Welcome to the sixth post in our Love Series.
“Mary” (a blog subscriber and new friend) wrote me an email and I promised to write a response. Because I thought her questions related to our love series, I asked her if I could use her words and my reply as part of a post.
She graciously agreed.
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Thank you so much for your emails and for allowing me to use your words in this post.
In response to the first post of our Love Series: Be Loved First, you wrote in an email:
“I really liked today’s post. I like seeing scripture that points us to the idea (fact?) that God does it all and that we can’t rely on our own strength. Somehow I still can’t quite accept it. . . . I can’t let go of thinking that I should be a better Christian and that I’ve got to try harder, but by and large it doesn’t seem to motivate me.”
I can relate to your feeling like “I should be a better Christian” and your struggle to receive God’s grace (“I’ve got to try harder”).
Though I don’t struggle as deeply as I did for decades, I can easily slip back on the chains of legalism and forget all is grace/gift, always.
In reply, I asked you what you meant by “a better Christian,” and you mentioned feeding orphans and comforting widows (which I hope to address more in fully another post).
You raised several big questions, which I will do my best to answer. (I trust you to check what I write against Scripture.)
I also write as someone who is being slowly transformed by God’s grace daily (see 2 Corinthians 9:8).
I don’t have it all figured out. But I share what I know today.
But first a little story; I promise to show how it relates.
Last month I sat at the back of a church with large glass windows. I saw sunshine and blue skies.
My friend stood lovely in a long white dress, holding hands with her beloved (who cried).
They were married by their pastors, a husband and wife. During the ceremony, the husband/pastor talked about how the love and commitment found in marriage gives each person the freedom to become all God intended (my paraphrase).
The pastor recalled his first date with his wife and how he wanted to impress her and to be found good enough for another date.
He observed that in marriage, you don’t need to impress like you did when you were dating because you’ve been chosen.
It doesn’t mean you stop caring or trying your best to love the other person or that you stop growing as a person.
Ideally in marriage, you don’t love or live under the burden of trying to be found good enough or interesting enough to be loved.
His point: Commitment, like that found in marriage, creates the safety for one to grow.
Love commits one’s life to you.
(He assumed, of course, a lifelong marriage in the best sense, where there is no abuse or infidelity etc. And to my divorced readers, please know there is no judgment here.)
Back to your email where you wrote: “I can’t let go of thinking that I should be a better Christian and that I’ve got to try harder.”
One key point: We must get rid of the idea of “better Christian,” because it implies judgment and comparison. Some are better; some are worse.(*)
If I can make this analogy: you’re not dating God.
God isn’t trying to decide whether you are worth his commitment.
The glorious truth of the Gospel: God chose to commit to you, even before you wore a beautiful white dress or impressed him (see Romans 5:8).
Once you received God’s gift of being in his forever family through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, you’re already chosen.
God will never break his commitment to you and me. God will never divorce us or abandon us though we stray (see Hosea 2).
You’re already good enough because of Christ’s sacrifice. God sees you, M, clothed in the beauty of Christ’s life. Jesus lived the perfect life that none of us could ever live.
You’re part of the church, Christ’s bride (see Ephesians 5:25-32).
God is committed to you. You and I don’t need to impress him by being a “better Christian.”
Instead our motivation for any good we do is because we’re loved, not because we’re trying to earn God’s love.
It has taken many years for this truth to slowly seep more and more into my heart until I felt its truth warm my cold heart.
It is not our job to determine whether we or anyone else is a “better Christian.”
We aspire to be better but we don’t judge ourselves or anyone else as “better.” God alone knows the motivations of our heart.
We can teach, preach, give to others, and sacrifice our bodies without agape love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Only God knows; we can only see externals.
And it is as you wrote: Telling yourself “I should be a better Christian” “doesn’t motivate,” because it creates fear we won’t measure up, or it creates pride when we think we have measured up.
And the glorious truth of the Gospel is that God sees us through Christ’s righteousness so we measure up in Christ because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (see Romans 4 and 5).
The good news of the Gospel is none of us are better; we’re all in desperate need of God’s love and forgiveness (see Romans 3:23).
It is God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8–9) alone that brings us into relationship with God and it is also his grace (2 Corin. 9:8) that sustains us.
Jesus committed to love us before we had done a single thing for him and when we were sinners (see Romans 5:8).
Earlier in your email, you asked about experiencing God.
May I share one thing I’ve prayed in the past and still pray: Dear God, I ask for the grace to have a felt-experience of your love.
And God gives me a taste of his love; I am satisfied and I want more of him.
Thank you for being in conversation with me and for risking being vulnerable.
One more thing: Sin and/or past wounds, and busyness, can hinder our ability to fully experience God’s love. I speak from experience.
I also ask God to show me and to grant me the grace to repent and also to heal me where I’m wounded.
Hope this helps and I pray God will give you more of a felt-experience of his unconditional, agape love for you.
In and by Christ’s love,
(*) I’m not saying everyone is equally good. The point is that we don’t judge ourselves as better or worse because we’re not qualified to judge. However, we can learn to discern whether something is good or not.
P.S. Thanks for reading this longer than usual post. And thanks for praying for my writing and for my fast, which ends August 10, 2016!
And also linking with these wonderful friends
and Lyli of #ThoughtProvokingThursday