I was first encouraged to pick this book up shortly after its publication in 1988. It utterly dismantled me, forcing me to confront the reality that my sin problem was vastly more pervasive than I'd previously understood. Of course, as a fairly orthodox young Christian man I had come to accept that I was imperfect and in need of grace, but for the first time I was compelled to face how insidiously selfish my motives could be.
Crabb's book laid bare my man-centered notions of "goodness", exposing how even in my "spiritual" moments my self-serving, self-protective thoughts and intentions lurk beneath the facade.
This comprehension is crucial to turning the corner from knowing about grace, to reliance on grace. It's only when I clearly recognize the "dirty rags" that actually comprise my own righteousness that I can start the journey from self- to God-centeredness in earnest.
The truth is, for as much as I speak as a Christian, at a certain level I continue to believe and behave like an atheist. I paint my earthly treasure with a heavenly gild, so as to convince myself that I have actually abandoned self for God. Yet, it takes surprisingly little to expose me as a fraud ... simply threaten to tear away some part of my carefully constructed little world and panic will begin to set in.
Crabb paints this realization as necessary to true freedom in Christ:
"The illusion that life in a fallen world is really not too bad must be shattered. When even the best parts of life are exposed as pathetic counterfeits of how things should be, the reality drives us to a level of distress that threatens to utterly undo us. But it’s when we’re on the brink of personal collapse that we’re best able to shift the direction of our soul from self-protection to trusting love. The more deeply we enter into the reality that life without God is sheer desolation, the more fully we can turn toward Him...The fact is, I'm a dying man living as a stranger in a temporary world. I clean up nicely, however, and have mastered my public persona. I have achieved a modicum of "victorious Christian living", which qualifies me to be ... a well-dressed dying man living as a stranger in a temporary world.
"The richest love grows in the soil of an unbearable disappointment with life. When we realize life can’t give us what we want, we can better give up our foolish demand that it do so and get on with the noble task of loving as we should. We will no longer need to demand protection from further disappointment. The deepest change will occur in the life of a bold realist who clings to God with a passion only his realistic appraisal of life can generate."
Freedom begins with the fundamental understanding that God's grace is not a crutch--it's a stretcher.