We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken… We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe… Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. (2 Corinthians 4:1-16 MSG)
The long and tedious project of recording my book for the purpose of creating an audio book is almost complete (Discovering God’s Grace in Depression). It has been a labor of love for those who find it difficult to read because they suffer from depression and cannot concentrate long enough to read lengthy chapters, but also for those who’d prefer to listen to a book rather than read it.
As a gift to anyone who cannot wait to hear some encouragement for today, I am offering my final chapter to you here. My prayer is that you may find hope and peace in the arms of your Savior and that you would sense the smile of Jesus upon you. God bless you. Heidi
P.S. Look for the audiobook later this year on Audible. It may also be acquired directly from my book’s website (DiscoveringGodsGraceInDepression.com) when it is released in simple audio files. More details regarding that will be ironed out at a later date.
Ultimately, there comes a time when you need to decide, if the sweet smile of Jesus aloneis enough for you. Cling to Him alone. He is your hope! He is your peace! He is your enough!!!
In essence, it took years of living in this tension before I could I retell my OWN story from a gospel perspective. If God’s story in the history of mankind is to weave His gospel thread of redemption through all of man’s lives, and His overwhelming mercy, in spite of their depravity, what hurt me the most eventually led to my ultimate peace and my ultimate redemption.
My story became a story of ALL about GOD; and none about Heidi. My story became one of 100% grace and mercy towards me (HIS love story), and surprisingly, not only was God pleased to bestow it on me, but I was pleased to offer my weakness back to Him as my sacrifice.
The calling He had in mind for me, (MY personal calling) would require my giving up my efforts so that He could show me what He had ALREADY done for me, and how He would glorify Himself at my expense by taking pleasure in HIS own acts of mercy, (because “justice was no longer in the way.” (Reference toPhillips Craig and Dean song, “Mercy Came Running!”) His calling for me was to be His trophy of grace and mercy. And I was ok with that. My peace was found in a confidence that this was HIS calling for me.
My Relationship With Jesus
After He Removed My Depression From Me
Grace! This was what our relationship would now be built upon from here on. The 12 years of my depressive illness was the quality time He was using to draw me into His bosom. On this end of it, I still can’t listen to someone tell me what I HAVE to DO to please God! For me, it offends and degrades the very intimacy I found in the heart of God toward me when I was in a state where I couldn’t do what I thought God needed me to do to please Him. Though I disagree with them, I have to remember to show them grace, too, and remember that that may still be their own calling.
However, just because it is God’s calling for ME, doesn’t mean it is God’s calling for YOU! Nor does it mean that just because you don’t experience depression doesn’t mean that there aren’t some lessons that you can learn about self-righteousness and trying to earn God’s favor through works. It just may be that God wants you to learn “All God! And zero of you,” too.
So, I’m not here to tell you what God’s calling for you is. I am just reminding you that God does call us all to different roads. Some to strength; some to weakness.And just like He told Peter to take the gospel to the gentiles for the first time, when no one had ever done that before, He may just be calling you to a different kind of obedience. One in which you’re WEAK and HE IS strong. Not you’re weak and then HE makes YOU strong. Just…. you’re weak. He’s strong.
Jesus’ Final Lesson To His Disciples
I think there is a lot of significance to the last thing we see Jesus do with his beloved disciples before He gave His life on the cross to redeem them to Himself, reconcile them to His Father and pay for their sins. He washed their feet. Good old Peter resisted. He wanted to be the one to demonstrate His love for the Lord with his actions, but what the Lord wanted was for them to experience His loving tenderness on their behalf.
He could have used those last few hours as an opportunity to teach them how to obey and serve Him better, and the importance of their duty to Him, BUT instead, He chose to demonstrate the lesson He had told them about several times before. More than anything, the God of the universe wanted them to witness what Christ could do FOR them. Specifically, when Peter said, “No, I want to be the one to do the washing.” Jesus corrected him, “No, it must be about what I will do for you.”
And here’s Jesus’ demonstration: John 13:3-8 “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash MY feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “NO,” Peter protested, “you will NEVER wash my feet!”
My Translation: “Um, Lord, surely you want ME to do something to serve YOU?!?!? This can’t be! Please let ME demonstrate MY love for YOU.” But…..
“Jesus replied, “(Peter) Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
My Translation: Jesus said, “Peter, roll over and lie on your back, Now stay! … And Wait! I want to show you what’s in my heart. Look into my loving eyes. Unless I wash you, you won’t be clean. Unless I do the washing, YOU’LL NEVER be clean!”
The lesson Jesus was teaching was, 1) That He loves the weak because they know they are weak. 2) And That He would much rather SHOW MERCY than receive sacrifices of service, and 3) most importantly, that His GREATEST joy is that we KNOW him, NOT in our sacrifices. (Hosea 6:6 says, “I want to show LOVE … I want you to KNOW me more than I want burnt offerings.”)
In essence, He was demonstrating, “Since I have one more thing I can do on this earth before I pay the ultimate penalty for your sins, I choose to leave you with this as your final lesson that I most want to imprint upon your hearts. I’m glorified MOST, when I get to be the one who does the washing. I’m glorified MOST, when YOU let ME do the washing.”
How did I find peace in depression?
You see, before depression, I thought I knew God. But I only knew OF God. But my view of God was warped and twisted. I’d come to learn that I had loved a God I never really knew, for the God I knew was one to be feared for I could not reach His standards of righteousness. Oh, I loved Him before but always hoping that He’d see my love as righteousness and that it would earn me favor in His eyes, too. I had been a true believer for 35 years but never fully understand the loving heart of God. But now, after God’s kindness to me during my period of depression, I echo Job’s declaration, “I had only heard about You before. But now, I have seen You with my own eyes.” (NLT)
So, what about JOY?
First of all, if you are in the throes of depression, you won’t be happy and you won’t feel joyful. Your brain is broken and unable to process those emotions. But I experienced utter RELIEF that my relationship with my Savior didn’t rely on me at all. My joy was Jesus, the One who bridged the gap. HE was my ENOUGH. HE was my PEACE! HE was my JOY!
I found the smiling face of Jesus in my depression. He called me to orient myself to the gospel story that HE was writing with my brokenness, a story of HOPE in spite of my DESPAIR, a story of PEACE in spite of my TURMOIL, a story of GRACE in the face of MY sinful condition and a story of MERCY in contrast to MY efforts. Jesus spent all those 12 years, continuing to reach down to me, His wounded struggling lamb, picking me back up and drawing me back to His bosom, and embracing me with compassion and THAT was better than any gift I could’ve given Him before.(This concludes this 4-part series.)
Third, God taught me that when I couldn’t reach God’s standard for righteousness, God Himself bridged the gap.
“When all you can do is all you can do, then all you can do is enough.” I call this my “Enough” principle. If on any given day, I was given the grace to behave somewhat righteously, I was HS filled, I did all the right things, I served in the church, I was kind to my family, I lived in the joy of the Lord, I still wouldn’t be able to attain the righteous holy standard of God Himself.
But, whatever I lacked in perfect righteousness, God looked at the righteousness of Jesus on my behalf. and said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am now pleased.”
Imagine that I am holding a bag of sand and a empty jar. In the example above, I was able to partially fill up that jar myself with my good works out of a heart for God and love for Him. So, God filled my partially filled jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God. Let me be clear, YOU are not enough! God multiplies and redeems your efforts and God’s work is enough!
However, when I was in the pit, I despaired, I became angry, I refused to talk to anyone, my social behavior was despicable and unacceptable, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit and He was not in control of my thoughts. I wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, I had little to no desire for Him. I was nasty and testy, my soul felt empty, and I had NO joy!
But the Lord looked at me and compassionately said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am pleased.”
Back to our Sand Illustration:
If you looked at my jar on those tormented, depressed days, you could hardly find the few grains of sand that I could contribute to the jar. But still, God looked at what I was able to contribute and then proceeded to fill up my almost empty jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God.
My new relationship with Jesus was one of tenderness. It was one of compassion. It was one of Him being the Sustainer and my being the helpless one.It changed everything for me. It took all my despair I felt for not feeling acceptable and gave me permission to stop trying to earn it. My eyes were opened to His shepherd’s heart and I fell in love with Him in a way that I had never done before. I was imperfect, but I was beloved. He was ok with my brokenness. He was ok with me, meaning my brokenness didn’t deny me His affection and love.
Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-16, “But I received MERCY for this reason, that in me, Jesus might display His perfect patience, as an example to those who were to believe in Him.”
Oh the joy that I felt when I was finally convinced that God didn’t require reciprocation for His love and kindness, compassion and ministry to me. God as my caregiver was able to love me past all my unpleasantness.
Fairness vs Grace
I felt, this can’t be! It doesn’t seem fair to let me disappoint on some days while He required others to behave? To not require me to try hard on some days? To accept less than perfection? To have mercy on my condition? To not make me bang my head over and over and over against the wall because I just couldn’t make my mind or my spirit to cooperate?
You see if you add anything to grace, it’s not really grace. It’s earning! Only grace … plus nothing … equals grace!!!!! And if there was one thing I knew God was doing to me in my depression, it was to demand that I learn that I was NOT in control. It was that He would be glorified, NOT in MY actions, but in HIS actions. Once again, He rolled me over onto my back and said, “Stay! You made a mess. Now, let me clean you up.”
Learning a New Way Of Living In My Depression
Although, I started to experience a new intimate relationship with Him when I was in the light, one of the continual affirmation that our relationship was still ok, one of being an ongoing object of mercy for anything I did that didn’t seem holy… MY depression still DIDN’T GO AWAY!!! So, that merciful feeling of peace that I’d receive when I emerged FROM the pit was still not available to me IN the pit.
What I knew in my head, that I was an object of mercy, didn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings IN my depression. I’d still plummet into the darkness. I’d still plummet into despair, into ugly responses, into isolation, into a place where I still couldn’t feel God or see Him, but I was learning to live in a new tension.
Learning to Trust In The Dark
I was learning to trust a God I couldn’t feel or see. I was learning to trust in the dark what God was teaching me in the light. (Read that again! Don’t miss this!) With only my will, I learned to cling to the truths He had taught me when I COULD see Him before our sweet intimacies slipped away into oblivion. I didn’t have to feel them for them to be true. I didn’t have to mentally assert them as truth. I didn’t have to verbally agree to them. I didn’t have to emotionally connect to them. I just welcomed them into the tension and let them marinade in my soul.
I also learned that my life could no longer be lived in “all or nothing.” I could no longer cling to a dream of living a perfect life. It wasn’t one of complete relational continuity—one of 100% faithfulness to God and obedience in every area, but more like a series of little moments.
This was new to me. Only a hypocrite thinks one thing then turns around and does another! I fought the self-accusation of hypocrisy! “I couldn’t count on tomorrow! I couldn’t even count on the next five minutes!” But when God opened a window and peeked in, and I caught just a glimpse of His smiling face, I welcomed the intimate moment with Him (even though I knew it was fleeting). But fleeting as it was, I chose to welcome moments freely, worship Him freely, embrace Him warmly! And then, over and over, the moment would be gone. The despair would remain.
The Locket Of Trust
But I chose to put God’s truth in a locket and hung it around my neck. (This is a reference to Matt Hammit’s song, “Trust.”) My locket contained the truths I’d come to learn about God and about myself that I had discovered in the light. However, these truths, while life-changing, didn’t change my current circumstances and they didn’t change my depressed illness. But I still hung them around my neck in confidence that God was calling me to trust Him and have confidence in something OUTSIDE of what I could do and could feel.
When I went into the darkness, I clung to God’s Truths safely stored in my locket which hung around my neck. While I was in there, it was too dark to see them or feel them, but I held onto the locket determined that I was still ok. And when I emerged from that darkness, I opened the locket and all the memories of God’s promises and faithfulness came flooding back.
While I studied the foundational truths of God in His word in the light, I began to feel layers and layers and layers of guilt-motivated, good-intentioned,performance-based righteousness fall away. I felt like Jesus was lifting weight after weight after weight off my shoulders reminding me: “Heidi, it is already finished! Done! You are redeemed, yesterday, today, forever! There is nothing you have done, are doing or will do that isn’t covered by My love, My mercy and My grace!
You no longer need to strive to earn My favor! In fact, you never did! Simply look to Me, the Author and Perfecter of your faith! I’m just waiting for you to stop trying to run your own world and let Me have control. Let me give. Let me take. Let Me shower my love and grace on you! Stop striving after the wind! It’s exhausting and it’s defeating! My grace is sufficient for you and is made perfect in weakness!”
Wow! I thought, if we are saved by grace, why is it so hard to remember we must also live by grace!? I prayed, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears You. Teach to me embrace grace in this tumultuous affliction You’ve ordained for me to endure.
These are those truths I learned and clung to:
I remembered The Lord is my shepherd. I remembered The Lord is my Redeemer. My soul was at peace even when my spirit was not. My peace didn’t COME from the darkness, but it is FROM within that dark place that I was forced to trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus to make our relationship right.
I remembered that only God was holy. God and God alone. Although I knew that He was holy, and that although His longing was for that day in glory when I would finally lay aside this sinful shell, I trusted that He alone could present me to the Father as righteous and acceptable.
I was convinced that God Himself was asserting His sovereignty and His authority every time He allowed me to be subdued by depression. I learned sooner and sooner to just surrender to His hand. I cried out: “Lord, I don’t want to go back in there. It’s so dark and lonely.” “I know,” He said, “but I’m always right beside you even when you don’t feel Me there.”
I came to trust that while I was in the darkness, He carried me like a wounded lamb. I was unable to feel Him or see Him. I couldn’t reach out and feel that He was still beside me, carrying me, His wounded little lamb. But, I learned to not fight Him to stand on my own. In my weakened condition, it was always safer to just let Him carry me.
I was convinced that He knew my heart was one that ultimately desired to please Him, but was weakened by my affliction that held me captive to my depravity. I didn’t need to PRETEND to be holy to please God, something I was NEVER capable of doing in the first place.
I trusted God to be able to handle my authenticity. I’d spend many hours lamenting and expressing my sorrow. I came to trust His compassionate heart and came to depend on His mercy and grace as I opened up the wounds of my soul for Him to tenderly clean up.
I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to earn His favor, but I still believed it was because of His intimate favor that He Himself had wounded me – not to punish me but simply so that he could show me His mercy and ongoing love.
He reminded me, “This thorn in your flesh, I gave it to you to keep you from exalting yourself.” And though I begged the Lord too many times to count to take it away, He told me, “My grace is sufficient for you. MY power is made complete in YOUR weakness.”
I was convinced that the cross of Calvary had settled it all and that God had credited the righteousness of Jesus to me, making me righteous in His eyes.
And when the darkness passed, my relationship with Jesus came right back. He looked into my eyes and I looked into His, and He said, “I know that was hard. I know that was scary. Are you ok now? Are we good?” I’d say, “It was scary, Lord. And it was so hard. But I never felt your condemnation. I only sensed your mercy. I never felt you were angry at me. I only sensed your compassion. Ya… we’re good.”
Can you see that as difficult as the struggle was for me, how necessary it was for me to live in that desperate place of tension, all in order to get me to the intimacy on the other side? I needed to give myself permission to search my own heart and ask God some really hard questions. I had to live in the struggle of some really hard theological tensions. I had to challenge my whole foundational belief system as to what it means to “please God.”
I had to own the utter helplessness of my own depravity and my desperateness for someone other than myself to save me. I had to see myself from God’s perspective. His relational intimacy with me was MORE PLEASING TO HIM than my thoughts or good deeds were to Him. But this I know, He needed to remove my strength before I would accept His mercy. (to be continued tomorrow here)
My religion said, “After I was saved, God would turn me into a “good girl.” He would help me if I tried hard enough to keep getting better. And so if I tried, and performed better and better each day, week, year, God would be pleased with me.” And as I grew up in my faith and began to check off the things my religion said I had to do, (things like reading my Bible, praying, going to church, serving him and all the others), I believed that the Holy Spirit working in me promised to make ME more righteous, emphasis on ME.
When I experienced depression, there was no evidence of any righteousness left in me. So, I had some options as to what was happening to me. 1) Maybe I wasn’t saved; I refused to believe that. 2) I just wasn’t trying hard enough and maybe I needed to do more self-flagellation. 3) Maybe, I needed to feel more remorse and sorrow and force myself to repent more. 4) Maybe, I just wasn’t worthy of the Holy Spirit’s or God the Father’s time to make me better. 5) Or maybe—just maybe—the whole foundation of my spiritual journey was built upon MY righteousness, attempting to make God happier with me, rather than allowing God‘s righteousness through Jesus on my behalf to satisfy all His requirements for righteousness: perfectly sinless behavior.
You see, when you pull that foundation stone of my religious self-betterment out from the bottom of the pile, the whole tower comes tumbling down. Why? Because the foundation of my spiritual journey was that God’s favor depended on MY righteousness, the things I did, and the things I thought.
In my understanding, one needed to become more righteous as that was the only way God would be pleased. More importantly, in order to please God, righteous works were the absolute essentials in the whole ideological argument. Earning the pleasure of God always, always, always came from better behavior.
To my despair, I found my religion didn’t leave me any way in my depression to please God. And frankly, I could not believe that God—a good, loving God—would leave me in a place where I could not earn His pleasure.No, don’t misunderstand me, as I’m not talking about earning my salvation. I’m not even talking about being God’s special prized possession. At this point, I just wanted to know that God wasn’t unhappy with me.
Yes, I felt like a worthless, pathetic Christian, but I was more afraid that God’s un-favor or wrath might rest on me? In my depression, I felt with every worthless thought, every unhealthy behavior, and every angry outburst, the rest of my world tired of me. I frustrated them. I wasn’t the nicest person or the kindest person that they could have known before depression. I was an entirely different identity whom I believed didn’t deserve compassion nor mercy nor grace because I found myself so revolting, yes, even to me.
It’s not a huge leap to go from how you believe others see you, and in fact tell you how tired they are of having you act this way, or even worse see you for what they can only believe is simply a bad behavior issue, to leap to the premise that God surely must feel the same way. I didn’t feel that I could please my husband when I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I could please my children, my church, or my friends. In fact, in self-preservation and self defense, my depression kept me from caring what everybody else thought of me. It was the only way to keep myself from drowning in self-hatred and keep my head above water.
So, when I could, I began to re-evaluate everything that I had learned about God, and everything that I had believed about Him, through Sunday school teachers, through parents, through pastors, through friends, through Christian school teachers—I had a lot of teachers who all tried to help me learn how to live to please God. Everything I had come to believe hinged on one’s self improvement. It dealt with works and goodness. In my depression, I was unable to do any of these good things because frankly depression steals away the will to control your life in any way.
And yet, though I despaired, part of me had the state of mind to think, “this can’t be. If this goodness was required to please God and so many illnesses allowed the brain to become ill and thus denied them goodness, I couldn’t believe that my God would be so unkind and unfair as to leave the mentally ill condemned with no hope of pleasing Him. I determined that somehow in my childhood, that I had inadvertently inserted some kind of faulty building block that had broken my religion: my Christianity. Evidently, I hadn’t learned about God in a healthy way. I had distorted God.
In my Christianity, my pleasure to God always seemed to hinge on behavior. The more I felt like I was becoming “just like Jesus,” the more I felt God was up in heaven patting me on my head, and saying, “good Heidi- good Heidi.” To my despair, I hadn’t felt that “good Heidi” pat since my depression began.
It was in that despair that I began to study the gospel, the good news, that my righteousness (and the whole world’s, in fact) was so wretchedly unrighteous, that Jesus came to die to pay the punishment for my unrighteousness and credited to me His own righteousness, in spite of anything I did after salvation. I studied living by “grace alone” instead of just being “saved by grace.” Instead of living as a believer with “grace a lot,” I began to believe God was calling me to live by“grace alone.”
So, after much thought and discussion with my husband, I ripped out that old faulty foundational stone which required my righteousness (my works, my obedience, and my good behavior) to please God. As long as it remained the primary requirement to please God, I was condemned and without hope.
Embracing grace, I admitted and accepted that I would never be righteous (“there is none righteous, no not one.”) Embracing grace, I began to replace that unfortunate delusion with the fact the reason God sent His son was to make me right with God, because the world had been trying for years to become right with God by obeying the Law which couldn’t make anyone righteous. It only proved that nobody could obey the Law in full. Embracing grace, I realized that God sending his son to die for me, a pathetic worthless sinner, was the only way I could be right with God. Embracing grace, I was determined that that old self-righteous, pharisaical way of trying to become righteous through my works needed to be torn down and completely abolished. When I put the right foundational stone in place as the cornerstone of my life in Christ, Jesus’ righteousness, it’s like my eyes were opened.
Every time I looked at my own behavior and the things I said and thought in my depression, and allowed them to condemn me and make me feel like God wasn’t happy with me, I corrected it with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God’s pleasure no longer would be based on my behavior. When I was ugly, I remembered that God had credited me with the righteousness of His son, forever satisfying that condemnation that He might’ve felt for me before He saved me. I realized that when His Word said the work of Jesus on the cross removed His wrath toward me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west, He was trying to tell me that Christianity should never be about MY works, but HIS.
This whole paradigm change certainly didn’t make my depression go away and it didn’t necessarily make me feel emotionally better. But I chose to let it feed my mind (Romans 12:1-2) with the truth of the Gospel, renewing my mind with the reality of the mercy that God provided for us when our depravity caused us to live in a sinful condition, and with the reality of His grace which continues to offer us favor that we don’t deserve, because of His work 2000 years ago on the cross bestows on us these titles: friends of God, beloved, and children of God.
You see, as a Christian, the very greatest insult, shame, accusation, and condemnation that you can give to somebody who’s depressed and experiencing self-hate, because of their depraved condition, is to tell them that the God that came to the rescue their souls, they could no longer please, love or serve. You are in effect telling them they are disqualified even though they had up until this point been trying to love and serve Him with all their strength.
To tell them that God can’t see past their sick mental health state, that He is forever unhappy with them, and that God has no choice but to turn His back on them, is like a knife in their hearts. You see, for a believer especially, but even for one who is still lost, that is the greatest fear that they can have confirmed by you: That their “good and loving father” and possibly the only Friend that they feel they might have left in the world, is not able to look past their depression and love and accept them.
Knowing that this isn’t true still doesn’t cause the depression to go away, but it gives you something that might be worth living for. It offers you hope that though everybody else might turn their backs on you, He never will. When everybody else can’t look past what you say or what you do, and when the world tells you you’re unacceptable, God tells you, “you are accepted because I have accepted the sacrifice of my own Son.”
I don’t remember when I came to the conclusion that my distorted theology wasn’t working in my depression, and frankly, I don’t know how that faulty theology of works justification is supposed to work for anybody. All I know is somewhere in my depression I found peace and I found hope because I found that for everything that I was doing wrong over and over and over and over again (though God never said my deeds were righteous), He still saw me as righteous because He saw the sacrifice of His son which pardoned me forever.
I realize that it’s hard to understand this if life is going great for you; if you behave well as a Christian because you have such wonderful self-control and will power, oh, the peace you feel in your soul. To some of you, you probably believe that I even stopped trying to live like a Christian—that I stopped trying to love God.
But, let me just posit this: there are far too many churches today, who teach works justification from the time a child enters Sunday School. Children are taught that if and when they love Jesus, their behavior will improve; just like a vending machine: in goes good works, out comes righteousness. If it doesn’t, it’s their own fault.
What is one of the many reasons that so many depressed Christians are taking their life? Why isn’t their faith and their walk enough to keep them wanting to live? One of the many reasons is because their religion told them that Christians don’t get depressed, they don’t act this way, and that there is no grace for misbehavior. It failed to teach that everyone falls short of God’s perfect righteousness, not just the depressed. It failed to teach them to build their foundation on the God Who has already taken care of their “sin issue,” evidenced daily by their behavior issue. It failed to teach them that the wrath and judgement of God have been appeased. It failed to tell them that God made a way through the cross of Jesus Christ to count them as righteous, as if they were righteous (even though none of us are). It failed to teach them that their ONLY hope IS in the overwhelming, undeserved love of God, mercy of God, and grace of God.
We need to understand that God, whose thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, understands that we, the depressed have a sickness and that our mind doesn’t always work the way we want it to work, and more than anything we might want to sort it out and figure out, “when does God judge my action as sin or symptom?”
The answer might surprise you. We sin every day. We have very few moments during the day when we aren’t having a prideful thought or a testy attitude or whatever. If we could be found righteous in our works, then, by golly, we wouldn’t need the cross of Christ, would we? But whether we sin big or sin little, we need Jesus Christ’s righteousness placed on us so that God doesn’t have to look at our actions or thoughts or behavior or our good works to make a decision about us, because He has already declared us forgiven for those things, past, present, and future.
You see, when I finally realized that I couldn’t control the thoughts or the behavior in my depression, I embraced a new pattern of thinking that could hold me up every day of my depressed life, whether actively depressed or not. I repaired my grace-less theology and learned to embrace “grace alone” which caused me to look to God’s grace, kindness, mercy and favor earned for me being showered down upon me. Together with that, I learned to reject everything that told me that I owed God for any of His favor, because frankly, if I thought I owed Him even one thing, I would despise myself for not being to give Him the one thing He might have asked of me.
My new pattern of thinking rejected good works that were necessary to please God. “No, that’s not right,” you might say. “God’s Word specifically says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’” (Hebrews 11:6). Well, I would have to ask you, “if you were beat down, every day, and every minute of the day like I was, could you hold on to a faith that believed that the cross of Jesus was enough to declare you righteous? Could you believe that Jesus’ righteousness credited to you was enough to give you peace with God and justify you when you couldn’t do anything on your own to earn that? Could you believe that even in your deprave state, that God called you His beloved and His friend. How much faith do you think it takes to hold on to a God-alone, God-powerful, God-sufficient, and God-controlled life? Let me tell you: it takes a LOT of faith! I was recently reminded that sometimes all the faith that is necessary is only as big as a mustard seed. Think about that.
So I have basically just put this out there for the world to read so that you could ask yourself some hard questions, especially if you have friends and loved ones who are depressed and are looking to you to support them. As for you who are content with your religious upbringing, because you have pretty strong self control, and you think you’re pretty good already, and you’re pretty proud of yourself, and you think that God is more pleased with you than He is with me, I weep for you. Why? Because one day, most likely, something will happen and you will not be the saint that you have believed you were and that will make you question the love and kindness and mercy and grace of God. Because your hope has been grounded and fulfilled in your improving behavior all these years rather than in a gracious and merciful God. But take comfort even in this, even when your pride fills your heart and you truly believe you’re doing pretty good in God’s economy, He still loves you the same. Your self-righteousness which is something God has always despised is forgiven, too, and He returns to you the same unmerited and unearned favor, as well.
Here’s a fact, nothing I do will ever be counted as righteous. There just isn’t any good works that are perfectly sinless and 100% righteous (sorry to burst your bubble). Obviously, bad works are always bad. But it isn’t the things I do for God that earn me God’s pleasure. He is never pleased with my half-baked, partial righteousness. My partial righteousnesses will never meet the standard that actually pleases God—the things I do for God, my works, the thoughts that I have tried to bring under control, my acts of service, are all acts of love. They do not earn me anything.
God says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. And the commandment that He Himself says is most important to Him is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. There is a point when you realize that as much as you want to do the things that show your love to God, (your intentions and your desires), you will never be able to do as much as you want to do or that would be required of you to earn a righteous standing. You will not ever be able to be completely righteous nor completely committed.
So aren’t you glad (I know I am), that God is pleased with those who believe in Him, trusting that that He knows the intentions and desires of our hearts? Aren’t you glad that He said that the cross has set us free from the curse of sin and the Law (our guilt), and that we have been reconciled to God forever? Aren’t you glad that your righteousness/unrighteousness has been overwritten by His perfect righteousness? Aren’t you glad that no matter how bad you feel you are, how many times you have failed, and how much you feel your life disappoints the God of the universe, His righteousness has made you perfect in His eyes! Aren’t you glad that the good news of the gospel is that He sees you now as flawless? Boy! I sure am!
This is part 6 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.
In this final blog of this series, I’d like to illustrate a point:
I would like you to put your hands out in front of you and make two fists.
I want you to now imagine all the dreams you have grown up having for your life,all the ideals you have in your mind about becoming a perfect wife, a perfect mom, a perfect housekeeper, a perfect friend who is loved by everyone, even becoming a perfect Christian.
Grip tightly to all those ways you are trying to perfect your own life by changing all your imperfection into perfection, changing all your unacceptability into acceptability, and changing all your unlovability into being lovable.
Keep clenching those fists as tightly as you can!
If it would help you concentrate, feel free to close your eyes until you start to feel the weariness and fatigue that that continual clenching is having on you.
Aren’t your wrists starting to ache from the tension of your tight grip?
Are all those perfect ideals you are desperately trying to achieve in your life bringing you freedom?
Keep on clenching your fists and keep reading!
In trying to achieve your most desperate desires, is that making you MORE dependent on YOU and YOUR ability to control your life or is that making you MORE dependent on GOD’S already granted acceptance of you right now? Do your desires make you more God-reliant or do they make you more self reliant? If you are right now relying on yourself to achieve them, do you realize that you have chosen the only door that God has said He would oppose: the pride of self-reliance.
Women, do you want to experience freedom?Do you want to feel relief? You can only find freedom in one way that God promises He will meet you in. The humble, authentic, honest, desperate cry for God, a contrite heart that makes MUCH of His mercy and grace to cover our imperfection. That’s where God says He will meet you. TOTAL God reliance.
And here’s a biggie!
Do you want to please God more than you want to be pleased with your own life? Do you want to please God more than you want the approval of others in your life? Do you have the COURAGE to believe God for HIS acceptance and love and grace and mercy, in spite of your own insufficiency? In spite of NOT achieving any of your idealistic goals in life? In spite of the difficult times that will come in your life?
As you consider all these things I have challenged you with today, do you have the courage to release that death grip on the way YOU want your life to turn out and how YOU want it to look? Do you have the courage to tell God you’d rather choose HIS acceptance of you rather than gain any self confidence in your own achievements. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-9 (NLT):
“I once thought THESE things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”
Do you have the faith and courage to surrender your imperfect life to Him?
Do you have the courage and faith in God’s finished work to lean into your need of Him and welcome God into your goals and plans and ideals? If you’re longing for freedom in life, THIS is how you find it. He says in His word, that if you want to find your life, you HAVE to lose it. But he who loses their life for His name sake will find it.
So, I’m challenging you to make an offering of all your imperfection and all your brokenness:
Lean into that imperfection and then tell God, “I’m giving you back my life. The only life I want to live now is the one You give me to live. If it’s weakness, let me be weak so that I can see Your power. If it’s brokenness, let me be content with Your grace which loves and accepts me anyway. If it’s a messy past, let me be content with Your sovereignty that orchestrated my life to have landed me right where I am right now. If it’s sickness, help me to lean into Your presence to keep me from feeling alone and the courage to keep trusting You. If it’s an unhappy marriage, help me lean into You to fulfill me with Your intimacy. If it’s poverty, help me to lean into You to fulfill me in that poverty. If it is sorrow, help me to lean into Your tender compassionate embrace.
Surrender Your Dreams Of Perfection Back To Him!
Surrender whatever it is that is keeping you from experiencing being okay with the life God has given you right here and right now (true freedom),
I want you to visualize all those dreams of perfection that you are clenching in your fists,
then slowly open up your fists, palms up, and give them back to the Lord.
Demonstrate to Him a posture where you choose to give back all those impossible ideals to Him.
As you feel your hands open, can you just feel the shackles falling off?
Are you starting to feel the relief of not having to face tomorrow by trying and failing again to live up to all those impossible ideals?
Don’t worry, He’ll join you in this place with grace and mercy and
He’ll begin to show you the journey He wants to take you on.
Let Him lead! You just follow.
Right now, if you have followed my instructions, having opened up your hands and lifted them up to the Lord, you are the most vulnerable you will ever be. As you consider a future that no longer tries to earn acceptance through your own achievements, you’ll be tempted to close your hands back up and take back parts of what you just offered to Him. You’ll be tempted to want to do part of your life on your own terms, but that is not where you will find Him. That is not where you will find grace and mercy. Remember, you’ll find Him in your greatest need (in the broken, messy, imperfect areas of your life).
But right now, you need to embrace these truths. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are right now accepted by God. You are loved. You are cherished. God is bending down to you right now and asking you to grab a hold of His grace and mercy freely offered to you! Now in THIS most desperate place is when God’s mercy and grace is MOST available to you! Reach out and touch it! Reach out and embrace it!Swim in and immerse yourself in Jesus’ mercy and His grace for THIS moment right now! Doesn’t the freedom of HIS mercy and grace for what you didn’t achieve on your own feel so much better than that merry go round of trying and failing to perfect yourself? Don’t let Satan tempt you to take it back. Push thru until you have surrendered every last ounce of self-perfection and until you have nothing left but your desperate cry for mercy and grace. You WILL find Jesus there. I promise! And Jesus will not disappoint!
Your Chance To Interact With The God Of The Universe
I am going to close with a song which I believe is the posture that God is asking us to take as we embrace the life of an imperfect believer. Its Chris Tomlin’s song, “Lord, I need you.” Sing it as a prayer to the Lord telling Jesus how much you need Him.
This is where I challenge you to remain, from this day forward! This is where Jesus will find you and deliver you from your own self-righteousness and self-perfection and help you learn to be wholly dependent on Jesus. This is what pleases God? How can it not? This surrender of your life to Him is what He has been waiting for!
This is part 5 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.
Pleasing God In Depression???
I’m sure that those of you who know that I suffered with clinical depression for 12 years knew that I would eventually get around to telling you how this whole paradigm shift came to be. God used it to help me live in the desperation of my depression. God used this precious shift to help me embrace His grace and mercy toward me.
I was asked to share my story about surviving depression to a local MOPS group over a year ago but as I started to learn more and more about the struggles of the women in the group, I realized that depression wasn’t the only sense of shame, dysfunction, imperfection and failure that women all over the world are struggling with! But one of the main reasons I was sought out was because I not only survived 12 years of depression but I actually emerged from it more free and more in love with Jesus than when I went into it.
I have a story to tell, a life-changing beautiful story about Jesus and not about me. You see, the illustrations that I have given in this series were about me. It was my inner struggle I battled for years. I spent many years banging my head into the wall trying to self-achieve. While I thought I could make the “do it myself” (orange side) work before depression, I was actually trapped in an endless loop of defeat! I’d always keep coming back to “imperfect, failure, defeated, loser, unrighteous” and so I’d head right back off to the right again chasing perfection with sheer will power and determination.
But God, in His kindness, took away my ability to control anything in my life. I could not self-improve. I could not self-achieve. I was not stronger than the illness. I could not will myself to get better. I could not change the undeniable fact that depression left me utterly depraved.
In my depression:
I would spend days feeling lifeless and dead.
I would sob uncontrollably.
I would frequently get really angry for no reason.
I couldn’t recognize anything as good in my life.
Everything that used to mean something to me meant nothing to me.
I couldn’t feel the love of family or friends. I couldn’t even feel God.
I was miserable.
But worse than all of these was that all my hopes of trying to convince God that I really was a good person came crashing down. Everything I did PROVED I was NOT a good person. I felt I’d never be able to please God again, and that devastated me! When depression came in and stole away the protective barrier that had masked all my imperfections from the world I was left naked and bare for all to see how imperfect I really was. I despaired for my very life!
(Find this chart in part 4 of this series- you’ll be lost if you don’t start from the beginning.)
To be honest, nobody showed me a chart like this when I was younger and nobody ever taught me how to accept grace for myself. So, as much as I would like to say, I followed the method on the blue side of the chart during my depression, (leaning into my depression, leaning into my sorrow, and leaning into God) I didn’t. I was clearly in Orange camp territory (“I could do it myself”) and stuck in a cycle of defeat! I was a born and bred performer, clearly trying to please God with my good behavior. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered the beauty of the blue side of the chart. That’s when I learned about leaning into my imperfection, into my weakness and into my brokenness.
In my depression, I spent the first five years trying to keep clutching the orange side (my own self-control). But finally, I had to come to the end of myself. I said, “I give up. I can’t keep doing this anymore.” Depression is bad enough on its own without the additional self-hatred and self-loathing of my continual defeat for all my well-intentioned attempts. I was left with no other option but to resign myself to my situation. In that resignation, I believed. “I guess I’ll never please God.”
I thought, “so, this is my new normal, huh? I can either keep beating myself up or I can just accept it.” I wish I could say this was true surrender to God and His purposes but it wasn’t. It was purely self-preservation. I just could NOT live with that burden of guilt and shame and defeat anymore.
I was what I was. I didn’t like it. I hated my depression. I’m sure no one else liked it, either. But I couldn’t change it. I resigned myself to being the ultimate failure I was destined to become. But as I began to feel more and more pathetic, more and more worthless, more and more of a failure, His Holy Spirit went to work on my heart. That’s when He introduced me to the blue side which showed me His grace bestowed on me in spite of the ugliness of my heart.
This chart that I have shared in the last blog with you didn’t come to me easily! (go back one step to find the chart I’m talking about) It was brutal. Giving up my ideals of appearing and behaving good any time I wanted to, perfecting my life and proving my righteousness to God literally had to be ripped from my clenched closed fists. It took years… but I finally let go of trying to change my situation. In fact, in time, I came to believe that God wanted me to be content with my imperfect self because I came to believe that instead of becoming ‘better,’ He wanted me to lean into Him for undeserved kindness.
You see, before depression, I had forgotten that the God of the universe already knew I was imperfect. But He had already accepted me. He already deeply loved me. But I had foolishly believed I could perfect myself so I kept pushing away the free gifts of grace because I had wanted instead to prove that I could do it myself.
I finally got to the point where I gave up what I most wanted in life and simply accepted where and what I was. In this specific way, I got to be okay with ME just like I was: imperfect and messed up. I refused to let my behavior (my depression) define my worth. Although I didn’t like the depression, I just decided I would show myself kindness. If I had to live my life always worrying about how others felt about me or how I should be feeling in any scenario, I would’ve committed suicide.
But, you might ask, “How can you just accept all that ugliness in yourself?
“How can you just accept that defeat? That despair? That darkness?”All I know is that when I embraced that most awful desperate place, that’s when the mercy and grace of God came flooding into my heart.I thought it was the beginning of the end and all was lost, but it was just the beginning of a whole new relationship with my Savior.
At first, He offered me just little tidbits of grace to chew on. He’d say, “Just chew on this for a while, this little crumb of truth. Find it in my Word. Find a song that sings this truth.” It was bitter at first because it wasn’t MY OWN righteousness, but in time, I acquired a taste for HIS grace He was offering me.But week after week, month after month, and year after year, He showed me more and more of His grace, and took me deeper and deeper into the truths of it.
Especially, on the brief days when the darkness temporarily subsided, I dug down deep and studied the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for me and determined, “He no longer condemns me! Wrong or right, whatever depression is, He no longer condemns me! Praise the Lord!” So, it got to be that the only way I could wake up each morning was to think, “God doesn’t condemn me. I won’t condemn me either!”
In time, I determined that if God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Jesus and pardon me, that I was safe to give myself as much grace as God did. God showed me grace and it didn’t make Him unholy. I felt this gave me permission to preach grace to myself, too, and believe that His same grace wouldn’t condemn me either.
I determined to extend to myself the very same grace that the gospel extended to me, which was this: My sin and my imperfection no longer made me unacceptable to God!!!!! I was reminded that grace is a kindness NOT based on merit but based on someone else’s kindness.
The more I studied His incredible grace towards me, the more I gave up all the ideals that I had previously wished for my life and spent my life trying to achieve — and just embraced the life God had given me right then and there.
Without condemnation! For God no longer condemned me.
Without self-hate! For God loved me unconditionally!
Without guilt! For Jesus had erased my guilt!
God knew that I was imperfect (always had been) yet He still genuinely loved me.
God knew I still made mistakes, but there were none of them that weren’t fully forgiven.
Because I was forgiven, every punishment due to me was already paid by Jesus.
Because I was reconciled to God, I would ALWAYS be acceptable in His sight!
Because His wrath was appeased, I no longer angered the God of the universe.
In fact, His word said that I now have peace with God and was a friend of God!
Because I was always and already acceptable, I no longer had to improve my behavior to be MORE acceptable or MORE pleasing to God.
Jesus had already made me fully acceptable to God.
I could not make myself MORE righteous to God because my nature kept me from that standard of perfect righteousness, just like I could not become less depressed and more characteristically “BETTER” behaved because the nature of depression kept me from attaining that standard. In both spiritual and physical realms, I realized my helplessness to simply choose to change my nature! I was trapped in a scenario I didn’t like but which was true nevertheless.
When I challenge fellow depression sufferers that the most loving and kind thing they can do for themselves is to simply accept it, most initially reject my counsel.You see, people feel like if they reject it, it gives them MORE control over it. They tell me, “but I don’t like it! I want to change it!” What they don’t understand is that depression cannot be beat! The illness is so pervasive that control is nearly impossible. What they are really saying is, “I’d rather keep beating my head against this wall.” The truth is that the only true freedom one can find in the miserable life of depression, as unthinkable as it sounds, is to lean into it. Own it; it’s an illness that God has allowed in your life. I didn’t like it! I hated it! But that didn’t mean fighting for the impossible of control was more admirable. It was just dumb.
Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?
Embracing the reality of my condition (leaning into my depression) doesn’t mean that everything I did in depression was right or good. Being okay with myself didn’t mean I felt justified for anything I was doing; it didn’t make anything that was wrong right! And grace does NOT justify anything you are doing; it is a kindness shown to you IN SPITE of what you are doing! Accepting the grace of God doesn’t mean you think He justifies your sin; it means He justifies you in spite of your sin.
You see, some of us learned when we were little that we could only be loved unconditionally when we were good, behaved good, did good things or otherwise had earned the privileges from being good. So this goes against everything that we had learned. But GOD’S GRACE loves us unconditionally when there is STILL nothing good in us! Being okay with myself was my way of showing myself kindness I didn’t have to earn because I was imitating God’s grace towards me. It didn’t make the endless sadness happy. It didn’t take away the depression. But it gave me courage and hope to survive it. It gave me peace in the midst of the storm. “God is ok with me. God is ok with me. God is ok with me,” I whispered to myself.
It changed EVERYTHING for me! I finally experienced freedom in my depression because through the darkest hours, I believed God hadn’t let go of me. He hadn’t turned His back on me. He hadn’t abandoned me! He still loved me. He was still pursuing me. He had the power to hold on to me when I was delirious in my dark disease. And I believe now that my faith that God could love and accept me in spite of the darkness of my heart, in fact, pleased Him. I believe that He rejoiced when He got to remind me of His grace when my heart tried to object because depression didn’t look godly. It didn’t look spiritual. It reeked of the depravity of the human condition! But He pleased HIMSELF, He glorified HIMSELF, when He showed me grace because I gave up my right to be perfect and let Him be perfect.
How do I know that is the heart of the Lord? Remember Ezekiel 20:44?
“But you will know that I am the Lord, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness”
Here’s an important concept to grasp: God’s grace wasn’t as much of a big deal to me before my depression because I was doing pretty ok without Him. I didn’t need His pity! I considered His mercy and grace pity for the weak and the broken. So, I denied the grace and mercy of God from touching me, the very attributes He Himself was longing to bestow, because I felt no desperation of need for it!
But after my depression, I can’t fathom a life without relying on His grace and mercy. You see, they became MUCH to me! They were the only way I could get up in the morning and take a breath. They were the only way I could face life and a future.
God became the only Person whose opinion mattered to me. For a person like me, who felt like she had never been and would never be “ENOUGH,” that’s a big deal. I had spent my whole life trying to live up to somebody or other’s expectations of me, not the least of them being my own, but pretty much, God’s acceptance of me became paramount. More important than anything else I wanted Him to be pleased with me!
What do we as women want more than anything? We want to be fully accepted, yes, even our true self that we don’t like to uncover. We want to be loved unconditionally, yes, even the unlovable self that we try to hide. We want to experience intimacy with someone. We want to know that we will never be alone. We want to know that there isn’t anything we can do that will make us lose the affection we so desperately long for. And while I didn’t have those things from everyone in my life, I had those things from the only One who mattered to me. “God the Just” justified me forever and always. He is the only One who could say, “there isn’t anything you could do to make me think less of you and there isn’t anything that YOU could do to make me love or accept you more.” My God was the One who knew every corner of my imperfect self and STILL chose to see the righteousness of His son in me!
How could I be okay with me?
Some of you have a hard time even accepting God’s grace because you have been trained that it can only be received via your merit. Because, you see, grace isn’t fair. It doesn’t satisfy justice. It’s in spite of it. But once you can accept the grace of God in spite of your imperfection, then you too can abandon the chains that say, “I’m not okay.” If Christ can accept you as okay, then you can accept yourself as okay. You see, we only want to allow ourselves to be ok IF we deserve it. So, when God offers us grace, we often push it aside because we don’t think we deserve it.
I learned that I could be okay with me because I finally understood that He would forever be okay with me. Every objection I could come up with had been satisfied. Every objection you could come up with has been satisfied. Every contingency is covered. It was like God stood on his throne and as fast as I could spit out my “But what about…..?” He’d say, “Covered! Paid for! Forgiven! Pardoned!
If we turn everything on its head and start with God’s view of us:
The ultimate justice and righteous one, and if HE treats me with kindness (extends me grace) even when I don’t deserve it, then it gives me permission to do as God does and accept grace in my own life. And while it seems counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that grace received breeds mercy in me, which gives me permission to treat others kindly even when they don’t deserve it either.
Here is the thing I want you to consider:
While some may think it is more weak to accept imperfection (or even depression), I’m here to tell you that it takes more resolve and more confidence and a firm belief in the biblical gospel of grace to rest in God’s completed work of Jesus Christ to make you complete in Him (okay with Him), than it takes for you to work your fanny off trying to achieve some other type of perfection on your own merit.
This is Part 4 of a series of posts. Please scroll back and read part 1, before continuing on here.
SO THIS IS OUR Paradigm Shift: What pleases God?
2 Corinthians 5:9 (NAS): “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”
Hebrews 11:6 (NAS): “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Well, I guess we all need to decide what God is calling us to do to please Him? Do you really think He wants us to live perfect lives? (Which by the way, was Jesus’ job: to live a sinless life for us and die for us, redeeming us from the curse of the law which demands obedience to ALL God’s laws?) Or does it please Him more to be utterly honest with Him in our imperfection and choose to BELIEVE that He did what we couldn’t do so we wouldn’t have to? He died to redeem us from the CURSE of having to obey the law.
Is it possible that God is pleased with us when we are quick to let him show us mercy for our imperfection? Don’t you think it pleases Him more to have his children live by the very grace He died to give us? Not embracing the sin He hates, but embracing the God who saved us from having to live under the guilt and shame and bondage of an impossible drive to meet an impossible ideal: Complete and perfect righteousness.
Does our freedom In Christ please God?
Galatians 5:1 says “It was for freedom that Christ set us free! Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject to a yoke of slavery.”
Do you know what that yoke of slavery was that Paul was talking about? The law! The good and perfect Law, that God Himself gave as a stopgap to His people! Following a bunch of impossible, albeit, seemingly good behavioral rules.
Do you know who the Pharisees were in the New Testament?
They were the “good Jews” of the day who asked themselves, “hmm, what would please God best?” And, what they determined was that God would be MOST pleased by their behavior. So they created long lists of rules to obey and thereby prove to God their righteousness. However, Jesus said they disgusted Him. Because their perceived righteousness was tied to their deeds instead of being birthed from a love in their heart towards God.
“And He said to [the Pharisees], ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:15 NAS)
God says that you push away His grace by trying to live up to some impossible righteous standard.
“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” (Galatians 5:4 NAS)
So, are all the commands in Scripture, even the original Law of God bad?
Of course not! Our Bible is not a bad book full of ridiculous commands.They are God’s words and are truly good.
“But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.” (Romans 7:12)
In Romans 7, Paul asks the same question: “So, is the law bad?” The answer is No! The commands are good. But trying to live up to satisfying ALL the commands is bad because that’s not what its purpose was. Its purpose was to show us how powerless we were to live up to the perfection of God! That was its purpose! To prove our imperfection to us. If you feel imperfect in living up to all its commands, then the Law has fulfilled its purpose! Trying to or expecting to perfect ourselves for the purpose of pleasing God is enslaving and leads us back to the very slavery that Jesus died to save us from.
Romans 10:3-4 says “For they (Israel) didn’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they clung to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the Law. but Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the Law was given. As a result, all who BELIEVE IN HIM ARE MADE RIGHT WITH HIM.”
Now, let me ask you, if trying to achieve this idealistic perfection in our Christian life is both wearying and enslaving and is in fact impossible, doesn’t it make sense that God probably doesn’t wish for us to allow any other impossible idealistic goals in life to enslave us either?
So, now we’ve come full circle.
Why do we NOT feel “enough?”Because we have not learned to be content with who we are, where God has placed us, and the circumstances God has put in our life. Where we are right now will never be enough as long as we keep chasing the impossible ideal. In fact, that very ideal may not even be God’s particular will for us, so then we’re stuck in this place where we are actually fighting God for the life WE want instead of the life HE wants for us. And spiritually, WE will NEVER feel enough as long as we are reaching for an ideal that isn’t grounded in Jesus’ finished work for us. The only One in History who WAS enough was Jesus. The only One who can make us feel “enough” is Jesus! The only way we can feel enough is if we are content with Jesus’ perfection on our behalf.
Why are we holding onto impossible idealistic expectations in life and our self-fulfilling attempts to become righteous?
So, if God’s loving desire for us is freedom from self-reliance and self-fulfilling ideals that are impossible to achieve anyway, why are we holding onto them with such a death grip? in the same way, if His desire for us isn’t as much a perfect life as it is a life that is completely God-reliant on his mercy and grace, totaling believing Him when His Word says we are already completely accepted and intimately loved, why are we turning our backs on the open door to His grace and mercy, with our own attempts at self-righteousness? Why are we trying to fulfill with pride some impossible perfection? Why don’t we enter through our authentic and humble confession (a contrite heart) that we ARE imperfect and we know it, to find the very grace and mercy of the One Who already loves and accepts us without all that striving after the wind?
I am going to try to give you an illustration that helps you come to grips with the beauty of this paradigm change for anybody.
Leaning into our imperfection leans us into God
whose desire is to show us mercy!
I’m going to try to show you a series of charts. Try to follow them to their logical conclusions with me. We’re going to start with this:
We are indeed imperfect, sinners, failures at times, messy-life people who haven’t achieved all they originally desired they could with their lives! Our first question is which way are we going to lean when we become painfully aware of our own imperfection?
We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections (blue side) that makes us feel like such failures? Which way would you lean?
1) When we lean into our self-pursuing, self-achieving, self-reliant self-perfection, our goal we justify is only that we are simply trying to do the right thing and do the best we can. We will usually choose this method because we truly believe this is right. Our unfortunate deception is that “good behavior makes US good.” (orange side)
2) On the other hand, rather than denying our inability to perfect ourselves, we could agree with God and just come out admit that we surely aren’t perfect! Does our acknowledgement of our imperfection agree with God’s assessment of us? Doesn’t God even say that our righteousnesses are like filthy rags! He knows we’re imperfect. So, we agree with the apostle Paul in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in my, that is in my flesh!” (Blue side)
1) But if we still futilely attempt to achieve all our dreams and our self righteousness, too, with every failure, we decide we need to try even harder. We believe that God will be pleased if we try harder to become “better.” We believe that His commands are what God’s actual expectations of me are (fully obedient, every one, absolute perfection). We reason if it’s in the Bible, God expects us to achieve them on our own. We believe, “we can make God happy in us if we can only make ourselves better!” (Orange side)
2) But when we lean into our imperfection, we freely acknowledge our own neediness and our imperfection. We long for justification. We discover in His word that when we accepted Christ as our Savior, God justified us long ago. We long for acceptance. We discover that God’s acceptance of us was won by Jesus on the cross. Unable to take any comfort in our OWN successes, we long for someone to redeem us and for lives which even we, at times, can hardly stand to look at. We long for Someone to make us feel complete, rather than this feeling of failure hanging over our heads. There is a hole in our heart, a longing, that is dying to be filled. (Blue side)
1) Still striving to the right (to achieve all your own perfection), on the off chance that we are somewhat successful in our goals and in our ability to impress a God with our obedience, who are we really MOST proud of? US!!! Self-fulfillment! Self-satisfaction! PRIDE! We feel pretty good about ourselves so we believe God must be pretty proud of ME right now, too! If I succeed, if I win, if I achieve all my goals? “Look at me! Look at my self-control! Woo-hoo! Yay, ME! We are so proud of ourselves that we bring our impressive acts of righteousness and success to God! (Orange side)
2) But for those who are still willing to continue to lean into their imperfection, we recognize our great neediness. We acknowledge our great need of a Rescuer and someone to love us in spite of all the ugliness we feel. Out of desperation, we cry out to God in our brokenness, in our messiness, in our ashes, in our imperfection, and in our depravity (our sinful condition). In our desperation, we find the courage to show Him our brokenness. We find safety in that humble admission. We choose to be authentically honest. We choose to embrace a humble and contrite heart. By now, we acknowledge how far from perfection we have fallen. Groaning out to the spirit of God, we affirm, “I don’t want to live this way!” (Blue side)
1) For all the self-reliant, self-achievers, if you even succeeded in deed, you likely failed in spirit, because you attempted to achieve it through self-righteousness. You probably only succeeded because of your own stubborn will power. Unfortunately, it is highly probable that God may not even have been in that success. Although you may have obeyed the rules as you understood them, you likely felt pretty good about ourselves doing things yourselves (self-reliance = pride). Pride is sinful, by the way! The glory of the Lord was diminished because He was cheated of getting the glory! Unfortunately, in your futile attempts to please God, the irony is that you denied God from being the Hero of your story! You just made yourselves your own self-proclaimed heroes.
But what happens if you fail in those struggles and attempts to win, to succeed, to self-rely, to beat your bodies into perfect righteousness? What happens when you don’t succeed? You’ll beat yourselves up again! “I’m imperfect! I’m a failure! I can’t achieve anything good! My life is a mess!” And the cycle of getting beat down over and over again begins all over.
In this paradigm, the harder you try to improve, the more you fail. And the more you fail, the more unacceptable you feel because you’ll only see YOUR efforts and YOUR achievements. Because it depends on your own efforts, you will determine that you don’t deserve to feel acceptable. Because you’ll let people down (couldn’t make others happy), you’ll feel unloved. You’ll condemn yourselves because of failed expectations (you expected more of yourselves). You’ll feel judged because you’ll have fallen short of the perfection mark (the standard). You’ll feel like a failure because you’ll never arrive at a perfect mark all the time. You’ll feel unloved because you won’t feel acceptable because of your failed behavior which was supposed to earn your love and acceptance. In this paradigm, demonstrated by your banging your head up against the wall over and over again, you believe you really can and could have arrived at that perfect mark given a little more effort and more will power.(Orange side)
2) But what if you had humbly leaned into your imperfection from the beginning (I know, it’s counterintuitive)! God would have seen your hearts in perfect agreement with His! You wouldn’t have denied His holiness! You would have agreed that His holiness was so far above you, that your actions were nothing but filthy rags in comparison. You wouldn’t have denied your imperfection. You would have freely confessed that you had fallen short of His perfect standard. Both you and God agree that it’s not what either of you had intended or desired. But as a response to your humble and contrite heart, He’ll pour out His mercy and grace on you! God will be pleased because you demonstrated your great need of Him to complete you! The cross covered your sin! Jesus’ righteousness was put onto you! And finally, God did what glorifies God most. He demonstrated His own character by giving you His mercy and grace!
What happens in this scenario is that when you make mistakes and don’t succeed, you’ll just keep leaning into His grace to sanctify you from within and remember with confidence that your acceptance is complete and your sins forgiven. You don’t lose your footing because it already aligns with where you truly are. You need Jesus! I need Jesus. His grace and mercy are always available to both you and me.
Psalm 51:16–17 (NAS): “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
Let me ask you again: We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections and our need for God (blue side)? Which way would you lean? One way causes us to need God more! The other way causes us to need God less! One way causes us to crave the grace of God—it means everything to us! We can’t live without it or the God who freely gives it! The other way grace is cheapened! We don’t need it. We can do it by ourselves! Which side do you think pleases God more?
A heart that is humble and contrite towards God, sorrowful at anything they do that doesn’t reflect His character (all their imperfections and all their failures), is a heart that leans into the heart of God Himself. The fruit of such a heart will naturally yearn to please Him which will more often and likely affect their future actions.
If you are faced with a child who adamantly refuses a parent’s help and grudgingly insists on doing things himself and his way (“I’ll do it myself”) as opposed to observing a child who acknowledges his bad behavior and says, “I’m sorry, mommy!” Which child is more likely to do the right thing the next time? The child who is genuinely sorry and acknowledges his imperfection to his parents because it’s a natural outpouring of his tender heart.
Similarly, a child of God who leans into God by leaning into their imperfections in this paradigm will yearn for the heart of God, will be more likely to align himself with the behavior that reflects God’s heart, and the sanctifying work of God HIMSELF through the work of His Holy Spirit will produce fruits that are more reflective of the character of God.
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
But not thru human effort. Thru God’s work in us. Our job is to lean into Him via our great need. His job is to perfect us from the inside out, in His grace and in His timing!
Philippians 1:6 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”