Saturday, November 17, 2012

R12: Are you tired of trying hard and feeling guilty?

***Thanks to Google searches, the post here that has gotten the most hits is from my series studying the book Living On The Edge by Chip Ingram on "why is the Christian life so difficult?" (Until more recently when my post, Label or Content answered the question that everyone seems to be asking: is Carolina Liar a Christian band? They're not, for the record.) A follow-up post titled "are you tired of trying hard and feeling guilty" (the titles are straight from the book) has recently been the target of spammers, receiving roughly one hundred comments in the past two weeks. When the most comments I typically see is 3 or 4, I knew something must be up. So I'm deleting it reposting the main content (minus the book Q&A) here.***

We have to remind ourselves of the context of the Book of Romans. Rome, home of pagan polytheism, infanticide, political corruption, the decay of traditional marriage, slavery, and murder for sport. As the Church grew in Rome they were the objects of severe persecution, discrimination, and in many cases outright murder. They had the reputation of saving abandoned babies, caring for the "the poor, the orphan, and the widow", for separating themselves from the corruption around them, and for being joyful doing so. To them, the commands in the Bible (not yet established as Canon) were not a list of "to dos" or "s'pozdas", but were a way of life.

Some time ago, a teen my wife and I were close to told us that he didn't want to be a disciple of Jesus because he didn't want to miss all the fun. That's what Christianity has been reduced to for many- missing all the fun. Why? Chip writes,
"I am convinced that most of us have relied on willpower, self-effort, and religious activities in our attempts to live a holy life. And eventually when we figure out that those things don't work, we do one of two things: we start faking that we're holy and develop lives of duplicity and hypocrisy [(boy, we never hear that criticism of Christianity, do we?)], or we simply agree with one another that "the bar of holiness" is too high."
Let's get this out of the way: Spiritual growth does not equal trying hard! Let me say again, spiritual growth d.n.e. trying hard! For you computer programmers, spiritual growth != trying hard! More, from the book:

  • Spiritual growth does not begin with focusing on behavior.
  • Spiritual growth does not even begin with focusing on our attitudes.
  • Spiritual growth always begins by focusing on our thinking.
  • Spiritual growth is accomplished by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, in the context of authentic community, for the purpose of glorifying God.
  • Spiritual growth demands that we by faith appropriate the grace of God given to us through the conduits of His Spirit, His Word and His people.
And it all requires us to "be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." We have to change how we think about holiness, about sin, about the World, and most importantly about our relationship with God. It starts with the last one and works up the list from there. I've already spent several posts on changing how we think about the World, now let's focus on our relationship with God. Remember Romans 12 begins, "Therefore, in view of God's mercy..."

I consider marriage to be a sacrament. As a disclaimer, I was raised Catholic and the fellowship of churches of which I now belong isn't much for the definition of sacraments. But I consider them to have utmost spiritual importance because they are physical things, living symbols if you will, of spiritual truths. Marriage falls into this category as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and his Church (Ephesians 5:32). Reverse the analogy. When you're not getting along 100% with your spouse, do you suddenly decide that you're no longer married? Do you stop being married when a younger person of the opposite sex catches your eye and maybe that eye lingers a little too long? Does the marriage end when your spouse doesn't do exactly what you think he/she should? (that one actually does happen too often) Do you stop being married if you feel like you don't measure up? Do you stop being married if you don't do the dishes one night? Of course not. But this is how we treat the Church. So many give up and quit because they slip up, or there's friction in a relationship, or they don't think they can ever be as holy as the person in the pew next to them. And we all feel the same way when we fully commit ourselves to God that we do when we choose to get married- this is it, this is for life. Or at least, that's how we should feel.

Thankfully marriage isn't as fickle as our church. But why do we treat our relationship with God this way? After all, isn't the church just a group of people who all want to have the same relationship with God? If it's more, you've made it to be more than it was ever intended. The church is a means to build one another up, strengthen one another, teach one another. And that is all. If you say your a Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or whatever and that description has nothing to do with your relationship with God, you need to check your motivations for being part of your church. Sorry to go there, but so many go to the church they do, or say they are the brand of Christianity they do because of no other reason than that's what they've always been. And we're surprised spiritual growth is so rare in the American Church (TM).

We need to change how we think. About church, about the spiritual disciplines, about our relationship with God. The Bible is full of commands. Not "to dos", but "will do because I love God so much". Until our minds change to accept that, we will forever be stuck spiritually. We will always resent deep down, maybe even subconsciously, Christianity because it is robbing us of our "fun".

Finally, again from the book:
"Can you imagine the freedom that you will begin to experience when you break
free from the performance-oriented Christian life where the focus on duty,
attendance, spiritual disciplines, tithing, and guilt management with regard to
all the things "you are supposed to do"? It's not that these things in and of
themselves are bad, but for millions of Christians they've become little more
than attempts at behavior modification accomplished through self-will and the
energy of the flesh."
So how do we do it? We need to change what goes into our mind to renew our mind.
  1. Hear God's Word (Romans 10:17)
  2. Read God's Word (Revelation 1:3)
  3. Study God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15)
  4. Memorize God's Word (Psalm 119:9)
  5. Meditate on God's Word (Joshua 1:8)
And stop trying so hard.

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