Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three things I learned very slowly

Sometimes it is embarrassing to learn as slowly as I do.

You can know a lot of facts.  You can have a great deal of knowledge about the Bible.  You can even memorize numerous Bible verses, and still know very little.

There are certain principles in life -- perhaps you have experienced this -- where you know the principle, and you use the principle.  Maybe even daily, you apply this principle, assuming it will work, and it does.  But then one day while you are working through something, applying the principle as you always have, enlightenment suddenly dawns on you: This is why it works.  This is what it means.  This is what it really means!  All of a sudden, your knowledge has deepened and everything is new, everything is going to be easier because of what you just figured out about what you already knew.

This can happen in science.  It can happen in math.  It can happen when you are cooking, or when you are relating to another person.  It can also happen in your religious belief system.

So far, it has happened to me three times in my religious belief system.  Here are three things I knew, but didn't know, until one day enlightenment dawned on me and the facts in my head became alive in my heart.
  1. My righteousness comes from Christ alone, and is guaranteed because of Him
  2. God is good.
  3. All I need is Christ.

Let's briefly consider these things one by one.

My righteousness comes from Christ alone and is guaranteed because of Him.

I never had any trouble with the idea that I was unrighteous apart from Christ, but I had a great deal of trouble grasping how it worked, that He somehow imputed His righteousness to me.  The way people talked about it, I got the idea that they were describing Jesus as some sort of camouflaging umbrella over my sin: I'm down here under the tent of Jesus, heedlessly sinning away, but all God can see when He looks at me is the pure covering of Christ, hiding my filth.  I recoiled from this image.  I recoil from all teaching that suggests that we are fine if we continue in sin, since Jesus loves us and forgives us and it doesn't matter.

I have always believed that my righteousness is from Christ alone.  I just didn't understand what that meant, because I knew it couldn't possibly be a justification for marinating in sin.  Yet, I am conscious of my incomplete victory over sin every day.  How can I be righteous when I am so obviously wicked?

The winter I turned 27 years old, I had three very small children.  We were sick all the time.  I was isolated, far from family, seriously sleep-deprived, and I believe, looking back, that I was in an undiagnosed clinical depression.  I was also reading through the Bible (the grace of God is almost funny, in a sort of not-very-funny way).  That was my first time through, and I went straight through, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, absorbing only a little.  When I hit the Psalms, I did not enjoy them.  Contrary to what you might expect, they almost aggravated my depression.  I have a clear memory of one day reading a section of Psalms and feeling that they were taunting me, because over and over they proclaimed outrageous promises of blessings for "the righteous."  I knew myself to be a crabby wife, an impatient mother, a crier, a yeller, a complainer, selfish, negative, angry and (on top of everything else) lazy and undisciplined.

I set my Bible down in my lap and told Jesus, "That's all well and good . . . that You promise all these great things to the righteous.  But I'm not righteous."

Almost before I had finished giving shape to the plaintive thought in my mind, the voice of God filled my head.  I can't describe it any other way, except that it was the voice of God, although it was not audible.  He told me, "You are righteous, because I died to make you righteous."  I was completely taken aback.  It hit me, fresh, for the first time.  Jesus' sacrifice on the cross cleansed me in such a way that I qualify for God's promises to the righteous.  I am counted as one of the righteous.  Even though I stumble in sin every day of my life, God's precious promises apply to me.  The relief that flooded my soul was indescribable. 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
~2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

God is good.

I knew that God was good.  I did.  I knew it, and I believed it.  I even wrote about it.  However, I had a fear of the idea, a need to distance myself, to explain that "good" isn't always what we think of as "good."  I agonized over how God works good in our lives through trials and suffering, how He refines us with fire.  His purposes and results are always good, but His processes can be painful, and we have to trust Him.  This is all true; it isn't wrong.  It just wasn't completely helpful.

Not so very long ago, I had a breakthrough.  I'd like to say it happened in my late forties, before I turned 50, but I'm not absolutely certain that it did.  I'm not sure how it happened, either, or what circumstances brought it about.

One day it just fell into my mind, clearly, simply:  God is good because He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins and saved us from this fallen world.  Here we see God's goodness made manifest.  God is good because His purpose is to bring His people home to dwell in eternal glory with Him, and He sacrificed His only begotten Son to accomplish it.

If you ever doubt that God is good, all you have to do is look to the cross.  All His great goodness is displayed right there. 

. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  
~Romans 5:8 (ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.
~Revelation 5:9-10 (NIV) 

[note:  I am probably not saying anything here that you haven't heard before.  I had heard this over and over, and truly believed it, before the Holy Spirit permeated my heart with it.  Although I had believed it, it took me forever to feel it, to know it.  So I doubt if my awkward words here will accomplish in you what the Lord accomplished in me, but I hope that when it does happen in you--if it hasn't already--you will recognize and rejoice in it.]

All I need is Christ.

I also knew this.  I have known this for a long time. 

But there is something that I did not realize.  I did not realize that this is the source of our joy.

Here I've been limping along, trying to figure out how to cultivate Spirit-fruit in my life, filled with feelings of insufficiency and worry.  "Where is the joy?" I would ask myself.  "How can I be an ambassador for Christ when the wellspring of my joy is dry?  Who would believe that God brings hope to the hopeless by the testimony of my life?"

Then He showed me.  It might have been as recently as last week.  I think it happened when I was thinking about heaven, and my heart finally felt the truth that Christ Himself is the great prize.  Nothing else matters.  To be at home with Jesus is everything.

All I need is Christ.  Christ is my hope and my salvation, the living water that refreshes my soul, the lamp that lights my path, the bread that nourishes me and the song in my heart.  Christ is the sacrifice that has made peace for me with God and purchased--secured--my eternal future in glory.  Christ is my beauty, my wisdom and my home.  If I have Christ, I have everything I need for life and joy and eternity.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. ~2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

Even better: nobody and nothing can take Christ away from me.  I am His and He is mine.  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

I don't need a nice house, or pretty clothes or a reliable car.  I don't need a husband, children, a dog or money in the bank.  I don't need my lupus medicine or friends or vacations or food or even water.  I am thankful when I have these things, but I don't need them.  All I need is Christ, and He will take me home to glory, and there in His presence I will never even imagine needing anything, ever again.  I will have Him, and He is more than enough.  I depend on nothing else.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
~Philippians 1:21 (NIV) 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.
~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

I've struggled with a fear: What if someone I love doesn't come to Christ?  What if someone I love doesn't make it to heaven for eternity?  What if I can't get someone saved?  How can I live joyfully if someone I love is not safe from the wrath of God?

First off, I won't be getting anybody saved.  God does the saving.  Jesus taught that people are unable to come to Him unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).  I can be an ambassador, but I am not the Savior.  Jesus is the Savior, and He is mighty to save.

It's my job to live out the radiance of Christ, to showcase His redemptive power through the Christlikeness of my life.  I need to walk in love and grace, humility and kindness, forgiveness and gentleness and peace.  Living in the power of the Holy Spirit produces opportunities to share truth.  I can't do any of it if I am fearful and unhappy.  The cure for fearfulness and unhappiness is to understand, deep within my inmost being, that all I need is Christ.  And I have Christ.  Nobody can take Him away from me, and He will never leave me nor forsake me.  All I need is Christ, and He freely gives Himself to me and fills me with His Spirit.  This is joy.  This is security.  

This is the key.  All I need is Christ. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
~Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost."
~Isaiah 55:1

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
~Revelation 22:17   



No comments: