I Had It Backwards

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I think I’ve had a bit of an epiphany.  I think.

Years ago I had a discussion with a pastor who seemed to concentrate on berating his congregation with the DO’s and DON’T’s of scripture.  Without realizing I had come under his watchful eye, I went to church expecting to hear a good study.  You see, even though he could be harsh, his theology was usually right on.

As he moved into his teaching for the evening, a few phrases I had recently said began popping up (I was a teacher with the church).  It wasn’t a large congregation so much of what anyone said was quickly known.  I listened.  I didn’t get angry.  I was amazed at that.  But I did feel the need to explain myself at the close of the service.  The pastor and I spent the next hour discussing our approaches to the good works we are to perform.

You see, I was beginning to understand the binding force of legalism.  We’d had this discussion before, but sometimes it takes several turns for iron to sharpen iron.  It was a brilliant discussion, if I do say so myself, for he was a theology professor at one of the seminaries in the Metroplex.  But we had “fundamental” differences of the motivation behind DOing good works.

I tried to explain.  He tried to explain.  After many attempts, Phat declared it was time to leave.  It never got heated, we were both kind and enjoyed the exchange.  And, I must say, only recently have I begun to really put into practice what I was trying to say that evening.  This was my argument:

Duty before devotion leads to self-righteousness and legalism.

Devotion before duty leads to relationship and good works.

Some people don’t think I come up with words to express myself well…because they’ve read my fumblings for a while now.  However, I will admit, I didn’t say it as clearly that evening.  It’s been twelve years in the mind, rolling around, trying to get it said succinctly.

Those sentences envelope my life story.

I have been self-righteous and legalistic for much of my life.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not godly.  It’s not truth.

It is the very thing Jesus came to stop.  I could give many reasons for my ways, and some, you may think legitimate.  But now, I’m thinking it was all ugly.  I placed duty before devotion.

I knew Jesus loved me, but I didn’t really believe He would keep me, or want me, if I did anything that wasn’t lovely.  I felt I had to keep myself in Him.  I felt I had to prove myself to Him to be acceptable.

When I understood His sovereignty, His choosing me, I began to realize the depth of His love.  I couldn’t make myself beautiful for Him so that He would believe I was lovely enough to keep.   You see, that’s backwards.

Out of His great love for me, He chose.  I am His because He called me to Him.  I am completely loved in the Beloved — the Son.  Now, any righteous acts I DO, any good works that flow, are a result of my love and devotion to Him.  Because He loved me and gave Himself up for me.

He makes me acceptable.  As a result, I give out of my great love and devotion to Him.

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25 responses »

  1. “I knew Jesus loved me, but I didn’t really believe He would keep me, or want me, if I did anything that wasn’t lovely. I felt I had to keep myself in Him. I felt I had to prove myself to Him to be acceptable.”

    I spend my teenage years in a church that was filled with teachings of “DOs” and “DON’Ts” and, coupled with some things that were going on at home, made me feel unworthy as well, to the point where I believed God could never love me because I was such a failure at so many things. That one of the great reasons why I appreciate the friends–the brothers and sisters in Christ–who accept me for who I am. Acceptance takes away the burden of legalism because you know you’re not trying to earn anything anymore. And you said it very, very well, Michelle:

    Duty before devotion leads to self-righteousness and legalism.
    Devotion before duty leads to relationship and good works.

    That is so well-said and so accurate and so powerful…it absolutely amazes me. 😉

  2. “I couldn’t make myself beautiful for Him so that He would believe I was lovely enough to keep.” Shot through the heart. Yes. It’s tough to lower our pride to the point of realizing that we will always fall short. That is the sacrifice of love. On the other side of that sacrifice, our wonderful Father is there to scoop us up, put us on His shoulders, and take us for a ride on the heights of the earth. It’s all about Him.

    So good, Michelle. So good.

  3. whoever doesnt believe you are articulate are, well…that is just the strangest thing ive heard in a long time. thats all.

    i love this. devotion before duty/duty before devotion. huge difference. and it can effect everything and most people around you too. ive been effected by legalism and self righteousness, the heavy thumb of it. it has ended or tarnished friendships. breaks my heart.

  4. This was ministry for me today Michelle, I love what you said here. Filled with grace and good news. It made me feel so thankful to God as you reminded us here of His great love for us – that He called us, drew us, and continues to pour out His grace on us.

  5. My first commentor is back!! YAY!

    Thank you, Nor. I know you “get me” and I love being your sibling in the Lord.

    “Acceptance takes away the burden of legalism because you know you’re not trying to earn anything anymore.”

    Can we have a rousing “AMEN” to that?! Love you.

    Yes, Annie, it is “tough to lower our pride to the point of realizing that we will always fall short.” But the other side feels so amazing — I feel the freedom to freely serve Him from a place of devotion. It’s ALL about Him. Love you.

    Tam, you said, “ive been effected by legalism and self righteousness, the heavy thumb of it.” I pray I never do that to anyone else EVER again. I desire to show love without hypocrisy. Thank you for your kind words. I love you, TammyJo!

    Hey, Birgit! Yay! I ministered to you — happy to return the work. His great love for us is consuming me and I pray I will remember to always show it. No matter how “unlovely” I feel, I am chosen, I am accepted in Him. Blessings and love to you.

    Ric, is that a word? My vocabulary is quite limited. Yes, I do thank God for Phat. He has rescued me from many a difficult, and possibly disastrous moment! Love you, Hidehiko! 😆

  6. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy your posts with lots of scripture, because I do, but I LOVE THIS POST. You don’t fumble in your writing, and you’re a good example. I look up to ya…. 😉

  7. I will say that not being able to get out of my house to attend church has changed my perspective on a few things. Don’t get me wrong – I miss the church and the community and the worship – but I think I have grown to understand more fully my relationship with Christ over my acting in relationship with Christ.

  8. Thanks, Blogging! Coming from you, I take that as quite a compliment. 😉 (Although I will admit, I had NorEaster check this one out for me, before posting — just to be sure I wasn’t too choppy.)

    Hey, Sara! I’ve been challenged by this group of bloggers. To see the many facets of the body of Christ and the “acting in relationship with Christ” — as you put it — has been good for me. Maybe our forced seclusion has a silver lining, you think?

  9. I just had a conversation with a friend about that today… the more that has been taken from me, the more I have had to let go, the more I have received. By opening my hands to let go of the earthly things that bind us I had my palms open to receive the spiritual gifts and peace of spirit. My hands can close easily, though, so it’s nice to have these reminders…

  10. “He makes me acceptable. As a result, I give out of my great love and devotion to Him.”

    Beautifully put Michelle. Once again, there’s so much in this post, and I’m going to come back and read it again once I’ve recovered from the flight(!) – but I’m going to take the quote above with me now. I find it too easy to think ‘what a good bloke I am’ when I help people out. Recognising the SOURCE of the love that flows through me might help me to stop being so ‘puffed up’. 🙂

  11. “By opening my hands to let go of the earthly things that bind us I had my palms open to receive the spiritual gifts and peace of spirit.”

    Yes, Sara! It is good, the work He does of stripping us of our flesh, our weaknesses. But yeah, I know what you mean about closing your hands again. I think that’s a life-long, earthly struggle. I hope it gets easier the older we get…I hope.

    Hey, Alan. Glad you like it. The recognition that there is nothing good in me, the only good I do comes from Him, gives me the proper perspective. I know it’s contrary to what we’re told in life, just tap in to the goodness within…uh…no. All our righteousness is filthy rags. Only through Him are we acceptable.

    I hope you’re enjoying your visit Down Under!!

  12. It’s so much more fun to do for God because we love Him and He loves us. And not out of duty. I think He’d rather have that kind of service from us anyway.

  13. In one discussion, a young friend of mine commented: “when I am in church, I feel so dirty, I wonder if I’d ever be worthy enough to be saved.”

    She was talking about the dos and don’ts often preached in the church.

    I don’t know how the approach of teaching theology should be, but i think a balance is needed somewhere.

    Personally, I think we are all worthy. But there was also a time in my life when I had thought I was not good enough to be His daughter.

  14. Good morning, Rachel. He did say, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” Keeping His commandments is in direct relation to our love for Him.

    Hey, Sherma.

    “I don’t know how the approach of teaching theology should be, but i think a balance is needed somewhere. Personally, I think we are all worthy.”

    I was a bit concerned I might be misunderstood with this post and I might be misunderstanding you so, I need to clarify. I don’t believe ANY are worthy. We are all dead in our sins and unable to do any good work without His changing us from the inside. Our hearts are desperately wicked and our own righteousness is filthy rags. That’s the state of our being without Him. We must be regenerated to be acceptable in His sight. Only in Him are we found worthy and it’s not because we DID anything to make ourselves worthy…it’s only because He changed us. That is the clear teaching of scripture. We are fallen and can only be raised through Him.

    It’s not what the world teaches: man is basically good and needs to “tap into” that goodness and the world will be a better place. That is wrong. Only once we realize our dead fallen state, our poverty of spirit, do we understand the need for a Savior. We are dirty before Him — He cleans us up; we can’t clean up ourselves.

    I know, I got very preachy there. As I said, I was concerned I would be misunderstood. I just want you to know exactly where I’m coming from. Did that make sense to you?

    Warm hugs, Sherma.

  15. I agree that we serve and are obedient out of the love we have for HIM, but HE does call us also to love and forgive those who are not easy to love or easy to forgive…its not always blissful that will come when we get to heaven…sometimes its following because i believe HE knows the way…but in no way are those times always full of the feeling of love and excitement..just saying.. you do love me Huh?

  16. Well written. I do not think that you were stumbling. Actually writing helps me to think clearer.

    It is so true that rules without relationship equals frustration. I have had my share of that and learned that I do not like it.

    But … for some reason there is something on the inside of us that is attracted to law or works. I think you put it well that doing something from the motivation of love is not the same as doing something from the motivation of works.

  17. Hey, Darla!! I love you so much. I’m not sure where this post took you…I totally believe we must love everyone – lovely or unlovely – easy or hard. We must love. I don’t think we can share that kind of love unless we’ve experienced it in Him. I mean, we can be too hard on people when we think they must follow a set of rules to be lovely in His sight. I think if people understood the very nature of God, they would be so in love with Him, they would want to serve Him. Yet, none of that is done without His “quickening” in the first place. This post is about sanctification, not regeneration. Does that make sense?

    Hello DaRonn! Are you Angie’s DaRonn? I agree there is something on the inside that is attracted to law. Are you meaning to “earn” salvation? I do believe when our hearts are changed, when we are given a heart of flesh vs. a heart of stone, He writes His law on our hearts and causes us to keep them.

    Talk about good works…you and Angie are doing an amazing work…I do pray for y’all and you mission. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Hello Michelle. Good morning.

    Oh boy, I like what you said. It’s different from what I said, but it does make lots of sense.

    Love you.

    And thanks for your posts. I learn from you everytime.

  19. Sis~It’s taken me a while to fully understand God’s grace and the premise behind His desire to save me. I’m still learning but in the last few months especially, I am less harsh on myself than I used to be, and depending less on my own works or ability to be “perfect” as I am on His grace, forgiveness, and mercy.

    You always articulate yourself well. Your posts always encourage me. I love you.

  20. Hey, beautiful lady!! I’m still learning about His grace, Gch, and I’ve been a Christian since I was eight. It’s incomprehensible how big, how vast, how great the Father’s love for us and the grace He abundantly supplies. I am so thankful for I know I fail daily, sometimes moment-by-moment.

    I also wonder if the closer we get to Him, the more we are aware of our sinfulness. I think it’s part of the hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We won’t be filled completely until we see Him.

    I love you too…are you home yet!?!?!?! 😉

  21. Ok.. Just getting back to being caught up.

    I am sorry I have been a bit absent Michelle.

    Out of His great love for me, He chose. I am His because He called me to Him. I am completely loved in the Beloved — the Son. Now any righteous acts I DO, any good works that flow are a result of my love, my devotion to Him. Because He loved me and gave Himself up for me.

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