How do we live life to the fullest? I described in my last blog that I needed to help my wife affirm who she is in Christ. I believe that need for affirmation is common among today’s Christians and I think I know one of the big issues. Have you ever listened to a sermon and heard the pastor call the congregation a bunch of “worthless sinners.” I understand what he is trying to get across but question the wordage. Too many of us view ourselves as worthless sinners and it makes true worship all but impossible. The reason we believe that statement is nobody knows better than ourselves the things we have done.
If you have a “past” you know what I mean. I am not proud of the life I have lived. I have said often that I would love to go back 35 years and try this again but this time with the knowledge of what God has showed me over this past season. I am trying desperately to help my kids avoid the painful steps their mom and I made in our youth. We made all the wrong moves in exploring adolescence that carried right into early adulthood and then into a young marriage and it can create a huge bank of memories that can taint your view from then on. I not only hurt so many people, that I hope can someday forgive me, but I hurt myself by doing things that make every step since more difficult because I have to look in the mirror with the knowledge of what I am capable of and what I’ve done.
These past experiences can more often than not, become how we view ourselves. My wife and I knew all the right things to say when other people were struggling with their identity. We would tell ourselves and others that we are a child of the most high God, that she is a daughter of the King, that we are not defined by our sins and, yes, every one of these statements are true but the disconnect happens when you simply don’t believe them. I now refer to this as “head knowledge” and we need to turn it into “heart knowledge.” We need to actually believe the words He is saying and not just repeat a teaching we heard.
There are two things at work that must be overcome. One, most of us have some pretty ugly things in our pasts and don’t think for a second that Satan won’t use every past mistake to help hold you down. He wants you to believe you are what you’ve done. He will say things like “God can’t use you- you know what you did.” You can go to church but the best you can hope for is nobody will know and maybe you can try to fit in. Don’t let anyone get too close or they may catch on to this charade you have going on. You know the pretty church face and spiritual talk but all the while you don’t even believe you belong, because if anyone here truly knew who I am/was they wouldn’t even let me in the door.
This can make any worship experience shallow at best. I love the Grace series Louie Gigliodid several years ago. I highly recommend this DVD series to anyone who is struggling to experience the grace that God offers. He gave a great illustration to show how this burden of carrying our sin into the church can all but squash worshipping our Lord. He compared carrying the weight of our sin to that of trying to hold onto a 50lb bolder with both hands and worship freely. You can’t lift your arms in adoration and carry that burden at the same time. It may have only been an illustration but the point hit way too close to home in our house. I could never understand why my wife was never able to lift her arms. I thought she was just shy but that never really made sense if you know Debbie. I would sometimes muster up the strength to lift my arms but I now wonder if it was more for show than for a true reverence for who He is and what He has done.
Scripture tells us we need to lay our sins at the foot of the cross. I wish I could just take some of these messages to heart rather than have to work thru the meaning of that on a personal level. I know He paid the price for my sin but I just didn’t know how to leave them behind. It’s kind of like answering an altar call. You know when you gave your life to Christ years ago but you hear a convicting message and a call to accept Christ as Lord and Savior and you go down front even though you had already done this before. Sometimes the deeper messages require a true transformation before you truly GET them. I am so glad Christ does not want us to live with this burden and will continue to convict us, or in our case “sift” us, before He lets us just continue to live this way.
I said there were two things. One is to put our past behind us but that is only half of the message. The second is to put on His righteousness. That one may even be harder than the first because we are not just talking about someone who is more righteous than us, we are talking about someone who never sinned.
Paul referred to the church in Ephesus as “saints.” That seems strange considering the church in Ephesus had its issues. The Ephesians had a perverse history that surely would not have made them “saints” based on who they had been. Paul knew that God did not see us based on our past sins and who better to deliver that message than Paul. Saul was there when Stephen was stoned to death and even held the cloaks of those throwing the stones. He had made it his purpose to hunt, persecute, and even kill as many Christians as he could find. He considered himself the “worst of sinners” but didn’t allow that to stop God from using him to write most of the New Testament and help launch the modern church. If Paul had listened to Satan’s lies about his testimony and who he was, then God would not have been able to use Paul and who knows where the church would be today?
Paul understood what we HAVE to get if we are to fulfill His plan in our life. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” I believe we get the first parts of accepting Christ as Lord secures our salvation in heaven, but I think the church has lacked in getting the second part of this message of justification to the believer. I have heard it preached more than once referring to a congregation as dirty, rotten, sinners. If you have never heard this, then praise God. If you have, is that message being given to the saved or unsaved in the congregation? If the Father sees us as having the righteousness of His Son, how can we still be dirty, rotten, sinners?
We sing hymns that talk about us being “washed white as snow” and the “cleansing blood of Christ” but do we truly look at each other in those terms or do we carry a little of that, you are what you have done, mentality? I just can’t help but think we are not the only ones that may have missed this important piece of the Gospel.
I believe that this may be a huge reason for complacency in the church. Modern parenting understands the importance of speaking positively into your child’s life and the adverse effects of “beating” a child down and on future self-perception issues that may arise. If you want a child to succeed then encourage him and watch what can happen. A sure way to limit his growth is to tell him he will never amount to anything and watch him fulfill that prophecy. Could it be that the modern church gets stifled because the average Christians don’t think they are the ones to be used for God’s purposes because they have been disqualified because of their past sins?
I just think some teachings want to convict the audience to motivate change but, in doing so, cause the recipient to never get out from under the “shame” of past mistakes. Scripture uses words like “as far as the east is from the west” and to “blot out our transgressions” to describe God’s forgiveness of my past mistakes. I don’t need any help remembering those sins because the enemy does a pretty good job of reminding me. I DO need to be reminded often that God no longer sees me in that light. I know that God is omnipotent and probably doesn’t actually forget, but He wants us to leave that past behind so we can live life as forgiven and not wear the label “sinner.”
I have finally been able to take on His yoke and, let me tell you, what a difference in weight that makes. What was the difference between now and then? What causes a Saul to turn into a Paul? It requires a personal encounter with the only One who can redeem your past. Paul’s transformation happened on the road to Damascus. Mine happened after a family crisis. Either way, transformation can only happen thru the work of the Holy Spirit and a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Don’t let your past keep you from living life to the fullest. God can use your past in ways you never imagined. If you had a drinking problem and have overcome it, who better to witness to someone struggling with addiction? If you struggled in your marriage and God brought you thru that, who better to speak into a struggling couples’ life than someone who was able to work thru those issues with sound biblical principles? Don’t let someone tell you that you are no longer qualified to be used for His purpose because of a mistake. Only God can make that call. I believe He used imperfect people throughout the Bible because He knew the church would be full of imperfect people and they make it clear that only He deserves the glory and nothing we do.
Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4? I love that after she met our savior, her life would never be the same. Jesus told her to “go and sin no more”, and that always needs to be a part of the story. We cannot talk about His redeeming qualities if we have not experienced true repentance. But what I love about this story is Jesus was able to use her in spite of her sin. I absolutely love the words in John 4:39”Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Did you hear that! Her testimony resulted in many coming to know Christ. That’s GREAT news for us that have a past! Christ can use us to reach the lost and in some cases you may be the best choice to reach that special person. Please don’t discount God’s will in your life because of a mistake. Our God is bigger than our mistake and when He redeems your past remember the words of Joseph that what was intended for harm, God intended for good.