“Mirror, mirror on the wall…”

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” ~ John Newton

I’ve always appreciated this quote from John Newton. As with his most popular, and cherished, hymn Amazing Grace, it reveals a great depth of self-awareness. Newton sees the reality of his condition, his history, and the real presence of his hope. He received the gracious gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10).

Newton did not hide the horror of his past, he did not sugarcoat it, or overlook it. Everything was stripped away and laid bare, and in this revelation he saw himself for who and what he really was: a sinner saved by grace (Ro. 3:21-26).

In the Torah portion of Nasso (lift up), the instructions regarding the Nazarite are given (Numb. 6:1-21). An individual, man or woman, would approach the Lord in order to enter a voluntary period of abstention and consecration unto the Lord. It was a process by which the Nazarite would be raised up by a voluntary stripping away.

At its heart it was to be a remedy to self-centeredness, even Paul and other Jewish disciples of Messiah engaged in this (Acts 21:26), as you shaved your head, then let your hair grow, separating yourself from mourning, refraining from activities and attitudes that would make one “unclean.” Why?

Stripping away the excess, the distractions, and even the prideful notions of ourselves, perhaps we can see ourselves as people see us, not the good that we might desire, but those traits that are otherwise undesirable, and ungodly. So often the external signs of success, position, and even popularity bribe the ego to believe that it is something that it is not: good.

Paul reminds us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Ro. 12:3). This after his exhortation to be a living sacrifice (Ro. 12:1), and to not be conformed to a worldly standard, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind according to the will of God (Ro. 12:2).

I’m not sure John Newton had the Nazarite in mind as he penned the above quote, but he certainly speaks to the heart of the Nazarite vow, and therein we see the Gospel typified in this archaic practice. To see ourselves as we truly are, and to receive the gracious gift of God through Messiah, requires humbling by the Spirit of God.

In Numbers 6:13 the Lord commands, “Then this is the Torah/Law of the Nazarite when his days of separation are complete. He must be brought to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” Rashi translates יָבִיא אֹתוֹ, אֶל-פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, “he shall bring himself (it) to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” As Rashi explains, this is one of three instances when the rabbinic sage Rabbi Ishmael interprets the direct object marker (את) in this manner. This translation speaks to the heart of the message of the Nazarite.

If, as it says in Numbers 6:13, through this voluntary time of consecration, separation, and abstaining, the Nazarite is able to see himself as he really is, apart from the external validations of worldliness, perhaps then he will fully receive the grace that God had already given, grace that will overcome, by faith in Him, those now revealed undesirable character flaws.

The Nazarite was not to become a type of self-imposed asceticism. This is tempting: “In order to be holy, and to not hurt others, I will put myself away.” There are seasons of deep reflection, when we “consider our ways,” but the Lord put limits on such seasons. There was an end to the Nazarite vow, and with a new understanding of who he was, he was to bring himself before the Lord, with the language of offering, in much the same fashion envisioned by Paul in Romans 12:1-3).

Equally tempting is “nazarite-ing” yourself, another stream of self-imposed asceticism, because of how you view others. You view yourself as too holy to be profaned by the waywardness of others in covenant community.

When we are able to see ourselves, our natural character inclinations and imperfections, and how they impact others, we can rest fully on the grace of God, and the foundation of forgiveness found in Messiah Yeshua, as the Holy Spirit continues the confirmation of the new man to the image of the Son of God, Yeshua/Jesus (Ro. 8:28-29); and undergo this process in the flow of human life.

The Nazarite was no more holy for having undertaken the vow, than he was had he abstained from it; but in reflection, perhaps he was more attentive to where, how, and how deeply the grace of God was applied to his life.

Newton was brought before the Lord by the sovereign grace of God in Messiah, and in the rapture of His grace he was able to rest on what that saving grace had done in his life: “but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

With all the mirrors in the world, it is hard to see who we really are; but in faith, as we look into the Gospel mirror, I pray we learn to see the fullness of Yeshua, Who is bringing us before the Throne, in Himself. This realized, we recognize the grace of God at work in others, and sometimes, even how He has used us to deliver that grace to them.

Be well. Shalom.