Leaving old habits behind
It’s strange how simple events can remind you of particular people.
Putting the demerara sugar on my porridge this morning reminded me of Peggy. This was because – for some strange reason I won’t go into – I was using sachets, sugar sticks, (legally) acquired from Left Bank. This took me straight back all those years ago to visiting Peggy, a church member. For on serving her guests tea or coffee she presented in her sugar bowl a wonderful collection of assorted sugar sachets, almost a collector’s item. Whenever served tea or coffee in a café or restaurant, Peggy would slip into her handbag the sugar she would have used had she taken sugar. I guess the logic was that having paid for the whole package, she was entitled to take home the sugar she didn’t use. (Looking back, I am relieved she took milk.) However, what was really odd was that her husband was the chairman of a main stream UK company, a household name. No doubt some of the sugar sachets were from British Airways club class! She was saving a few pence each week while they could have bought the whole refinery for cash. Some habits die hard. I assume her background was from a frugal family strapped for cash and very careful with their money. But now that her circumstances had hugely changed, she still behaved in terms of her former life. Like so many Christians. We have surrendered to Christ crucified and in the words of the apostle Paul, we are now co-heirs with him (Romans 8:17). Or as the Message translation puts it “We know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!”
Remarkable - and yet so often how we live as his disciples betrays the insecurities of our former life. We worry, we plot, we envy, we manipulate.
I think it was Colin Urquhart who helped me most in this area, to see myself, the person I am, as being in Christ. “God sees you ‘in Christ’ and he wants you to see yourself ‘in Christ.’” (Listen and Live, page 60) So in Galatians, for example, we read “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (3:26). Being in Christ – a favourite phrase for the apostle Paul - makes all the difference for anyone who has placed their trust in the faithfulness of the risen Christ. That is now who I am, a child of God, and a member of his covenant people, my defining characteristic. As such we decide to see ourselves in Christ, in him who upholds the universe by the word of his power, (Hebrews 1:3). What is his is now mine; he freely shares his life with us, his people. We can find this so difficult, that we no longer have to live in the old way. It is not that Peggy was doing anything wrong – she would have been horrified had you suggested that the sugar was in any way inappropriately obtained. It is just that such penny-pinching is now simply unnecessary; given her situation, it appears eccentric. Similarly no longer do we need to abuse, boast or contrive. It’s not just that these are wrong. It is simply that they are unnecessary for anyone in Christ. All this means a whole new way of thinking. But the good news is that we enjoy the help of the Holy Spirit – that’s part of being in Christ. For this is how the apostle Paul operated. He aimed to encourage those early Christians to see themselves from God's perspective, to understand that now that they were in Christ their very identity had radically changed. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17). And once we learn to think aright, the rest follows.