Grace


I do not know Ray Ortlund, or anything about his beliefs (so I am not endorsing him), but I came across a very interesting article by him today entitled What It Means To Be Truly Reformed. He believes in Reformed theology, and is discussing how even the word of God can be manipulated and twisted so that it is no longer true. If we are adding to or subtracting from the Word, then we are changing it. Many abusive churches do this, and as Ortlund says, it can even become a club used to hurt others.

I really appreciate how he closes the article, which is the excerpt I highlighted below. These four excerpts draw out the pieces I believe really apply to disillusioned and abused believers, but I encourage you to read the whole article.

Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian—or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

But no matter how well-argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.'” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us. What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

Ray Ortlund’s blog, Christ Is Deeper Still.

We have a problem in the church, a problem that is growing because we are not recognizing and addressing it. Our problem is we are moving away from truth and toward our own wisdom. We have taken up moralizing and psychologizing issues and not looking at our issues as a result of a distorted understanding of God where we have hold other things as idols that take the place of God in our lives.

This information is quoted from Galatians: The Law and the Gospel by Timothy J. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, NY:

  1. Moralizing: Basic analysis: Your problems is that you are doing wrong. Repent!
    This focuses on behavior but doesn’t go deep enough. We must find out the why of our behavior. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself) to repent and change their behavior is insufficient, because the lack of self-control is coming from a belief that says, “Even if you live up to moral standards but don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  2. Psychologizing: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you don’t see that God loves you as you are. Rejoice!
    This focuses on feelings, which seem to be deeper than behavior but it also fails to go deep enough. We must also find out the why of our feelings. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself), “God loves you – rejoice!” is insufficient. The unhappiness is coming from a belief that says, “Even if God loves you, but you don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  3. The Gospel: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Christ for your happiness. Repent and rejoice!
    This confronts a person with the real sin under the sins and behind the bad feelings. Our problems is that we have given ourselves over to idols! Every idol-system is a way of our-works-salvation, and thus it keeps us “under the law.” Paul tells us that the bondage of sin is broken when we come out from under the law – when we being to believe the gospel of Christ’s-work-salvation. Only when we realize in a new way that we are righteous in Christ will the idol’s power over us be broken. “Sin shall not be your master for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). You will only be “under grace” and free from the controlling effects of idols to the degree that you have both repented for your idols and rested and rejoiced in the saving work and love of Christ instead.

Grace, a word and concept we don’t understand. Christ saved us by faith and grace, not by works. Grace frees us because it does not condemn and shame us, but it points us back to the work that Christ did for us. It tells us that the law will not, can not, was never meant to save us. It just shows us the contrast of what the Lord did for us and how we are liberated and free.

Moralizing and psychologizing will not save us, but the Gospel will. It is all about Christ’s work and not ours.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to read Grace is for Sinners by Serena Woods. I say “privilege” because this autobiographical book gives a look into some very difficult aspects of Serena’s life and she presents them with grace, honesty, and humility.

Serena, although being a Christian, made some choices that did not adhere to the standards the Lord has given to us and she is transparent about the choices she made, the effects of her sin, and what the results have been in her life. Serena, while married, became involved with a married man and committed adultry. The results of her moral failures shattered her life, her relationships, and shook her faith to the core. She honestly tells about the questions she asked, the struggles she walked through, and the reactions she received from others.

This book holds some very powerful messages if people are willing to listen. For those who have made choices that led them into sin, Serena talks about coming to terms with those decisions and accepting that although she never thought she was capable of this type of sin it was now her story. For those who have faced rejection, banishment, or judgement from other Christians when they needed love, there is a message of understanding, and some direction for how someone might overcome the pain and the disillusionment. For those who want to provide safe, loving, and redemptive places for those who have been hurt or who want to be restored after sin, this book gives a fantastic glimpse of the pain and suffering someone may go through and the issues they may wrestle through in coming back to faith.

Serena is honest about the struggle she faced to accept her own sin, and to find some message of hope. She knew that she had made mistakes, but longed to set things right and to be restored to faith. The honest and authentic approach to her quest for resources, words of encouragement, and places of truth and hope provide the reader with a heartfelt understanding of her pain and desire to change.

Serena’s answer to her pain, her sin, and her quest for answer led her straight to the Word of God. Scripture became her place of truth, and strength as she looked for answers. That message above all others is the one that I believe we need to hear. She didn’t find the answers in the sinful relationship with the man she became involved with. She didn’t find the answers in the words or support of friends and family. She didn’t find the answers in books, podcasts, journaling, or attending church services. She found her answers, her hope, her path toward righteousness and restoration by turning to God’s word and learning about God in new ways. Her relationship with Him became the most important thing. She now knows that her lack of relationship and understanding of the Lord kept her from recovering, and through growing in her knowledge of God and scripture she now has a firm foundation that drives her life, her recovery, and her quest for hope and purpose. She is now a living testimony that God can redeem lives. She is now a living testimony that Grace is for Sinners, and she is developing a faith that will be immovable. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Serena is a witness to the power of grace and its power to change lives.

I commend Serena for her honest and authentic and transparent presentation of this time in her life. She does an amazing job of sharing the hardships and pain that her own decisions led to, and how difficult it was to return. She also presents us with hope that returning from a place of devastation and rock bottom is possible.

Thank you Serena for the message of hope and the witness of the Lord’s restoration.

It truly was a privilege to hear your story, and to see God at work in your life!

Check out Serena’s blog at http://www.graceisforsinners.com/

A few months ago when the truth of God’s character started to deeply impact my heart and my thinking I began growing and learning in ways I had never known. Although I recognized immediate changes each step of the way, it has taken time for God’s truth to sink in and start to make deep changes to the untruths and lack of faith that was so deeply ingrained into many areas of my life. I had still believed that my sin was keeping me from a righteous relationship with God instead of understanding that Christ has set me free and changed me forever.

Lately I feel like I have been drinking from a firehose. I have been growing and learning so much, so fast. The changes are things I can’t even put words to yet, but daily I am becoming more profoundly aware of the Lord’s presence in my life and the changes that are occurring.

I watched the Matrix the other night. I feel like Neo did in the movie as his mind was being opened to the truth of the real world versus the lies he had known and thought were real. Morpheus challenged Neo and pushed him. In explanation he said, “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

That is very similar to what the Lord wants to do for us. He wants to free us from the things we have believed and the limited views we have known. He wants to open our minds to truth, possibilities, and opportunities. He wants us to become the people he has created us to be. It is up to us to believe and to walk in his truth. Faith is more than just asking and hoping, it is walking as if the prayer has been answered and we are changed. Morpheus later told him, “Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” I believe there are many like me who have made a commitment to Christ in the past, but who never learned how to move from knowing to walking the Christian faith out in a powerful way in their everyday life. Many of us have never been taught how to live as Christians who are radically altered by the Gospel.

The more I come to understand 1) Who he is 2) Who I am because of what Christ did and how that made me a new creation, it is radically altering my life. I have never known the freedom, joy, hope, love, power, and strength that I know live with. It is my prayer that others will also find this truth. Not only will it change their lives, but I truly believe that what I am learning about is the Gospel that Christ promised would change the world.

I love this post from Sarah Cunningham, Oh Yeah, Well, I’m Going To Scream About How Great You Are.

I am thinking about how this would impact the American Church if we treat others this way instead of with the Elder Brother Disease. I think I want to move to Africa!

http://www.sarahcunningham.org/change-is-cheap/oh-yeah-well-im-going-to-scream-about-how-great-you-are

I am walking with a friend right now who is going through a similar depression, spiritual struggle, and crisis to what I experience 10-12 months ago. For the last couple months she has been through an incredibly dark time that has been one of the hardest seasons of her life. She has struggled to hear God, to have confidence in her faith, and has been emotionally distraught and stressed.

When I went through this time last year I tried to express it to my pastor, but he didn’t understand.

When I expressed my struggle I was told I needed to trust the Lord and go through the motions. I was told that we do not need to understand everything and that I needed to attend fellowship even if it was an uncomfortable place for me (since all we did was hang out and have dinner but no spiritual fellowship and I was in such spiritual need).

  • My friend’s pastor has advised her to take the time she needs, to let us know how we can help, and those who know and love her are reaching out to her and offering support so she does not need to initiate.

When I expressed that I was having questions about my faith and understanding about God/Christianity and wondered if I had some misconceptions I was told that I was not a believer because I was doubting.

  • My friend has expressed her struggle and has been told that others will stand with her, help her to work through questions she has, and that because of the Gospel we will never let her go or reject her.

When I asked for support and resources I was told that all I needed was within the local church. I was discouraged from reaching outside that church.

  • My friend’s pastor encouraged her to find a counselor and now she is on medication to help with anxiety and depression.

When I wanted to share with others to get support I was told that I could not share my struggles because it involved miscommunication with the pastor and would cause disunity in the body.

  • My friend’s pastor has encouraged her to share how she is doing and invite others into her journey and struggle so she has people around her praying for her, uplifting her, and supporting her.

When I was in crisis and expressed that to my pastor he never responded and neither did others in the community, and a month later I was told that I was not allowing him to speak into my life so I was sinning by being unsubmissive and was excommunicated from the church.

  • Today my friend expressed that she is not able to serve in a way she had committed to for a ministry. Others have come around her to not only fill in the gap but to minister to her in deeper ways.

I know I walked one of these paths as the person in need and one as the person walking alongside, but the two stories are very, very different. One story led to anguish, pain, rejection, and abandonment. One has led to support, community, unity, strength, and empowerment. My friend’s story is not done yet and I do not know the outcome, but I know that God is actively involved and ministering to her. I know that he is involved and being called upon by a community that is standing with her. I know that he is being allowed to minister to her because her community of Christian friends (that goes far beyond her local church) are standing with her in prayer, strength, and hope.

It is amazing to see the people of God stand together when there is a need!

Today is such a mixture and it is only 10:45 AM.

  1. Today is the anniversary of my abuse five years ago. It has been a day of dread for the last three years, but I approached it with joy, hope, and promise today knowing that God has changed my heart and life. I have been so excited for this anniversary because I knew that if it passed without dread that it was proof of Christ’s changes in my life. I was greeted by an amazing full arch rainbow that brought me such joy of God’s promises to us.
  2. I started with a quiet time today where I found a level of understanding and surrender of my heart, soul, mind, and strength unlike anything I have known before. It was an amazing time with the Lord and I came away feeling completely different.
  3. I went to coffee shop to work and my old pastor came in and approached me. Through a very tense conversation he told me it is clear I have not changed, that I have a divisive heart that is causing disunity in his church because I have refused to stop trying to resolve issues after he has told me to have no further contact with anyone at his church. I have tried to resolve things for seven months and he claims I keep twisting things and cutting off communication. We finally ended up with a counselor on the phone speaking to each of us separately (although the pastor overheard my entire part of the conversation).
  4. Now I stand before God again asking him to show me how my heart is not submitted, how I am divisive and disunifying. If there is sin in my life I want it out now! I am done walking this path and I want to change, no matter the cost. If these are things in my life I am blind to them and desperately need help to see them. I have already contacted my new pastor for accountability and support because I do not want to repeat any of these actions. I know I am a sinner and need the Lord’s transformation in my life.

I don’t know what the rest of the day will hold, but even through the difficulty this morning I am still able to stand with confidence that I have changed, that the Lord has transformed my life, and I know I still have work to do in my life but I know that I am on the right path to making that happen. My immediate reaction was to turn to Him in repentance and to ask for him to change me. I desire His truth, His perspective of my life, and obedience to His standards above all else. I wouldn’t have done that in the past and I am so joyful to know that I am making new choices, choices of  hope, redemption, and love.

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