Denial: Not Just a River in Egypt

It’s been a little while since I’ve “gotten free,” so here it goes.  While I was having a little one-on-one chat with God the other day, He prompted me to tell Him the truth about something that I’ve been in denial about for yeeeeears.  So, I had to stand there all “awkard-like” and confess this:

“Pops, I really like to sin.”

I have to tell you guys—the “legalistic and insecure” Christian in me is dying right now from having typed those words out on paper.  But it’s true.  If we are going to be 100% honest with each other, we should all be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “Hey, Good Lookin’… I need to get free:  I like to sin.  It feels good, it tastes good, it smells good, and it’s even fun to fantasize about.”  But for some reason (and I’ll speak for myself here) I’ve been so afraid of admitting that truth out loud.  I’ve been terrified of admitting that I don’t always hate sin, that I don’t always want to run from it, and that I don’t always say “no” when I am supposed to say “no.”  

I used to deny this little nugget of information because I was so ashamed of it.  Plus, I really didn’t want to get kicked out of the “Cool Christian Club.”  What Christian wants to admit that they love sinning?  I mean, how incredibly “ungodly” of me.  (Shame on you, Sam. Go pray.)  But it’s true.  If sin wasn’t attractive, we wouldn’t want anything to do with it, right?  If sin wasn’t pretty to look at or fun to think about, we wouldn’t have a problem walking down the straight and narrow road rebuking the lies of Satan left and right.   I don’t know about you, but even though I love Jesus with my whole heart—sin is still a daily struggle for me.

But all of this led me to another truth: There’s power in honesty and there’s freedom in taking accountability for your struggles.  For example: If I continue to deny the fact that I secretly love watching Game of Thrones when I’m alone in my flat at night, then I am not going to get anywhere when it comes to my relationship with the Lord.  This is especially true since God already knows that I love watching Game of Thrones and that I don’t fast forward the sex scenes.  To Him, it’s no secret.  He just wants me to be honest with Him about it.  And hey, that makes perfect sense because all real relationships are built on honesty, trust, and open communication.  So why would my relationship with God be any different?

I’m stubborn.  I like to push boundaries, cross lines, and dance near cliffs.  It’s kind of my thing.  Luckily, the God of the Universe is unconditionally loving and incredibly patient, and He is willing to trek through those valleys of difficulty and hardship with me—holding my hand every step of the way and even stopping to rest when I get too tired of moving forward.

When I admit my struggles to God, I am giving Him the power and the freedom to actually DO something about those struggles.  Proverbs 28:13 in The Message version of the bible says it in such an awesome way, “You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.”  The New Living Translation says it this way, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”  Being honest about my sin, and handing my struggles over to God, means that the enemy can no longer control me with his guilt and shame tactics.  Then I can move past those things and walk in the light instead of hiding in the darkness.  It gives me the assurance that I am loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father despite my imperfections.  But if I keep pretending like nothing is wrong, then the Holy Spirit can’t freely work in me.

And to be honest, when I really sit and think about it, God’s character and His relationship with me through Jesus are enough to make me want to stop doing stupid stuff.  Judgement doesn’t make me want to stop, fear doesn’t make me want to stop, and even condemnation doesn’t make me want to stop—but love… that changes things.  It’s hard to purposely hurt the people you love (or the people who love you) and God is no different.

The Lord loves me and has my best interests in mind.  So when He says, “Sam it isn’t a good idea to watch this show because it will put lustful and violent thoughts in your head, not to mention you probably won’t be able to sleep because zombies have always given you nightmares.  I know how you think, so trust Me on this one, sweet girl”—I should probably listen to Him because He is trying to protect me.

Lastly, I got myself an accountability partner because being honest with God is only the first step towards complete freedom and life full of abundant joy.  I found a girl who I can be real and honest with about my struggles.  She is the person I can call at 3am when I am tempted to do something stupid, she is the person who is willing to pick me up when I fall flat on my face, and she is the person who will pray for me when I am too discouraged to even pray for myself.  There’s no judgement or ridicule or fear in this partnership, just love.  Neither of us are perfect, but we both want our hearts and lives to glorify God.  I highly recommend getting an accountability parter to anyone and everyone who wants to push past their comfort zones and grow closer to the Lord—because doing life alone is hard.

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So get free, walk in the light, and keep trusting that the Lord only disciplines and directs us in love, not anger.  If you take any tidbit of info out of this blog, it’s this:  You are never alone in your struggles, you are always loved, and freedom in Christ is yours for the taking (if you want it).

Your Friendly Neighborhood Missionary,

Sam

 

To Sin Less or to Be Sinless: That Is the Question

Sometimes, I get so tired of being a Christian.  Literally, I get exhausted to the point of needing multiple power naps a day.

This week I finally decided to sit down and ask myself, “Why the heck do I feel this way?”  If the Christian life is supposed to bring freedom and abundant joy, then why do I constantly feel worn out and enslaved?

I finally got the answer.

For so long, I believed that being a Christian meant that it was my duty to “sin less.”  I don’t know if anyone else has tried that, but for me, “sinning less” is absolutely draining.  It usually lasts about 5 whole seconds from the moment I wake up, and then it’s all downhill from there.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I even sin in my sleep.

But here’s what I learned (and this may sound radical so bear with me).  Jesus never ever asked me to “sin less.”  He asked me not to sin at all.  Jesus never demanded progress, He demanded perfection.  After Jesus taught the famous beatitudes, He said in Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Oh, snap.  If my salvation is dependent on my level of perfection and my good works, then I am in big trouble.  (Houston, we have a serious problem.)  I can tell you right now that, even as a missionary who’s walked with the Lord for just over 8 years, I do NOT measure up.  I will fail the test of righteousness every single time, and that’s a promise.  So if Jesus demands perfection, (and if I am an imperfect person) then how is the Gospel “good news?”

Here’s where I got my answer.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was preaching to the Jewish people.  He knew His audience from the inside out.  He knew their thoughts, their hidden agendas, their traditions, and their mindset.  Jesus knew exactly what He was teaching, and it must have sounded insane to those with listening ears.  The Pharisees were some of the most legalistic, religious, and obedient people alive in that day and age.  Jesus knew that no one could be as righteous as them in terms of lifestyle.  They set the tone for perfection.  The Jewish Pharisees were only concerned with the external appearance of their actions, but Jesus wasn’t stupid.  It is written in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see the things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 

Jesus was making a point.  He saw what was hidden in their hearts.

Their obedience to the law wasn’t good enough.  They still fell short because their hearts were impure; every good thing they did was tainted with nasty sin.  But before I get prideful and start judging those guys for being so ridiculous, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Romans that we all fall short of the glory of God too.  In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.  For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Halle-flippin-lujah.  There’s hope!

Then it hit me (like an overly pumped up soccer ball to the face).  I realized why I had been so tired.  I was trying to live in perfect obedience to a law that I was never required to keep.  The law condemns me every time I try to live up to it.  All it does is reveal how sinful I am.  I was trying to work harder, seem wiser, look purer, be better… and sin less.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” and Jesus always means what He says!  If He says is it finished, then it’s actually finished!  It’s done.  I like to think of it this way:  Imagine me walking up to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and finger-painting smiley faces all over it.  Then imagine me looking him straight in the eye and saying, “Check this out Leo!  Doesn’t your painting look so much better now?  Talk about a masterpiece!  Those smiley faces are flawless!”  I could’ve just as easily slapped him in the face.  (And I do the same thing to God every day when I try to add to the finished work of the cross.)

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Does that mean that my salvation is a “get out of jail free card?”  No, God is (and will always be) a representation of perfect justice.  Someone had to pay the price for my disobedience and my unrighteousness; a debt was still owed.  Jesus took the punishment that I deserved by living a perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He fulfilled the law that I could never fulfill (Romans 3:23).  He nailed my sins to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died a terrible and shameful death in my place (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He loved me enough to meet my unreachable requirements of perfection, knowing ahead of time that it would cost Him everything.  This is the Gospel.  This is good news.  This is love.

Let me share one last thing that convicted me this week about the character of God.  The man on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23: he didn’t have a holy resumé to hand over to Jesus, he didn’t try and convince Jesus that he was good enough to enter heaven, and Jesus never gave Him a penance requirement before he died.  The man’s belief was enough.  The man recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, he acknowledged Jesus as his only hope, and he called out to the Lord in faith.  And Jesus saved him.  That is grace.

Just like the criminal on the cross, I was justified (undeservingly), and now I am being sanctified.  The good works that I do now are not what make me righteous before God.  Instead, those good works are responses to the love and mercy and grace that I have received from Him.  They aren’t the means of my salvation, they are the outflow of it.  God loved me while I was a mess.  He saved me when I had nothing to offer Him, and that’s what makes grace so amazing.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

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So now, instead of wasting my time trying to “sin less,” God calls me to believe that I am sinless.  And instead of growing tired and worn out from failing to measure up, God calls me to rest in the fact that Jesus measured up for me.  I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Steve Brown:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance… and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.” 

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