For most of my life I envisioned God smacking me “up side the head” every time I got out of line. And if I really got out of line, it was a “butt whipping.” I lived in a performance based paradigm… if I performed well for God then I would be blessed. If I did not perform well for God, then “I deserved what I got.”
Performance was defined by many things, including devotion to God, prayer, Bible reading and “putting God first.” It became a prison from which there was no escape… a mixing of Grace (yep, I was ‘saved’) and Law (if I didn’t ‘behave’ then God was disappointed in me). That feeling of God’s disappointment, His critical eye on me, became a burden I could no longer carry. After years of trying to please God, and never being able to do so, I gave up in despair.
I believed, with all of my heart, that I had been “set on the shelf” and become a “barely saved and so as by fire” “back of the bus” Christian. My failures were publicly evident to all, and the guilt of those failures was like the Scarlet Letter A freshly carved upon my chest every day. But unlike Hawthorne’s minister, my letter A did not stand for “Adulterer” but rather a certain part of the human anatomy. And this word, this accusation, was repeated daily by me, about me, until it became burned in my heart and soul as the punishment (chastening) I knew that I deserved.
And so I lived for years, holding on to the only thing I had left- my “punishment.” At least I had that. I held on to it in self pity, and dwelt on it day and night, like Hawthorne’s minister. It was my life… if you could call what I had a life. I grew depressed, angry and full of toxic “junk” spilling out from me to everyone around. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)
ANSWER: I had already been set free at the Cross. I was already seated in the heavenlies with my Savior. I was already righteous. “Therefore there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) God was not keeping score of “my Christian Life” (oh what a burdensome phrase that could never bring peace). I was seated at His table, doted over and loved by Him like His very own Son. I was always the “apple of his eye” no matter how much I “failed Him.” He was always my Pappa, my Daddy, my Father. He had never looked at me with a disappointed, critical eye. Not ever.
That standing I have before Him as His dearly loved child is not dependent upon anything I do or don’t do. Our Father does not have “two standings” – one for salvation (grace) and a different one for deliverance from the power of sin (our faithfulness and devotion). We cannot be trusted to follow Him. Our flesh is weak, dead and utterly corrupt. That’s no surprise to our Father, though it seems to surprise us.
The prison I lived in for decades was a self-imposed prison. It was a prison with walls made of lies. Lies that said God was a Father with expectations upon me… expectations that must be met, or I would experience His stern disapproval and punishment. My Father never had expectations of me, for to have them would mean that He believed I could meet them. No. His only “expectation,” if it could even be called such, was to trust in, rest in and ‘reckon’ all that He had already done to be a finished fact. He simply wanted me to stop believing lies… to trust His kindness and good intentions toward me. Then, and only then, would He be free to live “Christ’s Life” within me, with all the resulting natural fruit that would follow.
If you know anyone who is believing lies… lies that they have “sinned away” God’s favor… call those lies out. They are lies literally from the father of lies, the evil one. Those lies call our Father an unkind and unloving Father. Those lies go back to The Lie in the Garden, when the evil one told our parents that their Father did not really love them.
No one one alive on this earth today is beyond the merciful and tender love of our Heavenly Father. Our Father is wooing them, romancing them and pursuing their hearts every single moment. We were created to exist in perfect fellowship with Him. There is no “second tier” of fellowship. There is only equal fellowship at the Father’s table for all of His blood-bought children. Christ, our Covenant Representative, is our Life.
The Romans 7 despairing life was Paul’s wrestling with the lie that “he” could “live the Christian Life.” Absurd. Sad. And a prison. Romans 8:15-39 is Paul living in the truth, and Paul shouting from the rooftops in joy what Life in Christ really is.
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15, 16 NASB)
If you are a child of God, He looks at you always and only with tender eyes.