That was then, and this is now.

photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)
photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)

 

Everybody has a past.  When we come to Christ, we come with our flaws, hurts and stains from the burden of sin we’ve carried. We may look at ourselves in comparison to another and think we’re pretty good, but make no mistake, the only comparison God looks at is how you and I measure up to His standard.  Not how I do compared to you, or you to me.  And by the holy standard, we all have some pretty messed up pasts!

But at the cross, God arranged for an exchange for those who would take him up on this free gift of his grace. We can exchange that past, which with absolute certainly will lead us to condemnation, for righteousness–Christ’s righteousness.  That is a pretty sweet deal.  (If you have not taken advantage of this deal yet, please click here.)

But that past. Maybe it was bad. Maybe it brought you shame. Maybe you did hard time for it.  Maybe you think it’s so bad that even though God forgave you, you can’t get past it. Whatever it is, the past doesn’t seem to be staying in your past.

So first let’s look at a where your past stands with God.  Paul tells the Corinthian church, and all of us,  that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  Our old selves, our past, is gone. BOOM. We’re new creations!  In Psalm 103 David tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us”. That’s far enough away that God stopped keeping score. Finally, Colossians 2:14 says our legal debt (sin) was cancelled. The book in the ledger that was used to keep account of our sin? It was torn out, stamped with cancelled (in Jesus’ blood) and nailed to the cross.  Getting the picture yet? God doesn’t see that sin in your account anymore.

So if God, has stopped holding it against you, why do you hold it against yourself? You are not who you were. Remember, you are a new creation. In Romans 12, Paul says we can avoid conforming to the world by transforming our minds. That means it’s possible to transform your mind by how you think about things, including yourself and who you are. Start seeing yourself as the child of God and co-heir with Christ that you are.  Stop buying into the lie of “I was always, so I always will be”.  You don’t have to live in that past, no matter who would have you believe that, including the devil.  That was then, and this is now.

Now, one caveat before we move on. Sometimes our actions hurt other people. If you have something that God is leading you to go to that person to seek forgiveness for, that’s another issue.  If you feel doing that may actually do more harm to the other person, please seek wise counsel from a pastor or elder.

So now that we agree that once our faith for salvation is firmly placed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that our account is clear, we can walk free of the guilt and condemnation of that past.  Romans 8 is a great read for the freeing up from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit.

And that righteousness of Christ that covers our past sins? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Why? Friends, have you ever felt burdened in your walk that you’re not doing enough,  not serving enough, not sanctified enough, not a lot of things enough? I know I have.  On more than one occasion I’ve lamented on how I’m just not “good enough” as a Christian.  Oh boy. I am not hanging out in this wire alone, either!

Somehow, the wires got crossed or there was a short circuit. We are more than down for trading our filthy rags for Christ’s righteousness when it comes to salvation and eternity, yet in this life, we revert back to thinking we’re on our own to work it out. Or was I the only one who fell for that?   That’s right, we have spent too much time and energy back in the power of “me”, haven’t we?  Have you tried to be “good enough” and just found you couldn’t do it?  This is exactly why! Because we slipped back into working our own way instead of letting it be the righteousness of Christ that defines our goodness and worthiness.  This really came to light for me when I saw a follow of Christ concerned that they weren’t going to be ready for Christ to return, and did they need to “do” more.  Actually, it woke me up like a bucket of ice over the head. Can you see if you break it down in those terms, though perhaps extreme, that “readiness” was became the responsibility of the redeemed, NOT the Redeemer? This is a works based salvation disguised as sanctification.

Our righteousness as believers is imputed from Christ. It is our only righteousness. If you’ve fallen into the trap of walking out your faith as a continued path towards righteousness, please realize you are walking outside of what Christ did for you on the cross. You’re adding to it. All we need is faith alone in, in Christ alone, “not as a result of works, that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2:9)

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough because of, well, you fill in the blank, stop that too. You’re also overlooking the present and continuing covering of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t think you’re as pious as Friend X? That’s fine. You have the righteousness of Christ. You just can’t seem to have the heart to serve others the way Friend Z does? That’s okay, you have the righteousness of Christ. You weren’t perfect? First, welcome to the club. Second, that’s alright. You have the righteousness of Christ. The devil may try to drag you down and make you think you should be more, or be like somebody else. Whatever. You have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever that past may have been, that was then. And this is now. Walk boldly!

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Daddy’s Little Girl

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Have you ever struggled with self-image? Or battled wanting to be accepted by others? Or just wondered how God really, truly sees you?  If that has never been an issue for you, I applaud you! Tell us your secret!  You belong to a rare breed.   Most of us, though, have dealt with these issues in varying degrees. For some it’s not been a big challenge, but for others, it’s been a stumbling block. I fall into that last category, and I know I’m not alone.  There are times when I go for pretty good stretches where the I tamp it down and keep it under control, and at other times, it seems to dominate too much of my thought process.

I haven’t written a post in a couple of weeks specifically because I fell right into that hole of self-doubt. But as it would happen, we just started the Armor of God study by the amazing Priscilla Shirer. It took just a couple of days to realize what was going on, and now the train is getting back on track.  As the study points out, and as any follower of Christ needs to not just know, but grab hold of and never let go, is that we must funnel everything through the filter of truth. TRUTH. Not what I think is a convenient truth. Not what the world is manipulating into it’s convenient truth, but THE truth. The unchangeable word of God.

Much of my life I have felt just plain not good enough. And I assume nobody else thinks I’m good enough, either. And it makes me want to just give up. God can’t use me! God wouldn’t want to use me! I actually had somebody, many years ago, tell me God would never use ‘somebody like me’.  Here’s the thing: he wasn’t authorized to speak for God, but I let those words knock me down as if God himself spoke them to me from the burning bush. Why? I never compared it against the truth!

This last week of contemplating all of this, and realizing all of the lies I fall prey too has made me come to one conclusion. That stupid devil managed to turn me into a weapon against myself! And I KNOW I’m not alone! Ladies in particular, we can be our own worst enemies with these battles we fight over self image.

And speaking of image…we all have a desire to be accept and belong. God didn’t create us to fly solo, we are meant to do life in fellowship with others. But as much as my own beating of myself is leaving me in defeat, so is spending a lot of energy worrying about gaining the approval of others. Of course it’s nice. Until it becomes something we are putting so much effort (including emotional energy) to get, and beating ourselves up if we don’t. Then it’s taken a position in your life that’s unhealthy and perhaps pushing the boundary of a little false idol?  Emotions can start to take on an unhealthy place in the order of things we worship, and it’s so subtle you hardly notice until the balance is so out of whack, everybody around you is noticing. That’s never good!

So we want to belong, and we want to be thought well of, and that’s all great. Until it consumes you. Until it robs you of your peace.  So how do we get the peace back when we aren’t getting the things we thought were going to give us the peace in the first place? Keep praying and begging God for them? I guess you can try that.  But let’s consider something else. Maybe He wants you to use that filter we talked about. Truth.

Maybe we need to stop striving for all of that for a bit and sit down at Jesus feet with our Truth and figure out who we really are? My self-image is not serving me well. Your need to get others’ to approve of you hasn’t panned out quite like you’d hoped. Somebody tried to make you feel small with hurtful words. But what is the TRUTH? Jesus said the truth (holding to his teaching) would make us free. I think if we can grasp the truth of who we are in Christ, how our Father truly sees us, and let that saturate into our hearts and minds, then we won’t need to worry about the approval of others. And when the enemy comes with the lies to make us believe we aren’t good enough, we’ll already know what our Daddy thinks. And stupid comments people make? The more we know the Truth of God’s word, the less those words will even penetrate our airspace, friends!

We are beloved children of God! Do you know how much he loves you?  If you are following Jesus Christ, having proclaimed him as your Savior and Lord, you already know that God loves you enough to have given you the gift of salvation by way of sacrificing his own son, by his grace alone. We didn’t do a darn thing to earn that. That’s love!  (If you have not taken the step of faith and confessed Christ as your savior and lord of your life, did you know that God loves you SO much, that he gave his only son to pay the penalty for your sins and my sins? That penalty is death. But Jesus paid it for those who would accept the gift. Want to learn more? Go here. )

So how does God see you and me? Check this out. You and I are truly his kids. Not just because he created humanity. But because when we call on Christ as savior, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit brokered our adoption as sons and daughters. (Romans 8:15). We are now co-heirs with Christ! (Romans 8:17). Co-heirs! That means we have are partakers of the divine nature. That means we will one day rule and reign with Christ. Colossians 3:23 tells us we receive the inheritance of the Lord as our reward. THAT is how highly God looks upon his children. But let’s not forget, this isn’t about how super awesome WE are so that we think we have reason to be prideful. This is ALL about how super awesome Christ is!

Let’s go back to verse 15 for a second, because this is really cool. Paul (the writer of the letter to the Roman Christians) says we cry out to God as “Abba, Father”.  Every major translation uses this word “Abba”.   This was an Aramaic word (the language spoken by Jesus and the apostles) which best translates to “papa”. It’s sometimes translated as “daddy”.  Can you think of a more tender way that a child refers to the father that they look to for their whole world? For unconditional love, provision, to chase away your fears?   Now I ask you, do you think of God that way? Is that weird to you to think of the Almighty God, perfect and holy, as your daddy? It was a little strange to me at first. I actually thought it might be slightly sacrilegious. I did run it by somebody much wiser than me to be sure I was not out of line when I was just starting on my walk of faith. (Thanks, Misty!) If it’s odd to you, know this: that’s the tenderness and affection with which God looks at you. You don’t earn it. You don’t have to scramble for it. You don’t have to prove anything to him. He just loves you like that. He is still a sovereign and just God, but He is a God of great love for us. I would encourage you, if you find this strange, to work on this in prayer time.

So that’s our first truth. No matter what, God loves us. Unconditionally. I can’t make him love me more as a follower of Christ by the stuff I do to serve him. I can’t make him love me less by the stuff I don’t do. His love for me isn’t going to change. He calls me daughter and I call him Daddy and I have an inheritance because of my adoption through Christ, not by anything I have done to earn the privilege. Truth.

Second truth: striving for the approval of the world/others and the approval of God is the same as serving two masters, and cannot work. Jesus said in the parable of the shrewd manager (Matthew 6, Luke 16) we cannot serve two masters or we will end up hating one. He was speaking specifically about money, but this applies to anything that would divide our loyalty from our master, Christ Jesus. If you are so busy pleasing other people and doing everything you can to get their approval, where is seeking God and his ways in all of that?  Paul tells us pretty plainly in Galatians 1:10 that if we are trying to please man, we CAN’T be a servant of Christ. He’s telling us right there it just doesn’t work.  James goes even further. He has some pretty harsh words, actually. He says “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)  Paul, James and Jesus are all pretty clear on whose opinion really matters.  So if you are living by the Spirit, loving and serving the Lord, loving and serving others and you aren’t getting the approval of others? So what! In the words of Princess Elsa, let it go. Your God in heaven sees you.

One other note on the approval of others. This also goes for the approval of other Christians. It’s nice to have it, but it’s still not what our motivating force is. Or it shouldn’t be. And to that end, may I just suggest we all check ourselves in light of this gem of a verse for some deep soul searching:

      Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by  them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, ESV)

What is Jesus warning us about here? Are we not supposed to let anybody know that we do good deeds? No, not at all. The above scripture reference is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Also in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)  So which is it?  It’s your motivation, and it’s your method. Jesus is saying when we are letting our lights shine, naturally good things will flow from that. And people will naturally notice them. We won’t need to call attention to ourselves. And when they do notice, the glory, every last bit of it, goes to God and not us.  He is saying if you are doing anything to get noticed by people, you are also getting noticed by God and it’s NOT in a good way. If you’re going out of your way to make sure people know what great things you are doing for God’s kingdom (and it’s tempting, I know. Trust me, I know), I ask you to pray about it and ask God to reveal anything to you He would desire you to see about your motivation. As a recovering people pleaser and approval addict, I can share with you something I categorize as a “Holy Ghost Smack down”.  Are you familiar with crowns we have the potential to earn as rewards? Among other rewards we will get, there are five crowns available to believers mentioned in the New Testament. (Here is a good summary.) But here’s what got me. I heard somebody say recently they believed the only reason we are given crowns is because we will have nothing we can carry over with us to present to Jesus. (Think about the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.) It really got me thinking about motivation for every act of service. Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to shower Christ with the adoration he is due. I want my works to be for his adoration. 

Another truth? Jesus tells us pretty plainly: seek first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) Seek first thing kingdom of God and then what? All things will be added unto you! So what is the truth here? If you are striving for the things of God, walking in his ways, sticking to his side, THEN all things will be added unto you. What kind of all things? Well, let’s with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. (Matthew 11:30). Sound good to anybody? How about life and one more abundant at that? (John 10:10).  Still not quite convinced? How about treasures stored up in heaven that cannot be destroyed? (Matthew 6:19).  Sisters (and brothers!) you can gain all the approval you want from this world and the people in it. You can have cars and big houses and best selling books and fame. And not a single lick of that is going to matter on judgement day. And none of it is going to cross over with you.

We can’t seek the approval of God and the approval of the world. Truth. If we seek first God and his kingdom (with undivided hearts), then he will add good things to us. Truth.

We have to learn to seek out the truth. Paul tells the way to avoid being conformed to this world is by the renewing of our minds! (Romans 12:2) How do we do that? By saturating ourselves with God’s truth! We thought we had it all figured out, that our ways were working, but they didn’t bring us much peace, did they? They didn’t bring us peace with God, that’s for sure! And when we fall prey to the lies of the enemy about our identity in Christ, or our need for the approval of anybody but God, that is a huge breach in our peace. So we follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5 and we “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts (forget our ways and negative thoughts) and lean not on your own understanding” (but lean on the truth of the word of God!) TRUTH!

Heavenly Father, thank you that you call us your sons and daughters and that we can call you our daddy. Thank you for your tender love for us. Thank you that as our earthly fathers do, your love provides not just love but correction. There is truly no God like you. I am so in awe that I love and serve you, the God of all creation who spoke all things into existence, the eternal God, yet I can cry to you and know you hear and love me with such great tenderness and care. I pray all who have been adopted as your sons and daughters through Christ Jesus would know and experience this love of yours.  In Jesus’  Name.