Freedom and Bondage
I want to share a letter I wrote to someone who expressed some difficulties they were having. This person, while desiring to be the person God wanted them to be, found themselves struggling with their own human nature. Because of this, they were feeling unworthy and somewhat defeated.
It isn't a new struggle, it's one that many grapple with on a daily basis for various reasons. And because of this, I thought others might be able to benefit from what I told this person.
I'm sharing this with the permission of the recipient, but I've removed all identifiable references for their privacy.
Hey there [redacted]!
I hope you are doing well.
I'll get right to the point. I saw your public post the other day about struggling with some things. I didn't respond immediately because, for one, you had a lot of other responses to sift through. But also, there are times when I write a lot, and this is one of them. So I thought it might be best to send you a message privately.
I wanted to share something with you -- something that I hope helps.
When I talk to people -- or even watch or listen to people, really -- I often pick up on certain things the Lord wants me to see or know about that person. And, when you and I met, I got the distinct sense that you were vexed in some way; that you didn't feel worthy of the Lord but were trying to do the best you could. It seems that was confirmed in your post.
In my time ministering, I've met a lot of people who have had similar issues -- and to be clear, I'm not referring to whatever it is that you believe is wrong with you. Truth be told, I'm my own worst critic. In my eyes, I rarely if ever deem anything I do as good. So, I know what it's like to not feel good enough. In fact, I know what it's like to actually not be worthy in and of myself.
Yet, amazingly, not once has the Lord ever condemned me for anything -- not once. He's never made me feel bad, or feel unworthy. He's never spoke harshly to me, or critically. He has always been loving, kind, and open to me. And any time He brought correction, it was always in a loving way.
But man? Man will tear us up without a second thought. Man will focus on the tiniest of flaws and deem us "bad through and through" because of them -- or, at least, "not Christian." In fact, this line of reasoning is something we inflict upon ourselves, often with the enemy's help.
It usually goes something like this. We read or hear a scripture and it catches our attention in some way. Then we look at our thoughts or actions, and we feel like we don't live up to scripture. Before we realize it, we get in a cycle of comparing scripture to our actions, and begin to feel unworthy. And the more we do it, the worse we feel. It's a cycle a lot of people go through.
While this cycle may or may not be the case with you, I do feel as though what you think or feel goes a bit deeper than just one or two scriptures. I feel like this stems from what you've been taught, or convinced of. Meaning, if we don't perform according to certain expectations, then we're not worthy, and not acceptable to God. And if sin is involved, it has a tendency to reinforce these thoughts all the more.
And, why wouldn't we think this way? Look around... with all we are told, it can be difficult to see how God could possibly get past such things -- they are against His word, after all. However, this belief -- this view of God's character -- is simply false. I know there are many passages people quote that seem to enforce this idea, but this understanding is false.
Of course, me telling you that probably isn't going to change your mind. So instead, let me show you something that might. I've been wanting to share this story as a follow-up to the word I posted a few months back, but I haven't been able to get to it as of yet.
You already know the story I'm sure, but just for clarity, let me cite it.
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'"
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'"
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
This scripture -- or rather the end of it -- is often cited when people speak on humility. But, I don't believe this one subject does it justice. In fact, I think it causes us to lose a lot of the understanding in this passage.
For example, look at the Pharisee. When he prayed, he did so with a bit of grandstanding, proclaiming how he kept all the laws, rules and regulations, therefore he wasn't like all these other "sinners." And when we look at him, we are often appalled by his arrogance and think "Wow, I'm glad I'm not like him!" Hahaha, the irony!
But consider this... do you think he was right? Do you think he was telling the truth of what he did or didn't do? I personally think he told the truth. I think he did everything he said he did, and kept even the tiniest of rules as he understood them just as they had been outlined by God, man, and possibly beast if that were possible. But, did it bring him salvation? Doesn't seem so according to how Jesus spoke.
But the tax collector; He readily admits, "I sin! I do sinful things! And I'm sorry about that!" He doesn't boast, he doesn't grandstand, instead he's humble in heart. HOWEVER... he's still an admitted sinner, and for some today, that's the signal to attack.
But... do you think he told the truth? Do you think he did the things he said he did? Again, I believe he did. Yet, as Jesus said, it was the tax collector -- the "sinner" -- that went home justified before God that day; not the one who did all the right things and who was actually a sinner all along but didn't recognize it or acknowledge it.
So what does this say for the "We must live up to certain expectations" theology?
Do you remember how the excerpt started? It said, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else." This same spirit, this same way of thinking, lives, in fact thrives, in the Church today. Many are confident in their own righteousness according to their own actions, and they are calling on others to be confident in their own righteousness also by focusing solely on issues of sin. So they attack, condemn and shame others, telling them they must live up to their expectations in order to be found acceptable to God, but all this does is make them just as wayward in their thinking as them, and often puts them straight into bondage.
But right here, in black and while, in this one scripture -- one among many -- is the truth of the matter. Jesus told this parable for this purpose -- as a lesson against the people who were teaching this very kind of thinking back then, which is the exact same thing some are teaching in the Church today.
Many believe that God's acceptance of us hangs on how much or how little we sin -- it doesn't. It just doesn't. That's man's natural thinking, and it's what some have taught because they don't understand. Salvation and acceptance by God stand on its own, apart from anything we do or don't do, short of accepting Christ. It's why Paul said...
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast.
It is NOT by works, yet we have people boasting of their righteousness all the time by their actions and directions towards others. And we have those whom are abused by the boasters, desperately trying to comply so they might be found worthy. It's a heartbreaking situation.
Works do not save us, neither do works MAINTAIN our salvation. Neither does sin nullify our salvation, or abstaining from sin maintain our salvation. Should we abstain from sin? Of course... sin is bad for us. But are we, as Christians, condemned for our sin in God's eyes? Does it make us unacceptable to Him? No, not at all... never. Never!
So I get it, you want to be a better person -- I should hope that we all do. But we should not allow sin to become an even bigger bondage than it is on it's own behalf. This is what God's grace is for. Not to abuse by willful sin because "Hey, God will forgive me, might as well enjoy the ride!" but because we are weak, and there are things that we will succumb to over and over again, even when we know they are wrong.
I'm sorry to say, there are some things in this lifetime that we may never overcome, no matter how much we may want to. Moreover, I can tell you for a fact -- because God has shown me my heart -- if we knew all that dwelt in our hearts, we would be appalled. But we'll never see it all in this lifetime -- thank God. But God does see it, yet He loves us and accepts us.
A person with a humble heart, that recognizes and acknowledges their own flaws and failings, and will readily admit them to God, is far more valuable than one who keeps all the rules -- just like the Pharisee and the tax collector. And I believe you are already that kind of person, [redacted]. If you weren't, you wouldn't be as concerned as you are about being a better person before God.
So whatever it is that torments you, don't let it. Do your best to refrain from sin, especially if it harms others in some way. But don't feel condemned for your imperfections and failings. Be humble, but not condemned. In fact, this is truly the best road to resolution, because condemnation and bondage hold us in place, preventing us from moving forward, and keep us at the mercy of our failings. But God's grace gives us liberty allowing us to move beyond our failings. Then the doors to salvation and deliverance can be passed through. That's what grace is for.
I've written enough. Feel free to respond however you like.
God bless you!
If you liked this message, then I'd like to ask you to please consider contributing to the work God has called me to do by giving a financial gift. Your support is vital in helping the message of "Freedom in Christ" go forth, bringing liberty to all. (Galatians 5:1
) The Lord has made us to lean upon one another, and in doing so, together we are strengthened. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
) So take all that I have freely offered, but then, consider giving back, as this is what the Lord would have us do. Click the "Gifts
" link at the top of this page to find out how you can help.
May God bless you richly!