There are three times in my Christian walk when truth has impacted me so deeply that I feel as though I get reborn all over again. The third was this weekend when Elyse Fitzpatrick came and spoke on God’s Transforming Love at our Women’s Retreat.
I feel like I got saved.
I had no idea how deeply my lack of understanding of God’s love affects my Christianity. Here are a few of the notable ways:
1. I don’t understand the cost of the gospel so I view God’s love as stingy and conditional. It’s the same way I can feel badly when I hear about the persecution of believers in China but it doesn’t go very far beyond that because I haven’t experienced it personally. I know Christ had to leave his glory and become a man, but I’ve never had to do that so I don’t know how much of a sacrifice that was. I know that He lived a sinless life, but I’ve never done that either so I don’t know how hard that is. I’ve never endured persecution and suffering and death even though I was innocent, so I don’t know what that was like. I don’t know what perfect union with the Father is like, so I don’t know what it’s like to have to endure separation and wrath from the Father. I don’t understand any of it. And I haven’t worked very hard to try to wrap my mind around it.
2. I have been sanctification minded instead of justification minded. When I read Scripture I just want to know what I need to do. I blow right past who God has said that I am in Christ and get right down to the nitty gritty. Elyse calls this “declaration” and “obligation.” When you read Ephesians, you have 3 chapters of declaration- who we are in Christ- before you even hear a peep of obligation. The fact that we are justified– we are declared righteous just as if we never sinned and just as if we had always obeyed– doesn’t excuse us of obligation, instead it fuels our obligation. So we have to see the declaration, we have to focus on our justification, in order to properly work out the obligation, or our sanctification.
3. Justification means that I am declared righteous just as if I had never sinned and just as if I had always obeyed. Recently one of my biggest struggles is how to pray. I feel badly if I don’t do the adoration and confession and thanksgiving bit before getting to the supplication. I don’t want to treat God as a genie. I don’t want to approach God irreverently. I don’t want my prayer to be too contrived. I don’t want to try to impress God with my prayers. I don’t want to be like the Israelites and be demanding. I don’t want to be faithless. I want to pray boldly and with faith in what God is able to accomplish. I want to trust God’s will. I know I’m a fool and oftentimes can’t see. I know I should trust God’s goodness but often don’t. So I just pray and say “Sorry” and “I’m a fool” a lot. But if this is true, it means that my prayers, as foolish and simple and childish and selfish as they may be, are viewed by God as if I were Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene– asking that the cup may pass while completely entrusting Himself to God’s will, desiring God’s will before His own, perfectly fervent, with the joy of God’s presence set before Him, with complete and perfect faith in all that God is able to accomplish. That’s what it means that I’m justified. So as I see my own sin and failure I’m trying to see Christ and His perfection instead of myself.
4. I am a sad moralist. Elyse talked about “happy moralists” and “sad moralists.” Happy moralists are those who are doing pretty well in terms of outward conformity to the law and think God must be pretty pleased with them. Sad moralists are those who understand the weight of the law- we have to love God with our entire heart, soul, mind and strength- and know they can’t do it so they spend looking introspectively at the caverns of their heart, beating themselves up for their failure, feeling downcast and joyless. That’s me. Both are wrong because both seek to be approved or disapproved by God based on our own righteousness. The point is that we don’t want God to approve of us AT ALL on our own righteousness because it will NEVER be good enough (because sin taints even our best efforts) and we have the righteousness of Christ! I need to get my eyes off myself and onto the cross.
5. God loves and accepts me fully. This may seem elementary and small…but to me it is mind-blowing. I look for love and acceptance in every human relationship I have. Most of my sin flows out of that craving. Because human relationships are more tangible to me, their approval is often more important to me but a human relationship has yet to satisfy this desire in me. As C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” See, God set His love on me before the beginning of time. I don’t have to fight to gain his acceptance or love. He isn’t going to give up on me, get annoyed with me, get fed up with my failure and weakness, or walk away. He doesn’t love me more on “good days” or love me less on “bad days.” And He gave up His precious Son in whom He is well pleased so that I could have a relationship with Him. And now, in Christ, He is well pleased with me. All the time. It really is mind-blowing. And when someone loves you, and you love them in return, doesn’t the love and approval of all others fade far, far, far into the distance? Do you care if anyone else wants to spend time with you if you are with your beloved? Do you care if anyone else finds you beautiful if your beloved thinks you are? Do you want anyone else’s love and affection when you have the love and affection of your beloved? Don’t all others pale in comparison? They don’t even stand a chance, right? That is how the love of God changes us. All the sudden all other loves pale in comparison. They don’t stand a chance. We are ruined for all lesser loves.
6. My life is hidden in Christ. My first inclination when I see my sin is to hide it. To hide it from others, cover over it, present it in a way that doesn’t seem quite so bad, to ignore it, to point the finger somewhere else. I don’t want others to see any failure, weakness, or lack in me but I am all too aware that I am a poor, pitiful, weak creature. So I cover it all up to my best ability. But the truth is all of that is hidden. I’m protected from God by God. God sees Christ.
7. God’s love motivates my love. We love, not because we loved God, but because He first loved us. There is something about being loved that makes you want to love someone perfectly. We, of course, can’t do this. We fail and falter in our relationship with God and others. But when someone sacrifices again and again for you and continues to put you above themselves…there’s something about that kind of love that makes you want to work hard. Out of love, not obligation. You know how much this person is sacrificing, you know how much it is costing them, and you can trust that they are only looking out for what is best for you….so you want to do everything you can to bless and honor and look out for their best interest in return– even when you don’t feel like it. So it’s different than doing the right thing when you don’t want to out of sheer duty or will power or guilt, but it doesn’t mean you have a free pass to do whatever you want. Just the opposite. When you love someone you don’t take their sacrifice lightly or treat their love with ambivalence. God’s love properly understood should make us all the more passionate about loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates and living the way He has called us to, as hard as that may be at times.
I have a lot more to learn. I don’t really understand any of this yet. I have a long road ahead of me but I don’t want to let this go. I want it to soak in and transform me.