The Imperfect Disciple

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together
by Jared C. Wilson

“I think of the story (more than likely apocryphal) wherein G. K. Chesterton responded to an article in the London Times titled, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Apparently, Chesterton did not agree with their conclusions, because he allegedly wrote a letter to the paper in response:

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article “What’s Wrong with the World?”

I am.

Yours truly,

G. K. Chesterton

This is all very clever, see, but my man Gilbert Keith got it entirely wrong. He should have written the London Times to say, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world. That imbecile, Jared Wilson.” I am confident that if he knew me, he would not have so casually suggested himself as the source of all the world’s ills ….

It’s just that whenever I actually think about how I’m doing, it doesn’t seem as though I’m doing very well at all. In fact, most of the good that I’ve accomplished in my life and most of the good things that have happened in my life have come nowhere close to fixing what is really going on inside of me.

This is why I resonate with the apostle Paul when he’s driving down that Romans Road and decides to turn left on red into Romans chapter 7. I know some scholars argue that Romans 7 is not a description of the Christian life but rather is Paul describing his life before his conversion. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe, like Chesterton writing that letter to the London Times, they just aren’t aware of my existence. Because it sure seems like Paul’s got my number ….

Here’s a plainer way to put it: I do things that I know are bad and I avoid doing things that I know are good. This makes me imminently unqualified to write one of those awesome, take-the-next-hill, “be the change you want to see in the word” books on discipleship churned out ever-presently by the evangelical leadership-industrial complex.

But on the other hand, it makes me uniquely and distinctly qualified for the hope Paul offers in response to the crushing predicament bemoaned by Romans 7.

It turns out–and you need to read this closely, so I hereby advise you to actually pull this book closer to your face and get the following words right in front of your milky little corneas … well, not that close; you look like a weirdo.

Hold it up. Read it close. Drink it deep.

It turns out, actually, that–get this–.Jesus is looking specifically for people who can’t get their act together.

I know, right? I swear I am not making this up!

Paul’s sense of hopeless exasperation reaches a crescendo in verse 24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He feels caught, trapped, like the corpse of his old life is still hanging on to his ankle and he can’t move on. He’s tried pulling himself up by his bootstraps but he got them tangled around his neck and now he’s choking to death.

This is exactly the kind of self-despair Jesus is listening for.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul says in verse 25, and you can almost hear him panting like a guy just pulled out of the water from drowning.

Every day, I wake up into Romans 7. Every dadgum day. My alarm goes off and I sit up in bed, my uncoffeed consciousness groggily gearing up for sins–both of omission and of commission. I’m engaged in the flesh before I even get my feet on the carpet.

And yet, right there beside me, laid out like the day’s outfit for school, are new mercies. Romans 8 lies right there, spooning Romans 7 in a full-size bed, no wiggle room.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. (Rom. 8:1-3) ….

It is the good news for all of us who can’t get our act together. We are exactly the kind of people God is using. We are exactly the kind of people God loves.”

The Imperfect Disciple

Jared C. Wilson
Baker Books, 2017.