“What I really want to do… I don't. And what I don't want to do I end up doing. How can I get free of this?”
I can be all sunshine and light when… boom… a thunderstorm erupts: “Where did that come from? Is that coming out of me?” And my words, or my actions, or my thoughts condemn me.
I think of Paul, in Romans 7:
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. But now, [it is] no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but [how] to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will [to do], I do not do; but the evil I will not [to do], that I practice. Now if I do what I will not [to do], it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15-24 NKJV)
Wow… that's encouraging! One of the most brilliant and influential men of God who ever lived had the same struggles as I have. What hope is there for me?
Supposedly, there was a really disgusting form of capital punishment back in Paul's day: A dead body would be strapped to the back of the offender. As the dead body began decomposing it would infect the body of the offender, causing a slow, painful death. And Paul is saying that to be good is like trying to survive with a dead body attached to you.
For my Thursday night class, I wrote the word “commandments” on a whiteboard and asked, “What words do you think of when you hear this word? Their list, in part, contained these words:
- No fun
I then asked the following: “How much of the trouble in your life was because you couldn't play by the rules?”
After some more discussion, we went back and looked at our descriptions of the word “commandments.” We looked again at how much of the failure in our lives was caused by being unwilling or unable to do the right thing. And then we looked at this verse:
Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3 NLT)
Really…. Something just doesn't go together here. We are asked to keep something we've never before been able to keep, and then we're asked to believe the whole process is not burdensome.
This is where the audience is thinned out. “Why would anybody in their right mind want to submit to a God that has a standard no one could possibly keep?”
I hate to use the word “sin” anymore. Not because I'm for it… I am against sin. But sin has associations with it that just lock us all up in a cell with a sign that reads: “Condemned.” God's concept of sin has been so twisted by religion we are unable to look at it from anywhere close to His perspective.
I know what sin means but still, when I hear the word “sin” I hear: “You don't measure up, and you can't ever measure up.” If I never hear those words again in my life I have enough mp3s, cassette tapes, and maybe even a few eight-tracks back in the recesses of my mind that I can play at any time—to remind me.
His commandments are not burdensome…? I'm missing something. How is it possible to keep something that I've never been very good at keeping—let alone expect it to not be so heavy?
At this point it's very easy to dismiss what God says is possible—labeling it instead as impossible. We then begin to water down all of His expectations for us to a level that won't strain our faith. And we're left with expectations that can be met without any involvement on His part. Instead of saying, “There must be some way of doing this. I must keep searching,” we say, “There's no way of doing this. I'm going to quit trying.”
I had the privilege of attending the Brownsville Revival in the nineties. I had read about moves of God but had never seen one. I remember getting in line at 6:30 a.m. to secure seats for the other members of my group for that night's service. How weird is that… to stand in line for twelve hours just to go to church?
Now… I was prepared for this service. I actually had scratched out a list of all my “sins” on a sheet from a yellow pad, and I was prepared to be dealt with by God! As we were seated in the sanctuary, waiting for the start of the service, I began to read from Psalm 3. Soon after I started reading a drop of water fell on the pages of my Bible… then another… then another. When I read, “But thou, O LORD, [art] a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head,” I was no longer reading what David said, but speaking directly to God in my own words. I was in the presence of the God of the universe. My shoulders began to heave from my weeping. People turned around and stared at me… “What's with this guy… the service hasn't even started.” But I was caught up in the presence of the Lord. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, God was paying attention to me. And He did not bring up one single item on my list. At that point, my theology was seriously messed up.
It is so, so important to believe what God says even when it flies in the face of what you think. If you allow yourself to believe or if you allow yourself to continue to believe that what He says is simply impossible then you will lock yourself out of the possibility of ever coming to an understanding of what He is saying to you.
You will likely never experience what you are unwilling to consider. Let me say it again: What you won't consider, you most likely won't ever experience.
If I refuse to consider that keeping his commandments is even possible—let alone not burdensome—then I give Him absolutely nothing to work with. And if I am especially stubborn, not even a “Brownsville” moment will convince me. I will look at His every precept and every promise, through a fence of my own construction that surrounds me with limitations.
Don't allow yourself to be dominated by half-truths. As an example, for me to hear the word “sin”and think: “Mike, you don't measure up, and you can't ever measure up,” is absolutely true. It was true for me for me the very moment before I gave my life to Jesus— just as it is true for every person before he or she is saved. It's what drives us to repentance. Sadly, it's also true for every one of us as Christians who try to go it alone, after we're saved.
You may believe you don't measure up. You may believe you can't measure up. But that is only true if you are trying to do it without Christ. The really good news is: You don't have to be without Christ.
Have a good day,