No one can. But it didn’t fly out of Pandora’s jar. It didn’t fly out of the Garden of Eden either. It was carried out of paradise by Adam, our father, and Eve, our mother. And to this day, we carry wickedness like a virus, infecting our worlds with it to one degree or another. We don’t want to, but we do. We just can’t help ourselves. Each of us is a vessel, not by choice but by birth.
Religion tries to cover our unruliness, to atone for it with rituals and ever more rules. But Paul was very clear in his letter to the believers in Rome. No religion exists that can fix us. Applying rules and rituals to our humanity is like putting perfume on a corpse. It’s nasty, and it doesn’t make the situation better. In fact, it makes it worse.
The thing I love the most about the gospel its that it doesn’t promise to make me a better version of myself. It promises a different me, whole and flawless. That promise is a beacon I’ve walked toward for most of my life. When I stumble, my hope in it picks me up and gets me going again. Peter urged Christians to “worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15 NLT)
I don’t yet comprehend what I’ll become—what I am even now becoming. But I believe that by the time I see Jesus, I will be like Him, because I’ll see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2) In a crowning touch, God will give me a new name written on a white stone. (Revelation 2:17) And absolutely no one—except the Lord and me—will know how much that treasured new identity means to me and what we went through to obtain it.