Thanks, Jesus. But I Can Save Myself.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:20-21)
Let’s talk about transition. But first, let’s begin with some helpful background:
I am the daughter of a perfectionist and a workaholic.
My mother (the perfectionist) comes from a long line of women with high expectations. They’re loving women, but they are their own worst slave drivers. You know you come from a line of perfectionists if everything in the house needs to be deep cleaned before a family gathering, and the menu for a casual dinner has a five-course menu. What happens when you compliment the host on the delicious food? She says, “Oh you’re sweet. The prime rib is too dry. I don’t know what I did wrong.” (And yes, that is a direct quote.)
My father (the workaholic) is a Chinese man who thinks pats on the back are unnecessary when you are simply doing what you are supposed to be doing. He, too, is incredibly loving, but the way he gives love is through providing. This means he worked around the clock to write the check, but was not always present to give a hug.
What happens when I apply perfectionism and workaholism to my relationship with Jesus?
I end up trying to save myself. My life consequently communicates to Jesus (and those around me, by the way) that I can handle this hot mess. All I need is some time and I will clean myself up. I forget that Christ needed to die for me too—and that is good news because the grace of God is not lightweight meaninglessness mainly good for inspirational calligraphy cover art. Oh, quite the contrary.
Since we are talking about personality types, let’s just keep going…
On the Strengths Finder assessment, my top strengths are responsibility and achievement. This means I see things that could be better, and I assume that in seeing the need, I am the one tasked to meet it. It can be as commonplace as taking the garbage out, to leading a multi-year work project that was not laid out in my job description.
On the Enneagram (trying to get all the personality test flavors in here), I am a One. The chief characterizing feature of Ones is an inner voice in our heads which acts as a 24/7 critic, relentlessly nitpicking the ways we fall short or could be better at everything we do. In other words, no matter how successful my attempts to improve things are, good enough is never enough.
What are the side effects of treating myself in the same way I treat my projects at work?
I forget I am a person to be loved, not a project to be fixed. Jesus gave himself to save me because He loves me, not primarily because He wants to fix me. That sounds like good news to me. Am I the only one?
I love the stories in the gospels when Jesus heals someone of a disease or frees them from a demon. His words to them are not what I expect. His words are usually succinct. Instead of telling them what they can’t eat, watch, or listen to now that they’ve encountered Him, He mostly says in some way or another, “I see that you trust me.”
Remember these words of Jesus?
- “‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 9:22)
- “‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7:9-10)
- “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)
Jesus does not monologue about what they can and cannot do now as a “Christian”. He instead affirms their trust in Him. Apparently this was a good enough starting, middle, and ending point in Jesus’ mind. That is, living in this earthly life by trusting in the Son of God. As a rule-following (and overly-cautious rule-creating person), I find this unconventional, counterintuitive, and wildly refreshing.
God tailor-made me to see ways of improving the things around me and to have the drive and perseverance to do so. That original design is good. But when these tendencies are disconnected from grace, I end up trying to save myself and everyone around me too. My life becomes a poor cover song in comparison with the original. I may be playing the same notes and singing the same lyrics, but there is a creativity, effortlessness, and originality that is lost when I’m trying to do something I was not made to do.
I vacillate between letting Jesus save me and trying to save myself.
Some days I believe Jesus needed to die for me. And then on a random Wednesday, I live under the obligation that if I don’t do this, refrain from this, or spend my time doing that, I don’t deserve God’s grace today. Why do I feel like I am never enough? Because I am relying on my sufficiency rather than on the sufficiency of Christ. I am living as if my own actions can save me rather than believing there was a loving God who needed to die for me…and He did so, lovingly.
I am on a journey. I am learning to trust whose perfection really matters; who’s really tasked with carrying the weight of the world on His shoulders. And, ironically, the One who carried the weight of saving billions of souls exhibited the most unwavering trust in His Father.
Spring is an earthly season of transition from hibernation to new life. I find myself in a transition, that in similar fashion to earthly seasons I’m experiencing cycles throughout my life. I’m coming out of a place of striving and coming back to a place of trusting. I’m transitioning from saving myself to remembering who truly saved me.
Lizzie Ng is a local Portlander who loves the church, dairy-free ice cream, and empowering young leaders. She is currently the Analyst and Designer for the City Gospel Movements team at the Luis Palau Association where she creates resources for leaders who develop church unity in cities around the world. She is currently learning to try new things without care of failing.