‘Broken Down House’ a powerful reminder of what’s wrong with me and my world

Communications Staff — September 30, 2009

I frequently suffer from amnesia.

Sometimes I forget who I am. This happened on one Sunday a few months ago as my family and I made our way home from a church pastored by a close friend. I had supplied the pulpit that day in his absence and I decided to get feedback from my wife on the sermon. She very gently suggested that my sermon had been too lengthy and that in places it had sounded a bit like a lecture.

I not so gently suggested – in front of our children – that her analysis was completely wrong-headed and even foolish. But who was the fool? It was me. Amnesia had struck again – not amnesia of the biochemical variety, but a more deadly form that is spiritual in nature. That day, I utterly forgot that I was a deeply-flawed man, desperately in need of God’s grace and that He had supplied it through the gentle, honest and helpful words of my wife. But, by my sinful anger, I had despised and rejected such grace as needless. I had overestimated my own abilities and had forgotten that I am deeply fallen and in need of divine succor.

At other times, I forget where I live. This happens frequently in my interpersonal relationships when I quickly take offense at the behavior of those around me. Sometimes I get angry that they don’t seem to appreciate me and I often dwell on the fact that they seem to sin without even noticing it. And I really don’t like it when they challenge my personal kingdoms and my sovereign rule over them.

But when I react this way, my amnesia has made me forget that I live in a post-Genesis 3 world that is fallen, a world in which, as Scripture makes clear, relationships will be fraught with difficulty until Jesus returns and restores them. The reality of the fall tells me not to expect perfection from those around me; instead it tells me that I must give them significant grace. It tells me that I will not be perfect and that those around me will have need to be patient with me as well. After all, has God not demonstrated His patience toward sinners through Christ?

In his new book “Broken Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad,”  (Shepherd Press) Paul David Tripp has diagnosed my frustrating malady like a master physician. Like many in an academic environment, I read lots of books, but relatively few of them have a significant impact on my daily life. Tripp’s new book fits in that “relatively few” category.

The impact of “Broken Down House” lies not so much in its profundity as in its simplicity: it is a reminder that I live in a world that has been broken by sin and death and that I, as a Christian, am in desperate need of fresh stores of God’s grace daily. Better yet, it reminds me that I find the cure for my amnesia in the Gospel and in God’s inspired, inerrant Word.

The Bible is a book for messed up people who inhabit a messed up world, Tripp memorably writes:

“When we characterize the Bible as a book about spirituality, we do it and ourselves a disservice. The Bible is not a higher-plane tome about some mystical life of spiritual devotion. It does not teach blissful separation from the brokenness of everyday life. No, the Bible is a book about this world. … The Bible accurately diagnoses the human condition page after page.”

Tripp asserts that most of us suffer from at least two types of amnesia: location amnesia and identity amnesia.

The illness of location amnesia strikes when we “Lose sight of the fact that this is a broken-down house where nothing works quite right.” The result? It sets us up for all kinds of trouble. For example, this form of amnesia brings destruction to our marriages when it causes us to forget that we are in a one-flesh relationship with a fellow sinner. It causes us to bring unrealistic – even perfectionistic – expectations into our marital relationships and can turn holy wedlock into holy headlock. Location amnesia leads to frustration in all our relationships.

Identity amnesia manifests itself when we forget that we are sinners who are saved by the righteousness of Christ and are being transformed daily into a new creation. This form typically breaks out when we underestimate both our sinfulness and our need for God’s grace. The symptoms of this form of amnesia appear when we begin to blame our problems on external factors and seek to find the solution within ourselves. Location amnesia causes us to forget that the Christian life is a perennial internal war between the flesh and the Spirit, a war that requires its soldiers to employ, not stronger weapons, but humility and lowliness of spirit.

Tripp writes, “There will be a war in your heart between what the Bible has to say about you and what you would like to think is true about you. … No matter what I face in this fallen world, my greatest problem exists inside of me and not outside of me. Sure, I want to think that it is my spouse, my children, my neighbors, my extended family, my history, my church, my job, my friends, my boss, my community, my finances, the government, the traffic, the Internet, society in general. … But the Bible tells me something very different. Even though my environment is broken by sin, my biggest problem is moral. There is something wrong inside of me, and in one way or another it influences everything I desire, think, choose, say and do.”

The cure for these forms of amnesia, Tripp reminds readers, is a daily rehearsal of the comforting reality of God’s sovereignty and a daily self-proclamation of the Gospel. This means of grace will lead us to be “good and angry” at both the internal sin that wages war with our hearts and the external sin that is destroying lives around us. It will lead us to love others in a way that paints a beatific picture of Calvary. It will enable us to reject passivity and to pursue redemptive relationships within the body of Christ. All of these pursuits will inoculate us from the paralyzing diseases of location and identity amnesia, Tripp argues.

Additionally, worship of God will wean us from pursuing the worthless treasures of this world and will animate us to lay up wealth in heaven.

“The worship of God doesn’t come naturally to sinners like you and me,” Tripp writes. “The eyes of our hearts are easily seduced by the touch-and-taste, sight-and-sound pleasures of creation. It doesn’t take us long to imagine that perhaps life really can be found apart from Christ. … We have to be good soldiers. We have to be committed to fighting for our hearts. … We need to be like overflowing glasses of worship, making it impossible to be near us without getting wet! We need to find joy in fighting the fight. We need to understand that celebration is war.”

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