A Surprising Ingredient in Christian Contentment
“What are you doing?” we asked. My grandmother surprised us all when she sampled the raw meat she was seasoning.
“I’m cooking,” she replied tersely. She was making Golumpkis, a favorite Polish dish of hers stuffed with cabbage. As for the strange practice of eating raw meat, she explained, “I measure by tasting.” She is a veteran in the kitchen who knows the required ingredients to achieve the desired end.
I wonder what you would list as essential ingredients of contentment. Some familiar items should immediately come to mind. We must know God’s word, trust his providence, and cling to his promises. However, there’s another I’d like to add that you may not be expecting. Let me give you fair warning: like my grandmother’s uncommon and perhaps unsettling culinary practice, this ingredient involves you experiencing something a bit unpleasant. But in the end, like Golumpkis, it’s worth it.
An essential ingredient of contentment is a robust doctrine of sin.
What Is Sin?
The Bible describes sin in several different ways: missing the mark (Romans 3:23), stepping across the line (Colossians 2:13), lawlessness (1 John 3:4), debt (Matthew 6:12). God has a standard of what is right and acceptable. Sin is our rebellious violation of this standard.
This might seem abstract. Let’s make it personal.
“There is nothing more evil than to oppose the one who is infinitely good.”
Sin is evil because of whom it’s against. Each of the descriptions of sin pivots on who the offended party is. Sin is missing God’s mark, crossing God’s line, and breaking God’s law. While sin certainly has horizontal implications with others, it is fundamentally vertical. Sin is against God. And there is nothing more evil than to oppose the one who is infinitely good.
The Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Because sin is an attack upon God’s character, it requires a corresponding judgment. Jesus describes this as an eternal fire (Matthew 25:41). Hell is God’s ongoing opposition to all who belittle his glory.
To make matters worse, we have no way to remedy the problem ourselves. Everything “good” we do is smudged by our fingerprints of depravity. Left to ourselves, we are all unrighteous (Romans 3:10–18)
The World’s Biggest Disaster
Sin is indisputably wicked and relentless, but how is understanding it an essential ingredient of contentment? It’s through knowledge of sin that we learn to hate all that robs our contentment and love the one who is the true source of it.
When we stop to think about it, this makes sense. If God is the source of contentment, then understanding (and increasingly despising) all that opposes him is crucial. Calvin famously correlated advancement in the knowledge of God with an increasing displeasure in ourselves. The Apostle Paul rarely rings the bell of personal depravity without also waving the banner of divine mercy (1 Timothy 1:13–15). When we begin to understand what sin is and why it is so bad, then we see the beauty of mercy.
There are billions of problems in the world, but none worse than the problem of our sin.
At present, there are about seven and a half billion people in the world. Among this sum, there are a lot of problems. Measured on the scale, some of these issues are weightier than others. But how would people’s lives change if they had their largest problem solved? As Christians, we know that the most pressing issue facing every person in the world today is the penalty for our sin. Regardless of whether it is felt or suppressed, the reality that everyone must stand before God on the last day is our most substantial problem.
Jesus taught a right ordering of our fears when he instructed his hearers not to fear the one who can only kill the body but instead to fear the one who has the power and authority to sentence you to hell (Matthew 10:28). Without taking anything away from the legitimate issues that people are facing, the biblical doctrine of sin relativizes every other issue and subordinates it to this one. There are over seven billion problems in the world, but none is more pressing than how we deal with the truth that wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
God’s Greatest Solution
As a pastor, I have the blessing of sitting down and talking with many people about their relationship with God. If they are Christians, I’m often privileged to hear them retell how God brought the gospel to them. I’m deeply affected by how a believer’s eyes tell the story along with his or her words. Often, as people talk about the Jesus’s kind and patient mercy, their eyes well up with tears. Those tears mark moments of clarity — for the one speaking and me. They remind us of the ultimate priorities in life.
“When you deserve hell, anything else is a cause for celebration.”
The truth is, we deserve hell and we got mercy! Instead of suffering the eternal weight of divine wrath, Jesus, God’s Son, stood in our place. He drank the cup of condemnation so that we could drink the cup of blessing. God took care of our greatest problem imaginable. Certainly, you can see how this would inform our understanding of contentment. When you deserve hell, anything else is a cause for celebration!
Do you remember when you were first converted to Christ? Mercy and love flowed down from heaven through the words of the gospel. You were forgiven and accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). God had taken care of your most pressing problem, and he had taken care of it powerfully and permanently.
A New Perspective
If you are having a hard time being content, make a list of everything you have that you don’t deserve, and then make a list of everything you deserve that you don’t have. This puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? When we are chasing contentment in Christ, we spy mercy in every condition and have our hearts covered with thanksgiving.
Initially unsettling and frankly a bit off-putting, a robust doctrine of sin is an essential ingredient for our contentment.