January 19, 2011

Learning to Live Loved

I've been a Christian since I was 8 and in church since I was born, but it wasn't until I was in my mid-20's that I began to understand God's grace toward me. I shared before on the blog about those life-altering chain of events and I've gotten to share my story with individual women countless times in discipleship and counseling relationships. At first, I thought God was bringing women with similar struggles and personalities to me, but, lately, I've wondered if our struggle with "getting" grace is more pervasive than that. Perhaps there is a lack of understanding and teaching about grace in the church. Or is it that we feel too unworthy so we refuse to receive God's grace? Possibly, we refuse the Spirit's help in His daily application of grace in our lives or feel that we aren't really in need of grace.

I think the biggest problem is that religion has replaced the gospel. Religion, with its tidy list of rules and rituals, is often what we think of when we think of what it means to be a Christian. We feel the weight of expectations and the constant burden of failure because the to-do list never ends. We don't feel like a "good" Christian and, when we compare ourselves to others, we always come up short.

In Galatians, Paul calls this a perverted gospel. It's taking the true gospel and twisting it to where it loses all power and meaning. It's in our nature to twist the gospel toward earning love and approval so we must protect ourselves from thoughts and people that tell us to "be good".

The gospel can be twisted in all manner of ways. CJ Mahaney shows how:
  • Formalism: the gospel is reduced to church activities and service disconnected from the heart and how life is lived
  • Mysticism: the gospel is reduced to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences
  • Activism: the gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes
  • Biblicism: the gospel is reduced to mastery of the biblical content and theology
  • Psychology-ism: the gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs
  • Social-ism: the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships

But from what I've seen and what I've experienced, we mainly twist it through legalism. Legalism is reducing the gospel to good works. In other words, I can earn my salvation and I can earn God's love.

How do you know if you are living as if the twisted gospel of legalism is true? CJ Mahaney gives us some evidence to look for:
  1. You are more aware of and effected by your past sins than the finished work of Christ.
  2. You are more aware of areas you need to grow in than the finished work of Christ. In other words, you figure that if you can just spin enough "discs" (Bible reading, prayer life, meditation, family worship, serving others, church ministry) on your fingers then you’re more accepted with God.
  3. You live thinking, believing, and feeling that God is disappointed with you.
  4. You assume His acceptance is dependant upon your obedience.
  5. You experience regular condemnation.
  6. Your sin in the morning ruins/condemns everything you might seek to do for the Lord that day.
  7. You have an undue concern of what others think about you. For example, someone confesses sin in a small group, and though you struggle with the very same sin, you remain quiet.
  8. You lack joy. You think that joy in the Christian life is based on your worthiness rather than the finished work of Christ. 
Do you struggle to understand grace? Are you striving to please God and feel burdened by your constant failure? 

Over the next few posts, I'll be dealing with these questions and sharing practical ideas of how to walk in grace.

Read the next post here.