I was hoping to pontificate for a few more weeks about how you ought to be a better follower of Jesus before I had to begin revealing my own obedience issues. Have you noticed that no one sins anymore? We now have issues. But I sinned/issued spectacularly (again) and I sensed this impression of God that I needed to share it with you. (This isn’t the worst thing I’ve done in the last month or so, but we don’t know each other all that well yet. So here goes.)
I gossiped about another person. Gossip isn’t a lie – It’s truth inappropriately told. Nevertheless, the Bible calls it sin (II Cor. 12:20). I simply had no reason to pass on certain information about a private conversation I had with this person, other than to impress the small group, with whom I was teleconferencing. I made him to appear lazy and me clever – another sin, slander. (I Peter 2:1)
The root cause of my sin was/is pride, and it’s the spring board for the sin of gossip and slander. If you dig deep enough, you too will find that when you sin, there’s often another, more private sin at the root. It’s that root sin you and I have to get at, to have any chance at all “of getting on top” of our sin problem. The place to begin is repentance.
I believe the Bible teaches there are four elements to true repentance:
Confession: This means we say it like it is directly to God and those we’ve wronged or who have observed our sin. “I have sinned. Here’s what I did… I’m truly sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” And, mean every word of this confession! (I John 1:9 and Proverbs 28:13)
None of this, “If I’ve hurt you I’m sorry”, half-hearted, limp, semi-apology that’s really no confession at all of personal responsibility for a wrong or sin. There should be authentic sadness that we not only sinned against God, but hurt another person, and embarrassed ourselves in the process.
In my case, after I confessed to God, I had to send an email to those who heard me and tell them what I did, set the record straight and ask for their forgiveness. It was embarrassing. These were people I’ve never met. I’m not sure they even noticed or cared about what I had done, but God did and that’s all that ultimately matters. But hopefully, the pain of shame is one way God will use to guard my tongue in the future.
Repentance: This simply means stop doing whatever it is we’ve done, and by the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrate it by a changed life. (Matt. 3:8) But for followers of Jesus, it’s more than a resolution to try harder the next time. It means making some “pre-decisions”.
In The 10 Second Rule book, I wrote a chapter on pre-decisions, which are intentional choices we ought to make, to lessen the likelihood that we’ll be tempted to commit the sin we’ve just confessed, again.
I’m certain that if something went wrong in the department where you work or in your family, you wouldn’t just admit it. You’d gather around and come up with some kind of plan to make it less likely that mistake will happen again. True repentance should involve a profound sadness that drives us to think about how we can make better choices in the future. John the Baptist told the soldiers and tax collectors who wanted to repent, never to extort money again from anyone. Stop it! (Luke 3:12-14)
In the case of my sin, I needed to consciously think about why I said the things I did to begin with. I also had to resolve never to bring that person’s name into a conversation again to impress anyone. Were there other similar conversations like that I’ve had in the past, and what do I need to do in the future to prevent them?
Restoration: It’s always God’s goal that if we’ve sinned, that we be fully restored to a healthy relationship with him and others. However, in my life, I sometimes feel so bad about repeated sin in my life that I don’t even want to pray. I feel like a hypocrite when I do. In my mind there’s only one thing worse than a sinner – it’s a hypocritical sinner. So, I’ll occasionally take a break from prayer until I can get my act together, which is just the opposite of what God wants and I need!
Force yourself to begin talking to God and make a serious effort to restore your relationship with anyone who you’ve wronged even if – especially if it’s embarrassing. You and I were created to be in a healthy relationship with both God and others, and an important part of true repentance is doing everything in your power to restore any broken relationships. (I Peter 5:10; Gal. 6:1)
In my case, I’ve never met the members of this group. However, based on the emails I got back, I sense there will be greater openness and transparency between all of us than there was before. Repentance is restorative.
Restitution: The Bible teaches that whenever possible, restitution should be made for the loss to others caused by us. In the Old Testament, it meant if you stole something, were irresponsible, or your animal damaged your neighbor or their property, it wasn’t enough to simply confess it. You were required to pay for the damage if possible. (Exodus 22:1-15) When Zacchaeus repented, he paid back everyone he cheated, four times the amount! (Luke 19:8)
I tell men who’ve had an affair and whose wives have divorced them over it, that they have more than a legal obligation to their former wives. They have a moral obligation to their family, including their former wife, to do whatever is in their power to mitigate the impact of their sin on their family. That may be doing more than the law requires – it’s doing what justice requires. The law tells us what we must do. Justice dictates what we ought to do. (Micah 6:8)
Obviously, it’s not always possible to make restitution, but when we can, the person who is truly repentant ought to do so. In my case, there were no damages, except to God’s reputation and mine. I think we’re fine now.
It’s been my experience that if Christians, intentionally and humbly do these four things we can substantially mitigate the consequences of our sin in this life and demonstrate to God we’re serious about sin. While confession is good – true repentance is far better.
My questions: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the four elements of true repentance. Do you agree or disagree?
An afterthought: I recently talked to someone who forwards my blogs to his adult children and hopes to discuss them the next time they get together. One woman has introduced them to her Bible study group to discuss weekly. The point is this: If, you’ve found these teachings, or those of another blog helpful, how might you use them to teach others?
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Our daughter, Megan, has a blog entitled: This is me Being Real. Well, this is me being real.
Here’s what goes on in my head and heart whenever I’m tempted to sin; I’m not talking about the automatic, unkind word that springs from my lips, or a lustful thought that came out of nowhere but lingers too long, sin. I’m talking about me contemplating a sin, even for a few minutes that I know full well is wrong (a felony in my hierarchy of sins). Why is it a spiritually mature man, would ever choose to sin?
Because I know there’s always GRACE. And, so do you.
And there have been times I’ve used my “grace card” like it was some kind of unlimited hall pass that allows me to go anywhere or do anything without fear of the consequences.
If you and I are at all serious about personal holiness, we’ll need to look under the hood of our hearts and try to figure out why we do what we do and then have the wisdom and courage to do something about it. I think two of the most spiritually crippling words for followers of Jesus is good enough.
So, let’s talk about grace abuse and why we do it.
In The 10 Second Rule I warn about the “voices” we hear from outside of ourselves, like Satan and from the world, constantly tempting us to ignore God’s will and enticing us to live for our own personal pleasure.
But, the “other voice” I hear most often isn’t Satan’s or the world’s. It’s my own—it’s me resisting Jesus’ full claim on my life as Lord. I’ve told him thousands of times he’s my Lord. I meant it, and I still mean it! But there’s an independent, sinful part of me that wants to reserve a part of my life for me. I want to be able to call at least part of my life mine.
The Apostle Paul said it well:
The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. (Romans 7:21-23, MSG)
So, let’s give it a name—call it partial surrender. And I’ve noticed that others who believe themselves to be Christians apparently have bought into the partial surrender idea, too—they’re like hanging on to their “mines” also. And there have been times I’ve begun believing the lie I so desperately wanted to believe—that because of grace, Jesus is fine with partial surrender.
Is grace—the amazing truth that God through Christ Jesus has forgiven all our sins—really a contributing factor to my spiritual mediocrity?
Only when I abuse it.
Grace abuse is holding God to his word, while using it as an excuse to break ours.
Most of us wouldn’t think of ourselves as actually doing that—but isn’t that what we’re really doing? I’ve often wondered if Jesus ever just slowly rubs his thumbs over the scars on his hands in disbelief that we would treat so casually his great love and terrible sacrifice. Why is it that our gratitude seems to have a half-life, once Easter has passed?
Christ’s sacrifice was meant to pay the price for that which I cannot do for myself—perfection and absolute surrender. Jesus expects all of us who claim his name to full-heartedly give our all to loving God, doing his will, and serving his kingdom on earth. When that’s not enough—and it isn’t, of course—yes, in the end he remains faithful, even if we aren’t.
That’s the real purpose of grace—to do what I can’t. It should never be my excuse for what I won’t.
So the primary reason some of us aren’t making more progress living more godly lives is that we’ve made peace with our conscience. We’ve come to what we think is a reasonable balance between sin and surrender—a compromise we can live with, and one we think God is okay with too. We tell ourselves that Jesus died not just for our past sins but for our present and future ones as well. We’ve been forgiven! And that’s a powerful incentive to settle for partial surrender. For good enough. Anything more just feels unnecessary, too difficult, or costly.
So most of us obey that first voice, the good voice—what I believe is the Holy Spirit’s voice—often enough to assuage our guilt and enable us to feel reasonably good about ourselves. And maybe you’re doing about as well as most Christians you know. But deep down, you know that your Savior and Lord deserves so much more and wants so much more for you!
He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)
So, what do we do about this condition?
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
But what does “take up his cross daily” actually mean? Hold on because what I’m about to tell you is going to sound counter to what I said just a few paragraphs back.
I gave up on absolute surrender years ago!
I gave it up because I realized it was an impossible goal. There was no way I could ever hope to surrender my will to God’s absolutely, every day, for the rest of my life. God knows it. And every other Christian on earth does too, whether they admit it or not. None of us wants to chase a dream or goal we know can’t be attained.
So while absolute surrender is impossible, doing the next thing I’m reasonably certain Jesus wants me to do isn’t! I can do that! And so can you. So we can tear up that negotiated settlement with our consciences. Our excuses are over.
Therein lies the power of the Rule to transform our lives.
Talk about counterintuitive! Remember when Jesus said in Matthew 6 not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself? When you and I give up and simply follow Jesus, daily and hourly and in the next ten seconds, doing what he asks us to do, (including resisting sin) we actually move closer to that previously elusive ideal of absolute surrender than we ever dreamed possible! That’s exactly what dying (surrendering) daily means.
─ Quoted from The 10 Second Rule, chapter two
One Final Thought
A number of years ago, I began visualizing a grace card. Mine is the size of a debit card. In fact, I think of it as a spiritual debt card. It has an unlimited credit balance, because Jesus made a lifetime deposit for more grace than I deserve, or I’ll ever need.
When I’m tempted to sin, I’ll often imagine that card in my hand, paid in full by the blood of Jesus himself. And if I’m lucid enough to listen to the Holy Spirit at that moment, I visualize myself quickly putting that card back in my wallet, unwilling to spend one cent of the blood price. Usually the temptation passes quickly and then there’s that sweet satisfaction, as I imagine Jesus and me walking out of the temptation shop with my guilt bag empty.
My question to you is: If you are a grace abuser, what’s your plan to stop?
An apology – sort of: My blogs are coming out twice as long as I had hoped, and the blogging, blogs advise. I’d like to shorten them, but when I’ve tried, they felt like Christianity lite. So I’ll try, but no promises. My advice; just get a fresh of coffee every Monday before you go to my blog. Thanks!Send This Post to a Friend
Last week I asked you to define what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Whenever I ask that question, people most often include the word faith.
And it’s true; the cornerstone of evangelical Christianity is that we’re saved by faith alone in Christ Jesus. Period. I believe that and hope you do too. But, that begs this question: what exactly is this faith that saves us and how do we know that we really have it?
True faith is a lot like fire.
Here’s an explanation I once heard and I really liked: Let’s just say you were able to get your hands on the definitive book of fire, The Complete Book of Fire. And it was a thoroughly accurate description of the chemistry of combustion, a listing of all the elements you need to have a fire, how to start it, keep it going, cook on it, put it out – a complete book of fire. Further, let’s say you believed with all your heart that everything the author said in that book was absolutely true – the book was infallible.
You still wouldn’t actually have fire.
It’s only when a person does what the author of the book says and brings together all the elements they need to build a fire, and an external spark or heat source is introduced to begin the combustion process, do you actually have fire. In fact, we only know we have fire when we see its light and feel the heat it produces. Until then, it’s only a totally reliable truth, not a practical reality.
Christian faith is like that. When certain truths regarding our own sinfulness, Christ’s divinity, and sacrificial love for us are “brought together,” or made known to us, and we truly believe them with conviction and passion, that a source outside of ourselves, the Holy Spirit, ignites the fire of faith and we’re born again. The best, external evidence of our faith is in our radically changed life. People know we have faith because they see it in us – our faith brightens their life and makes it better. Our faith becomes useful and comforting to them. And, because of that they want to be closer to it – to us, and most importantly to the source of our fire – Jesus!
But, what about…?
So then that begs the question, “How should we think about so many children and students who make commitments to Christ at Sunday school, at Young Life Camp, or as adults at a church retreat or evangelistic service, only to be essentially unchanged a few years later?
I suppose it’s possible that a pilot light of true faith was never really lit to begin with – that their response was more emotional than heartfelt conviction. It’s also possible in some theological traditions that the pilot light blew out – starved because it was never fed by true repentance or obedience to the will of God and a love for God.
But, there’s a third possibility; that they simply never understood that the normal Christian life is supposed to be a bonfire of faith – and they have no right to rest until it is. They (we) didn’t just “get saved”! Our lives now belong to God and he expects our passionate, public and private allegiance. And if it isn’t, at least the majority of the time, perhaps we only believe in the theology of fire, but don’t really have fire – salvational faith.
Some have confidently said to me, “I know I’m saved because of God’s promise.” “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” I John 5:13
Actually, that verse isn’t a promise we can cherry pick out to prove we can be assured of our salvation because we prayed “the prayer.” It’s the conclusion of 5½ chapters of very hard teaching describing faith and how those who truly have it will live. But, if we aren’t intentional about living that way, we shouldn’t take much comfort in that verse. (Please read all of I John this week in your devotional time.)
After hearing my teaching on I John, a fellow elder once asked me, “Do you believe in the doctrine of eternal security – once saved, always saved?” My answer? “I do. I just think more people claim they have it, than should.”
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says, “The vast majority of Christians today have been led to believe that God, for some unfathomable reason, just transfers credit from Christ’s merit account to ours, and wipes out every sin debt, upon inspecting our mind and finding out that we believe a particular theory of the atonement to be true – even if we trust in everything but Christ, in almost all other matters that concern him or us.”
Please, hear me out!
No one comes to salvational faith by living a good life. Having said that, no one should claim to be saved by faith, if the defining characteristic of their life isn’t a love for God and others. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26
Fireless faith is an oxymoron. That kind of faith holds no interest for non-Christians other than its ease and predictability. And Jesus doesn’t have any use for it either. It’s a faith in Christianity, not in Christ himself.
Here’s the really scary part – most of us reading this probably agree most other Christians are like that, but we, ourselves are not! That’s the self-delusional nature of sin that keeps us comfortably mediocre’ and, I don’t mind sowing a little holy insecurity among complacent Christians if it drives them to love God and others more.
The Purpose for My Blog
On this blog, I don’t want to simply whine about this condition. And I’ll leave theological chemistry class to others who want to debate and explain the various theories of “fire” – important as they are. As I’ve said, I’m interested in how faith works in real life and talking about the powerful forces, both within us and externally that mess with our heads and hearts to draw us away from authentically following Jesus (imitating Jesus).
My blog has one objective; helping you build faith fires that impact everyone around you – living a life that makes God smile – and makes God look good. And helping you resist, with everything that’s within you, the slide toward listless, beige, cultural Christianity. I know. Every few years or so I find myself drifting and have to repent of it. I’m a recovering cultural-Christian. I hope this site is for you a “twelve step program” to find your way out of religious Christianity and stay out.
I wrote The 10 Second Rule book, releasing September 15, as one way out. No complicated formulas or theologies. It’s a place to begin. In living by The Rule, you’ll either become a far more serious follower of Jesus or realize fairly quickly that you just don’t have much interest.
By the way, here’s my definition of a follower of Jesus:
“A follower of Jesus has been born again by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, and the evidence is a life of courageous obedience, loving God and others by imitating Jesus.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:19
My question: What do you like or not like about my definition or thoughts on faith?
I really liked this video a friend sent me this week.
Would the people who know you best consider you a Christian or a follower of Jesus?
I still remember the stunned look on Dave’s face when I asked him that question over breakfast ten years ago. To give him a chance to recover a bit, I took the time to clarify my question. “What I mean Dave is this: based on how you live, the things you talk about, your passions, what you spend your discretionary time and money on, would your wife, your children, co-workers and fishing buddies, would they consider you a Christian or follower of Jesus? And by the way, you don’t have to answer that question to me today. I’m not your spiritual authority. But, Jesus already knows the answer. The question is, do you?”
I’d known Dave for a few years, but not well. He was forty something, husband and father of three, attended a conservative church in town, and was involved in a men’s Bible study – a typical Christian. Our kids went to school together and we’d talked a number of times at school functions, but not in depth.
His reason for wanting to meet that morning was to ask if I would spend some time with him to help figure out some moving parts in his life. His relationship with God was flat. The company he was working for was in turmoil. He and his wife were struggling. The usual mid-life stuff. I’ve mentored many men in our community, so it was no surprise that he would ask me to help him sort things out. But, obviously he’d not expected to be hit by this truck.
Dave’s first question after he’d regained his composure was, “What’s the difference between a Christian and a follower of Jesus?” It was a fair question but I wanted to hear his answer first. So I asked him to take a crack at it.
“Well, when you put it that way, I would say a Christian is someone who believes Jesus is the Son of God, died on the cross and all that, believes the Bible is true, goes to church regularly, tries to live a good Christian life, volunteers in church – things like that. I would think a follower of Jesus believes all the same stuff and does all the same things, but is a lot more excited and serious about actually living like Jesus and being like Jesus in everyday life.”
Are Christians saved?
“Not bad”, I told him with some admiration. Before I could say another word, he asked me this penetrating question with just a hint of fear in his voice. “Are both Christians and followers of Jesus, saved?” I told him the truth. “I don’t know with certainty of course, but I don’t think so.
With that, he grew quiet. I thought it best to leave him alone with his thoughts for a minute, so I went to the restroom. My reason for asking this question of Dave is that most of us intuitively know if we are serious about following Jesus, or if we’ve been content with the average Christian life. This question simply forces a conclusion most of us don’t want to think about.
Words wear out.
In Chapter 12 of The 10 Second Rule, I wrote this, “Some words wear out. It’s not that they’re wrong – simply that they’ve out-lived their original meaning. I think the word Christian could be just such a word. It’s a word that’s centuries old. In Antioch in the decades after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it was first applied to those who believed in Jesus and lived his teachings. And in the first few centuries of the church, when obedience was still costly, all Christians were also committed followers of Jesus – the terms were interchangeable. Today, all followers of Jesus are still Christians. But it’s clear that the reverse is not true – not all who call themselves Christians, even those sitting in church every Sunday, are truly his followers.
Having said that, it’s impossible to accurately measure our devotion to God and our love for others. I don’t have a faith-o-meter I can pull out every day and point at myself and others to keep score. Nevertheless, we do keep score, don’t we? And it’s the self-delusional nature of sin that causes us to believe we’re better followers than most other Christians. Aside from the statistical impossibility of that being true – it’s the wrong measure. The only true measure is Jesus.”
So here’s the question again, which I’ve asked thousands of people in the past dozen years but now I’m asking you: Based on how you actually live your life, what you’re passionate about, how you conduct yourself when you’re at home, or out with your friends and how you treat others, would your spouse, your children, your co-workers or friends – more importantly, does Jesus consider you a Christian or a true follower of his?
My second question for you: How do you think Jesus himself would define his followers? (Please try to do it in one sentence, if possible and let’s see what you come up with.)Send This Post to a Friend