Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and say all manner of evil against you, for you probably deserve it.
Gracebusters - those insidious attitudes that have, throughout the centuries, been able to make their way both into the churches and into the lives individuals and compromise the immense grace of God. These attitudes are insidious because, somehow, even though they mitigate the grace of God, the people with these attitudes usually believe them to be of God.
The three biggies we will be discussing will be 1) guilt, 2) perfectionism and 3) legalism.
We’ll start with guilt. You know guilt. It’s that “go out and have a good time, ignore the fact that I have tons of work to do, including some of your leftover work. Enjoy yourself. After all, I can handle the extra work … my back doesn’t hurt nearly as much today. Go out … enjoy!” Guilt.
I believe that guilt is a weapon of Satan against people in general, and Christians in particular. “Hold it just a minute! Are you saying we’re not guilty of anything?”
No, we’re guilty. What I’m talking about is the difference between guilt and conviction. And there are significant differences.
Adam and David. Both blew it. Each responded differently and those differences clearly indicate the dissimilarities between conviction and guilt.
Guilt: Adam knew he blew it, so he hid from God in the bushes (never very effective), tried to compensate on his own power with fig leaf Levi’s, passed off the blame and felt put down and was put out.
Conviction: David knew he blew it with Bathsheba and his reactions. So, when trapped by the prophet with a tidy little analogy; David turned back to God, asked for God’s forgiveness, acknowledged his sin and responsibility and was restored.
Guilt condemns and causes one to avoid God because of our unworthiness. We become obsessed with our failings, and usually with looking for at least explanations (if not excuses); we get depressed, withdraw from God and fellow believers and end up in a dark room, watching soaps and eating bag after bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies.
Conviction draws one towards God because we understand we are unworthy, but that He wants to restore us; we focus on repentance and change, seek out the Lord and other believers so we won’t fail as readily in that same area; we get determined to move on and end up sharing our struggles to help others through the same types of conflicts.
It’s like having your car run out of gas. Guilt wants us to abandon the car because we were too dumb to gas up at the last gas station and, thereby, we get nowhere. Conviction gets us to go get gas, fill up the car, go on and watch the gauge more closely.
Satan loves to have Christians abandon their cars, God loves to get us up and going.
Satan would love to have all believers dead, but in lieu of that he’ll accept having them simply acting as if they are dead: cold, withdrawn and still. That’s why he likes guilt. It can tie Christians in knots, obsessing on their inadequacy and somehow functionally convincing them that Christ’s blood wasn’t quite effective enough for their sin.
One way guilt can effect a believer is to propel them into perfectionism. We all know some of those people. Hey, some of us ARE those people.
These are the ones who understand how unworthy we are of God and seek to pay Him back for His sacrifice. Now it usually doesn’t come across that bluntly. It’s usually someone who feels real bad when they fail God, so they knock themselves out trying to not blow it. These people usually succeed. They are structured, extremely demanding of themselves and scared to death they’ll blow it and fail God again.
Somewhere, deep inside, comes the feeling that we’re earning God’s favor. That’s a subtle deception because it results in all the outward signs of righteousness, doing the right thing. And then comes this small, persistent voice: “you know, you really are doing so well that God should be delighted in you. You really deserve His sacrifice on the cross.”
Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our very best is contaminated trash. That’s the modern version of filthy rags. In the Hebrew it refers to rags used for menstrual flow or a festering wound. That wasn’t just dirty, but also somewhat gross and, to a Jew, ritually unclean as well. That’s our righteousness.
“Oh yeah, now I really feel worthy to come to God!”
We should, because we come based on Christ’s righteousness, not ours. We don’t and can’t deserve His sacrifice. We are unworthy, but we get it anyway! It’s like winning the biggest lottery of all time when you didn’t even buy a ticket.
“So what’s so wrong with wanting to try to pay God back?”
Besides the fact that it’s impossible, consider this: would you like the love of your life interacting with you to impress you or because they love you. Jesus wasn’t impressed by the efforts of the Pharisees to impress God and He is equally unimpressed by our efforts.
Now, onto legalism. The difference between perfectionism and legalism is a lot like the difference between suicide and homicide … it depends who you’re aiming the gun at.
It doesn’t take a theological seminarian to realize that Jesus wasn’t too wild about legalistic Pharisees and Paul wasn’t too fond of legalistic Judaizers. Both groups wanted to whittle a relationship down to a simple, quantifiable list of dos and don’ts. Again, it’s much easier to follow rules than God.
But, much like perfectionism, legalism can have a “holy” feel about it. After all, aren’t we defending the faith, encouraging people toward righteousness, lifting high the standard of Christ?!
See, it even sounds righteous. The problem is, it rarely reflects the compassion of Christ and most often feels harsh and condemnatory. And remember, guilt is very much a part of perfectionism and legalism.
The big question is: Why, when we have the totally effective sacrifice of Christ bathing us in grace, do we fall back to the gracebusters like guilt, perfectionism and legalism?
Have you ever worked in a job that you really liked and put out extra effort for? Have you ever been in a job you hated and tended to do only what you had to do? What was the difference?
Usually you get response like “it was a lousy place to work” or “they were trying to rip everyone off” or “they treated you like a slave” or “they were always so nit-picky.”
Bottom line is, we tend to become legalistic, perfectionistic and guilty when we really don’t trust that the boss cares about our well- being. We try to cover our own posteriors through
observance of guidelines and rules that could stand up under arbitration if the boss decided to nail you without warning.
We tend to utilize the gracebusters because we don’t truly believe God loves us, cares for us and supports us. So we try to make ourselves look good by “doing it right.”
If we truly understood that Christ’s blood is sufficient for any and every sin; if we truly believed that He loves us dearly and works in our lives to our ultimate, God-defined good; if we truly relaxed in the truth that we can’t earn God’s grace, but can wholly enjoy its benefits; we could quit trying to act like Christians and get busy ministering to the Almighty and each other.
CFD | April 2017
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