Sanctification

You Don’t Need *A* Book, You Need *THE* Book

“Can you recommend a book on how to submit to my husband?”

“What’s a good book on biblical womanhood?”

“I’m going through [difficult life circumstance]. Can you suggest a good book on how I can cope with that?”

I’ll bet if someone did a study to find out which demographic of people reads the most books, it would be Christians. Christians are readers – there’s no denying that – and that’s a good thing.

It always makes my heart smile when a reader asks if I can recommend a good (read: biblical, and by a doctrinally sound author) book on a particular area of sanctification or a life issue she’s struggling with. That tells me she wants to learn what the Bible says and obey it. And that is no small thing in evangelicalism today.

Hear me: Reading good, doctrinally sound books is a good thing.

But – just as with any other good thing – too much of a good thing isn’t the best thing. And letting a good thing veer out of its lane isn’t the best thing.

If you dedicate twelve hours every day to prayer, you’ll never get to the laundry, the bills, the cooking, and the cleaning. If the baby is running a fever and you exegete a chapter of the Bible instead of giving her some medicine or taking her to the doctor, you’re misapplying your Bible study time.

And, while it may not be quite as obvious, we can sometimes face the same challenge with good books.

In my experience there are two general dilemmas that motivate today’s Christian to seek out a good book.

The first is: “I don’t know what the Bible says about _____ topic. I need a book that will teach me so I can correctly understand what Scripture says about it.” For example, a few weeks ago in a Mailbag article, I answered a lady who wanted to know about the eternal destiny of unborn babies who die. Among other resources, I recommended John MacArthur’s book which explains the Scriptures and theology related to that topic.

The second dilemma is: “I know Scripture teaches that Christians are supposed to _____. How do I carry that out in my day to day life?” Or, “I have this difficult situation in my life. What specific things do I do to navigate or handle it in a godly way?” For example, “How do I submit to my husband?” or, the lady from the aforementioned Mailbag article might have asked, “What should walking through the grief of losing a child look like in my daily life?”

The first dilemma is easy and appropriate to plug a book into. The second? Not so much.

Why? Because in the second dilemma we’re asking good books to get out of their lane and perform a task they’re not suited to perform: sanctification. When you’re trying to drive a nail into a board, a hammer is the proper tool for the job, not a screwdriver. You can bang on the nail with the screwdriver, and you might even drive the nail into the wood a millimeter or two, but the bottom line is, you need a hammer. That doesn’t make hammers good and screwdrivers bad, it just means you use the appropriate tool for the job at hand.

And in cases of, “Where does the rubber of Scripture meet the road of my unique, individual life?” the right tool for the job at hand – the method God has prescribed in His Word – is not reaching for a book written by man, it’s God’s sanctifying work in your heart and life. And that’s a big pot of gumbo with a lot of different ingredients in it:

  • Studying your Bible
  • Prayer- for help, for wisdom, for guidance, for strength
  • Obedience to the Word
  • Faith, trust, and utter dependence on God
  • Getting good counsel from godly friends and loved ones, your pastor, or spiritually mature women in your church

And the final ingredient that goes into the pot? Action. Step out on faith in God and His Word to help you and guide you, and just do it. Try. Figure it out as you go.

If you want to learn how to ride a bicycle, you’re eventually going to have to stop reading books about bicycles and get on one and ride. Feel that balance and coordination of muscle movements in your own body. Learn by doing.

And, guess what? You’re going to fall down a few times. You’re going to try things that don’t work. You’re going to sin (and repent and be forgiven). And you’ll learn and grow from that. Falling is part of the learning and growing process of sanctification.

for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
Proverbs 24:16a

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
Psalm 37:23-24

I think we believe that success is in not falling. It’s not. It’s in getting back up and learning mastery of the skill.

The Bible never says we won’t fall. It says that when we do, God is holding our hand, and He’ll help us get back up.

But learning and growing and falling can be a messy, frustrating process that takes a long time. And what we want is a fast, streamlined formula that bypasses the mess and gives us guaranteed results. And, without even realizing it, we can fall into the mindset of thinking that the right book will be the magic bullet to solve our problem. We want a book to tell us what to do to keep from falling – and we think that’s mastery or success. But it isn’t. Mastery and success come from doing, from going through the process. We want a book to tell us how to get the right answer to our problem, but while the right answer is important, the growth, maturing, and mastery of going through the process is more important to our spiritual growth.

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12b-13

And it’s not just that walking through the process of working out your own salvation with the Lord and His Word rather than reaching for a book is the way God has prescribed, it’s that God’s way is far superior to reaching for a book, because God’s way is divinely powered by the Holy Spirit.

When you pick up a book written by a human being, it can give you practical tips and good advice and maybe even point you to some passages of Scripture you should study. But the Bible doesn’t just tell us what to do and give us some good ideas, it is actually, literally transformative as we are reading it.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The Holy Spirit moves in and around and through His Word as you’re reading it to supernaturally work to conform your heart and mind to the image of Christ. That’s something you can’t get from any other book, no matter who wrote it or how doctrinally sound it is.

And one of the most amazing things about the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work through His Word is that it’s personal. Books, by definition, have to be “one size fits all” – generally applicable to a wide audience. They can’t tell you what submitting to your husband in your marriage in your life circumstances is going to look like at 10:17 a.m. next Tuesday. But Scripture can, as God uses it to sanctify you.

But there’s one other aspect of the knee jerk, “I need a book” mindset that we need to be really careful about.

If, every time there’s an issue in our lives, our reflex reaction is to get on social media and ask for book recommendations instead of turning to the Word, prayer, and godly counsel, is that not a subtle, functional denial of the sufficiency of Scripture?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us…
2 Peter 1:3a

When the Bible says it will make us complete, equipped for every good work and all things that pertain to life and godliness, that’s exactly what it means: Every. All. We do not need other books in order to handle life’s situations in a godly way. And every Believer who came along before Christian books were a thing is proof of that. Good books aren’t a bad thing, and they can be helpful, but the Bible says it is sufficient – all we need – for anything that comes our way.

But when we reach for a book before we reach for the Bible, aren’t we saying with our actions, “The Bible’s not enough. I need more. I need something better.”?

I can’t answer that for you and you can’t answer that for me, but it’s a good thing to ask ourselves and answer honestly before God.

Good, solid, doctrinally sound books aren’t the bad guy. They can be wonderfully helpful and encouraging. But let’s make sure we’re submitting to God’s prescribed methods of sanctification, esteeming and depending on God’s supernatural work in our hearts through His Word, and not accidentally eroding the sufficiency of Scripture.

Let’s be people of the Book, before we’re people of the books.

Christian women, Sanctification

Safe Spaces and Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves: 6 Ways to Follow Jesus’ Example of Handling Hurt

Originally published April 13, 2018

Political correctness.

Safe spaces.

Trigger warnings.

Microaggressions.

You can hardly say the sky is blue or water is wet these days without offending somebody. It shouldn’t be surprising to us that when self reigns on the throne of a person’s heart, she will bow down and serve the king of personal feelings. And as a loyal subject, she will fight to the death any perceived threat to that ruling authority. It is normal for unsaved people to live their lives with their feelings leading them around by the nose.

It is not normal for Christians to live that way. And it concerns me that I’m seeing more and more Christian women who allow themselves to be controlled by their feelings rather than being controlled by Christ.

(I’m about to step on some toes, here, so if you’re offended {maybe especially if you’re offended} by what follows, hang in there with me until we get past the hurt feelings and arrive at God’s Word, or you’re actually going to be proving my point.)

❤ Last May, the day before Mother’s Day, I was sort of mindlessly flipping through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, when something caught my notice. Tweet after tweet, status after status, article after article about Mother’s Day. But the vast majority of those posts were not honoring and encouraging women who are mothers, which is the whole point of Mother’s Day. They were focused on women for whom Mother’s Day is painful. Women who are infertile. Single women who haven’t had children. Women who have lost children in miscarriage or other tragedies. People whose mothers have died. Mothers whose children are estranged.

❤ As April Fool’s Day approached this year, I began noticing admonishments not to say, “I’m pregnant,” as an April Fool’s joke on social media in order to protect the feelings of women struggling with infertility or have miscarried.

❤ I have heard from dozens of women who refuse to obey God’s command to join with a doctrinally sound local church – even though they’re physically and logistically able to – because they have been hurt by a previous church.

❤ Christian women who follow false teachers commonly lash out in anger – often displaying the opposite of every one of the fruits of the Spirit – when presented with incontrovertible biblical evidence that the teacher is promoting false doctrine.

❤ And have you seen the fracas over racism in evangelicalism lately? Ungodly statements and accusations are flying from both sides of the aisle because, feelings: feelings of being owed something, fear of man feelings of not wanting to appear racist, feelings of retribution, feelings of pride and self-righteousness.

Life circumstances and other people genuinely and validly hurt us sometimes. No sane person would deny that, and certainly no Christian with a modicum of Christlike compassion would deny it. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the painful situations I mentioned above. Pain – deep, agonizing, and often undeserved pain – goes with the territory of being human. None of us are immune.

And, if you’re a Christian, you worship a Savior who more than understands what it’s like to be hurt – not just the physical torture of flogging and crucifixion, but the emotional pain during his life of being “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Jesus experienced far more misery than you or I ever will, and yet, He handled it in a way that brought honor and glory to God. As His disciples, we are called to follow His example when it comes to our own pain.

Jesus didn’t allow His pain to reign

During His lifetime on earth, Jesus’ own brothers and sisters didn’t believe in Him. The leaders and members of His “church” abused, slandered, and falsely accused Him. His community eventually wanted Him dead.

Jesus could have allowed this grief to stay at the forefront of His heart and mind, governing His thoughts and reactions towards others and towards life in general. But He didn’t. He chose to deal with His pain in a godly way, refusing to allow it to control Him, paralyze Him, or deter Him from His mission, but putting it in its proper perspective. Pain is not paramount – holiness is. Jesus didn’t allow His pain to reign – He determined that His heart and mind would be led by holy thoughts and actions.

Jesus didn’t expect people to accommodate His feelings

Can you imagine Jesus demanding a safe space or that people refrain from posting certain things on social media in order to protect His feelings? Neither can I. It must have been monumentally difficult to endure the insults and mockery that constantly came His way, especially when He had the power (and the right) to shut those people up so He wouldn’t have to deal with all of that. Instead, Jesus accepted that hurtful people and circumstances are part of life and He proactively chose to respond to those people and circumstances in a godly way – setting an example for us in the process.

Jesus forgave

Not just one person, one time, or one situation. Seventy times seven. Even if the person didn’t ask for forgiveness. Even if the person innocently stuck his foot in his mouth. Not once do we see Jesus harboring bitterness in His heart or holding a grudge against someone who hurt Him personally, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Jesus forgave and moved on with His life and ministry.

Jesus was content

Sometimes, it’s not a person who hurts us, but the circumstances God has sovereignly brought or allowed into our lives. Did you catch that? Anything that’s going on in your life is only going on because God is permitting it or causing it. From infertility to medical conditions to racism to the consequences of sin, God is in charge of what happens to you, and He uses these painful situations to teach you obedience, cause you to depend on and trust in Him, and conform you to the image of Christ.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus said. Jesus was homeless, poor, unmarried, and childless, yet never once do we see Him complain about any of these circumstances. He accepted the station in life to which God had assigned Him and was content with His lot, making the most of His situation to the glory of God. We can follow Jesus in that godly mindset, realizing that “godliness with contentment is great gain” and that the Holy Spirit can empower us to find ways to be content no matter our situation.

Jesus didn’t retaliate or sin when His feelings were hurt

If our response to a hurtful person or situation is to take vengeance, lash out in anger, or wallow in self-pity, we aren’t acting the way Jesus did. He never retaliated against those who hurt him, failed to exercise self-control in responding to unkind people, or felt sorry for Himself as a result of his situation. Jesus always perfectly showcased the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Jesus focused on others, not Himself

Did Jesus stay home from the wedding at Cana because He couldn’t deal with the fact that someone else was getting married and He wasn’t? Was He overcome by hurt and jealousy when people brought their children to Him because He longed to experience the joys unique to fatherhood? No. He made sure the happy couple’s big day was even better by celebrating with them and giving them an awesome gift. He embraced and blessed other people’s children, pouring out His love upon them.

It is absolutely and inarguably incumbent upon us as compassionate, caring, kind, and merciful followers of Christ to weep with those who weep in the midst of suffering. We follow in Jesus’ footsteps by comforting others with the comfort He has shown us. We do our best to be sensitive to the hurts of others and not cause additional or unnecessary pain. We lift up the fallen and strengthen the knees that are weak, just like Jesus did.

But God also requires us to draw upon His strength, look past our own pain, and rejoice with those who rejoice. Just as it is good and right to comfort a friend who’s infertile or grieve with parents who have miscarried, it is also good and right for that friend and those parents to rejoice on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with those whom God has chosen to bless with children, or to celebrate with loved ones who have just announced a pregnancy. We take the focus off ourselves and put it on others, just like Jesus did.

Life hurts sometimes. And it’s OK to feel that pain. To grieve over loss. To mourn over suffering. But we cannot let those feelings be the boss of how we act and think. If we are to follow Christ, we must ask Him to help us follow His example of dealing with our raw and tender feelings: not expecting people to tiptoe around us, not allowing bitterness or unforgiveness to take over our hearts, not allowing our pain to reign and cause us to sin. We follow Christ’s example by taking up our cross daily, following Him, serving others, and living to the full the lives God has ordained for us. Whether it’s easy or it’s hard. Whether we’re joyful or sorrowful. Whether we feel like it or not.

Christian women, Idolatry, Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Little Women

Originally published June 13, 2014

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame
I’d rather be true to His holy name

We sang this lovely hymn in church the other day, and it was perfect timing. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about women I’ve known across the years, women I’ve known of (but not personally) across the years, and the woman I’ve known best across the years, me. And I’ve been thinking about how and where we find our worth, fulfillment, and contentment and where we should find it: in Christ.

I don’t know about you, but one of the sins I constantly struggle against is coveting. It’s a sin we don’t think about very much. A private one that, often, nobody knows about except God and me.

And you know what I covet? What I think we all covet? Men’s applause. Worldwide fame. Or, at least, fame in my little corner of the world.

When we were children in Sunday school, coveting was sometimes explained to us as “wanting for ourselves what someone else has.” Her new doll. His fancier bike. It’s a decent kid-level definition, but in the same way that Jesus reminded us that the root sin of murder is hate and the root sin of adultery is lust we need to mature in our understanding of coveting, and realize that it also has a root sin: discontentment. Sometimes, it’s discontentment with what we have (greed), and sometimes it’s discontentment with who we are.

And who are we?

As Believers, we are children of the God of the universe who, despite our sin and rebellion against Him, loved us enough to lay down His own life to rescue us. He listens to us. He accepts us. He provides for us. And don’t even get me started on Heaven.

And if contemplating all that isn’t enough, the Bible tells us to be content. So why aren’t we? Why woud we rather have Jesus and men’s applause, and worldwide fame?

Because, as John Calvin so aptly put it, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Our sinful flesh is always looking to gratify itself rather than glorify God. Any time our hearts say, “God’s not enough. I want more,” we’re committing idolatry, because whatever the “more” is, it’s other than God and lesser than God, and we’re seeking it instead of seeking God. And, as women, one of the biggest “more” idols we seek is feeling good about ourselves, or feeling worthy of love and acceptance.

But instead of looking to Christ and letting Him define for us a right perspective of ourselves, we hit the crack pipe of the praise of men. It’s fast. It’s cheap. It’s easy. And the high is nearly instantaneous. How? Allow me to introduce you to some frenemies of mine:

Mother and Daughter HuggingMarla MegaMom- Marla lives for and through her kids. Their successes are her successes. Their failures, her failures. She subtly or overtly pressures her kids to achieve because if they fail she’s afraid others won’t see her as a good mom. And being a failure as a mom means being a failure in life.

Woman Singing

Dina Diva- Dina literally seeks the applause of others. She’s the top church soloist and the star of every Christmas production. She’s a public speaker or an instrumentalist or an actress, anything that can be done on a stage. Dina doesn’t feel good about herself unless people are clapping for her.

woman-164299_640-1978279293Veronica Victim- Poor Veronica. Everything in her life is always going wrong at home, at work, at church, with friends, with her health, with her car, with her dog. Nobody understands just how hard Veronica has it, so she makes it her life’s mission to let people know. In every story she tells, Veronica is the victim, and somebody else (or everybody else) is the bad guy. Please feel sorry for Veronica, because that’s the only way she can feel better about herself.

woman_angel_costume_kindlephoto-8131448Helen the Heroine- Helen is Veronica’s cousin. In every story Helen tells, she’s the heroine, the paragon of virtue, the one who did everything right short of severing a limb to make everything work out, and somebody else is the bad guy. Helen is divorced and the bad guy is usually her ex-husband, but she’s versataile enough to apply her story telling skills to situations at work, church, with friends, etc. Helen thinks if you don’t see her as a heroine, she’s worthless.

super-woman-halloween-adult-costume-aef98eb9
Photo courtesy of CostumeCollection.com.au

Sally Superwoman- Sally does everything, and she does it superbly. She’s employee of the year at work and world’s best wife and mom at home. She’s a gourmet cook, flawlessly recreates every cake and craft on Pinterest, and her house looks like a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. Other women know she’s got it all together, so she keeps all her plates spinning at a furious pace, because if one of them fell where would she be?

MP900178801

Popular Polly- Polly is everybody’s friend. She’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet with never a cross word for, or about, anybody. She agrees with (or at least doesn’t obviously disagree with) whatever is being said by the person she’s talking to at the moment, so it can be hard to pin down what she really believes. When someone unfriends/unfollows Polly on social media, she takes it personally, wondering what she did wrong. She only likes herself if enough other people like her.

reading-216862_640Know It All Nettie- Maybe she’s got multiple degrees, or maybe she’s just well read, but Nettie is an expert. In everything. She sees it as her calling to educate people, starting a lot of sentences with, “Well, actually…” and rarely asking questions that would reveal her lack of knowledge on a subject. Ignorance is a weakness in Nettie’s mind, and she wants to be seen as strong.

MP900427741_kindlephoto-8317786 Maisy the Martyr- Whenever there’s a request for helpers at church, someone to pull overtime or fill in for a co-worker, volunteers at the soup kitchen, the fulfillment of the smallest need of her family, Maisy will be there, working tirelessly. She secretly gets angry when no one recognizes her for all her hard work or when people take advantage of her, but she’s afraid to say no because she’s afraid people will be upset with her, and what kind of person would she be then?

Woman Doing Sit-ups Let’s Get Physical Phyllis- Whether she’s one to wear revealing clothes so all the men stare or she’s an organic, vegan workout queen, or she’s a clotheshorse, Phyllis is all about one thing: her body and how it looks. Did a construction worker whilstle at her today? A co-worker compliment her outfit? If not, maybe Phyllis had better lose a few more pounds or get that plastic surgery she’s been considering. After all, if people stop looking, she’s nothing.

man-315069_640Man-datory Maude- Maude always has a man. Always. Preferably an awesome one, but even a mediocre or lousy man is better than no man at all. Why? It’s tangible proof somebody wants her. Otherwise, how will people be able to see she’s a worthwhile person?

MP900289528Take Charge Tallulah- Follow? You must be joking, darling. Tallulah was born to lead and plays second fiddle to no one. She’s the chair of every committee she’s on, and always the one to round up the worker bees and start doling out orders. No points for second place. If you’re not first, you’re last. Tallulah needs the submission of others to feel self confident.

Are you one of these women? Or, if you’re as Sybil as I am, maybe you’re all of these women. Little women, all. Little, because Maisy, Helen, Sally, and all the rest are coveting and settling for crumbs of approval from others when God is offering them the whole bakery of His delight in them. Little, because they’re zeroing in on one tiny aspect of their lives to earn the praise of men instead of lifting their eyes to the broad expanse of Heaven and focusing on the Christ who loves them and has set them free to rest in His acceptance of them through His shed blood.

There’s nothing wrong with eating right or being friendly, or serving, singing, or teaching. Those are all good things. But just as God can take the most evil things and use them for good, we, because of our sinful nature, have a tendency to take good things and use them for evil. And evil isn’t too strong a word when we’re talking about taking the good gifts and talents God has given us and using them to pursue idolatry.

So what can we do? Romans 12:21 tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When that evil coveting of praise and notoriety rears its ugly head:

  • Overcome it by confessing your coveting and idolatry and asking God to forgive you for it.
  • Overcome it by asking God to help you do everything for His glory, so that men will praise Him and make His name famous instead of yours.
  • Overcome it by letting go and saying no. If you’re Dina, it’s OK to let somebody else have the leading role. If you’re Maude, it’s OK to stay home on date night. If you’re Veronica and someone asks how you’re doing, it’s OK to smile and say, “Fine.”
  • Overcome it by preaching the gospel to yourself. Remember how big God is, how small and weak you are and the lengths of love that He went to to save you anyway. Not because of who you are, but because of who He is. Rest in that, and praise and thank God for it.

And let’s have no more of these little women.

Sanctification, Sin

Guilt and Shame- Burden or Blessing?

 

I agree with what you’re saying, I’m just afraid it might arouse guilt and shame in newer believers, as well as those with sensitive consciences,” a follower recently said in response to a statement of biblical truth I posted on social media. I’ve been pondering that ever since she said it. It was good food for thought.

Guilt and shame are not subjects we often talk about outright. Rather, they seem to be a taboo silently woven into the fabric of our collective consciousness in 21st century Western culture – even in evangelicalism. It’s an unspoken law with the direst of consequences: “Thou shalt never say or do anything that causes anyone to feel guilty or ashamed for the choices she has made or the way she lives her life.” If you do, cancel culture will hunt you down and publicly eviscerate you. You’ll be shunned, and you can kiss your reputation goodbye. Why? Because our society tells us that guilt and shame are the absolute worst things someone can feel.

But is that really true? Or could it be that the prince of the power of the air is lying to us yet again?

While the church has historically done a stellar job of sharing the good news that Christ took away our guilt and shame on the cross, it has not always done a good job of explaining what the emotions¹ of guilt and shame are or the proper function they are to serve in the lives of both Believers and unbelievers.

There are two kinds of emotional guilt and shame: biblically appropriate and biblically inappropriate. Biblically appropriate guilt and shame is when you feel guilty and ashamed as a result of doing something wrong. Biblically inappropriate guilt and shame is when you feel guilty and ashamed when you haven’t done anything wrong.

Biblically appropriate guilt and shame are good gifts from God. They are like a fever that tells you you’re sick and need to take some medicine. Lost or saved, new Believer or seasoned Saint, sensitive conscience or not, if someone is sinning, she should feel guilt and shame, because she has transgressed a holy God. For the lost person, that guilt and shame is an internal reminder that she stands forensically (legally) guilty before God and needs a Savior. For the Believer, that guilt and shame is the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading her to repent and obey Christ instead of sinning. Biblically appropriate guilt and shame are biblically appropriate because your feelings about what you’ve done match the facts of what you’ve done. You feel guilty and ashamed because you are guilty of doing something shameful: sin.

The warning sign of guilt and shame is a blessing from a good, kind, and merciful God calling us to repent immediately and return to Him before we dig ourselves into a deeper pit of sin. Like a loving father who starts with a stern look when his child first misbehaves and then progressively moves on to increasing levels of discipline, God does not pour out the full fury of His wrath at our first bobble toward sin. He starts with the “stern look” of guilt and shame.

Have you ever read the Old Testament and explored some of the more drastic warning signs God had to send His people, and the pagans they lived among, when they sinned and hardened their hearts against the guilt and shame He blessed them with? Have you contemplated the horrors of eternal conscious torment in Hell, lately? When we consider…

  • how dangerous sin is for us in this life,
  • how petrifying the prospect of what God could do to us, has every right to do to us in His anger over our sin if He were so inclined,
  • how the heart of God is not to punish and destroy, but to redeem and reconcile

…it is much easier to recognize biblically appropriate guilt and shame as an act of unfathomable love from God.

If a professing Christian doesn’t normally feel guilt and shame when she has clearly sinned, she should be extremely concerned. That is usually the fruit of someone who is unregenerate, not someone who is saved, and she would do well to follow Scripture’s mandate to examine herself against rightly handled Scripture to see if she is indeed in the faith.

But what about experiencing biblically inappropriate shame and guilt? In the life of a genuinely regenerated Christian, biblically inappropriate shame and guilt mainly takes one of two forms:

  • feeling shame and guilt for your own pre-salvation sins, or post-salvation sins you’ve already repented of
  • feeling shame and guilt for someone else’s sin or for something else outside your control

This kind of shame and guilt is inappropriate because it is misapplied. God intended shame and guilt to bring you to repentance for your sin, not to haunt you for sin you’ve already repented of or for someone else’s sin or something outside your control.

If you have bowed the knee to Christ in repentance and faith that His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin, then God’s good gift of guilt and shame has done its job. It’s over. Christ took your guilt and shame and sin, nailed it all to the cross – and it died there. It did not come down off the cross with Jesus, and it was not resurrected with Him. You have the glorious privilege as one robed in the righteousness of Christ, to rebuke those feelings of guilt and shame over past sins any time they rear their ugly heads, armed with the knowledge that you are forgiven and free. Christ paid with His blood to give you the right not to have to feel those feelings. Send them packing by praising God for His wonderful gift of grace and mercy to you in Christ.

And what about feeling guilt and shame for someone else’s sin? Perhaps you did your best to raise your child in a godly way, but he grew up to become a rapist or murderer, and you feel guilty. Maybe someone committed the sin of abuse against you and you’re dying of shame inside. If I just hadn’t done this, or if I had only done that, he wouldn’t have done what he did. It’s my fault.

May I make a suggestion? Do a good, long, hard study of Ezekiel 18. God is crystal clear – in such a loving and comforting way – that He does not hold you responsible for anyone’s sin but your own. You are – not as a matter of subjective opinion or feelings, but as a matter of forensic, objective fact – not guilty of that person’s sin. So if you’re feeling guilt and shame, your feelings don’t match the facts. Your feelings are boldly and brashly lying to you in the face of what God says is true about you. He says you’re not guilty. Your feelings say you are. Who are you going to believe?

That’s why it’s incredibly important that we believe God’s objectively true written Word over and above our feelings. It’s also why it makes me so angry when seeker driven churches and women’s “Bible” study materials focus on your personal feelings, opinions, preferences, and life experiences instead of properly teaching you the Bible. How can you believe God’s Word over your feelings if you don’t even know God’s Word? When all you know is your raw emotions and not what God says, that leaves you trapped, a slave to your con artist feelings, when you could be completely set free from the shame and guilt God never intended for you to feel for someone else’s sin.

And, finally, you could be feeling biblically inappropriate guilt for an accident or something else outside your control. If we had just bought a different house, we wouldn’t have been living in this one when the tornado hit, and my husband would still be alive. If I had just taken a different route, I wouldn’t have encountered that unexpected traffic accident and missed my daughter’s senior recital.

There’s a key truth all Christians need to come to grips with here: God is sovereign over every atom and event in the universe. You are not. God knows the future. You do not. God is God. You are not. When you feel guilty for things you had no way of knowing, preventing, or avoiding, you are essentially saying you should have God’s omnipotence and omniscience. You’re feeling guilty for not being God.

And your feelings of guilt over something like this are also saying that God was wrong for allowing what happened to happen, because if you were God, you wouldn’t have let it happen. Take a moment and let that sink in. Your feelings of guilt over something unforeseen and unavoidable say that you think you could do a better job of being God than He can. Well, let me tell you what we both already know. You can’t.

God determined from the foundations of the earth exactly which day, and how, and where, your husband was going to die. If it wasn’t God’s will that he die in a tornado on that day, in that house, he wouldn’t have. If God wanted you at your daughter’s recital, you would have been there.

You don’t have control. Control is an illusion. God has control. (And that’s good. Because God knows faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar better than we do the right thing to do in every situation.) And if you don’t have control, then you didn’t do anything wrong. And if you didn’t do anything wrong, feeling guilty is biblically inappropriate, a) because God’s purpose for guilt is to draw you to repentance over your sin, not for failing to achieve Godhood, and b) because your feelings (“I’m guilty!”) don’t match the facts (you’re not).

God is sovereign. He always does what is right and best in every situation, even if you can’t see it and don’t understand. And because He always does what is right and best, you can trust Him in those terrible incomprehensible situations. Take some time to study what God’s Word says about trusting Him.

 

A major problem in evangelicalism today is that we have followed the world’s lead and made people’s feelings into a god. We are more worried about hurting people’s feelings than providing them actual biblical help. And we all, including me, need to repent of that and stop it. It is infinitely better to fleetingly hurt someone’s feelings with biblical truth that leads her to Christ, than to allow her feelings to be an untouchable idol that keeps her in sin.

There has to be something higher, more important, than protecting someone from feeling biblically appropriate guilt and shame. There has to be something lofty enough to rescue people out of biblically inappropriate guilt and shame.

There is: God and His Word.

Exalting God and His Word to their proper and deserved place of preeminence and authority, and submitting to them in our hearts, minds, churches, and relationships is not simplistic, it’s foundational. And when it comes to the veneration of people’s feelings (and far too many other issues) we have become the foolish man who has traded a foundation on the rock of God’s truth and His ways for one on the enticingly sandy beach of worldly “wisdom”.

And, y’all…

…it’s starting to rain.

 


¹There is also a forensic definition of guilt. For example, if you rob a bank, you are forensically (legally), objectively guilty of the crime of robbery regardless of how you feel about it. This article deals mainly with the emotion of guilt– feeling guilty, or having a guilty conscience.
Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Ways to Leave Your First Love

Originally published April 29, 2016

6 ways first love

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

Love…exciting and new….

If you’re a child of the 80s, you probably recognize those few words as the opening line of the theme song from the TV show, The Love Boat. It was all about romance, attraction, and the first blush of new love. Perfect strangers met, fell for each other in a matter of days and walked off the ship arm in arm when it sailed back into port. (There was also a lot of fornication, so that’s not an endorsement of the show.)

Anyone who’s ever fallen in love before remembers that excitement, the nearly illicit drug-like rush of those first days and weeks of romance. Your heart and mind are consumed with him 24/7. You can’t wait to see him again. Just having a conversation with him sets your toes a-tingle. You start realizing your friends are constantly changing the subject because he’s all you can talk about.

I remember those days when I first met my husband. After twenty-three years of marriage, that initial seedling of obsessive infatuation has grown into a sturdy, sedate, deeply rooted California redwood of love and trust. Our love for each other may not look like it did when we first started dating, but it’s still there. In fact, that love is bigger and stronger now than it ever has been.

It saddens me that it’s not that way for every couple. Sometimes, instead of puppy love growing into mature love, it’s more like a Fourth of July sparkler that burns brightly at first, and then fizzles down to a smoking ember as time goes by. Couples let things get in the way of their relationship. They pull away from each other instead of toward each other. They stop talking. They stop spending time together. Outwardly, they can be going through all the right motions, but, behind closed doors, their love has died.

And that’s where we find Christ’s bride, the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2.

This is not a bad church where sin is running rampant and false doctrine is being taught. This is basically a good church. Christ commends the Ephesian church for their good deeds, hard work, endurance, and, especially, their discernment. Outwardly, they were doing all the right things, and doing them well.

But that wasn’t enough for Christ. Just like it wouldn’t be enough for a husband whose wife is simply a good cook, a good mother, and a good housekeeper.

Christ doesn’t just want the good deeds and doctrine of His bride. He wants her heart, too. Not just her labor, but her love. And because you and I are the church, He wants that from us as individuals as well. He wants our love for Him to steadily grow from that first spark to deep maturity, not to burn down to a smoldering wick.

Have you, like the church at Ephesus, left your first love for Christ? It can be so easy for our affection toward Him and our enjoyment of Him to slip away that sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. Maybe it’s time for a little evaluation? Got any of these dynamics playing out in your walk?

1. You spend a lot of time hanging out in one particular area of the faith.

It’s no secret that I hang out in Discernment Land a lot. Maybe that’s why this passage in Revelation hits me so hard. First Church of Ephesus spent a lot of time there, too. Discernment and contending for the faith are good things. Christ praised this church for standing strong against false doctrine and comparing every teaching to Scripture.

There are a lot of other wonderful areas of Christianity to explore and grow in, too. Studying theology is a good thing. So are prayer, worship, serving, giving, hospitality, evangelism, Bible study, and so on. But too much of one good thing can squeeze out time and desire for other good things. It can be challenging, but we’ve got to maintain a balance of all the good stuff in order to have a healthy relationship with Christ.

2. You’re in a “perseverance” season of life.

Life as a first century Christian was no picnic. People’s families turned against them, many lost their livelihoods, there was the constant threat of torture and persecution nearly inconceivable to us today, and false doctrine continued to creep into the church and had to be fought off. We get a little hint of this when, in the first three verses of this passage, Christ uses the words “endurance,” “grown weary,” and “perseverance” (twice).

When God is allowing or causing circumstances to occur in your life that put you through the wringer, you can slip into survival mode. But it’s not really survival without regularly communing with Christ. It’s vital that you spend time with Christ during these difficult periods of your life so your relationship with Him doesn’t grow cold.

3. Good works are overwhelming your schedule.

The good works God has called you to are a good thing. Just as Christ recognized the “deeds and toil” of the Ephesian church, He has prepared good works for you to do and wants you to do them. But there are those good works that God has prepared for you to do and will provide the time for: serving your family, serving your church, being a faithful employee; and then there can be additional good works you over-extend yourself for. When you are so busy serving – even at church or in ministry activities – that your personal relationship with Christ suffers or your primary area of service to your family suffers, you are too busy. It’s time to reevaluate and cut back somewhere.

4. You’re not faithfully attending church.

If you’re regularly choosing travel, ballgames, birthday parties, sleeping in, shopping, visiting family, or any other non-essential, non-emergency activity over faithfully attending church, you are sinning, and you need to stop it and get your heiney back in the pew every week. When Scripture says gathering for worship with other Christians is your first priority, you need to obey that.

But it’s more than just adhering to some arbitrary rule. God doesn’t make arbitrary rules. His commands are always for our good. When you miss church, you’re missing out on the teaching and proclamation of God’s word, the celebration of Christ with your brothers and sisters, the opportunity to fellowship with and help bear the burdens of other believers, the encouragement and sharpening of running the race with your teammates, and the chance to serve the body of Christ. All of these things direct our focus to Christ, His beauty and His love for us, which, in turn, grows our love for Him.

5. You’re neglecting personal time in the Word and prayer.

I spend a lot of time in and around the Word. I’m normally at church, Sunday school, and Wednesday night Bible study every week. I teach my children the Bible every morning. My husband leads us in family worship. I write about biblical topics, which requires study of the Word. I listen to sermons and Christian podcasts all the time. But even with all that, when I don’t get up and start the day alone with God in prayer and in His word, I can feel myself slipping away from Him. And I know from experience that if I let that go on long enough, there’s going to be a rift between us, I’m going to keep pulling away from Him, and I’m not only going to miss out on that intimate, loving communion with Him, I’m going to leave myself wide open to temptation to sin.

Neglecting your Bible study and prayer time has a similar effect on your relationship with Christ as refusing to talk to or spend time with your husband would have on your marriage. Don’t give Christ the silent treatment. Stay in close fellowship with Him through His word and prayer.

6. You’re cherishing sin.

It’s a sin. You know it because the Bible clearly says so. You do it anyway. You keep doing it because you like it. Maybe it’s something “big” like pornography or embezzlement. Maybe it’s something “small” like coveting or gossip. But every step you take toward that sin is a step away from Christ and your love for Him. Every time you commit that act, you’re saying, “I love my sin more than I love Christ.”

 

Have you left your first love? Are you going through all the right motions outwardly, but inwardly your heart is far from God? Are you committing spiritual adultery with sin, letting busyness crowd out your relationship with the Lord, neglecting time in the Word and prayer? Do you long for that intimate communion with Christ you once had? Great news! He wants that for you, too.

…remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.

God is gracious and merciful, and He wants your heart, not just your right actions. He stands ready to forgive you, reconcile you to Himself, and restore that sweet love and fellowship.