“The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.” – Isaiah 44:13
An apprentice never starts off with what he needs to ply his trade. He likely has few, if any, tools. His usable knowledge is almost certainly pitiful. His hands lack the discipline to be steady. His muscles are not used to the rigors of his new task. He often second guesses his actions after or even while he is making them. Success is in no way in his those fumbling hands. He is doing well if he simply manages not to break something.
In short, everything depends on his Master.
My Master made me with his line, pencil, plane, and compass. He has shaped me into the man I am and I am beautiful. These are hard words for a man like me to believe. Mine are hands that fumble. Mine is a mind that errs. Mine is a heart that craves all that is wicked; even when I seek virtue. Yet they are true. So am I really beautiful? I am not actually a sick and dying tree? Or worse, a dead sapling destined for the fire? Yes and Yes. I am both.
I am both sinner and saint. Martin Luther called this Simul Justus et Peccator meaning at once justified and a sinner. At its core this phrase seems a paradox, yet in actuality it communicates some of the deepest truths we can comprehend this side of the veil.
The first truth is simple, I am a sinner. We all are. This fact under-girds all our lives. We fall short in every way. We are worthless and we are miserable. A pity so few believe it. I didn’t when I was young. I was raised with strong morals and ethics. I was taught to do the right thing; to live your life in such a way to where every morning you can look at the man shaving in the mirror and like the man looking back at you. The problem is, no matter how hard I tried and how well I followed my moral compass I didn’t like who I saw. For years I tried not to look into the eyes of the man looking back at me in that mirror. You only need to look at your chin to shave afterall… When I would muster the courage to gaze into those eyes every few months I would realize a couple of things. One, it had been so long since I had last looked, the eyes looked alien to me. Second, I would be absolutely certain it was not only me, it was the real me. The me my moral self wished I wasn’t. The sinner.
Before I faced the me in the mirror I thought my ethics and my desire to be a responsible moral person made me a good person. I was horribly wrong and I thank my God that he pulled me out of this lie. It is his mercy that softened my heart of stone. His mercy made me realize that pulling myself up by my own bootstraps is possible when making the determination to never give up but it is absolutely impossible when attempting to stand up in the presence of an angry and just God. His mercy pulled me out of this lie and into the truth of the Son. This leads me to the second truth. I am justified.
Too bad I didn’t believe it at first.
Oh sure, I believed I was saved. I believed Jesus had died for me. I believed Jesus had risen from the dead for me. I believed I was a Christian and I was right. I just thought I had to stop being the sinner me. I had to be the Christian of whom Jesus would be proud. I had to cut out the sinful influences, I had to purify myself! Music, literature, visual media, activities, it all had to be given to the Lord for my sanctification, and give it I did… until I couldn’t anymore. I still remember the pain I expressed through tears to the people in my Sunday school class. I told them the fruit of the spirit wasn’t present in me. I felt I had some inkling of God’s goodness, love, and kindness yet I wept for I didn’t know joy and I had no peace. Thinking back, I didn’t know patience either and I think deep down I was questioning his faithfulness. My classmates and teacher had no answers. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had become a slave again.
In Romans 6, Paul speaks about how we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves of righteousness. While Christ had made me a slave of righteousness I believed I had to live up to this gift. I believed my own actions would make me a better person, a person of whom Christ could be proud. So I unwittingly slapped back on the manacles of my iniquity. The manacles forged in the idea that what I do made me worthy of anything in the eyes of my God. I sought my justification in my “walk” with the Lord and instead I found I was just turning the millstone that was grinding my soul to dust. This is because I missed the simple truth that Paul outlines so clearly in Romans. Sin has no dominion over us because we are not under law, but under grace.
For years I toiled “for the Lord” in the chains I had slapped on my own wrists. Yet all my toil was really for myself. I tumbled into a roiling anger directed at my Master until I struck bottom in a morass of my own self-pity and despair. For 5 years I stayed there, shoving my Master away in all my anger; all the while I would stutter his name in hushed weeping where I begged to be close to Him again.
I have written all of this to reach the most important point. I thought, “I was a sinner but Christ justified me.” I regret I did not understand the actual truth. I am a sinner and Christ justifies me. I don’t think grammar has ever mattered so much. This is how I am simul justus et peccator! I do not bring anything to the table of justification nor of sanctification. Jesus doesn’t save me and leave me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. He saves me and he continually makes me into what I was truly meant to be all along.
I was meant for so much more than to be a dead and rotting tree. With His line, pencil, and compass He laid out His plans for me, but with His plane He continually shapes my figure, He smooths my roughness, and He joins me together in such a way as you can barely see the seams. He will do this so long as I live and until he returns. This is why I am beautiful. His work makes me beautiful. Jesus Christ does it all and I am justified, in spite of the fact I am a sinner. This truth is the Gospel. This is His grace. I am a slave in the house of the Lord for He made me to dwell in His house and He built the house in which I am meant to live with Him.
He is my Carpenter.