Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World

Important Message

?In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.? (Matthew 5:16)

Verses like this one lead to statements like these:

?Your lifestyle is as much a part of evangelism as your words.?

?Let your marriage be a light to the watching world.?

?You?re an ambassador for Christ at your workplace.?

Have you heard similar statements, or made them? They?re true ? a godly life, loving marriage, and honorable conduct in the office really can be examples to non-Christians. And it?s also true that religious hypocrites can do damage to the gospel: pastors who commit adultery, hucksters who defraud with Bible verses, or Sunday afternoon restaurant patrons who stiff their waitress a tip and leave tracts on the table instead.

But for most Christians, trying their best to be faithful but aware of their failings, statements or verses that call us to live our lives as examples to non-Christians can feel like an impossible burden. I know I?m a poor excuse for a Christian parent ? now you?re telling me I?m damaging the cause of the gospel as well as my kids. Thanks!

If exhortations to ?be an example? have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There?s a way out from under the burden. Here?s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don?t have to be perfect!

When the call to let your light shine comes as a burden, we have a basic confusion about our message. Instead of the good news that Jesus came to save and transform sinners, we are believing some other ?good news? (that really isn?t so good after all!). The false message might take different forms: if you use biblical parenting techniques, your kids will always obey and never try to strip naked and run screaming through the grocery store. If you put God first in your marriage, you?ll never have a conflict or ever see things differently than your spouse. If you love God more than money, you?ll always be the perfect employee. I?m exaggerating, of course, but do you see the common thread in all these message? ?If you?? But the message we witness to as Christians begins with God. ?But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us?? (Eph. 2:4).

The gospel is not simply the best self-help news out there, nor the hottest parenting or marriage techniques to transform your kids and your communication. It is the message that God, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and transformed. We have been and?being redeemed, day by day, situation by situation. Even our failures and ongoing battles with sin testify to this message. Asking forgiveness, admitting failure, honestly facing our weaknesses and temptations ? these do not deny our message. Instead, they can testify to its truth. Jesus saved, is saving, and will save us ? sinners though we remain!

Don?t confuse the message. You?re not living a life of perfection so others can learn from you the secrets of self-mastery. You?re living a life of redemption, so that others can meet the Redeemer who is at work in you. And that message is truly good news.

Photo by Patrick Denker

Jesus Allows Us To Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses

IS A HABIT

Few things steal the joy out of life like comparison. Comparing myself to someone else can ruin my day in five seconds flat.

Most Christians, myself included, are too poor to be constantly acquiring new, expensive, hoity-toity toys. Unlike Scrooge McDuck, I don’t have a large vault in my home, in which I regularly swim. I can’t keep up with the rich Joneses of the world, so I don’t bother trying. I’m pretty content with my middle-class home, my beater car, which sounds like a Cessna airplane on steroids, and my medium-sized flat screen television. I don’t feel pressure to keep up with rich people.

However, every Christian sub-culture has its own set of unwritten Jones-ish rules, which everyone tries to abide by. Those who keep up with the Jones rules are seen as mature, spiritual believers. Those who don’t are considered to be slightly lower on the Christian maturity scale. What sort of unwritten rules am I talking about? For example:

  • Most families in the church homeschool or unschool their kids.
  • Most families have five or more kids. These children are well behaved and respectful all the time.
  • Most young people are married by the age of 25, and have four kids by the age of 30.
  • Most families in the church are staunch Republicans, and cling to their guns and their religion tightly.
  • Most families are on some sort of organic, free-range, paleo, wheat free diet.
  • Most families adhered strictly to the time-honored principles of courtship, rather than dating.

There’s inherently wrong with anything listed above. However, these kinds of unwritten rules can have the side-effect of making us absolutely miserable.

Parents who choose to send their kids to public school can feel as if they are somehow failing their kids. As if they aren’t as godly as those parents who homeschool.?Everyone else’s kids know Latin by the age of nine. My kids are behind. I’m a failure as a parent!

Moms who decide that they only have the emotional capacity for two children can feel like they are total losers.?Everyone else has a big family. Why can’t I handle more than two kids? Why are my kids so crazy and disobedient? Something must be wrong with me!

Families who, due to financial stress, can’t afford to feed their children organic, free-range food, can feel like uncaring, unwise parents.?Everyone else seems to be on some sort of special diet. My kids are eating cheese sandwiches and cheese puffs for lunch. I must be an awful parent!

Here’s the good news: Jesus sets us free from comparing ourselves to other people.

My fundamental identity is found in Jesus Christ. I am united to him, joined to him, him in me and me in him. God doesn’t love me because I homeschool my kids. He doesn’t love me because I have a lot of kids, and my kids are well-behaved. He doesn’t love me because of what I, or my children, eat. He loves me because I am his child. Period. No more.

I don’t need to keep up with other people in my church. I don’t need to be like anyone else. My success in God’s eyes is not contingent upon whether or not my family is “better” or “worse” than other families. My success in God’s eyes is not contingent upon whether or not I measure up to all the unwritten rules. My success is tied up in Jesus, and he was already completely successful.

Are you constantly comparing yourself to other people? Are you constantly feeling like you don’t measure up? Are you constantly feeling like a failure? It’s time to stop! Stop playing the comparison game. Stop trying to measure up to the standards set by other people. Jesus already measured up to all the standards that really matter, and his righteousness is credited to you. Your job is simply to love Jesus, seek to obey the Bible, and joyfully go about your life. If you don’t measure up to the expectations of others, who cares!

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)

 

Escaping Condemnation (2)

How do we escape the black hole of condemnation when we sin?

In last week’s post I said that to escape condemnation, we must first know where it comes from, focus on Jesus, and fight to believe the gospel.? A few more suggestions:

Trust God’s character

In 1 JN 1.9, God promises that if we confess our sins, he is “faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”? God is unfailingly faithful to forgive those for whom his Son died when they confess their sins.? He must forgive, for he is “just” – to not forgive our sins when Jesus atoned for them would be unjust.

Grieve appropriately

Paul told the Corinthians to ?forgive and comfort? a repentant sinner so he would not be “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.? (2 CO 2:6-7). ?We should feel godly sorrow for sin, yet not be drown in a deluge of grief.? God wants to comfort us, though we don?t deserve it.

Beware self-pity

Sometimes our ?grieving? stems from pride: I can?t believe I’d fail like that. ?I should be better than that. ?As if I should be perfect. ?This is inverted pride – I’ve let myself down and failed my own high standards. ?Actually, I’m far worse than I? know.? I?m a wicked sinner, who nailed Christ to the cross.? I don’t need to do better; I need Christ’s blood.

Give thanks

Thank God there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ?Thank him that he justified you by the shed blood of Jesus and sees you righteous in Christ. ?Giving thanks puts faith into action.

Get back up

The righteous falls seven times and rises again (PR 24.16). ?If the devil can?t cut you off from God, he wants you wallow in self-reproach. ?A righteous person falls ?seven? – innumerable – times, but God says, ?Get back up! ?Stand on the gospel! ?Look to the interests of others.?

Trust God to finish the job

Jesus is able to keep you from eternal ?stumbling,” and will present you blameless in his glorious presence, not with condemnation, but with great joy (Jude 24-25). ?Glory to God!

Do you have any further recommendations to help those who battle condemnation?

photo by Grevel

Cockroaches, Guilt and the Gospel

I once shared an apartment with 50,000 cockroaches.

I’d come into a dark room and turn on the light, and there’d be a few blinking up at me, stunned and offended at my insensitivity, then they’d scatter helter-skelter beneath the bed or the radiator.

You couldn’t really get rid of them.? If you sprayed, they’d vacation for a couple days next door, then migrate back.? I developed a “cockroach consciousness.”? Even when I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, waiting to come out and frolic again as soon as I doused the light.

Guilt is like those cockroaches.? It hangs around.? It haunts.

So we must battle guilt with this truth: Jesus not only bore our sins, he bore them AWAY.

John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world.”? He doesn’t just sweep sin under the rug, he takes it away.

An Old Testament Israelite would lay his hands on the head of a “scapegoat,” symbolically transferring his sins onto the animal, then he’d banish it to the desert, never to be seen again.? But God literally laid our sins on Jesus, and banished them from us forever.

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he REMOVE our transgressions from us.

On Calvary, Jesus loaded our offenses onto his mighty shoulders and carried them an infinite distance from us.

Sometimes its good for us to recall our past sins, not to dredge up feelings of guilt, but to enflame gratitude in our hearts.? Think of the mountains of sin, whole mountain ranges of sin and guilt, that Jesus’ blood removed from you.? Gone.? Forever. If just my sins were written on paper, they would have filled acres of storage barns.? But every last record of my debt was nailed to the cross.? How grateful this makes me!

Recall the vastness of your sins to provoke praise for the vastness of God’s mercy to you. But be sure to shine the light of the gospel on the condemning cockroaches of guilt.

photo by razordu30