It was the evangelism training day. We were learning 'The Hand' in presenting the gospel:
The thumb: Heaven is a free gift - can't earn it and don't deserve it.
The pointer: Man is a sinner, can't save himself.
(I'll only for that far for now due to the relevance to the story. It actually goes through all five fingers).
Our teacher that day was telling us how to decipher if a person was truly saved by how he answered the question, "If you died today, what would you say to God as to why He should let you into Heaven?"
I began to think of what I would say if someone asked me that question. Well, I "grew up Christian" and I know that at 13, when I was on the bus ride home from school, I made a decision that I was going to follow Jesus for the rest of my life. That was it for me.
But, then, I began to think - when I did I receive His gift of salvation? When did I realize that Heaven was a gift I didn't deserve and could not earn, and when did I actually RECEIVE that gift through my belief (faith) in it???? When did I TRUST in Jesus to be saved? And that's when the light started brightening...
I think I skipped that step somehow. I knew I needed salvation. I knew I was a sinner. I knew Jesus' death paid the penalty and bought eternal life. But when did I receive that and take that reality into my life? I don't think I did.
I knew the right way to act, the right way to be, the right decision to make. So I did THAT. And continued doing it. But, when did I receive His grace and live by and from THAT??? I decided to follow Jesus, but when did I let Him choose me, save me, and GIVE me that gift - and when did I actually receive it?
It's like the Galatians - they were saved by grace - or at least knew they were, but then they tried to live out that salvation in their own strength. Maybe I was like that too, but only worse, I think. I don't know if I ever received the grace gift at all; I just knew the right things to do following salvation and that is where I set my sights for the next twenty years.
So, here I am...over twenty years later, and finally - I have run out of steam. I have gone as far as my own strength can take me. And, I'm worn out TRYING to be a good Christian...trying to save myself. Because, in reality, that is exactly what I am doing.
As I was going through the codependency book this week, one of the statements said:
"We have difficulty turning our lives over to God because we lack the skills to trust in His grace."
Whoa. So that was it. The realization hit me: I don't trust His grace. I feel safer trusting my ability, even though it is hopelessly inadequate. So, if I don't trust His grace, all I have to trust is myself. And I can see what a scary and precarious scenario I create for myself. No wonder I feel so driven. No wonder I feel the pressure to be perfect. Because it is all I have. It is all I am trusting. My life has become "I have to" and "I should"...which eventually results in "I can't"...which results in guilt and shame...which is, well - welcome to my world.
And that is what I live with. In the back of my mind, there is always the feeling that "It's not enough. I can't do this." And always the pressure to keep trying. And the remedy to all this is so simple: just stop trying. The way out of codendency: surrender.
The statement was made: "Codependent Christians separate grace - the source of perspective and power - from the Bible's high moral and ethical expectations."
I had to think about that for a little while. I am obsessed w/ God's stardards and expectations - and somehow feel like I'm supposed to be able to meet them if I try hard enough. I don't see them through GRACE:
- God's perspective (You can't do this on your own)
- God's power (but I can help you do what you can't).
God understands all of that and is OK with it... but somehow, I'm not. I guess I just don't want to need grace.
What would happen if I didn't separate God'sSo, all I have left is my "own guilt motivation and [my] own will" to achieve this. Which results in failure. Which results in more guilt and shame.
And all of this because being perfect gives me a sense of worth; I can't swallow the realization that I am imperfect but still loved.
I had to do a devo on the prodigal son for the teachers this week and I was struck by the two sons.
The first son realizes and is fully aware that he is NOT WORTHY to be called a son. He is more comfortable going to the servant status because He is looking at what he (the son) has done and not the character of His father.
The second son also looks at what he (himself, the son) has done and thinks he IS WORTHY: "I've always obeyed; I've always done right..."and not at the character of the Father as well.
One son thinks he doesn't deserve his Father's love, blessing and acceptance because of what he has done; the other son thinks he does deserve it because what he has done. The Father negates all of that by blessing them both, showing that it is neither. It is because of Who the Father is - all the evil or all the good isn't the deciding factor in the end in whether or not someone can receive God's goodness and grace. It is the character and heart of the Father, of His own free will.
The first son's evil didn't disqualify him from his Father's goodness; the second son's righteousness didn't ensure it. And that is how grace works. It is at the discretion of the giver, not won or lost. The only thing required of BOTH sons was to choose to RECEIVE that Father's goodness. Not their actions prior to His offering it, just their responses to His offer itself. Both could - and would - be blessed. But only if they received it.
In this scenario, I'm both. Usually I'm the second son first...I try and try to be good enough and present to God all my good works and what I've done. He says, "It's already yours. Stop trying." Then when I fail, I'm like the first son and realize my failure and see that I don't deserve anything at all and instantly relegate myself to servant status. And He basically ignores my protests and treats me like His daughter with all the goodness and blessing a gracious and giving Father can present. But, either way, if I receive it, I win.
God has already decided to freely give grace to those who are humble enough to:
1. acknowledge their need for it
2. actually accept it
"God gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6) and "He gives grace to the afflicted" (Prov 3:34). By trying to earn it, it is a form of pride and self-sufficiency, and scarily enough, that very act is what could disqualify me from getting it: "God is opposed to the proud." And thinking I'm not worthy enough to receive it is also pride, because I'm completely dependent on myself for God's favor.
So - the lesson this week that is like drinking a glass of cold ice water - that refreshing and that clean - is to accept God's grace and to actually live by it and in it.
Peter, one who lived out the reality of both sons, encourages us: "GROW in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 3:18
**The four cornerstones are built on the only solid foundation there is - God's grace.