Friday, July 03, 2009

Personal Accountability Cannot Save Us

Over the past few weeks, Mark Sanford has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, he was missing...then, his adulterous relationship was exposed. It was followed by a public apology and Sanford's assertion that his adultery is really a "love story". Mark Sanford is in a load of trouble, not least because he doesn't actually see the error of his ways. He needs to be concerned, not for his political career but for the state of his soul and the well-being of his family...but that's really not the point of this blog post.

Instead, let's discuss what has caught the attention of many - the substance of his apology where he invoked Christian "language" and compared himself to King David.

“I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next 18 months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in the Bible — who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so.”

The editors of New York Times noted this in a commentary entitled God and Mark Sanford. They asked five "experts" including Chuck Colson and LaShawn Barber to comment on Mark Sanford's confession/apology. It's worth checking out the different points of view.

But I found one of the most unintentionally insightful comments to come from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who does not subscribe to the Christian faith. Here's what he said -

"The paradox of American evangelicals is that they are Christian on the one hand and political conservatives on the other with utterly opposing views of redemption. Christians believe that no one is blameless and all must therefore ride the coattails of a perfect being into heaven. But conservatives espouse the gospel of personal accountability. The state cannot save them. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow and not by welfare alone."

It's an interesting comment because I think many Christians actually subscribe to this "gospel of personal responsibility". We may erroneously believe that if we own up to our mistakes, put accountability controls in place and try harder next time, we'll be ok. In other words, when it comes to our moral state, we might think that personal accountability can save us....but it cannot. To be sure, accountability is good thing - taking responsibility for our moral failings is foundational to true repentance. And, being accountable to others is wise.

But what we really need is a Savior, not just accountability and earnest confession. Our moral failings are first and foremost against God and apart from the person of Jesus Christ, we have no means of relating to a holy God. True repentance must be directed to Him and it must rest of what Christ has done on our behalf by bearing our sins.

Our weaknesses are greater than can be addressed by personal accountability or accountability groups. We need a Savior every single day to protect and keep us. That's why I love these words from the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The real gospel doesn't just feature sin and personal responsibility, it highlights a Savior who has come to save and keep us. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


Marcus Goodyear said...

Wow. Tons to think about here. I'd never thought of the grace/accountability dilemma before. That's challenging.

Sanford's story made me so sad. Not so much because of his mistake, though that is sad enough. The press conference was just a picture of public vulnerability that we don't often see. And maybe a picture that we shouldn't see.

For all the bad we could say about him, he didn't dodge anything.

I really like that hymn, not the least because of the great tenor part on "prone to wander Lord I feel it."

Reading it in this context, reminded me of John Donne, another womanizer, who wrote this after he had settled down:

Batter my heart, three-personed God/ ...Take me to you, imprison me, for I,/ Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Very sad....

Yes, the need for Jesus as our Savior is ongoing. Salvation in Scripture is past, present and future tense.

I believe it's easy for us to mix something of the world into our faith. Probably everyone does in some ways, and we need to be aware of it. I'm thinking of what I see as evangelicals' obsession with the Republican Party, or the liberal Christians' obsession with the Democratic Party. The kingdom of God come in Jesus is where our allegiance should be, otherwise what good can we be to either party?

If Mark Sanford is really serious about his life before God, then he needs to soak himself in Psalm 51, ascribed to David after his affair with Bathsheba. That is a great psalm, and one I need to keep going back to from time to time. I'm afraid it sounds like he excuses himself. I hope he has a faith community that calls him to account in love. He needs a lot of prayer.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good words, Marcus. And good quote from John Donne.

Yes, we need to come to know more and more this love that suprpasses knowledge, that we might be filled in God, as Paul tells us in Ephesians.

Red Letter Believers said...

How many of us have had 1 John 1: 9 drilled into our heads....all we have to do is 'own up'.

But repentance and redemption means that we change our ways, that our minds and actions are 'transformed' into His image.

Great post.


Halfmom said...

Yes, the comment was insightful indeed and it is a sad story for many reasons. The first of which is, of course, man's attempts at earned righteousness. How foolish and arrogant we are to think that this helps clean the past or prevent the future.

I heard the interview where he said it was not a real affair because she was his soul mate. I felt so sad for his wife and children - been there, done that, still hurts. There will just be other "soul mates" to give the current one a taste of what she has participated in.

I do a lot of 1John1:9 drilling too since I work with teens - but I'm always careful to explain that "confess" means repent.

I especially like the John Donne quote. Was it a hymn?

Every Square Inch said...

Marcus - I, too identify with the "prone to wander Lord I feel it" - I guess if we're honest, we all experience that everyday. I also love the "bind my wandering heart to Thee" - which has the same theme as the John Donne quote. If we're going to be chaste, we need God to ravish our hearts with Himself.

Ted - yes, it's interesting that Sanford chose to compare himself to David, not on the basis of Psalm 51 but instead drawing comparison with David's focus on his work. Deception is at the heart of every sin

Every Square Inch said...

David/RLB - Not only is owing up insufficient...we're not capable of self change. Repentance is humbly throwing ourselves at the mercy of God, turning from our sin and receiving grace for tomorrow.

Susan/Halfmom - yes, I feel sorry for his wife and family but Jenny Sanford appears to be a strong Christian woman. While we watch from afar, we can pray for her.

Halfmom said...

You're right about that ESI - praying for her to remember that her worth is found in Jesus Christ, not in her husband or his opinon of what constitutes a "soul mate".

Sam Van Eman said...

Thanks for the reflection and links.