Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Do You Do When You Fail? (Or, Our Stupid DIY Righteousness Project)

When I sin, I can either run to Jesus or I can run elsewhere. Instead of running to Jesus, we so often act like our own saviors. We keep tinkering away on our DIY righteousness project.

Awhile ago, I was talking with Jeff Stark, a friend who is a biblical counselor. Jeff is a connoisseur of the gospel (don't you want that to describe you?!). He loves to help people learn to run to Jesus. And he is wise to the many ways we try to act like our own saviors. He mentioned four ways we tend to run to other things instead of Jesus. I thought it was a really helpful list: 
  • Feel bad. Beat myself up. ("I can't believe I...!" "What is wrong with me?!" "Uh!!! I can't do anything right!")
  • Feel bad. Try harder. ("I'm NOT going to do that again!" "I am GOING to do better!")
  • Feel bad. Compare to others. ("At least I’m not as bad as...")
  • Feel bad. Redirect against the negative and look to the good things I’ve done or am doing. ("At least I don't..." or "At least I'm doing okay in my ____" or "At least I AM doing ____.")
We might add that we often don't get any further than "feel bad." We simply feel like a failure (again), and...(big sigh)...move on. 

Each of these paths is a dead end. 

So, where should we run? How about this path instead?  
  • Feel bad.
"Wait a minute! I thought we were blazing a new trail!"

Actually, it is a new trail. All the previous "feel bad" responses were something different. There wasn't enough God in them.

Is is bad to feel bad? Not necessarily. You've been unfaithful to your faithful God. You should be grieved.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
"Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." (James 4:9-10)
But don't stop there. 

Listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. They had been in need of repentance, and when he confronted them, they responded well. 
2 Corinthians 7:9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you...
Grief over your sin is never an end in itself. The Spirit of God doesn't convict you to rub your face in it. That's what Satan loves to do. He loves to wag his finger at you and tell you what a failure you are ("And you call yourself a Christian?!"). The Spirit, on the other hand, convicts you to lead you to real repentance and real forgiveness and freedom.

Jesus meant what he said: "It is finished!" You don't have to prove anything to God by means of prolonged penance or self-loathing. That flies in the face of the gospel of grace.

So, "feel bad" should always lead us TO JESUS. It's what happens when you "come to your senses." God wants you drawn back into fellowship with him, not drawn and quartered.

When we feel bad about our sin, and it leads us TO JESUS, what should happen when we get there?
  • Confess and repent. 
Own your sin. Call it what it is. Don't downplay or excuse or blame-shift or justify what you've done. If you find yourself explaining away...minimizing...downplaying...justifying...rationalizing...blame-shifting, then you're basically saying you don't need forgiveness and grace.

1 John 1:8, 10
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
So, take your real sin to the only REAL SAVIOR. He died for that sin. He is your advocate and mediator. He intercedes for you. 

1 John 2:1 
...if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

You must get real with God about your real sin. That's what true confession is. If my sin is only between me and God, I need to confess it to him. If it is also against another person and I need to make it right, then my confession and repentance will also have a horizontal component.

Call your sin what it is, and turn your back on it. Walk away from it because you are walking toward Jesus. Forsake it, because you want to walk faithfully with Jesus. 

And finally, 

  • Remember and believe the gospel of grace! 
This is SO IMPORTANT. You need to preach the gospel to yourself. You need to BELIEVE. THE. GOSPEL. Jesus died to save sinners! He loved you and gave himself up for you. You didn't deserve his mercy then. You don't deserve it now. It never was based on what you deserve. And it's not based on that now.

You don't have to wait for God to "cool off" or give him some time to warm back up to you. Don't treat him like he's just a great big one of us.

Remember and believe 1 John 1:9,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 
Do you see that little word, "just" in there? Do you know that it is a JUSTICE issue that God forgive his children? If you are in Christ and you confess your sins, he is...JUST to forgive you and cleanse you. He would be UNJUST not to! Why? Because he is a God in covenant with you. That is unbreakable faithfulness and grace, all blood-bought on the cross. Thank you, Jesus!

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:31-39
... If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? 
Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One final thought. How much power to change is there in feeling bad, beating yourself up, trying harder, comparing yourself to others, and redirecting away from your sin to focus on the good you're doing?


But the gospel is the power of God to save and sanctify us. No wonder we get in such a rut. This "DIY righteousness project" is such a self-perpetuating cycle. It beats us down.

But what if we really started regularly running to Jesus? Might the "Jesus righteousness project" actually provide us with power to change? Might it be another kind of self-perpetuating cycle? A glorious one? Might Jesus lift us up?

  • Rather than feel bad and beat yourself up, mourn your sin and be blown away that Jesus was beaten up and killed for it.
  • Rather than feel bad and try harder, grieve your infidelity and put that sin to death by the power of the Spirit.
  • Rather than feel bad and compare to others, beat your breast and say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" And then, "THANK YOU for your sweet mercy to me, a sinner who is now a son!"
  • Rather than feel bad and redirect to the things you're doing well, remind yourself that you're never more worthy of the grace of God on your best day, and never beyond his gracious reach on your worst.

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