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I've always struggled with legalism.
I'm a "do-er." I LOVE practical. If I want to make progress in something, I figure out what I need to DO to make it happen. This is fine on many levels. It can even be a strength sometimes.
But it's a gospel-killer.
I've always known in my head that I would never be good enough to earn my salvation and it was by faith alone in Christ alone, but I LIVED like I actually played a pretty important role. I tried to be involved in every opportunity I was ever given to serve God and always hoped in my heart of hearts that maybe he would love me just a little bit more as a result. I tried to walk the straight and narrow and impress God with my awesome devotion to him. Again, never things to be articulated or even concsiously thought, but the reality of the way I lived every single day. I knew that none of my "doing" had any affect on the reality of my salvation, BUT...
That's the problem, I've always thrown that BUT in.
BUT, I have to act like a Christian. I have to do things right. I have to prove myself. Or to make it sound more spiritual, "If I'm really a Christian, then I'm going to do x,y,z."
Obviously, I don't think it's wrong to show evidences of the Spirit working in my life. I definitely think I should be seeking to live out what I believe! But when my "doing" begins to mean something MORE, whether consciously or subconsciously, I've taken away from the Gospel. I would never consciously think it, but I've lived as though what Jesus did was not good enough. I acted as though I had to be really good, or else his saving work on the cross wouldn't count for me.
In essence, I mocked the gospel. I made less of the Gift.
Going to Bible school after graduating high school honestly didn't help much. Though it was one of the best decisions I've ever made, it only made matters worse when it came to me and the gospel.
In the name of "growing spiritually" and being "mature" I moved past the "basics" of Christianity and moved on into the "deeper" truths of the Bible.
What do I mean? I got over the gospel.
Sure! It was super important to know and believe the gospel, but I moved on to parcing Greek verbs and thinking through theological heresies. I looked at the gospel as the "been there, done that" part of my faith. I had accepted Christ and now in order to grow, I needed to move past the gospel.
But there was nowhere to turn.
I found myself drowning in my list of failures and felt consistently discouraged by my shortcomings as a Christian. I was insecure in my salvation. I never felt at rest or at peace in my relationship with God. Others did (or at least seemed to). Why couldn't I get consistent with my quiet time? Muster up the courage to witness to those around me? Be the perfect wife, daughter, sister, friend?
So, I'd feel conviction for my failures and instead of turning to the Cross, I'd determine for the 3,529th time to start doing better.
Why was it so hard for me to let God's free gift of grace be enough?
Fear that it was too good to be true. Really? He's letting me off the hook for my sins and I don't have to do ANYTHING to get it? Really?!? I'm sure that's not really how it works. I think it must be that he forgives me for my PAST sins and then I'm required to get better and better at this thing until I'm virtually sin-free. So, I'd better keep truckin'... Where's the sign-up sheet for the nursery coordinator position that I don't have time for but probably should do because they really need one and I think I felt a little something in my stomach, so it must be God nudging me to do it?
I not only feared that his free grace was not really that - FREE, but I also struggled with what I might actually become if I embraced the truth that I was forgiven by grace alone and "this not by my own doing. This is the gift of God. Not as a result of works so that nobody can boast." (My paraphrase of Ephesians 2:8-9). I was afraid that if I let myself go there, I would become apathetic or, even worse, sin without regret. Freedom in Christ was only a theory for me and a reality for those who wanted an excuse to do things I didn't think they should be doing.
Honestly, it made it a little difficult to get past this point when everywhere I turned I heard "do more, try harder." Blogs, sermons, books, radio. It fed into my unspoken philosophy that I really did have to do just a little to earn all this. And I know our blog could feed into that mindset if the gospel is not the key element in the mind of the reader.
Matt and I were blessed to find a church where the gospel is preached hard-core! Our pastor makes no apologies for what the Bible says about grace and for that I am truly grateful. I've heard the Good News preached more beautifully (and biblically!) in the past 5 years that we've been there than I had in my whole life before.
I highly recommend giving it a try. When's the last time you just soaked up the beauty of the forgiveness for all the wrong you've done? Not felt guilt ridden? Not determined, yet again, to get it right? But just sighed with relief and said, "Thank you Jesus for dying for THAT."
I can say with 100% honesty that since embracing the gospel in this way the passion with which I live my Christian life has exploded! Living in the light of his grace has not made me apathetic and lethargic in my walk, but instead has ignited a flame that continues to grow. I live knowing that I'll screw up again (soon!) and I can rest assured that his blood covered that sin too. But I live with a more thankful heart than I've ever had as well. My "doing" is no longer to earn God's love and favor, but a sincere expression of my love for him. (Okay, let's be honest, I even need his grace here, for my motivation too. Sometimes it still gets a little out of whack! :)
I'm nowhere near perfect in understanding, articulating or living a gospel-centered life but instead of BUT x,y,z, I now embrace...
Why did I start this parenting series out with a story of the gospel in my life? Because if the Gospel's not huge to me, I can't convey how huge it is to my children. Tomorrow I'll get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about how I got a wake up call concerning moral parenting vs. Christian parenting.
You might be interested in checking out the other posts from our Gospel-Centered Parenting series:
Introduction: A Major Shift in My Parenting Mindset
Part 2: Moral Parenting vs. Christian Parenting
Free Printable: The Gospel in the Bible
Part 3: Instilling a Realistic View of Self
Part 4: How Gospel-Centered Parenting is Looking for Us on a Practical Level