Recently I had a conversation with a young believer who had many confused ideas about what it means to be a Christian. She was feeling terrible guilt because she thought she should be able to be perfect all the time, and she was struggling. She was afraid that she would lose God’s love, or that He might abandon her unless she was able to keep “all the rules”. I explained that many of her fears had no basis in Scripture, and she was so happy to realize that God always loves His own, and that we can find forgiveness when we repentantly go to Him and confess whatever has come between us. He has promised never to forsake us, and He will keep His promises.
Our conversation made me reflect on how each of us has a different struggle to work out with God, and how He is able to meet each of us where we are. I have been surrounded by people of faith since my teens, and although my life has not been easy, I have never had to experience some of the problems I see in the lives of young people today. I grew up in a different time. Drugs, casual sex (and the many difficult consequences of this) and compulsive materialism were not my temptations. Yet, I am not naïve. Many years of life gives you experience with all kinds of people.
My generation has lived through some terrible times and is well aware of the depths to which man can sink. We have seen the difficulties of a world-wide Depression; the horrors of a World War and the unspeakable concentration camps; many wars after that; attempts at genocide in many places; every expression of man’s inhumanity toward man in the cause of greed. However, in all these times, there have been people of faith who brought hope and integrity and recovery to what were unthinkable situations. God is able to overcome everything that man can do, and still bring redemption.
Sometimes the sin in our own lives has hurt us so badly that we find it hard to accept forgiveness. We are overcome with shame (which can be a gift from the Holy Spirit to makes us aware of our sin.). We think, “Surely God can’t forgive THAT!” If you haven’t been in Christ very long, you may find it hard to believe that our past does not have to continue to haunt us forever. God uses our shame to show us our desperate need of Him and help us appreciate His grace, and then, forgiven, we can move on, secure in the fact that our sin is now wiped out through the blood of Christ. Praise God!
All of us bring baggage to our life in Christ. Some baggage is what we have done to ourselves, and some is what others have done to us. Some of us have been damaged more than others by circumstances ~ but none of us comes to the Lord without something that needs to be forgiven and/or healed. We are all broken, but we can’t be helped until we recognize that we need help. God has not only offered us help, but in His limitless grace, He has offered us a Way to be fully restored to Him through Christ, and to become transformed into His image.
When we once recognize that we are inadequate to redeem ourselves, and commit ourselves to Christ, we are open to change. That point becomes our new birth; we begin with a clean slate, and from then on the Lord will be in the process of transforming and healing all our old pain. When we ask for His will to be done in our lives, He begins to transform us little by little into the image of His Son. The deeper the sins of our past, the more healing and changing He will have to do ~ but He is able abundantly above all we can ask or think.
We may become discouraged because we are trying hard to do all the right things, but find ourselves wavering back and forth. We may be putting our trust in the wrong things. Growth will not necessarily happen because we try to live faithful lives and read our Bibles every day and say the right words. Those things are very helpful in keeping us straight; however, the deepest growth comes more from how much we literally trust God, and believe in His love for us. It comes from willingly making Him Lord; being prepared to die to self, and letting Him have control. It is always about genuine trust and obedience to the truth He shows us, rather than rigid obedience to what others tell us we must do. Remember, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 3:8,9)
There is a pattern: we recognize our need of forgiveness, repent, and commit ourselves to following Christ. We stand before God overwhelmed by the knowledge that there is nothing in us to merit His love, yet in spite of this, He loves us. We want to please Him, so we set new goals. We try to keep our tempers, resist temptations of various kinds, build new habits into our lives, and try to remain strong. We won’t always succeed and we may need to ask for forgiveness often, but genuine repentance is always met with forgiveness, and we can try again. We do our feeble best, but it is really God working in us that makes things happen.
Growth is a gradual change and the process is fueled by the degree of our trust in Him. Each act of submission and obedience will open us to new understanding. As we continue to trust and obey, we will begin to see the emerging fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
We start where we are, and go on from there. Being a child of God is an open-ended course of instruction, and we never get to the place where we know it all. You walk the path you are given and may stumble, but the Lord helps you get up and try again, and eventually you find that you and He together have been able to move forward. Soon you are learning to lean on Him, be led step by step by Him, and eventually you find He has led you to real growth.
Sometimes, especially in the early days, it might feel more comfortable to go back to familiar things which we have been trying to change. There is a kind of security in old known paths, and we may be uncomfortable being led through new and unknown places. In our old ways, we were in charge, and we liked not having to defer to God for direction. It is to be hoped that eventually we will remember why we left those old ways in the first place, and recall that we are not able in our own strength to become the people we want to be.
The wonderful thing is that we can be forgiven after each failure and start again. Knowing we can be forgiven isn’t license to do just what we want and depend on God’s forgiveness to get us off the hook. We need to remember that God knows our hearts. He won’t be fooled by professions of sorrow, if they are not real. Deliberate sin always has consequences of one kind or another, and we can be sure that the Lord will deal with us appropriately and with perfect wisdom. He will discipline us when we need it, or test us, or even become silent in our lives (although He won’t abandon us). We will undoubtedly also be tempted by the enemy. It won’t be an easy journey, but nothing can separate the believer from the love of God.
The lesson is: maturity in Christ comes from genuine trust. Persevere; keep the lines of communication between you and the Lord open and honest; don’t be afraid to fail, but be obedient to the things which He shows you. Fellowship with others of like mind for support and instruction. Study the scriptures carefully because this is where we learn Who He really is, and all about ourselves, and how we are to work together. Keep your eyes on Christ, because He is the living example of what God wants us to be, and is shaping us to become.
“…….we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him Who is the head ~Christ ~ from Whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4: 14-16 NKJV)