Monday, February 23, 2009

God Follows up Assurance with Yet More Reassurance...

On the heels of renewing my confidence in His great, abiding love, it seems the message God wants to hammer through my thick head is popping up everywhere lately. The encouragement comes fast and furious.

My pastor's wife has given me a wonderful book by Ed Welch, "When People are Big and God is Small" which deals not only with the fear of man, but the insecurity many of us bring into our walk with God. We're afraid to face our own sin squarely when we have an incorrect view of God. Until we really believe that He loves us, we avoid Him when we sin and think His interest is impersonal. Only when we get a revelation that the one Who hung the stars holds us in His palm can we rest enough in His great love to become truly others-focused. Later in the week, I read the following quote by Welch: “Obedience is post-liberation thankfulness.”

Oh, yes it is. Pretty much summarizes my rambling thoughts of last Friday's entry.

It continues: check out the in-depth discussion of Christ's reinstatement of Peter (the beach-side barbeque exchange of John 21) over at Scripture Student. That guy didn't worry about presuming on Jesus' grace - he just jumped right in!

If you haven't already visited "Desiring God" for your daily dose of edification today, let me quote a wonderful truth explored this morning, about doubts the born-again believer must counter:

J. Gresham Machen, one of the great proclaimers and defenders of the Christian faith in the early 20th century, went through a season of fearful doubt on his way to solid confidence. Remarkably, it was his mother who spoke one of the decisive words of rescue. He tells the story:

The question is not merely whether we can rest in our faith, but whether we can rest in the doubt that is the necessary alternative of faith. We pass sometimes through periods of very low spiritual vitality. The wonderful gospel which formerly seemed to be so glorious comes to seem almost like an idle tale. Hosts of objections arise in our minds; the whole unseen world recedes in the dim distance, and we think for the moment that we have relinquished the Christian hope....

My mother [spoke to me] in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul. “Christ,” she used to say, “keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.”

My mother’s word meant...that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ. No, we are saved because having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever. Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed. Without its comfort, I think I should have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair. (J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 561)

I was brought up in a denomination that considered the assurance Christ offers us to be the sin of "presumption". The apostle John extols this wonderful assurance in 1 John 3:18-20, and elsewhere Paul and the writer of Hebrews exhort us to confess and approach the throne of grace with confidence. There is nothing we can or should do to make ourselves more acceptable to God; no "penance" that can earn His favor. Such an attitude is the epitome of pride - to think that our pitiful, penetential attempts can somehow add to the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Like the ritualistic attempts of the 1st century Pharisees to reach God on their terms (instead of on His), man-made divine merit/demerit systems and codified terms of obtaining forgiveness are a slap in the face to a gracious, compassionate God.

Old thought patterns, like old habits, die hard. Reading the Bible and letting it seep down into my soul is the only way to overcome this old fear and compulsion to "make it up to God". Who, I secretly believed, is probably angry at me and needs to be appeased through compensatory "works", both corporal and spiritual.

This belief is a lie straight from the pit of hell, and is one Satan uses effectively to keep Christians in bondage. When repentance becomes penance, and love becomes guilt-ridden duty, we are utterly deceived about God's true nature.

Why is it so much harder to rest in His assured love than to strive for His favor? Because it strikes at our pride, I would guess. Truly humbling ourselves under God's hand is to acknowledge that nothing good lives in us, never will on our own merits, and God loves us anyway. In spite of ourselves; and despite all the times we question the depth of His affection for us. Christ iisn't ashamed to call us His brothers (or sisters, as the case may be). Think of that!

While on earth, Christ walked by faith, just as His servant friends are required to do. There were wilderness moments (even before Calvary), but unlike us, He never doubted. The artwork above is called "In the Wilderness", and it is a great reminder of Whom we are to behold when Satan whispers that age-old lie: "God doesn't really love you. Hath God really said...?"

Renewing our minds with the washing of the Word is the only defense against the doubts, the striving, the fearing we are presuming on His grace...when we just come, empty-handed, just as we are to seek Him. Thinking we need to clean ourselves up before approaching Him is like taking a shower so that we can take a bath.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? - Romans 2:4

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9


Anonymous said...

What a great post! I couldn't agree with everything more!

I'm constantly thanking God for rest... resting in what He did to save me. It's so interesting... it's such a fine line between doing things out of obedience because we love Him, and doing things because we feel like we have to in order to earn salvation.

Marie said...

It is a fine line. Sometimes we just have to obey because "God said so", or it's the right thing to do. Period. But there are those other times, like the matters of personal conviction, where we have to check our own motives. That's why that private prayer closet time is sooo important - we can deceive ourselves so easily once that 'spiritual cruise control' takes over. Is it for others to notice? Or to 'gain points' with God? Ouch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, pride is ugly. I always hear that voice in there saying, "You should tell so and so all the wonderful things you did for so and so."

Yuck. :)

Sinful creatures we are.