How many children’s books exist that tell the story of a sad (or hungry) caterpillar who is one day transformed into a beautiful butterfly, ready to grace the world with his lovely and happy state? I have yet to read a story about a butterfly who doesn’t believe he’s a butterfly. Why isn’t there a story about a butterfly who, though transformed, looks at himself in the mirror and only sees a fat, green little caterpillar? Maybe that just sounds too depressing. Too unrealistic. People don’t look at their beauty and see only ugliness…oh wait. Forget “Crawford the Caterpillar,” this is the story of my life.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). I guess that’s what conjured up the butterfly image for me – all the posters and cards I had as a kid always pasted that verse on top of a colorful (sometimes psychedelic) butterfly. This was always used as a super encouraging verse to boost your Christian walk. And it should be encouraging. The truth in this verse should be a comfort and a joy. But to be perfectly honest with you, it’s often more confusing and frustrating for me than anything else.
I feel that the deeper into my Christian walk I get, the more oppressed I am by my sin. Shouldn’t I be freer? Haven’t the chains been cast off? Why do I feel as though I am still writhing in the grubby, green body of a caterpillar? Where are my wings, that I might leave this sin behind me? I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated these words to myself: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The problem is that this spiritual reality appears discordant with the physical reality. United with Christ in His resurrection… Slaves to the one we obey…Freed from sin. These words seem like foreign concepts. I cannot comprehend the full, wonderful meaning in them.
Last week, I was reading the story of a man who expressed a struggle so similar sounding to my own, his words seemed to echo the cry of my own soul. Hudson Taylor wrote to his sister:
I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God… Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.
I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but the pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power.
Then came the question, is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end – constant conflict, and too often defeat?...Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting low. I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God. His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, "Abba, Father." But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.
Taylor’s ultimate peace, the truth he was able to understand after many years as a Christian that put this struggle to rest was this:
But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One…"If we believe not, he abideth faithful." "Ah, there is rest!", I thought. "I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me- never to leave me, never to fail me?"
I am no better than before. In a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be. But I am dead and buried with Christ – ay, and risen too! And now Christ lives in me, and "the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." I now believe I am dead to sin. God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so. He knows best. All my past experience may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not now, when He says it is. I feel and know that old things have passed away. I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning.
I think perhaps my problem is that I let myself strive to be, and despair when I am not, sinless. I mistakenly believe that is what God promises when he says “dead to sin.” I so feebly understand that I have been freed from the power of sin and given Christ. This does not mean I have no sin; rather, I have been drenched in an everlasting love – a love which encompasses me and dwells within me. What despair is there to be in union with a Savior like the Christ? As Hudson wrote, “The only power of deliverance from sin or true service is Christ.”
As I write this, I think I have discovered the fault of my butterfly analogy. You can’t expect the butterfly to see a butterfly’s body in the mirror because there really isn’t one. It’s not a physical, outward, apparent transformation. The butterfly has to read the book that says, “You’re a butterfly, so act like one! Even though you look like a nasty grub…” And he crawls around, leaving a perfectly disgusting trail of slime behind him, telling people quietly, “I’m a butterfly.”
My pastor said on Sunday that the guilt you feel beyond the conviction of the Holy Spirit is your own way of suffering for your sin – of saying that what Christ did is not enough. We must, by the grace of God, realize that there is nothing in us that can keep the Father from loving us fully and everlastingly. And there is no outward appearance that can ultimately change the spiritual reality that we have been united with Christ. Entwined for all eternity, He is ours and we are His. We must take our eyes off our wretchedness and fix them on Christ – faithfulness for the adulterous, fountain for the parched, and rest for the weary. His blood covers our sin; His robes cover our “righteousness.”
My friends, I do not see it, and I do not understand it, but the truth has been written for me that I might believe it. I am a butterfly.