Thursday, September 20, 2012

Healthy People Don't Need A Doctor

I'm Not O.K.

I had a great conversation with a friend Sunday. He shared what God has been teaching him about resting in the amazing grace and freedom Christ came to bring. He admittedly does not have it all figured out but as I listened to him my heart burst with joy and gratitude for what God is doing! It's a big deal when we begin to grasp the freedom and liberty we have in Christ. His comments reveal the gospel taking root in his heart expressing itself in love.

I'm O.K.

Contrast that conversation with one I had last week with another friend. She is tired of talking about grace. Her comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding among Christians today. It is a basic confusion about the gospel and our need to be reminded of it every moment of every day. We forget it and when we do our hearts waste no time in heading straight for the "be a better Christian" program which always leads to the inward focused questions of "Am I growing?" and "How am I doing?"

These two conversations couldn't be more polar opposite. They both reveal a deeper condition. One conversation reveals a heart being set free from having to get it all right and prove worth and value. The other demonstrates a heart set on defending a righteousness of their own and looking for more ways to accomplish or "build" worth and value.

I am reminded of how the bible portrays the condition of the heart by contrasting those who know their need of a Savior and those who believe they're doing just fine; the prostitute and the Pharisee, the older brother and the younger brother in the story of the prodigal, and the publican and the tax collector. The Bible is replete with examples like these. Jesus spoke of them when he said:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I Am Capable

How is it that we've come to believe the lie that says we can help ourselves, and worse, that our self-help is actually working? How is it I'm so sure I'm doing just fine? Moreover, I have a constant underlying desire, a battle really, to promote myself by believing that I am better than I really am.

One of the major reasons is our ability to turn everything into a moral ladder to climb. We are giddy to complete checklists and we listen to the Christian culture around us shouting tantalizing solutions to our deepest desires. Want a Deeper Prayer Life? - 10 Easy Steps. Need a More Consistent Quiet Time? - 30 Days to Build the Habit of Morning Devotions. Longing for a more meaningful relationship with God? - 3 Steps to Memorizing Scripture.

Here's out it plays out:

I sign up for Moral Self-Improvement Project 101. I move along this path with the hopes of becoming more and more spiritually mature.

I believe I am improving and have mastered the basics so I now move on to Moral Self-Improvement Project 201. Because I continue to complete all of the required assignments I move up to the next rung each step of the way believing I'm advancing to a level of acceptability.

I tell myself that not only am I of more value to those around me but I have attained to an acceptable level before God.

While I am the first to admit I'm nowhere near the apostle Paul, I'm certainly way ahead of say, Charles Manson for goodness sake!

Granted I'm no angel, but I have managed to stay away from the really big sins and I have successfully progressed in virtue and right living. I look around and determine that I must be doing O.K. compared to most.

I Am Really Not All That Capable

The truth is the Moral Self-Improvement classes are a disaster and they are impossible to pass!

They look so easy and promise such fulfillment and satisfaction but they deliver an endless uphill climb which leads to the "top." They're moving targets so you can never be sure when you've climbed high enough. You're always left with questions about your performance.

Was I kind enough, loving enough, forgiving enough? Were my thoughts pure enough, my motives genuine enough, my giving sacrificial enough? Is my marriage a testimony for others that draw them to Christianity? Was I concerned enough for my neighbors, gracious enough with my grandma, compassionate enough with my toddler? Am I even in the ballpark with keeping up with my friends and staying in touch with my family? Have I evangelized my children's friends and do my kid's teachers know Jesus as a result of knowing me?

It just never seems to be enough. I'm not getting it done and on top of that, I feel guilty over the guilt I have for not being good enough!

Like Paul I cry out "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Who Will Deliver Me?

All of my attempts to either justify myself by my right behavior or give up because of my bad behavior are vain on both accounts. Neither will accomplish for me what I need. The problem is "I" am not the solution. Nothing in me, nothing I do, and nothing I can accomplish will ever be right enough. No amount of guilt, hand wringing, regret, or behavior modification will ever change that because the only solution, the only answer to my problem of me, has to come from outside of me. To the question at hand "who will deliver me" the apostle Paul answers himself, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

In his rich writing Who Will Deliver Us? author Paul F. M. Zahl comments:
"Progress in our lives is not principally a matter of new experience or new knowledge. It is rather a fresh returning, in every new round of events, to a very old conviction: Christ died for our sins." 

That is the good news my sin sick soul needs to hear every moment of every day. Jesus died for my sins. All of my defending, all of my striving, and all of my hand wringing vanishes at the cross. Like Paul I can cry out in anguish, "Who will deliver me?" and with great relief and joy the answer awaits. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!"

Jesus is my one defense.

For all the not enoughs Jesus said, I'm enough.


  1. This article confuses salvation with the resultant sanctification, as is common among modern day American Christians. We are constantly commanded by Paul--the "Apostle of Grace"--to walk in the Spirit, to work out our Spiritual lives/walks with fear and trembling, to test ourselves to see that we are indeed in the faith (ok...that last one wasn't Paul, but it still counts!). We are not to be EFFORTLESS in how we live our lives. We are to be INTENTIONAL in what we allow to influence and lead us. This is not "moral self-help," it is simply being obedient to Scripture. We are influences by the Spirit as we pray, read the Word, hear the Word, and serve the body of Christ. It is through these activities that we can grow spiritually. Salvation has already been achieved for us, but Christ has so much more in store for us as we walk in the Spirit and serve Him.

  2. Dan,

    You are right! Salvation has already been achieved for us. But,what Christ has for us has already been given to us by His death and resurrection. We already possess all the riches of His Kingdom. So instead of "Christ has for we walk" it's, "Christ has given us...and so we walk". The motivation for my obedience is a result of His great love for me. As I rest in his "it is finished" I am free to love and to serve and to obey knowing that everything I need I already have in Christ. It is not through my activities that I grow spiritually. It is through the gospel that assures me regardless of my activities I am loved and welcomed. (the truth is my activities are not all that impressive anyway :)

    I appreciate your comment - thanks so much for stopping by!


  3. Lori,

    Thanks so much for your blog. What an amazing thing that we can even cry out "Wretched man that I am". And that there is a Savior to rescue us.

    I also love your comment in the comments section:

    "Christ has given us...and so we walk".

    Blessings to you as you spresd the very, very good news.


  4. I never suggested our efforts earn us anything. The work of growth and change is performed by the Holy Spirit. However, we can quench the Spirit, as is evidenced by the passages warning us not to quench the Spirit in the NT. My only concern with your article is the impression I got that it called for us not to be concerned with our walk when Scripture clearly implores us be take care in how we walk. If I am incorrect in my evaluation of your article than I stand corrected....with apologies! Blessings to you. :)

  5. I appreciate and affirm the balance that Dan's comments bring to the table here - while appreciating and affirming YOUR post, Lori! We need each other in the body of Christ for so many reasons.... We REALLY do.

  6. Very well put. Both truths are Scriptural aren't they? Praise God for that!

  7. I love this! I have also had similar conversations. I can't tell you how my heart is blessed by the conversations with people who are coming into the Gospel again, its like witnessing a new birth. To finally realize its Grace and freedom and not performance that sets us a part from the world! Its also heartbreaking to hear a friend say that we need to move on from the Gospel to deeper things. To get better at the Christian life. I lived for 14 yrs like that and it nearly killed me but Jesus in His great mercy brought me back to the real thing - His Gospel.
    As I go deeper into the Gospel and worry less about my sin and how I'm doing, I want to live for Him! I want to love others and I want to forgive those who have crushed me with the weight of the "to do".
    Thank you for this!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement Susan! His mercy is indeed great my friend!