Grace: Living in the Tension

As Christians, we walk in the gray area between Biblical tensions all our lives long; e.g., Jesus’ humanity versus His divinity, God’s sovereignty versus our responsibility, etc. But when we stray outside the limits of a healthy tension, we can end up hurting ourselves and the people around us. Today, I want to consider the difference between two kinds of Christians who are “stuck” outside the tension between law and grace – those who don’t know they need grace, and those who don’t know they have it. I have been both of those unfortunates at various times myself.

 

argue picThose who don’t know they need grace come to the counseling room in righteous indignation. This may include the spouse who drags their partner along to get fixed, the partner who doesn’t think they need fixing, the person angry with God for failing to fulfill their dreams and the one who simply cannot forgive. These people are not malleable clay in the sculptor’s hands, bending to His will; they know they are right and deserving of recognition. They have forgotten that accepting Christ means acknowledging deep and abiding sin, deep and abiding need in all areas for a lifetime. They have forgotten that they have a King who desires to confront the blackness of their hearts, and that is a blessing. I have been this kind of prideful, self-sufficient person.

 

Feeling downThose who don’t know they have grace come to the counseling room in self-condemnation. This includes the addict who believes his sin is worse than anyone else’s, the victim of abuse who has assumed a garment of shame, the anxiety-ridden teen who knows she’ll never be beautiful and the unemployed father who doesn’t feel like a man. While generally acknowledging God’s unconditional love for others, they believe they have fallen too far for grace. These people have succumbed to an odd form of idolatry: their own opinion of themselves carries more authority than the words of Scripture or the blood of Christ. They have forgotten – or never understood – that they have a loving Savior who defines their worth, and that changes everything. I can be this kind of guilty, less-than person.

 

Scripture is, perhaps, the deepest paradox known to man, for it is both the standard of judgment and the conduit of mercy. The human heart is arrogant, prone to exalt and care for itself above all, prone to judge others, prone to demand fulfillment. It is also a needy vessel, incomplete and riddled with holes that can only be repaired by the original clay of a powerful and gracious love. Scripture offers the cure for both diseases.

 

First, we must deeply understand and truly own our brokenness. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (I John 1:8) The Bible doesn’t call us to judge others; even Jesus said this about Himself. But it calls us to a continual and humble recognition of our own weakness. Whatever righteousness we possess was hard-won by Christ Himself, and it must be His great grief when we use it as a weapon.

 

Only in weakness and humble repentance can we be repaired by the generous love of God who paid for our sins and donates His own holiness to our account. More than a dry, factual righteousness, Christ proclaims our infinite worth and His eternal love for us aside from any human standard, even our own. We will live forever in a community of equals – saints and sinners all, saved by grace. There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) Our temporary imperfection is a quality which connects us to others rather than a secret shame which sets us apart.

 

I imagine that examples of people living outside a Biblical tension have popped into your mind as you read some of the descriptions above. (They popped into mine, anyway.) Take a few minutes right now and prayerfully consider your own posture before the Lord. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you’d best not stand too tall, but you need not cringe in shame.

 


 

  • Which kind of Christian (proud or ashamed) more closely reflects your heart-attitude today?
  • What part of Scripture (that you need grace or that you have it) do you want to remember and apply right now?
  • How will you ingest the remedy of Christ throughout this day and week?

What Are You So Afraid Of?

Scared toddler covering his faceWhile stopped on the highway during a violent rainstorm, a shadowy movement in the rear-view mirror caught my attention. It was an onrushing tractor-trailer with no room to stop. Long before that incident, I was stalked through a deserted construction site by a stranger with malicious intentions. And I’ve also heard my doctor say, “Stage 4 cancer” (don’t worry – that was 35 years ago). But none of those things are among my scariest moments. All my worst fears have been about things that haven’t happened. Many times I’m not even sure what I’m afraid of. What really is my worst case scenario? What is it that I am so afraid of?

 

Depending on your source, you can read that humans share three, five, eight or more basic fears. Let’s take a look at a few of them. 

 

Pain and suffering – “I am not safe”

 

Are you afraid of the dentist or a car accident or heights? Then this might be your core fear. Pain and suffering concern the physical realm. If one of our fundamental needs is for safety, then this fear represents its absence. We depend upon others to provide security and comfort from our first days on earth. When that need is met consistently, we begin to believe the world is a safe place. When that need is met inconsistently, we are left with worry and doubt.

 

Abandonment – “I am alone”

 

Have you ever been freaked out by a silent, lonely landscape or thought you couldn’t survive a break-up? All humans (and many animals) need a sense of belonging, the assurance that we are loved, that there is a community which will never kick us out. Someone who struggles with the fear of abandonment may need multiple relationships or constant reassurance in order to soothe a gnawing dread of being left alone, rejected and isolated.

 

Shame – “I am unlovable”

 

Do cocktail parties or final exams make you tremble?  Then you may struggle with a fear of failure, a fear of shame. Developing a stable awareness of our own identity is one of the major tasks of young adulthood. We need a sense that there is something unique and beautiful in our makeup, that we are lovable. Yet, we are also seemingly born with deep doubt about our worth – and sometimes those doubts get confirmed by life circumstances. It doesn’t take much to make shame bloom, bringing an exquisite pain which can be worse than anything physical. 

 

Other fears

 

Psychology texts sometimes list the dread of commitment or confinement as another basic fear, and all of them will mention the fear of death. But in my view, underneath both these fears is really one of the other fears above. A lack of freedom to make one’s own choices means that pain, rejection or humiliation can happen to us at any time, without the ability to escape. And what is death but the ultimate suffering, abandonment and failure?

 

Fear of the unknown

 

Knowledge is power. If we know what’s coming, we can prepare for it. Our mind likes to paint the awful possibilities so that we can be ready for them. That’s why all my worst fears are about things that haven’t happened and probably never will. It can help to ask yourself, “What am I so afraid of?” For example, if I’m afraid of getting in my car, driving to my friend’s graduation and hobnobbing with strangers, what is it I’m so afraid of? Is it a fear of suffering (a car accident), a fear of shame (I will make a fool of myself) or a fear of abandonment (no one will talk to me)? 

 

The Remedy

 

There is a remedy for each one of our fears. Will it mean an instant cure?  Probably not. Will it help? Certainly.

 

  • Am I safe? Nothing can touch me which does not first pass through the Father’s hands. I am secure in the One who is both good and sovereign. He may not spare me all suffering, but God will give me what I need to walk the road He maps out for me, including His comfort, protection and courage. (Psalm 16:8-9; Romans 8:28; Phil. 4:13). 

 

  • sunset in heart handsAm I loved? No human being can be the basis for my confidence, but I have been chosen by God, and nothing can ever separate me from His love. (Rom. 8:38-39; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 4:10).

 

  • Am I lovable? I have only to look at the cross to know how much I am worth. God created me for His glory, seated with Christ in the heavenly places (seeing me NOW as I will be when I am perfect), and He is making me more beautiful every day. There is no shame in Christ. (Psalm 34:5; Matt. 6:26; 1 Cor. 6:11; Songs 4:7; 1 Peter 2:9).

When I am in close relationship with the King of Everything who has already proven His undying love for me, then I can never be outside His redemptive plan, I can never truly be alone and I cannot judge myself unworthy when He has pronounced me holy. 

 

What is it that you are so afraid of? After you nail it down, apply the remedy.

 


Related Material

Fear of Death, Abandonment and Failure by the Stenzel Clinic

What We Worry About, The Huffington Post

You Are Loved, Father’s Love Letter

No Shame in Christ, John Piper

Journal Your Anxiety, guided journaling

Unashamed: Psalm 25

You will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting. Is. 45:17
 

Shame is a secret wound that many of us carry, sometimes without knowing it until an ugly moment of truth rips away the bandage. Thoughts of anything from a less-than-perfect grade to a history of abuse can send shame pile-driving into your soul. Shame can feel like a ton of concrete just landed on your shoulders – or lodged in your gut. The open exposure of our disgrace drives us into hiding, either literally or figuratively, just as it did our first parents in Eden. For David in Psalm 25, shame was the consequence of being defeated by his enemies before a watching world.
 
The Bible speaks about guilt and also about shame. Unfortunately, we often use the terms interchangeably. Psychologists define guilt as the feeling that “I have done something bad,” while shame is the feeling that “I am bad.” Shame afflicts its victims even after they have repented and even where no repentance is warranted. David wasn’t a stranger to either guilt or shame. Psalm 51, for example, is David’s admission of guilt after committing adultery and murder. God used his feelings of guilt to drive him to repentance and a restored relationship. On the other hand, in Psalm 25, verse 2, David describes shame as a weapon that God’s enemies use against God’s children. This song celebrates the wisdom of God which teaches us how to avoid legitimate guilt through obedience and the grace of God which removes our sins so completely, it is as if He could not remember them.  It also describes a right relationship with God as the only sure refuge from shame.
 
God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ and seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6) because that’s our truest nature. The human heart of darkness which deserves real shame has been replaced by a loving heart of flesh − at the cost of God’s own flesh. It has already been accomplished for us. Even though we will spend a lifetime shedding the old nature and growing into our new one, we don’t need to define ourselves by the part of us which is dying. What we have done can never change who we are in Christ. We need never again be ashamed before God, and shame before man is nothing but idolatry.
 
Shame has no power over those who trust God. That is the message of Psalm 25, and that is the message of the cross. The next time a load of shame lands on your soul, cry out to God as David does. You cannot be put to shame if you take refuge in Him.


Questions:

  1. Is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enough to cover your sins? Is His righteousness enough to clothe you in beauty?
  1. What makes you feel ashamed before men? Read Col. 1:21-23. Is man’s opinion of you truer or more important than God’s?