Of course, I mean that completely in the Ephesians 4:15 sense of "grow up". The ability to articulate the simple, profound truth of the Gospel and its implications for day-to-day life as beautifully as Elyse has in "Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life" speaks of a real spiritual maturity. Her passion, from the first page of this encouraging book, is for her reader to have the same joyful, settled assurance of Christ's love that she herself has found in the pages of Scripture.
Why is it that so many of us recognize our need for the Gospel - the Person and work of Jesus Christ - for salvation; then slowly move past the Good News in our daily strivings to "please God"? We come to the Cross for justification, but practically live as if sanctification depended solely on us. Elyse spots this tendency - which often leads to a moralistic, defeated attitude - and reminds the reader of the only antidote: applying the finished work of Christ to our continually sinning hearts. Weaving the entire thread of Scripture around a central point - that God FIRST loved us - Elyse shows how getting this knowlege of His deep, abiding, personal and unfathomable love for us down into the very marrow of our bones completely changes everything. In fact, it transforms our whole identity - who we reckon ourselves to be.
If we see ourselves as "foster children", who can be evicted or abandoned at any moment, we will live like it. Realizing we are a permanant, cherished part of the family - His adopted children - transforms our hearts and enables us to live for Christ in His strength. As she writes on page 148, "Any obedience that isn't motivated by His great love is nothing more than penance." Well said.
How does the Gospel message impact our walk, 10, 20, even 30 years after our conversion, when we can rattle off the Doctrines of Grace like the days of the week?
"If we don't consciously live in the light of His love, the gospel will be secondary, virtually meaningless, and Jesus Christ will fade into insignificance. Our faith will become all about us, our performance, and how we think we're doing, and our transformation will be hindered."This tendency to take our eyes off of Him and focus inwardly on our failure becomes a viscious cycle, especially when one is battling a life-dominating sin. Many of you bear witness to this fact. This week, I received the following in an e-mail from a reader:
"...I have been REALLY struggling again lately. I have trouble turning to God, because I feel sometimes like I don't deserve His forgiveness, or to ask Him for help. Lately I have been obsessing about food and eating all day long, and binging and purging A LOT! I work as a nanny, so I am alone with kids and in a house full of junk food I wouldn't buy, and have found myself unable to keep from destructive eating behaviors. Please pray for me that I will go back to Christ for guidance, and be able to truly repent for my sin. Please also pray that I will stop worshiping false idols of food and thinness, and instead live to glorify Him..."(emphasis mine).
This young lady sincerely loves God and wants to please Him, but her words reveal that she has fallen into the trap so common to all of us: living as if our position before God is based on our own merit. When did any of us, in our "best" moments, EVER "deserve" His forgiveness? We didn't. Christ secured it for us - while we were still His enemies. We forget this. When we succeed, we feel good and can worship. Failure brings shame and a fear of approaching God, which naturally leads to more failure and despair. We are, as Elyse points out in this book, essentially not trusting God that He is as good as He says He is.
This is unbelief, and it leads to idols. When we don't feel fully secure in our position in Christ - solely based on His righteousness and grace - we seek the satisfaction that should be found in Him alone through counterfeits. Putting our trust in these "earthly treasures" leads to fear, worry, and anxiety - which leads us ever further away from the Cross. Freedom from fear comes from contemplating and remembering the love of God, manifested in Christ. As I have written before (and Elyse so much more articulately), change in our behavior can only come from truly realizing and appreciating who God is and what He has done for us. Knowing that His kindness is what has led us to repentance (Romans 2:4) motivates us to love Him back, and approach Him with confidence. Our 'identity in Christ' (as Elyse refers to it; I might use 'position') is permanent and irrevocable. It is what frees us up to walk in love.
In the final section of "Because He Loves Me", Elyse demonstrates how remembering and contemplating this unfathomable love God has for us is the true motivation for lasting change. She writes,
"Our natural unbelief will always cast doubt on His love for us. It is the awareness of His love and only this that will equip us to wage war against sin. Until we really grasp how much He loves us, we'll never be able to imitate Him. We won't come near to Him if we're afraid of His judgment. We won't repent and keep pursuing godliness if we don't believe that our sin doesn't faze His love for us one bit. We won't want to be like Him if we believe that His love is small, stingy, censorious, severe. And we'll never be filled with His fullness until we begin to grasp the extent of His love (Eph. 3:19). As a member of His family, you're the apple of His eye, the child He loves to bless. You're His"Every failure in sanctification is a failure in worship."
Far from minimizing the seriousness of sin, Elyse reminds the reader how costly it was to God - and invites her to rest in this reality. At the same time, we are thus enabled to "wage a vicious war against sin" - the imperative (command) that naturally follows the indicative (what God has already declared to be true). Every sin, from greed to sexual immorality, is a failure to love as we've been loved - at its root, unbelief. The key to walking in freedom and joy, then, is remembering that we're beloved children, redeemed by Jesus, set free from the power of sin. This settled confidence produces thanksgiving ane edifying speech, rather than complaining and bitterness. This is what applying the Gospel to every area of our lives looks like in practice.
I have been recommending "Because He Loves Me" to women who write me about their specific struggles, as well as counselors and anyone else who would benefit from the reminder of what Christ's perfect life, love, cross, resurrection and intercession really mean to us as we grow in Him. In short, everyone reading this would likely benefit from the encouraging and joyful explanation Elyse presents on the synergy of God's grace and our response. Like C.J. Mahaney's "The Cross Centered Life", "Because He Loves Me" trains the reader to reflect more deeply on the finished work of Christ on her behalf as a catalyst to worship, rather than presenting sanctification as a spiritual self-help plan.
See more about this wonderful book at the official website: http://beta.becausehelovesme.com/