I got a phone call from my brother yesterday; he wanted to talk about what to do when you’re struggling to be godly in a situation.
I had two choices: Put on my wise elder sister voice and say something along the lines of “Just try harder Dave, pray more, I can’t believe you’re tempted to be ungodly in that situation! Don’t you know that it’s wrong?” or come clean with him and say “Yes I’m struggling with that too. I don’t really know the answer; in fact I’m pretty discouraged by my failures. But here are some things that I hold onto when I’m tempted to sin in this area; this is why Jesus is worth obeying…”
I hated to be honest with him and say “I don’t know”.
Because I work ‘in ministry’ I often feel pressure to act like I’ve got all the answers. To demonstrate that I’m in my job because I’ve reached a greater level of Christian maturity than others – Ha! The reality is that the longer I go on as a Christian, the more I see how sinful I am, how frail I am, how far I fall short of God’s perfection! Some days I feel like such a hypocrite as I teach the Bible, and counsel others on dealing with sin!
I’m scared they’ll find out that I’m a fraud.
Can you spot what is going on here?
I’ve forgotten the gospel. I’ve begun to teach a gospel of good works and achievable righteousness with the way I live.
Andrew Peterson puts it like this, in a great blog post on working with the singer Steven Curtis Chapman:
It’s the great, confounding reversal of the Gospel of Jesus. If the word we preach is one of attainable perfection, of law, of justification by works, then when we fail, our testimony fails with it. But if we preach our deep brokenness and Christ’s deeper healing, if we preach our inability to take a single breath but for God’s grace, then our weakness exalts him and we’re functioning as we were meant to since the foundation of the world.
Wow. I try to act like I’m perfect because I don’t want to dishonour Christ, but my testimony doesn’t fail because I’m a sinner, it points to the reality of the gospel! What I should be doing is living out a life that shows my deep dependence on God’s forgiveness and redemption, every minute of every day. This glorifies him, not my attempts to cover over my sin.
That’s pretty hard. It takes greater vulnerability and honesty. But in some ways surely it’s easier than my exhausting efforts to look like I’ve got it together! It exalts the work of Christ in me, and his wonderful, merciful character in walking with a sinner like me. Living like this with transparency and reliance on Christ will also point people to him and not to me, and isn’t this what I want?
Andrew’s comments continue:
An attempt on our part to be super-human will result only in our in-humanness–like a teacup trying to be a fork: useless. But if the teacup will just be a teacup, it will be filled. Humans were made (as was everything under the sun) for the glory of the Maker. Why should we try to be anything but fully human? Let God fill us up and pour us out; let him do what he will, let us be what we were meant to be. That gives us the freedom to sing about what’s really happening in our hearts without being afraid of sullying the good name of God. If our hearts are contending with the forces of darkness, clinging desperately to the hope of a Saviour, then to sing boldly about the battle is no shame to us and all glory to our King.
Godliness is a daily battle of dying to self and living to Christ. It’s a battle that I fail more often than I succeed. But look at Christ! His compassion for sinners, his patience, his mercy, his willingness to pour himself out for us and pour himself into us. He is faithful when we are faithless; he invites us to boldly approach his throne of grace to find daily mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16)
Paul Tripp says that “We approach God as less than needy, so we’re less open to the ministry of others and to the conviction of the Spirit. This sucks the life out of the devotional aspect of our walk with God. Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived. No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it.”
Trying to act like we are perfect affects our relationships with other Christians, our personal time with God, and our worship. And the act we put on in front of others becomes the attitude we bring before God too!
So every day I have a choice, as I live out my Christian life. To preach with my life that the gospel is about how I can make myself righteous and presentable to God – and always live in fear that sooner or later I will be shown up for the fraud that I am.
Or to demonstrate that I am a sinner in daily need of huge amounts of grace! Its messy, there is not much to respect or emulate about me, but Christ is pointed to as my strength and redeemer, I simply live out my desperate need of him, and as he fills me, he is glorified!
Do you have any thoughts on this? Or any practical suggestions for how we can live it out?