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There are three kinds of people who need to read this entire blog series.
Person #1: if you know me personally (friends and family) or if you are a long-standing reader of my blog (2+ years), then you need to read this series. It is probably the most accurate and succinct picture of my heart and faith right now.
Person #2: if you struggle with your faith…AT ALL; if you’ve been hurt by church and wanted to walk away from your faith entirely; or if you’ve had a faith based in legalism;
Person #3: if you are a perfectionist, type A, or OCD and have had these things interfere with your faith and how you live your life— then you need to read this series.
The practical struggle of everyday Christian living when you are a recovering legalist
When I spent two and a half months in 2013 fleshing out the theology of grace while telling my personal story, I came to a lot of good conclusions that I believe to be Biblical. Let me summarize them in a nutshell:
- Just as my justification is by grace, so is my sanctification.
- God loves me, end of story – regardless of what I’ve done.
- I don’t have to earn God’s love with good behavior. I can’t make Him love me more by being good.
- Being a virtuous Christian does not make me chosen, holy, and dearly loved. Chosen, holy, dearly loved is ALREADY my identity and my motivation for virtuosity.
- I’m human. I’m a sinner. God gets that.
However, taking these concepts and applying them to every day life was what I literally could not figure out. It was like one of those Magic Eye books from the 90s. I knew I was supposed to be “getting it” – seeing the big picture. But as hard as I stared at these big theological concepts, I just couldn’t get the everyday practicality of it all to pop into focus.
Duty vs. desire
When it came to “good Christian living” –most especially in the area of spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, prayer, going to church) and entertainment choices– my thoughts always took this looping path:
I don’t WANT to read my Bible because it’s too triggering. I don’t feel like going to church. I don’t want to listen to Christian radio today. I WANT to watch Grey’s Anatomy and listen to P!nK.
So, if I make the choice to do the “right” thing (read my Bible, pray, go to church) or avoid the “wrong” thing (not turn on the TV or listen to P!nk), then aren’t I just doing that out of duty? And isn’t that basically legalism? Forcing myself to act a certain way because I’m afraid God’s going to be angry with me if I don’t? Worrying about what I SHOULD do and should want to do rather than having a living relationship with God?
Living in my own strength vs. living by God’s power
I’ve spent the better part of ten years doing what I wanted to do, rather than doing what I knew I should want to do. I was SO exhausted from all the stuff I was going through personally (miscarriage, deployment, cross-country moves, mental health issues, special needs parenting, and the list goes on.) So doing the RIGHT thing (or the better thing) took a LOT more effort. I didn’t want to do things in my own strength. If I was going to sit down and read my Bible in the morning rather than browsing Facebook, it was going to be sheer willpower, because I just didn’t want to do it.
And if it’s sheer willpower, then aren’t I just living in my own strength? Which is NOT what I’m supposed to do? When I make a “good Christian” choice, how will I know if I’m just doing it because I know it’s the right thing to do or if I’m acting out of God’s Holy Spirit in me?
This was the brick wall I just could NOT seem to climb over.
Throughout the year 2017, there were some things that I learned that, when combined, served to bring that blurry picture of grace-filled Christian living into focus.
I learned these things through my church, which is really kind of scary. My church isn’t perfect. And I don’t want to idolize my church or my pastor because I’ve done that before and it never ends well. That said, my pastor, along with several grace-filled individuals he’s entrusted other classes and groups to, have really worked together (probably unbeknownst to them) to help me. These are key concepts that I have been struggling to really comprehend for years. But they are finally being explained to me in a way that is resulting in REAL change in my Christian living. Grace-filled change. It is my hope and my prayer that I can share these concepts in such a way that my readership will also be helped and changed by them as well.