Throughout my years in the reformed church (really beginning at a campus ministry in college and followed by involvement in three different church communities), I have noticed something among my fellow believers I first thought to be natural and am now finding more and more peculiar.
While in college, I observed that whenever folks, myself included, would gather for a Bible study or teaching, we would later evaluate the strength of message or the capacity of the teacher based on the depth of our responsive conviction. To become convinced of your need for Christ and his work, it is utterly essential to intimately understand your own heart, its destructive tendencies, and the grand schism between your will and God's will. I believe this. I believe that to have Jesus's light shine, one needs to be cognizant of the darkness.
The way this plays out in my experience in the Christian culture is very distinct. I can think of no better example of this sentiment than the conferences I would attend with my ministry and hear chatter about who the pastor was and how bad he would "bring it," if his teaching would drop you to a knee. The more the audience felt convicted the better -- which might have been that this conviction would eventually bear fruit. People loved the most confrontational passages for the experience of interpreting just how widespread and deep their sin was. I actually remember the day that the campus minister taught on the commandment condemning adultery -- attendance was almost twice the norm (think 800 instead of the usual 400, so quite big).
What I began to do, though, was muddle in that sin, dwell on it -- week in and week out, I would find myself and others attending these studies ultimately to concentrate on my life's double standards, the foundational posture of my heart, the cynicism with which I lived. I began to find the bosom-beating the most important part of my faith, craving more and more enlightenment of my depravity with less and less beauty in my forgiven estate. I wasn't an image-bearer and a restored creature, I was a vessel of sin. I desired not Christ or the life everlasting but reduced to this sort of reformed masochism.
To understand the lowly estate of your sin is vital to your growth
as a believer, but to believe your life will bear real fruit from just that
posture does not recognize that true power of the Lord. "All of you
who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." In this passage, Galatians 3.26, Paul calls us not to only bow prostrated,
but gleam, clothed in Christ.