It feels like I can’t find my sustenance. Deadlines are whizzing by, and even when I meet them the tension never eases. There is no celebration at the end of the finish line—just more Greek, more research, more writing.
As the semester winds down, I’m expected to reflect: “What did God teach me in my first year at seminary?”
If there’s anything I’ve learned in one year of seminary, it’s this: I am insufficient.
I make a really bad god. I’ve learned that I don’t have the time to be omnipresent, and I don’t have enough horsepower to be omnipotent. I’ve learned that community is hard, and it’s especially hard when you live among the kinds who are good at knowing others’ weaknesses. I have caught myself trying to put on a perfect face because it’s what I am supposed to do. If we are being really honest with one another, I often still feel like I’m a walking disappointment.
I’m convinced that many of us are often lured into the same lie I am—the lie that we are supposed to be able all on our own. I’m equally convinced that God doesn’t function according to man’s idea of spiritual physics. I think that God actually wants us to press into our weaknesses instead of stepping away from them. I’m not surrendering ground to those who let sin abound so that grace might abound all the more. By no means! Scripture discusses the necessity of Christian obedience all over the place.
No, I’m simply telling you that I’m convinced God really meant it when He told us that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I’m convinced that when God designed salvation so that no man might boast (Eph. 2:8-9), He meant no man could boast unless they were boasting in the work of Christ Jesus, the God-man.
I’m also convinced that this leads us to a glorious and liberating truth about the gospel: In our victory, we can embrace insufficiency.
Since the Fall, a war has been waging for our affections. From Rome to Roe v. Wade, we have been quick to sacrifice anything at our disposal to please our idols (the ones that, ironically enough, look a lot like us). When Christ died on the cross, he demarcated you as his. You were moved, in that instant, from a place of insecurity to a place eternally secured for you.
With his blood, he paid in full the ransom that was due. But you don’t just belong to him; you are united with him (Eph. 5:32, Rom. 6:8). What Christ has done, you have done. His righteousness has become your righteousness. The Father looks upon you and sees the glistening crown of King Jesus. You are Christ’s coheir, and no power of sin can overtake your blood-bought status before God. Jesus’s death and resurrection actually accomplished something by purchasing his people and uniting them with him.
Christ was victorious.
In Christ, you are worth more than the sum of your shortcomings. You are counted as the King’s. Christ’s victory, and thus our victory, frees us from feeling ashamed of our insufficiencies and allows us to embrace them instead. It’s the serpent’s kryptonite.
I’ve long been telling people that since Christ removed its fangs, my depression has become a kind of companion—a reminder that I’m not God. And while it’s easy to fall off the tightrope running between emotional licentiousness and stoicism, my depression has humbled me enough times that I’m convinced God has given it to me for a reason, and I need to embrace that truth.
I don’t have to fight for victory; I get to fight from victory. This is a game-changer. Embracing your insufficiency helps kill pride, forcing you to depend on Christ in your weakness. Embracing your insufficiency helps you embrace the gospel.
Every week, I look forward to dinner with my friends Jason and Abi. After a particularly long week of feeling stretched from every side, I wanted to give up. I was so overwhelmed that I was talking about giving all the things I’m doing up entirely—school, writing, and so on. Abi interjected to ask me if I was trying outrun my depression instead of bringing it to Christ, and it was the first time I could recall feeling truly and deeply known in months. I hadn’t even considered I was running, but she was right: I had been running, and I needed to repent. Our insufficiencies are oftentimes blind spots, and when they aren’t, it’s because we are hiding them from others.
Allowing yourself to be known to a community of other gospel believers is a surefire way to find where you are insufficient and to learn to embrace those insufficiencies rightly. Insufficiency is part of the church’s DNA. It is in our creeds and catechisms, our songs and liturgies, our sermons and small groups: Christ is all. We can harbor our insufficiencies in the church by reveling in the gospel—playing in it, living in it, and wrestling through it. And most importantly, we can boast in our insufficiency so that Christ’s strength might be made known, perfected in our weakness to God’s greater glory.
Embracing insufficiency hurts. I’ve spent the last four months coming to terms with it. I’ve had to relentlessly preach the gospel to myself. I have to constantly be on the prowl for my pride (and trust me, he doesn’t go down without a fight). I’ve learned to say no because I’ll overcommit or overextend myself. I’ve learned that I still try convincing myself that my hard work will pay off, will be enough for my well-being. And through it all, I’m learning that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, is sufficient for every need.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.