Is Christianity making you miserable?

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. -Galatians 3:23-24

Part of successfully learning to drive a car is knowing when to push the brake and the gas pedals (a clutch makes it even more complicated). If we don’t know how to use the pedals in our car it makes for a miserable driving experience. When it comes to the Christian life there are two pedals that we can push down at different times, law and grace. I think that many times we make ourselves miserable as Christians when we use these pedals incorrectly. Allow me to explain.

car pedalsThe pedal called law

Defining law

The law is the moral standard, given in God’s Word, for how we are to live. The law highlights God’s moral code and at the same time it shows us how we fail to live up to it (Galatians 3:24).

Here is a verse that I am citing as an example as one of God’s laws, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  -Leviticus 19:1-2

Indicators you are misusing this pedal

  • You begin to hate yourself for your lack of spiritual growth
  • You quietly wonder if you should just give up on Christianity because you see so little spiritual transformation
  • You wish you had more joy and gratitude in your life
  • You spend long periods of time after you have sinned doubting if God wants to have anything to do with you

It can shift from not being gracious with ourselves to not being gracious with others…

  • You are judgmental and mean-spirited towards others when it comes to their lack of spiritual growth
  • You don’t have people opening up to you and talking to you about their struggles because they know you are lacking in grace
  • You have never been referred to as a friend of sinners
  • You become very prideful because you think (self-deceived) that you are doing a decent job obeying the law and you are not sure why others can’t do the same thing

The pedal called grace

Defining grace

Grace is the amazing fact that because we broke God’s law, Jesus came to this earth, died on a cross, took our sins upon himself, rose again, and if we embrace Jesus by faith we are liberated from sin and death. We also know from Scripture that we are no longer under the law, we are now under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

Here is a verse that I am citing to give you an example of the grace of God, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9

Sometimes the abuse of grace is referred to as hyper-grace or antinomianism. Here is how one writer defines hyper-grace, “The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin.”

Indicators you are misusing this pedal

  • You are no longer taking personal sin seriously
  • You talk about the love of God but not so much about the holiness of God
  • You almost never confront someone about their sins
  • You talk about a messy life, a broken life. There is a hesitancy to call it what it is, sin
  • You are just way too comfortable with where you are at spiritually
  • Preachers who misuse this pedal rarely talk to their church about the dangers of sin

Just so you know, I constantly struggle when it comes to using these two pedals in my own life. I talk about the gospel ALL THE TIME, yet I can fail to apply it to my life. I can swing from self-loathing to making excuses for my sin in a split-second.

Here is my suggestion when it comes to how we can stop making ourselves (and others) miserable because we are misusing the pedals of law and grace

In my opinion, here is the key in all of this. The most important thing we need to do is simply become aware of the problem in the first place. Some of us have become worn out and miserable as Christians and the truth of the matter is that we are not even aware of what the root problem is. We are struggling spiritually but we are lacking a diagnosis. It may be a matter of misusing the pedals of law and grace. So, I believe it is incredibly helpful just to be aware of this problem so that we can make some adjustments in our thinking.

Once we have begun to see the problem in our own life we can take it to God in prayer. Ask God to give you a more balanced perspective and not to abuse one pedal or the other. We should allow the laws of God, his moral laws, to convict us and point us to our ongoing need for Jesus. Yet, at the same time we can quickly rejoice that because we are in Christ we are forgiven. We don’t need to walk around with a sense of guilt and shame because of the work of Jesus on the cross.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Is this something you struggle with?

 

My Testimony (Pleasure, Grace and My Parent’s Oldsmobile)

As I slowly crawled out of the car I realized that it was upside down, the top had been pushed dangerously close to my head, the windows had all been busted out and I was in serious trouble. I clearly needed to redirect my pursuit of pleasure.

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Let’s go back in time for a moment. I was nine years old and was living in Needles, California. I believe it was a Sunday night and my dad was preaching a sermon and it included descriptive information about the realities of hell. We were Baptist after-all. Even at the age of nine I knew that spending eternity with God sounded like a much better deal than an eternity in hell. So, I gave my life to the Lord and was soon baptized. But, like many PKs, my spiritual life during the days of my youth were a bit of a roller-coaster. Things changed dramatically when I turned 18. I developed a friendship with a guy who owned a Camaro and who liked to drink…a lot. (I googled this old friend a few months ago and discovered that there is currently a warrant out for his arrest. Not kidding.)

What I quickly learned about myself is that I loved to party but with 3 times the energy and enthusiasm as everyone else. The picture above is an actual photo of what I did to my parent’s car after a night of “hanging out with friends”, which is code for having way too much to drink.

After leaving the party I vaguely recall driving on I-17 in Phoenix, I think I was falling asleep (passing out) and began to sense that I was about to run into the back of a car in front of me. I pulled the steering wheel sharply to the left, rolled the car off of the interstate and down an embankment. When I eventually stumbled out of the upside down car there were already several police officers waiting for me.

interstate-17

The whole thing leaves me with four thoughts…

The Oldsmobile is a vivid picture of what the evil one wants to do through our pursuit of pleasure.  The devil, I believe, wanted me dead. Isn’t this what sin always does? Kill? I think, we think, that the next drink, job, house, purchase, achievement, relationship, touchdown that our kid scores, vacation will satisfy us but it never does. Is there anything you are pursuing these days that, if you were honest, is slowly killing your soul and leaving you feeling less alive?

God’s grace is written all over my life. How did I get out of that wreck with one small scratch? Without wearing a seat belt? I can only attribute it to the grace and mercy of God. I frequently think back to the accident in the Oldsmobile and thank God for sparing my life. Whatever your struggle might be, God’s grace is always available to you.

I am still a pleasure junky but God is the only One who truly satisfies. Prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. I would like to say that because of the car accident I have safely concluded that this world and it’s temptations are dead to me. I would like to say it but it would be an enormous lie. All of us are hedonists who end up wasting precious time looking for happiness in the wrong places.

Finding true pleasure is a matter of life or death because the spiritual well-being of our soul is at stake. One sign that we are growing as Christians is that we are living and obeying God based more out of a sense of delight then duty. Which describes your reasons for obedience these days? Delight or duty? This battle of finding pleasure in Christ is going on in my soul every moment of every day. But this I do believe to be true, and this is what I cling to; Jesus is the only One who brings true, lasting pleasure that never disappoints.

Finding pleasure in the things of this world is not wrong in itself. In fact, God has made this world for us to enjoy.  “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” -1 Timothy 4:4. The problem is when we seek ultimate satisfaction from the world and fail to remember that God, and not his gifts, are to be worshipped.

You may wonder, why share any of this in the first place? I deeply wrestle with that question. Motives are always a murky thing to sort out. I guess this is my best explanation. I don’t think we help our family, church, friends, or the world when we pretend as if we are not sinners saved by the grace of God. I know for certain that everyone I encounter on a day-to-day basis is fighting a spiritual battle and instead of putting up a false image of “having it all together” one of the best things I can do is to say, “yep, me too.” Perhaps if I, if we all, take down the veneer of super-spirituality it will free others to do likewise. I believe God is honored when we openly admit our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30) and boast in His righteousness, grace and goodness.

Although the pursuit of pleasure is a daily, slug it out, spiritual battle I am glad to know that our God not only wants us to be good and moral but also to be as joyful as possible. A joy that is only possible as we go deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

You can read more HERE about what I am up to these days.

It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. -CS Lewis

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! -Psalm 34:8

Seven Signs You Might Be A Legalist

I am currently preaching through the book of Romans and came to this passage…

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 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? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. -Romans 2:1-5 (ESV)

Paul is communicating a number of important truths in this passage. But one takeaway (as seen in verse 4) is that Christians who have genuinely experienced the glorious truths of the gospel should not be harsh, judgmental, or unkind to others. Put it like this. If we really knew how gracious, patient, and kind God has been to us we would repent of our sin and stop being so harsh toward others.

When we fail to understand the gospel we run the risk of becoming highly legalistic in how we relate to the world and to other people.

HERE ARE SEVEN SIGNS  YOU MIGHT BE A LEGALIST

  1. You lack humility. “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.” (Luke 18:11–12).
  2. You turn gray issues into black and white issues. Music, books, movies, modes of schooling, are not just something you have a personal opinion about. You impose your personal convictions on others. It’s really hard for you to believe that others can honestly love the Lord and disagree with you about what is wrong or right.
  3. You have a strong desire to make sure that other people know you are right.
  4. You lack grace, compassion and patience with others. 
  5. You think if it is “secular” it is wrong. Oddly enough, this idea that secular is bad can not be sustained if we think about it for very long. Is the news you listen to Christian? Do you shop at Christian stores? Do you only read books and articles that are written by Christians? Abraham Kuyper put it like this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  6. You have a really hard time dealing with the fact that Jesus was called “a friend of sinners.” Something about that does not sit well with you. You inwardly wonder how Jesus avoided becoming contaminated by the world. Jesus was called a friend of sinners because he was filled with grace, compassion and mercy.
  7. You have a critical spirit but think it is a discerning spirit.

THREE SUGGESTIONS FOR THE POSSIBLE LEGALIST

Take this issue to the Lord in prayer. Ask God to reveal to you if you are failing to show the same grace and patience that he has poured out upon you.

Another idea. Take a few people out (at different times) for coffee and ask them their honest opinion. I don’t mean the people who think just like you. Ask them if they can sense a spirit of legalism in your life. Give them permission to speak their mind.

If you come to the conclusion that you are a legalist ask God to forgive you and to soften your heart so that you love others the same way that he loves you.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. -Matthew 23:23

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. -John 1:17

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. -Romans 14:1

You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. -Galatians 4:10-11

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. -Colossians 2:20-23

 

 

Grace Means We Don’t Have To Hide (Imagine Dragons-Demons)

No doubt in our culture we want to front the best image possible; it’s no different in the church. So we end up hiding parts of our true self. But the emotional and spiritual cost of hiding is astronomical. No one gets to know us for who we are.  Always posing. Keeping up the illusion. Inside we are screaming that there has to be a better way. We need a safe place so that when people see us for who we truly are we know they won’t run away. Instead they stay, listen, love and extend grace.