Putting Humpty Together Again

By Ben Swift

When Humpty Dumpty sat on his wall, when Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, why couldn’t all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put Humpty together again?

The story of Humpty Dumpty reminds us of a truth that gets to the heart of humanity’s inability to put themselves back together again following that tragic day of the fall, a day that sent all of us on a downward spiral of brokenness and separation from our Creator.

As Christians we are taught that, in Christ, God does put us together again. Each time we fall he fills and heals the cracks of our brokenness with his divine nature. Like the gold that beautifies and binds the shattered pieces of ancient, oriental clay pots, Christ in the beauty of his grace can be seen shining from the scars of our old selves.

But let’s not be under any illusions here. Following the fall, Humpty did break, his life was fractured, his frailty was evident, and just like him, all of us will continue experience the pain of this reality throughout our earthly lives. We, like Humpty, are just not capable of maintaining our footing as the things of this life continue to sweep our feet from under us.

There are important truths to come to grips with as we live the Christian life. While we fall, time and again, we never fall from God’s Grace. While our human nature remains weak and broken, The Father sees only the Son and his perfection covers us, making us right before him. Individually, our being sanctified, that is being made perfect in God’s sight, began the moment he regenerated our hearts to incline towards his. But this is a gradual process, often moving in baby steps. Therefore, as theologian R.C. Sproul once warned us, we should run for our lives from the false teaching of the doctrine of perfectionism, of instant sanctification.[1] The Bible is clear. While we have been made right with God, our being made perfect is an ongoing process. Our flesh is continually being chiseled away to reveal more of the spirit of Christ and less of brokenness of our fallen selves, an ongoing battle that rages within.

The Apostle Paul knew this internal struggle well. He writes:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

In the world of Science there is a phenomenon known as Absolute Zero. This is a purely theoretical state as it can never really be reached. Absolute Zero can only occur if there is absolutely no particle movement, releasing no energy and therefore no heat. But why can’t this happen in reality? Because everything will always be influenced or affected by outside energy.

In a similar way, the potential for a human being to achieve absolute perfection in this life, that is to live a life totally devoid of sin, is impossible. It is a condition that we are called to strive for in Christ but can never really achieve. Why? We remain tainted, not only by our own sinful nature but also by our constant subjection to the fallen world around us. Everything we do is infected by our self-serving nature, even in what we would call good, even in what appears to be done in love, all remains broken.

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other.” (Galatians 5:17)

Billy Joel once suggested ‘honesty’ to be such a lonely word as everyone is so untrue. Surely Billy hit the nail on the head with these words. Let’s be honest, no one is completely and truly honest. Not with others, not with themselves and certainly not with God either. Sin has so acutely penetrated our nature that we struggle to comprehend just how deep it goes. Is there anything we do that, when stripped back, doesn’t reveal some level of self-interest?

Author Neil McKinley suggests, “As the sea fills every crack and crevice on the ocean floor, so sin has seeped into every recess of man, body and soul.”[2]

Why then, knowing full well of our inability to live perfect lives, does Jesus say, “Go now and leave your life of sin?” (John 8:11) One might question why God gave his people the Law in the first place, knowing that it was never going to be satisfied within any fallen heart? And yet without God’s call to sin no more, to love him with all of our heart, body, mind and soul, we would never fully comprehend the depth of our own brokenness and our complete dependence on him. We would never come to appreciate the transforming, heart-changing power of his amazing Grace.

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said, ‘Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:13-14)  

It’s true, we have been called by God to strive for perfection, to live holy lives as justified followers of Christ on the road to glorification. But the same God, who’s calls us to this life of righteousness, also recognizes our ongoing failure to do so. The tension continues. Paul’s words consistently paint for us the inner struggles faced by all who long to please God.

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right here with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25)      

Surely, it’s these things that light the Christian’s desire to become more Christlike with each passing day and it’s through his Spirit and Grace that we have the means to take each flesh-destroying step.

Martin Luther understood this at a deep level as was often reflected in the way he describes the ongoing inner tension for the Christian; simultaneously saint and sinner. Christians are saints because they have been accepted by God through what has been achieved by Christ; sinners because they constantly fail in their struggle against their selfish nature. He suggests:

“Original sin, after regeneration, is like a wound that begins to heal; though it be a wound, yet it is in course of healing, though it still runs and is sore. So original sin remains in Christians until they die, yet itself is mortified and continually dying. Its head is crushed into pieces, so that it cannot condemn us.”[3]

To claim to possess a sinless nature in this life is to give a dishonest assessment of the person in the mirror. While it’s true that the nature of Christ is perfect and that for Christians his perfect nature dwells within them, the wrestle between our sinful nature and Christ’s perfection listens intently for the final bell to end the fight; the hour of Christ’s return, the hour of glorification.

Belief in obtainable human perfection in this life will surely come crashing down at some point, as the true depth of sin in our nature causes us to stumble. For the moment the great mountain peak seems in our grasp, we lose our grip and are brought sliding down its slippery face. Once again, we find ourselves face to face with an old and familiar signpost indicating the long and winding road ahead. Perfectionism calls us to convince ourselves that the goal is attainable here and now, despite the mounting of guilt weighing on our shoulders as we reflect on what we know to be true about ourselves. Perfectionism places a heavy burden on our conscience as the fear of failure and the knowledge of self brings immanent collapse to a broken life.

Christianity calls us to live in reality. Christ’s nature is perfect, ours fails miserably. God remains God, we remain human. But thanks be to the God of mercy and love. Because of his son we can now be reconciled to him. Freedom is found in Grace. While it calls us to walk as Jesus walked, it lovingly and mercifully lifts the burden of our failures from our shoulders, placing them on the only one capable of carrying them; Christ, in whom we are seen as perfect.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

[1] R.C. Sproul, Pleasing God, David C Cook, Colorado Springs USA, 2012, p. 19.

[2] Neil Cullen McKinlay, Sanctification, https://snowofftheben.blogspot.com/search?q=sanctification

[3] Martin Luther, The Tabletalk of Martin Luther, (Christian Heritage, Scotland, 2003), p. 202.

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