Jesus Died Knowing Something About Us We Don’t Like to Think About

Traffic can be terrible. Especially when it’s raining. It’s so easy to get distracted by the rain, by the cars, by the lights, everything. According to the DOT, 17% of vehicle crashes are due to wet pavement and 11% are due to rain. It’s those kind of distractions that can make driving difficult.

In my life, in the traffic jam that my life can be, one of the most distracting things can be the fact that I sin.

I used to hate thinking that I’m a sinner. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t want to be a sinner. But I’ve grown more and more comfortable with it. I’m growing to understand that it’s just a part of who I am, part of my life, a result of the sin nature in me at conception. Like David, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are some days when, everywhere I look, I see sin. Not just in the world, but in me. And it can be really discouraging sometimes. It sucks thinking about it.

But my awesome girlfriend (must give credit where it’s due) told me something this weekend that blew my mind.

Jesus died knowing we would continue to sin. God chose to save us knowing we would continue to disobey Him. We were forgiven of all that sin while our Father in heaven knew we’d never fully be the reflection of Christ we’re called to be.

We’d be foolish to sit here and say we will ever be without sin. I doubt that 1 John 1:8 ever becomes false – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I dare you name someone on earth who ever been without sin other than Jesus. To ever think we will go a day on this earth without sinning in someone is a fool’s errand.

Not only did Jesus come to die while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), He continues to love us while we are still sinners. He continues to give grace upon grace upon grace from an abundant overflow.

See, we don’t stop sinning when we accept Jesus. We try to sin less, yes. But we see our sin even greater, as even more of an offense, even more of an attack on God and His commands. It’s rebellion. But we don’t stop. It’s a fact. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

We get our eyes removed from the cross, from Jesus, and when that happens we lose our foundation and then we fall, just like a house built on sand and not on stone. When we quit focusing on Jesus, we uproot the foundation we have on the Rock of Ages and put it on shaky sand. Our lives are filled with continual foundational uproots, trying to find something that will hold us for the moment.

And Jesus loves us through it all. God saves us knowing that will happen.

Being saved doesn’t make us perfect in our obedience. All it does is make us perfect in our standing before God. And that’s HUGE! That means everything. That means I don’t have to be continually regretful of my sinful decisions, of my sinful actions. It means God looks past it, and will continue to look past it. I, and all believers, can rejoice in that.

In the hectic traffic that is life as a Christian, trying to cope with that fact that most of the time we’re terrible at following Jesus, we can hold onto that truth and keep going straight. Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, trusting those wheels to get us to the end.

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Why Try to Not Do Something When You Can Intentionally Dive Into the Love of God?

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post about the “ironic process theory” and how it can apply to how the Church often reacts to issues in the public sphere. An excerpt:

I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

Just about every morning I wake up, there’s temptation to sin at my doorstep. Sin knocks, begging to be let in, telling me that things are better if it is in my life in a personal, real way. And there are some days I listen to it, there are some days it wins.

But this morning as I contemplated this, I realized that there is something 10 million times better for me than sin that’s also knocking, that’s also dying (literally) to be heard. It’s the love of God. And I would do a lot better to listen to it than to the temptation to sin.

God Is With Us. Seriously.

It’s totally cliché now for me to tell you that God is with you every moment of every day if you are a Christian. And it’s cliché for a good reason! There are tons of Scripture that talk about how God is with us. Some examples:

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9a)

Literally, God is with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in our hearts, and He is constantly around us, watching over us. And it’s not just that.

Hebrews 13 says He’ll never leave us. John 14 says He makes a home with us. Isaiah 41, speaking to the children of God, says God will strengthen us and help us and uphold us. 2 Chronicles 16 says God is looking for the opportunity to give us, Christians whose hearts are blameless through the blood of Christ, strong support.

Yet when I sin, I act as if God is not there. Not only am I rejecting that His way is better, I’m rejecting His offering of being there at all times to help me in times of sin.

The times I reject this most are when I’m tired and lazy or I’m depressed. In those moments, I’m looking for what’s going to satisfy me, usually whatever’s easiest. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s sinful fulfillment. Whatever it is, it’s usually not good.

What I forget most is what God offers me in those moments that practically far outweighs the allure of sin.

Love Is Here. Love is Now.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

God is love, 1 John 4:16 says. When you look at God, you see love perfected, love as it should be, love in the proper place in one’s heart, love in the proper context, love acted out properly. And it was through Christ and His life and death and resurrection that we saw the best example of His love, that we could be forgiven of our sin and made in right relationship with Him.

But that wasn’t the end of God’s love. God’s love is still true and still for us today. I love the lyrics to Tenth Avenue North’s “Love Is Here”:

Come to the waters
You who thirst and you’ll thirst no more
Come to the Father
You who work and you’ll work no more
And all you who labor in vain
And to the broken and shamed
Love is here
Love is now
Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow
Love is near, it satisfies
Streams of mercy flowing from His side
‘Cause Love is here

In moments when I’m tempted and I’m depressed, I need to turn to the love of God first! I need to bring to mind the Scriptures that tell me that God is here and God loves me. Remembering, dwelling on and praising Him for that love is what will truly satisfy me far more than any man-made remedy.

It struck me this morning that, because the love of God is always available, I don’t have to wait for it to be ready, I don’t have to go through any hoops to get to understand it and believe it. I simply have to do it! All I need to do is believe it and rest in it, meditate on it, dwell in it, trust it.

That is the key to defeating sin. It’s not purposely avoiding things, which can be helpful, but it’s not the answer. The answer is clinging to something better, purposefully pursuing something else: God’s love. Moment by moment, I need to turn to God’s love for me before I turn to anything else.

Whether that’s looking at a poster that reminds me of God’s love, bringing to mind Scripture that tells me of God’s love, or stopping and praying and thanking God for His love, it’s something I’ve got to grow in, something I’ve got to do.

I Don’t Respond Well to People Disagreeing with Me

One of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother is “The Chain of Screaming,” when Barney Stinson proposes an idea called, you guessed it, “the chain of screaming.” The quality of the video below is not great, but you’ll get an idea of what it is.

The idea is that anytime someone gets frustrated with someone else, it’s based in someone getting frustrated in them. Whether or not it’s a real thing, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s pretty funny. I thought about it while reflecting on a life experience I had yesterday.

I wrote a pretty serious blog post yesterday about how I think the Christian culture is too OK with criticizing people in a very condescending way. An excerpt:

Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showing or implying a usually patronizing descent from dignity or superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.

It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.

Through Facebook comments, however, I got some negative feedback.

When I write posts like the one I did yesterday, something that challenges the status quo of Christian culture, I always tell myself that I don’t care what people think, that negative feedback won’t bother me unless it’s well thought-out and reasonable. But as I gauged my emotional response to everything yesterday, I found something completely different.

I was pissed. How dare someone question my well-reasoned arguments! How dare someone think that I’ve said something that’s not completely right! And how dare they say such a thing on Facebook!

This told me that my “don’t-care” attitude was clearly a show I was putting on for an audience of one, and it wasn’t God. It was me. And this forced me to confront a question I wouldn’t rather confront: is it OK to be upset when people disagree with you?

I think there are a lot of times we can’t help how we feel, we can’t help what emotions cross our mind whenever we initially respond to something. And for me, when I was reading the negative comments, I was frustrated. I started getting angry at the people responding, saying that they didn’t know what they were talking about, that they were stuck in their ways and afraid of something different being said.

Yeah, I was pretty sinfully upset. And that’s where I discovered that my upset-ness had gotten to a sinful point. It had led to me being angry with the people that had disagreed with me. And that’s where it’s not OK. My mind had started making ad hominem-style attacks at the person in question. I was trying to find the sinful parts of the person who had questioned me. When they made comments, they weren’t attacking me directly, but I felt that they were, so I decided to do the same.

As much as I write about trying to be like Christ on this blog, and as much as I talk about it with people, I was doing a terrible job of it. I was letting my emotions guide my thinking down a dangerous road towards bitterness and anger. I wanted to mouth off at the people.

How hypocritical I am! How much I was doing the opposite of what I had just written about in the very blog that had provoked the negative response! I began to fear for my future as a writer. If I’m going to be a writer as part of my career – which is my desire – this response to negative feedback can’t do. This will not be helpful. This could be deadly. If I get upset every time someone disagrees with me, I’ll likely be upset all the time.

It was yet another reminder to me – reminders that seem to come almost daily at this stage of my life – of two things.

First, I don’t have it all figured out. And I never will. A common stigma with Christians is that we think we have it all figured out and that we just tell the world that we do. This is not true! I will never have it all figured out. As much as I would love to have it all nailed down, I will never be wholly wise or completely smart how I want to be. I’ll never be sinless.

I think I’ll probably always struggle with this response. And I’m OK with that. I want to fight against it, and I hope it never happens ever again. But I’m OK with it because…

Second, God’s grace covers every time I get angry. And it’s growing me and sanctifying me. My walk with Christ didn’t end when I got angry at the people who disagreed with me. God still loves me and views me the same. I just became more aware of another area where I fall short of His perfection, which gives me yet another area to be thankful for His grace.

And that grace doesn’t end with my salvation. It ends when I’m perfected at the end of days, when I reach the end of my race and spend eternity with my Savior in heaven, when I will no longer be upset with people who criticize or disagree with me or what I do or what I say or what I write.

Where there will be – thank God – no chain of screaming.

The Christian Culture of Condescending Criticism

Perhaps the most public not-so-subtle criticism of a pastor from someone within the Christian sphere came in February 2011, when evangelical stalwart John Piper tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” with a link to Justin Taylor’s quick reflection on a promotional video for Bell’s then-forthcoming book Love Wins.

At the time, I thought that was the holiest of burns. The most God-glorifying calling-out of a public figure on social media that will ever exist. And from my research, no one has ever questioned Piper on it. An interview in Christianity Today briefly scratched the tweet, instead choosing to focus on the possibility of “theological reconciliation” in light of the Rob Bell controversy. Piper said this:

Francis Schaeffer said our differences in the church are a golden opportunity to show love, and instead of throwing hate bombs over the walls that we’ve got between ourselves, we throw love bombs over. In other words, differences can be an occasion for courtesy, kindness, gentleness, listening, and respect—all of which, the world would then look at and say, “They don’t have theological unity, but they do talk to each other in a certain way.” Now, Paul was pretty hard on certain theological differences and Jesus was really hard on certain differences. And so, there’s a point for “Thus far, no further, farewell.” There are other points where we ought to be cultivating all those courtesies.

For a long time, I thought Piper was awesome for saying this. I thought he was bold, brash, faithful, to the point. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought less and less this way and been more concerned with the approach he took, mostly because I see it as an epidemic in the evangelical community.

Christians are quickly becoming known as people who say “no” and people who hate and people who are against things. This YouTube video is very telling:

We can write these people off as biased and having a particular view and that they’ve missed the point. But one of the key points that was brought up time and time again in that video was the idea that Christians are judgmental and they’re anti-this and anti-that. And I agree! And in no place does it come out more than our tendency as Christians to be condescendingly critical.

Before I explain myself further, I want to explain what I mean so we don’t get caught up in semantics. Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showing or implying a usually patronizing descent from dignity or superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.

It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.

Why Do We Do This?

There are lots of things to criticize. There are lots of things that are wrong with the world. That’s to be expected in a, to use an evangelical term, “post-Genesis 3 world.” When each person living on the earth has at least one thing drastically wrong with them, there are going to be people saying things we disagree with, people saying things that are not in line with Scripture. Therefore, we criticize.

There are also many avenues for criticism, avenues that are easy to use. Just look at social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, the list goes on and on about avenues we can use to criticize people. And it’s very easy to use it without facing any real backlash or in-your-face response. It’s much easier to say something critical about somebody without having to look them in the eye when you say it.

As sinful people, we’re self-righteous. We think we’ve got it all figured out, therefore we have a basis from which to say the things we want to say. We’ve read the Bible enough, we figure, so we’ve got a foundation from which to speak.

And like I said before, there’s little accountability for things like this. If someone like John Piper or Tim Keller says it, their platform is so high that it’s hard to bring a legitimate case against them because those in the evangelical community will generally agree with whatever they say. Of course you’ll have the rare few who disagree, but for the most part there’s a blind acceptance. I’ve definitely carried that attitude before and to a degree still do.

But here’s the problem I have with this: It’s not bad that we criticize, it’s the tone and frequency with which we criticize and the lack of humility that goes along with that criticism.

Tone Is Everything

An oft-reported, but oft-contradicted, statistic is that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal; basically, the majority of what you say is not the words you use. In the 70s, researcher Albert Mehrabian purported that 55 percent of communication is body language and 38 percent is tone of voice, making up the 93 percent. The other seven percent is the actual words.

Many researchers question the validity of this statistic, but my guess is that you’ve run across this practically before. How many arguments have been started because you’ve missed the tone of what was said? I think The Office explored this very perfectly:

You can’t communicate what you really mean very well through any text-based medium. That’s one of the difficulties of writing a blog; you have to be very clear in what you mean so your readers don’t get the wrong tone from what you’re writing. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are very similar. So when tone isn’t clear from what was said, readers have to guess, they have to make a judgment based on what they know about the person, the words used, any capitalizations, italics or bolds, or even emojis.

Often trying to make a point, Christians like myself will post things on social media about a pastor like Rob Bell or a political party or a public figure in a very strongly-worded way. And most of the time, the tone comes across very condescending. We honestly may not intend for it to be that way, but we’re trying to make a point, so we’ll say whatever it takes to make our point.

And most times, it can come from a place of pride and a place of “Look at me, I know better!” There’s the condescending part, where we think we’ve got it all figured out and this person doesn’t, so we criticize in an open forum for people to see, people to “Like,” people to “Comment,” people to “Retweet,” people to “Favorite,” etc. Because it comes from that place, it’s condescending, and it’s not glorifying to God.

A Pharisee’s Lack of Humility

Humility goes out the window when we have this attitude. It’s like we don’t even think about how we’re portraying ourselves and where our hearts are when we post and say these things.

We put ourselves on a moral high ground on which we have no place being. The Gospel gives us no right to place ourselves any higher than the ground on which we currently stand with every other human being. We’re like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 –

(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We come to God, and then come to man, so thankful that we have it all figured out and we forget to examine our own sinfulness and our own misdeeds and share that as well. We’re so scared that someone will find out something that will disqualify us from being heard and believed, so we don’t share our mistakes, we don’t share the times we purposefully ignored God and did our own thing.

This is the basis of condescending criticism. This is the basis for every time we see something or someone we view as lower than ourselves and our own “proper” view, our own “right” perspective and we take time out of our busy lives to say or post something super critical and condescending about that person or their thoughts. And it’s highly anti-Jesus. It goes against everything Jesus stood for.

Jesus knew who He was and that informed how He approached the world and what He said. Jesus is the only one who can rightly condescendingly criticize because He is the only one on the high horse. He is the only one who is able to say about Himself that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).

We have no place from which blatantly condescendingly criticize fellow humans. Jesus does. If we read through the Gospels, we see that Jesus was critical of those whose life goal it was to be critical.

The Right Way to Criticize

So if criticism in and of itself isn’t sinful, what is the right way to be critical? What is the right way to say something about someone or something that’s not correct? I think it has to have two characteristics.

First, it has to come from a place of humility. We can’t be self-congratulatory about our ability to spot falsehoods from a mile away when we talk about these things. We have no right to congratulate ourselves. And while that may not come across in our posting or our words, it can very well be an attitude of the heart. This is particularly difficult in the social media realm. On page 153 of his book The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, Justin Wise aptly writes, “Social media catalyzes the ‘me first’ nature of sin. It accentuates our selfishness and destructive need for ego inflation.”

Criticism can never be about making ourselves look better. That was one part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. His attitude before God was that of “I’m better, he’s not, thank goodness.” We can’t ride that high horse in our attitudes when we criticize.

Second, it must be biblically-based criticism, not founded in Christian cultural or societal norms. Often those two can be one and the same, but how often is it not? How often do we make something a norm in the Christian culture that’s not lined up with Scripture? Look at Mark Driscoll. We criticized his methods when they didn’t line up with “how we do things normally.” That’s the criticism that more prevalently comes from the older generation towards the younger generation, but it’s common. That’s not a biblically-based criticism.

Criticism can never be based on our personal opinions. That was another part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the Luke 18 parable. From his perspective, his vantage point, he saw the way he did things and saw things as correct, and others were wrong. That high horse attitude can’t be had in the church.

I’ll Be Honest With You

This post was initially inspired by other people, but I can look at myself and my past and even my present and point to how I’ve been that person I’m writing about. I was intentional about using the word “we” when describing the people I’m talking about because I’m definitely part of that group.

In fact, I struggled a bit with whether or not I wanted to write this because I know that this post could come across as the very thing I’m criticizing. It could easily come across like I’m condescending. And, if I honestly examine my heart, I admit there’s some of that in my thoughts. There’s some of that thought that I have an insight you guys don’t and I need to share it or else the world will miss it.

I’ve been prideful about my “spiritual insight” and “biblical knowledge” for a long time, and it’s something I need to continue to remind myself that I have no place on that high horse. The Gospel gives me no right because the Gospel applied to me means that I have everything I have because of what Jesus did, not because of what I am or what I’ve learned or what I’ve said.

A couple examples from my Facebook feed:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.31 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.40 AM

So you can tell me that I’m a hypocrite and I’ll gladly nod along. I don’t even know for sure if what I’m saying in this post is proper criticism by my own definition.

All I can say is this: I’ve got to learn to live like Jesus. That will be a battle I fight for the rest of my life, a war I’ll face until I reach the grave. And I can’t help but look at myself and see my condescending attitude and think that has no place in my life, no place in the heart of a Christian.

But I can rejoice knowing that one day I’ll be healed from this attitude, healed from the condescending pride I hold in my heart.

That One Time I Cursed at God for Allowing Me to Sin

I remember one night during my freshman year of college and I was confronted very closely with the sin in my life. It sucked. I was angry and frustrated.

I went to the school’s racquetball courts by myself and began to “practice.” It was really just me pounding the ball as hard as I could against the front wall. In my mind, I was screaming at God. Why? I asked. Why must I deal with this sin in my life? Why can’t I be perfect? Why must I deal with this? Why can’t I just get over this crap? I cursed at God. I did. I was ticked.

I look back on that night as one of the many in college when I was frustrated with God and His ways. College was a rough period for me spiritually. I dealt with a lot of doubt, a lot of fear and a lot of sin. Good gracious. I was a Christian the whole time, but I was overwhelmed spiritually in a lot of ways.

I was flipping through my Bible this morning and found Romans 11:33 underlined. Verse 33, along with 34 and 35:

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

In my journaling Bible, I have a note beside that set of verses: “How could I question God’s plan for my life or others’ lives? God doesn’t let anything happen to me that wasn’t part of the plan. Nothing surprises Him. I can question God, but I’m not near as smart as Him.”

I think it’s natural for humans to question God, natural for man to ask God why in the world certain things happen the way they do. It’s the cry of the non-believer in the face of a tragedy, the cry of a mother when her child dies prematurely, the cry of a wife when her husband is sent to jail for a long time. Why would God let this happen to me?

I ask God that about my sin. “God, why would you allow me to sin? Why would you allow sin in the world?” If you believe that God is in full control of the world, is all-powerful, I think you can’t escape the idea that God allowed sin to be a part of the world. He didn’t have to create a snake. I think God planned everything out from the beginning of the world, including the fall of man. Again, nothing takes Him by surprise.

I come back to these verses in Romans 11 praising the “judgements” and “ways” and “wisdom” of God. And I ask myself, “How in the world is it wise in God’s eyes to allow sin?” Wrong phrasing. It’s not “in the world” that it’s wise in God’s eyes. God’s ways are so unsearchable and unknowable that we have no business trying to understand it all the way. I think we can grow in that understanding as we mature in our faith, but there’s a sense where we won’t get it all.

So how do I deal with the fact that God allows me to sin? If I believe that all things work together for good, even my sin, I’ve got to accept that even the crappiest thing – my sin – is part of God’s plan for my life. I believe it’s ultimately to bring me back to understanding something.

He is the only way I will ever overcome sin or the grips of sin. I will not defeat sin on earth without God doing an incredible work in my life. It’s a miracle every time we defeat sin because we’re overcoming our natural inclinations. It’s also a miracle that we get to escape the eternal grip of sin on our lives and be held by a God who forgives us of that sin.

I think He allowed sin to be in my life to show me I’m insufficient. Since the fall, He’s allowed my sin to be in my life to kill the need for the self-sufficiency I struggle with on a daily basis and just trust Him, trust His Word and trust His plan.

His plan is perfect. There is nothing wrong with the plan God has put in place for us. Nothing happens outside His approval.

So next time I question God (which will probably be in the next hour or so), I need to come back to this point, the point that says His ways can’t be understood. But I know that they can be trusted fully, trusted without a doubt. That doesn’t mean the doubts won’t come, it just means I have an answer for them when they do.

He knows what He’s doing.

Sin Isn’t Totally Bad.

One of the more frustrating moments for me in my life is when I’m confronted with sin in my life. In fact, it’s one of the quickest triggers for my anxiety and depression. Pull on that reminder of my weakness, my insufficiency, my sinfulness, and I’m likely to be frustrated, which makes me anxious, which makes me depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

The thing we’ve been told in our Christian culture is that sin is the worst thing that can ever happen to you. And it’s true. It is. But I think there’s two things to keep in perspective when reflecting back on sin. Because let’s be honest: sin isn’t totally bad. Here’s why.

Sin feels good.

Committing sin can be awesome. If we ignore this, we ignore one of the vital facts of being a human. Somebody told me recently that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans. Since we are humans, we naturally desire to sin. We naturally crave to satisfy ourselves in ways that are not glorifying to God or honoring to man. For us to think that we don’t sin is a lie. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later, the implications of saying we’re sinless are even worse: “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.”

I say it is impossible for us to walk this earth without sin. And I think it’s dangerous for us to carry around the idea that we could ever fully defeat sin and everything that comes along with it this side of heaven. It’s an unfair standard we set for ourselves because we forget this vital piece of information that sin feels good. I think this is something we often forget or fail to mention when it comes to sin because it is the very reason we sin. Either committing the sin itself feels good or what we get from committing the sin feels good, so we do it.

Of course this is not license to commit sin, but it’s reason. So sin is not totally bad because of this. If sin was totally bad, we would not desire to do it, we wouldn’t desire the outcomes from sin.

Sin is for our good.

If we are to believe Romans 8:28, this is a truth we must cling to. If “all things work together for good” for those who are believers, then sin is included in that. Sin is not a healthy behavior. But it shows us two things.

Our sin shows us how much we need Jesus. When speaking about the law in Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” If we did not know what sin was and what it meant in our lives and how it made us feel, we would not know just how much we need Christ, how much we need grace, how much we need the Gospel. I believe that part of sin’s purpose in our lives is to redirect us towards the Savior. We commit sin and sometimes we realize that this is not the way we’re supposed to live, not how we find fulfillment and purpose.

Our sin gives us a task to accomplish. When we see we have sin, we are given something to do, something to accomplish. Ideally, killing that sin. We may never kill that individual sin, but we have the tools and the weapons to fight it for the rest of our lives. And this ties into the last point in that we will never defeat sin in any way without Christ working in our lives.

Our sin grows us as believers in faith. If I had not seen the sin of my mind and my heart, I would not need to cling to the Gospel. I would not need to grow my faith in the grace of the Gospel, in the understanding of redemption, in the power of forgiveness. If without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), I’m thankful for my sin for causing my faith to grow.

Our sin gives us opportunity to speak truth into others’ lives. I firmly believe that God has put certain sins in my life so that I can speak to others about them, whether that’s in a “we’re both struggling with this” way or “I was there, let me tell you about it and help you” way. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says. If you struggle with a sin, you’re not the only one. By dealing with sin, you become qualified to be in fellowship with someone who is dealing with the same thing and mourn together, encourage together and fight together. Personally, I love encouraging those who deal with or have dealt with the same sins I’m dealing with or have dealt with in my life.

The fact that sin isn’t totally bad is a contrarian idea, but one that has been incredibly freeing to me. It’s helped me learn more about myself and more about how I relate to God.

In fact, it makes me worship God more. He wastes nothing! God doesn’t even waste our sins! How crazy is that? Of all the things that God could just shove aside and do nothing with, it would make sense for it to be sin. But the fact that He uses it for our good and His glory makes me love Him even more.

A Conversation Between Me and God, After a Sin

A conversation with God about my sin.

ME: Well, God, I did it again, I sinned. I screwed up, I did something I shouldn’t have. I feel like crap right now.

GOD: (silent)

ME: Well, are you there? Are you even listening?

GOD: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.¹

ME: Well that’s good. Glad to know that. (A trace of sarcasm drips from my voice, as if GOD’s words mean little to me.) I mean, why must I do this? Why can’t I just be perfect?

GOD: None is righteous, no, not one.²

ME: Well, I know that. But why can’t I just be perfect? Isn’t that what you want?

GOD: I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.³

ME: But I’m weak and insufficient! Why can’t I just get better? (My voice is desperate now.)

GOD: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.ª

ME: So your grace is sufficient. Your power is made perfect in my weakness. But I’m super weak! Why would you even think to care about me in my weakness?

GOD: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.º

ME: You love me? You gave Jesus for me? (Hope begins to peak.)

GOD: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.†

ME: I am lost, God. I am wretched. I am wrecked. Show me grace and be with me. (The repentant heart has come full circle.)

GOD: I will never leave you nor forsake you.⌊


 

¹ Matthew 28:20

² Romans 3:10

³ Luke 5:32

ª 2 Corinthians 12:9

º John 3:16

† Luke 19:10

⌊ Hebrews 13:5

Lies I Believe and Truths I Must Hold Onto When I Give Into Temptation

So you’ve done it again. You’ve sinned in that way that you always find yourself sinning. You messed up. You put your foot in the wrong door. You ate a bad apple. Whatever analogy you want to give for it, you were tempted to sin and you quit fighting and gave in.

One thing that I find helps me in the aftermath of sinful behavior is going back and seeing where I went wrong, what happened that led me to make the decision to follow through with sin. It’s a process I tend to go through several times a day, I find, for various sins and transgressions. I’m a sinful guy. I’m a bad Christian with a great Savior.

I find that there are a few things that I believe when I give into temptation, and they’re all lies in some way. But they’re also wrapped in a little bit of truth. I have to work through the lies to see the truth. That’s probably one of the biggest fights of the Christian life, to be honest with you, because it seems that Satan, and by extension us, like to believe things that have little kernels of truth in them, even if they’re shrouded in deception. I hold onto that kernel hoping it will justify whatever action I’m about to take.

The Lies I Believe

This will make me feel better. The unfortunate truth I’ve learned about sin is that it feels good. I hate that that’s true! But it makes sense. If sin felt bad all the time, even while you were doing it, nobody would want to sin. So this is a truth, but eternally it’s a lie. Yes, sin will make you feel good in the moment, whether it’s a lie you tell, lusting after someone else or getting angry at someone else. It feels natural.

It’s not a big deal. This is one of the trickier ones and one of the things Satan can really play on. In truth, our sin does not separate us eternally from God because of grace. So on the surface, it might not seem like a big deal.

You can’t beat the inevitable. I mean, it’s going to happen anyways, so might as well get it over with. Whether it’s a dramatic outburst of anger or a gossipy attitude, it’s coming, so might as well just quit fighting. We are weak against sin on our own.

You’re alone in the fight. I’ve got no one with me. It’s just me. In the moment when we choose to sin, we can only see us.

Truths I Must Hold Onto

Following God is always better. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Doing things God’s way always leads to more joy than any kind of silly “good feeling” sin can give you.

My sin takes me away from a deeper relationship with God. It’s a break in the relationship. Just like when you sin against your spouse/friend/parent, there’s a strain placed on the relationship with God when you do this, so it is kind of a big deal.

God is strong enough to help. God is greater than your sin and always will be. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, the seer Hanani tells the rebellious king Asa, “The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to lend strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him.” If you’re a Christian, your heart has been cleansed and made blameless by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. So God wants to help you and is strong enough to help you. You don’t have to sin! You will, but you don’t have to.

You’re never alone in the fight. Just because it’s a big deal doesn’t mean God abandons you. The promise of the gospel says that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Plus, there’s no temptation that is exclusive or unique to you (1 Corinthians 10:13). There’s always someone else.

One Last Thing

If we’ve already given into temptation, we must turn to God immediately in prayer, asking for forgiveness and resting in His grace and His love for us. I find that the moments that I don’t want to do that are the moments I need to do it most.

I think there are two reasons we don’t believe grace. 1) We don’t think we need it, we can just do better, or 2) we don’t think we deserve it, we’ve lost the opportunity for it because of our sin. That’s when a certain passage of Scripture from Romans 8 comes to my mind.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

The Sinners’ Revolution: Taking Inspiration from the Patriots of ’76 in the War Against the Flesh

I’m about to get all nerdy and historical up in here.

The American Revolution has long been a fascination of mine, but it peaked many in high school. I loved the stretches in history class when we studied it, and a audiobook version of Jeff Shaara’s excellent book The Glorious Cause was what I went to sleep to most nights.

The Americans should have gotten crushed. We did not stand a chance against the Brits. They had a bigger and better army and we were a relatively inexperienced, unorganized bunch of backwoods farmers and wanna-be city slickers. Historian Jack Kelly sets the dilemma this way: “George Washington called the American victory in the Revolutionary war ‘little short of a standing miracle.’ In 1776, an overwhelming British army had defeated his poorly trained force, driven them out of New York City, and chased them across New Jersey. Washington then lost Philadelphia, and his men had barely survived the wretched winter at Valley Forge. In 1780, the British captured the major southern port at Charleston, imprisoning the American garrison there, and utterly defeated a second patriot army. Before that year was out, his long-suffering troops were on the verge of mutiny and one of his senior generals had gone over to the enemy.”

How often in our fight with sin does it seem like things are going that way? We may have put together a stretch of victories over the sin in our lives and look to be on the up-and-up, but then there’s devastating defeat. It can be disheartening and discouraging. But there are going to be losses. There are going to be days where the fight is too hard and we quit.

But there’s no need to quit fighting. Oh, there are reasons. Well, you could call them excuses, but in the moment, they feel like reasons. But we should NEVER quit fighting sin. And we can take our example from the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

—–

We may feel alone against sin, but we’ve really got brothers and sisters who can go in the fight with us.

It is doubtful the Americans would have ever won the Revolutionary War without the help of the French. The French supplied men, ships, supplies and the biggest push in some of the crucial battles late in the war. Kelly writes, “French muskets, uniforms, gunpowder and money helped sustain the Continental Army. French soldiers and sailors enabled Washington to trap and defeat British General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The threat from French forces required Britain to transfer resources to the West Indies and even to worry about a French invasion of their sceptered isle. It was from this wider war that the American patriots (emerged) victorious.”

The British (center) surrender to French (left) and American (right) troops, at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

The British (center) surrender to French (left) and American (right) troops, at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

In our fight with sin, we can feel like the Americans in the beginning stages of the War. Early on, America was alone, and they were getting crushed. Some sin does a fantastic job of making us feel alone in the fight.

What does Scripture say? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Only when Ben Franklin was able to convince the French to join the American side did any real change happen and things began to slowly swing in the favor of the patriots. In the same way, we can ask brothers and sisters in the faith to come alongside us and help us win our war while also helping them in their fight. The early church started as a collective of people who did all things together and shared all things. I bet they shared sin burdens with one another.

Brother and sister, keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. I promise. I’m there with you. Don’t quit.

We may feel outgunned against sin, but we’ve really got the best weapons, armor and tactics.

Kelly on the Brits: “The British military establishment was well organized and formidable. They enjoyed a very seasoned officer corps, many of their top generals having joined the ranks as boys and seen action in wars with the French. They were well-versed in military theory and how to apply it. Just as important, the British had a robust governmental bureaucracy devoted to war. Various ministries, boards and departments were experienced in supply, armaments, transportation, accounting, and the other logistical duties that are the foundation of any military effort. The Americans went to war with amateur officer and untrained troops; and they lacked the organization needed to supply and maintain an army in the field.”

Satan has an army against us much like the Brits did against the Americans. His forces are powerful. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). If C.S. Lewis’ incisive work The Screwtape Letters is half as insightful as it seems about what demons are attempting to do to mankind that loves Jesus, we’re really and truly up against it.

What does Scripture say? “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17). “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

Common rifles used in the Revolutionary War.

Common rifles used in the Revolutionary War.

In the beginning of the war, the Americans were definitely outgunned and outmaneuvered in the beginning. But when the French aided their weapons game, and they learned new ways to fight and took a different approach, things changed. We as Christians truly have better weapons. God has supplied us with everything we need for godliness, including the weapons needed to fight against the temptations and the snares of the devil and of sin. It’s God who supplies us, not ourselves. It’s God’s strength, not our own.

Brother and sister, take heart. You really have the better weapons, which which you can withstand sin and temptation. I’m there with you. Don’t give up.

We may feel like we’ve already lost, but we really have a reason to keep fighting: God’s love and grace.

Kelly purports that one of the reasons the Americans won is their perseverance. He writes, “Americans won their independence because they continued to fight. Again and again during the war, they reached points when they could have thrown in the towel. At times, the Continental Army seemed only weeks or days from disbanding. In spite of defeat after defeat, in spite of no pay, rampant disease and inadequate supplies, they kept at it. George Washington was no military genius. But his faith in the cause, his determination to fight, and the mutual love he came to share with his officers and men carried him through many dark nights.”

Sin can give us a real feeling like we can’t do anything, that we’ve already lost the war, that God doesn’t love us anymore, that we’ve quit being “good enough” for Him. Just like the Continental Army who “seemed only weeks or days from disbanding,” we can feel at times like we’re moments from quitting following Jesus because it’s too hard or sin feels too good.

Americans at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.

Americans at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.

What does Scripture say? “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). “…if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

The Americans had perseverance in the war, and it was one of the main reasons we emerged victorious. They had a cause. We as Christians, likewise, have a reason to keep fighting. God doesn’t quit on us when we sin. He continues to love us and care for us and show us grace and mercy. This is not license to sin; nay, it is instead a motivation to keep fighting. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). We’re not down and out when we sin. Instead, we’re given a fresh chance at obedience.

Brother and sister, stay at it. God loves you and cares for you and forgives you. I’m there with you. Don’t give up.

—–

There are days when I feel like the patriots at Valley Forge. I’m disappointed, I’m worn out, I’m discouraged, I’m ticked off at how things are going in my daily fight with sin.

But I must, I repeat, I MUST recall these things to my mind, or else I lose all hope of ever attaining victory. We have won the war already. Jesus won it for us on the cross. But we get a chance to fight the battles leading up to that end, opportunities to defeat sin and give glory to God each and every day.

Press on.

I’m Not Convicted Enough

Going to be honest with you here: right now, I’m convicted by sin in my life. But it’s not enough conviction.

Do we ever really see ourselves as we truly are? Are we ever honest enough with ourselves that we’re willing to admit just how jacked up we are? We spend so much time trying to show others that we are good people, that we know what we’re doing. This is super evident in the Christian church.

I look at myself in this very moment, deep in conviction, and think, “Do I really realize how bad this is? Do I really realize how much my sin will affect me? My family, current and future? My friendships? My ministry?” I don’t think I know it enough. I don’t think I have a grasp on the consequences of sin that I should.

Right now, reading through Jeremiah, I’m getting a good picture of the consequences of generational sin that come from ignoring and disobeying the God of all creation, the one who literally created everything. Yet the people didn’t seem to get it. Jeremiah was straight up telling them, “Hey, you guys, you’re going to be judged severely because of your disobedience. You can turn to God and avoid this judgement, or you can just keep going and face it.”

uturn-e12694741572891So often, I’m like one of those Israelites who just shrugs their shoulders and is like, “Eh, doesn’t matter.” I think the consequences of our sin are immensely more than we will ever realize at the time. But we’d rather think about others’ sin before we really face what’s wrong in us.

This is a really difficult thing to do for me, especially because I’m learning so much about grace in my life right now. I’m learning, really deeply for the first time, the depths of God’s love for me and what it means. I spent so much time in the last few years criticizing and judging myself for my sin, and that was not the right approach. So I’ve been refreshing myself on the greatness of God’s grace, and it’s been AMAZING! So awesome.

But the point of God’s grace is to bring us to repentance for our sins, the ones we committed before we came to Christ and the ones we commit while we’re one of Christ’s. Paul questions the Romans: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

God will never run out of kindness and forbearance and patience with us, but it’s all meant to lead us to repentance, to turning the other way, to changing how we live and behave. If I’m not taking that U-turn, something is desperately wrong with me. And I admit, that’s where I’m struggling right now. 

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:30. I boast in God, who shows me my weakness and shows me that He is the answer to my weakness. I hope this is my boast forevermore, nothing else, no one else.

My help comes from Him. He’s right here pulling me through. He carries my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on His shoulders.