How many times did you walk past someone who needed what you had in your wallet today? How many times were you even aware they needed it?
How many cigarettes did you smoke today? Did you eat too much? As you ate, did you even bother thinking about the person who has nothing to eat?
Did you curse today, even in your mind so no one could hear? Did you get angry at the driver in front of you who should have known you were in a hurry and didn’t have time to pussyfoot around waiting for him because he was obeying traffic laws?
Did you say something that you now regret? Did you rush to the checkout line after you saw that other woman who seemed like she was going to arrive in line at the same time, and then you would have HAD to let her go first, because that’s what “Christians” do?
Did you steal from your employer today? Was every minute you were paid for a minute of work, or were there moments, even minutes where you daydreamed, or talked with a colleague about things decidedly not work-related? Are you visiting this blog right now while you are supposed to be at work?
I had a nice chat the other day with a new friend at the jobsite. He is someone who recently came to believe in Jesus. Since that time, he claims there is much joy in his life. But as I listened to him, I became aware that there couldn’t be much joy, because he was so damned concerned all of the time about the things he was doing wrong. Things like having quit smoking, but still chewing the nicotine gum as if it were a crutch. Or things like not being able to feel compassion for other people.
So, I talked, and he listened, after hehad talked, and I had listened. I cannot recall the last time I talked so long. I wish I could have said what I said in fewer words.
“T, the “church” is famous for preaching two gospels…the first is the gospel of grace, and the second is the gospel of works sanctification. The two mix in the church, and outside of it, for whatever reason, leaving us feeling unworthy, and unaccomplished. I can hear by what you are saying that you are still trying to fix yourself, which is no different a condition than before you believed.”
I could see T’s face as I said this, his eyes widening, his jaw dropping ever so slightly.
“T, if the gospel of grace is true, then the gospel of works sanctification is false, the two cannot exist together. It is either grace, or it is works, there is no mixing of the two. If God’s grace arrived upon you, then you are free from worrying about sin. Do you remember when you first believed, what happened?”
T answered almost immediately, “Yeah! There were some things in my life that disappeared altogether, almost immediately. Things which I never cared to control or change, because I didn’t believe they were wrong, I didn’t believe really even in God.”
Exactly what I thought I would hear, it has been true of every person I have met who came to believe as an adult, that there are things that change immediately without their effort.
“T, if those things changed without your effort, what makes you think that now it is up to you to change the rest?”
T answered, “But the bible says if we remain in sin (I think he was trying to quote Hebrews) that we are crucifying Jesus all over again, and there is no sacrifice left for us.”
I paused for a moment, watching T. Then I said, “You have to read the entire letter the author of Hebrews wrote to get to that verse, and yet we tend to quote just that one verse. I can see how that verse would frighten you if you hadn’t remembered the rest of the letter.”
“What do you mean, Tom?” T asked.
“The writer of that letter spent nearly every word up to that point building Jesus up as worthy, as being the one sent from God, as being God, worthy to be the sacrifice. That’s why it makes sense when he says the problem is in considering the blood of Jesus as being unworthy, or unclean. The problem isn’t action or sin. Remember, this letter was written to believing Jews who were being persecuted by Jews, the very Jews who considered Jesus’ blood as unclean.”
I could see a look of understanding cross T’s face, and I continued. “T, if God can give you the greater thing, which is redemption and life, can He also not give you freedom from sin? “
T thought about this for a moment, and replied, “Yeah, but…then that means I might go ahead and sin, and do whatever I want!”
To which I said, “Yes, you might, and many do, heck, in some ways, we all do. But that’s not the point. Change isn’t going to happen by you focusing on what’s wrong. Change isn’t going to come just because you keep trying harder. About all that is really going to happen is you will begin to lose the joy you say you have, and depression will set in, because you can’t ever seem to get over the hill. Change comes in us when we realize that we are already changed. For each of us, this has been true in the past, we have all experienced it, you said you did yourself. But there things in our lives that for whatever reasons, we haven’t believed have been changed, again, it’s true for all of us.”
“Yeah but…I don’t feel compassion for others, and we are commanded to love one another.” T retorted. Honestly, witnessing a friend defend their “wrongness” is not a pretty sight.
So I said the only thing I could think of at the moment.” T, the grace we give is the grace we have received. The love we give is the love we have received. Trying to feel compassion for another before you feel God’s compassion on you, or feel it to the point where people are no longer a threat to you is going about things ass-backwards. You can’t get there from here, and the harder you try, the less you will give. But if you come to an understanding of the love and compassion God has for you, I think it will be impossible for you not to feel compassion for others. Do you see the difference?”
“Not really. I mean, don’t I have to try?”
“T, try until you give up.”
T looked at me with a smile on his face, as if he thought I was joking, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, keep trying until you get sick of trying. Beat yourself up with it. Go to bed every night apologizing to God for being worthless, and cry yourself to sleep because you just can’t seem to get there. You want to, but all your efforts cause you to feel like nothing you do is good enough. Keep trying until you give up.”
T had this sudden look of understanding that I will never forget. “I think I get it! I can’t “get there” until I already believe I AM there. Is that right?”
“Something like that, but “trying” to believe isn’t going to help either. I guess the best way to put it is, remember what and how you were when God gave you faith. You understand already that your faith is not your own, it was given to you. Meet God back in that place, when He first made the gospel sound like it made sense for you. Meet Him there, get over yourself, meet Him as the beggar you are. You know God loves beggars, my God, look how many times we read about the beggars Jesus healed. Isn’t it obvious? God loves to give to beggars. Be a beggar. Ask Him for what you know you cannot do. I think, over time, you will come to realize that you already have it, even as you asked for it. Our problem is, we try to measure everything, and when we do, we place ourselves as our own judge. But God sees you as perfect through Christ…tell me…whose judgment is true? Yours or His?”
“His, of course!!”
“You say that like you mean it, T” I said with a hint of teasing.
“I do mean it, Tom.”
“Then acting like you do won’t take any time at all. I’d say the starting point is for us to stop measuring our success or failure, and just start living. I think measuring induces blindness. We become so concerned with our own little measurements that we fail to see any longer the grace by which we are truly measured. You just said it yourself, God’s judgment is the true one. So what business do you have judging yourself, and worrying about it on top of that?”
T didn’t give me an answer to that question. All he said was, “Thank you, Tom!! I never realized that. I always thought I had to try real hard to become a good Christian. I didn’t know.”
“And not knowing is why you aren’t guilty, T.” I smiled.
That entire first section of this post? We do those things every day. Some of us do ALL of them every day. Do you think God loves you any less because you do?
I think we act according to what we think we are. If we are sinners, well…sinners sin. But if we are saints, made holy by God, well…what does a saint do? What do you think you are, and do you realize that because of Jesus death and resurrection, it doesn’t matter what you do anymore? Nothing can separate you from the love of God, not even your sins.