Sunday, March 11, 2012
LIBERTY FROM LEGALISM THROUGH THE GOSPEL:MY PERSONAL STORY-PART SIX
This will be the sixth and final part of my story, and it is loaded with great, practical, Gospel Truth. This story is not so much about me as it is about God. My purpose in sharing my story was not for my own glory but to glorify God and magnify His great works of redemption. He invades our lives, uninvited, and rescues sinners who are totally unaware as to their true spiritual condition.
The Gospel liberates Christians like me from slavery to sin and restores our souls day by day. It is a sweet, cool oasis in a hot desert. We can rest in the Gospel. We can toss away our to-lists of moral improvements, dispose of oppressive, unbiblical rules and standards that weigh us down, and rest in Christ, knowing that His redemptive work on our behalf is finished.
I have been so blessed in sharing my story with others, and if you attend The Crossing, I am especially reaching out to you. It is my prayer that God will shine His ten trillion candlepower searchlight on your spiritual blindness and grant you a better understanding of the Gospel. I love sharing Gospel Truth with anyone willing to read or listen.If you need to catch up on my story, follow the hyperlink back to where you left off, or just start at the beginning.
LIBERTY FROM LEGALISM THROUGH THE GOSPEL: MY PERSONAL STORY-PART FIVE
FROM PHYSICAL PAIN TO SPIRITUAL GAIN...
My pain and suffering was more just than the debilitating symptoms I experienced in 2011. Before that, from the time I became a Christian to the point when God completed His spiritual rescue mission of me culminating in His great providential epiphany, I was also suffering from great spiritual pain and suffering from the bad fruit of legalism.
GOD"S RESCUE MISSION......
But God was on a mission to rescue me from a whole host of spiritual ills, most notably the vicious cycle of legalism I was enslaved to. There was a spiritual processing going on as I went through the entire progression of those dreadful physical symptoms which suddenly began in January of 2011. What was God's purpose in afflicting me with symptoms so terrible that made me wish I were dead?
True, I had been preaching the Gospel to myself daily for several years, and still continued to do so throughout my health crisis of 2011. But there were (and still are) areas of my life in which I was spiritually blind. What was it that God wanted me to see?
HEAD KNOWLEDGE PRECEDES DIVINE RESCUE
Without a proper understanding of the Gospel, even in it's most basic expression, there can be no Divine rescue.Christian illumination of our problems do not happen in a vacuum. There must be an intellectual understanding of the Gospel before the Lord moves on our hearts to apply that knowledge to our unique circumstances, rescuing us from spiritually danger.
I'll put this into the perspective of my particular circumstances. If you don't know what I am talking about, you will want to read Part One of my story. As a new Christian, God providentially granted me a greater understanding of the Gospel through His divinely inspired Word, and through many Gospel-centered resources that I listened to and read over and over again. This was important in my intellectual understanding of the Gospel and increased my level of discernment of the many heresies, false teachings, false teachers, and false gospels in the world. So intellectually I understood that there is a slippery slope in which an otherwise solid church could slip into heresy if leadership failed to be diligent in the area of discernment.
But it wasn't until I actually experienced the slippery slope of error creeping into my old church home of Wayzata Evangelical Free Church that the Lord moved my heart into action: God had providentially led me to the conclusion that I needed to find a new church home for me and my family. God had rescued us from theological mediocrity and theological error by providentially leading me to a solid church home. At Redeemer Bible Church, me and my family were truly blessed with the solid biblical preaching, teaching, leadership, and Christian fellowship that was absent at Wayzata Free. .
And throughout my membership at Redeemer Bible Church up to the present, I have been blessed with phenomenal preaching of the Gospel; it was pounded into my thick skull over and over again. At Redeemer Bible Church my intellectual understanding of the Gospel grew exponentially.
But it wasn't until my debilitating physical, mental and spiritual decline that began in early January 2011 that I started to process my intellectual understanding of the Gospel and apply the Truth of the Gospel directly to my dire circumstances. With God the Holy Spirit as my Divine ten trillion candlepower searchlight, the Lord opened my eyes to the ugly truth of my legalistic, "do more, try harder, get my life organized" ethic.
The Lord has taught me that, in Christ, I am free to be a failure at life, because Christ was my Champion who didn't fail on my behalf. When Christ cried out on the cross, "It is finished", He meant it. He had done what I failed to do. All I have to do is trust in the finished work of Christ and bow my knee to His supreme authority.
Consequently, I have liberty to do things that I would never do before; as long as it is does not violate God's Word or bind my conscience, I am free! I am free at last from the bondage of legalism that gripped years of my life as a Christian, and that is how the Lord rescued me from the bondage of legalism through the Gospel.
When God sets out on a rescue mission to return His lost, wayward sheep into the safety and security of His Heavenly fold, He never, ever fails. And in the end God's message to me was loud and clear. What did God open my eyes to? The answer is counter intuitive. I'll tell you what His message was not. It wasn't that He was angry with me because of my countless moral and spiritual failures and that I had better try harder and get my act together or he would withdraw His blessings from me. That is not the Gospel!
It was more like, "You have absolutely no control over your life. I Am the the One who is Sovereign, I Am the King, I Am the One who is in complete control of your life, not you. I Am the One who chose you and rescued you from the torments of everlasting Hell. I Am the One who lived the morally perfect life that you constantly fail to do. I Am tho One who died the death that you deserve, securing My Divine blessings upon you forever.....
....I Am your Heavenly Daddy and you are my adopted son, and I will never, ever expel you from My great Kingdom. I Am the one who is preparing you to enter into eternal rest, joy, and pleasure in My kingdom. Every single one of your sins, past, present, and future, are covered by the righteousness of Christ, so stop working so hard to get you're act together! Junk all your efforts at self-improvement and ordering your life: It won't work! Believe in Me, rest in Me, and trust Me when I say that whatever horrible events happen in your life, they are happening with My Divine purpose in mind, designed for your ultimate good and benefit." That's the Gospel!
Now to make a few more important points related to my story before the close.....
SANCTIFICATION BY WORKS?
All genuine Christians believe that at the point of their salvation, they are saved by faith alone. The problem is that some Christians have the unbiblical view that the ongoing process of SANCTIFICATION is done by works. Sanctification the process of becoming more "Christ-like" and growing in personal holiness. When we fail to understand the Gospel and all of it's implications, we end up with our own "self-sanctification" project. We think, "I as saved by faith, and that's awesome, but now it's time to act. I have to do this and do that and try harder to be a better person".
That is godless self-reliance. We are attempting to do something that can only be accomplished by God alone. And part of my problem was this "sanctification by works" ethic, a sub-species of legalism. Have I gotten better as a Christian? Has there been moral improvement? Yes, but I really haven't improved all that much. No. The same old sins keep popping up like weeds in a garden. You pull up one weed and ten more pop up a week later in the same spot. As pastor Tullian Tchividjian puts it, "You get better when you that realize that you are not getting any better".
That may seem like an absurd statement to make, but it is absolutely true. As fallen, broken people we have no ability to achieve moral perfection, not even close! But by believing the Gospel, you are resting in the finished work of Christ. You realize that you have no resources within yourself to do any good, so you come to God as a helpless, dependent child, stripped of your self-reliance, and completely dependent on the Lord to complete His rescue mission.
It is clear that the Bible teaches repentance. But once again, biblically illiterate Christians fail to understand the true meaning of biblical repentance, and as a new Christian I fell into the same error. It is true that repentance is turning from your sins and living a life of obedience to God. Yet many Christians wrongly believe that repentance is a one time event that happens the moment they become a Christian; it becomes an exercise in moral improvement the moment they believe, and that once you repent it's a done deal. You clean up your act and you obey God, end of story.
Now honestly, can anyone on the planet succeed in instantly cleaning up their moral failures, getting rid of all their unbelief, their idols, their pride, their legalistic and self-righteous attitudes and live in perfect obedience to God? That is an utterly absurd posture to take. As a Christian I have innumerable sins I struggle with every single day, and that is failing to obey God, am I right?
Without a proper understanding of repentance, Christians live in constant fear that, by failing clean up their act and live in obedience to God's Word, that they are in danger of losing their salvation (a completely unbiblical position to take). My thinking was a bit different, It was like, "if the Bible calls me to repent and if I keep falling into the same old sinful patterns that have always plagued me, then I guess I haven't really repented, therefore I wonder if I am really saved". The error of misunderstanding repentance results in a nagging, spiritually oppressive suspicion that either you are not really saved, or that God will be so angry with you because of your unending compulsion to sin that He will boot you out of His kingdom. Not so!
True, repentance is turning from your sins, but it goes much deeper than just moral reformation. Biblical repentance is an ongoing, day to day process. And as long as we have sin in our lives we must continue to repent. If you just turn from your sin without turning to something infinitely greater, then you have missed the entire point of repentance.
Let me to give you an example of biblical repentance. As I explained in Part five, there are three root sins inherent in all of us from which all other sins sprout and grow; unbelief, idolatry, and pride. Now let's say that as a Christian I fall into my old sinful pattern of looking at pornography (as I have done). As a Christian my conscience is tenderized, so I know that looking at pornography is wrong, that I have disobeyed God and I need to confess my sin to God and repent....
.....But in order to repent biblically, I have to look at the root sin underneath the bad behavior of looking at pornography. In other words, when I fall into the sinful pattern of looking at pornography, I am failing to believe (UNBELIEF) the Gospel. In the moment I do not believe God's promise that my greatest pleasure and joy are found in Him alone, the one Being of greatest intrinsic value, and I have exchanged Him for the filthy idol of pornography. (IDOLATRY) And in the moment of sin, I don't want to obey God, but I want to run from His supreme authority, and live my life the way I want to. (PRIDE)
Repentance then, is first recognizing that your "sinning" is caused by one or more of the root sins of unbelief, idolatry, or pride, then turning away from your sins (your behaviors or desires of lesser value) and turning to Christ (the One Being of greatest intrinsic value). It's like coming home from the store with a bag full of groceries. You walk in the door and your loving wife is there and she wants to give you a great big hug and shower you with love and affection. You can't do that if you are holding a bag of groceries, so you have to get rid of the bag (an item of lesser value) in order to receive the hug, love, and affection of your wife (a being of greater value).
TURNING FROM SIN WITH THE RIGHT MOTIVE
This biblical Truth is extremely practical, because in the moment you want to sin, you are faced with a great decision. "Do I want to have pleasure and joy in a cheap, worthless idol that will ultimately lead to my spiritual poverty, or do I want to my supreme pleasure and joy to be anchored in the Lord, resulting in spiritual riches beyond my wildest dreams?" When we turn from our sin with belief that our supreme pleasure and joy are found only in the Lord, we are obeying the Lord with the proper motivation.
GOSPEL INDICATIVES AND IMPERATIVES
I want to point out that in the New Testament epistles (letters sent to churches) especially the epistles of the Apostle Paul, are arranged in a very particular way. For example, look over Paul's Epistle to the Romans and you will notice that he arranges his epistle with a huge theology lesson first (Chapters 1-11) followed by instructions on how to live as a Christian; proper Christian conduct in relationship with God, yourself, and other people and institutions (Chapters 12-16). Remember that Paul was writing letters primarily to other churches in general and to Christians in particular, reminding them of the Gospel and to keep the Gospel central. He was not writing to non-Christians.
Notice Paul always begins his epistles with Gospel indicatives. A Gospel indicative is a theological explanation and reminder of what a Christians is. On the other hand, a Gospel imperative is instruction on how a Christian ought to conduct himself/herself.
The thrust of what I am getting at here is that Paul's epistles first explain all the theological nuances of the Gospel to Christians, reminding them of what they were before they became Christians, what God has done for them through Christ, and who they they are now "in Christ". Then, after his theology lesson he moves onto the imperatives of the Gospel, that is, how Christians ought to conduct themselves.
So to put it into a nutshell, Paul is teaching and reminding Christians, "This is what you are, therefore this is how you ought to behave". Notice it's never the other way around, as if Paul is saying, "Behave this way and this is what you will become". It's like a caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly. Paul is teaching, "You are a butterfly now, you have the power and ability to fly, so fly, don't be stuck in your old caterpillar way of life!". It's never "Fly and you will have the power to become a butterfly". We all know it doesn't work that way!
To put it in the sense Paul intended, he is saying, "As one who has put your faith in Christ and His redemptive work on your behalf, you are now a Christian, this is who you are in Christ, you are no longer in bondage and enslaved to sin. By God's grace, your eyes have been opened. You are justified and your position before God is now and forever will be as an adopted son or daughter, never to be kicked out of His kingdom for not doing enough. You are now empowered to live a life pleasing to God that you could never do before you became a Christian, therefore live in accordance with your new nature as a Christian."
THE BIBLE IS NOT A BOOK ON MORAL IMPROVEMENT: IT IS A DIVINELY INSPIRED WORK OF SPIRITUAL RESCUE
Here again, baby Christians and biblically illiterate Christians fall into the trap (as I did) of reading the New Testament imperatives as if they are totally unconnected with the indicatives. If you obey the New Testament imperatives without first understanding the vast implications of the indicatives, the Bible becomes nothing more than a guide to moral improvement and a religious self-help manual. It is so important to understand that your salvation is secure, so that when you fail at obeying the New Testament imperatives (and you will, over and over again), you can know for certain that God is still your Heavenly Daddy who loves you and cares for you, His adopted child, and will never, ever, ever forsake you because of your sin.
MY LIFE TODAY
Ever since the Lord opened my blind eyes to the vicious cycle of legalism I was enslaved to, my life has never been better. My life is simple, basic, day by day existence. No more of the crazy ups and downs associated with my moral failures, no more spiritually oppressive pain and suffering for failing to get my life organized. As a result of God and His Divine intervention, I have grown in my knowledge of the Gospel, and consequentially, in my love and adoration of the Lord.
I understand that whatever happens in my life, whether good or bad, is by His Divine design; I have confidence that God, in His infinite perfections, wisdom and love for me is doing what is best for me. He purposefully ordains every single moment of my life for my benefit.When something unexpected happens, I realize that that is the way God wants to govern His created order, and I trust Him to be the Divine Being He has revealed Himself to be. My trials therefore, end in supreme gratitude, not a spirit of grumbling and and malcontent. And in this God is glorified, the ultimate end of everything He does.
Do I still sin? Yes. Am I still a poster child of human depravity? Yes. Do I still fail to get my life organized? Yes. Am I still spiritually blind? Yes. Do I still experience the physical symptoms if I do not take my psych meds? Yes. Do I still get stressed, anxious, and depressed about my constant moral failures and my inability to get my life organized? No.
In Christ I am a new creation, and although my sins will always manifest themselves in particular ways related only to me, my heart is refreshed day by day by the timeless Truths of the Gospel. Even though I try to do what is right and pleasing in the Lord, I still have the root sins of unbelief, idolatry, and pride which result in more sinning.
But in Christ I am free to be a loser, a failure, a wretch, and a cognitive malfunctioning, moral basket case. I have done away with all my self improvement projects of trying to better myself; I trust in Christ and His redemptive work, and rely upon God to safely guide me home into His Heavenly Kingdom where I will forever be separated from my sinful nature.
That sums up my post-Christian story of God's rescue mission of me. I want to make it clear that I haven't come to the conclusion that "I have I finally arrived" and that I have a full understanding of the Gospel. I still spiritually blind and have a whole host of sins, but I am supremely confident that Lord will intervene again and again when He finds me in spiritually dangerous places.
May the good Lord bless you richly through my story, and the magnificent display of Divine Gospel power in my life. Casey
Posted by Casey Nygren at 9:44 AM