I used to live a guilt-ridden Christian life. Then it changed. What was both the reason for and the result of that change? Love.
Ever since I began to follow Christ, I rode upon the waves of the invigorating highs of doing well in my walk, only for it to be ruined by the guilt of my sin. As I rode those waves, they sure did become less frequent as a grew in my walk. What I couldn’t shake is the surfer’s urge to go play at the beach and ride a wave every once in a while, even if that same wave always crushed me into the corral. The end result would leave me bleeding, and at that I would have salt stinging my fresh wounds. In the end, I would bitterly regret my decision to ride the wave. Sure, it the initial ride was fun, but washing up on shore exhausted, torn to shreds, and in too much pain to bear was just ridiculous. Yet, time after time over the years I kept coming back to it, never even sure within myself why I kept doing so. I would find myself writhing within my soul, begging myself not to even look at the exit to take to go to the beach, yet I would always end up finding myself riding the wave, soon to inevitably crash down into the corral below my board.
We’ve all been told by our preachers and most Christians know that sin is not good. Yet, we still remain in sin. Its consequences are great, whether we can see them or not. I could see some of them – of course the guilt and pain as a result of the disconnect with my relationship with God, but there was much more going on beneath the surface that I couldn’t see. I was continually placing a veil over my eyes, and I had no clue. I couldn’t see what was really before me. I couldn’t see not only the amazing blessings I had, but also the real consequences of my sin. I couldn’t see how it was effecting me and in turn effecting others. I wasn’t who I should have been.
I would continually run to Him, furious with myself that here I am again, same mistakes, same prayer. I wondered how long I could keep making these mistakes, and worried that His patience for me was thinning. I wondered where I was going to see the consequences, because at the time I couldn’t. Beyond what most people have ever known about me, I was normal and my life was great. If they only knew the torment that afflicted my soul. I was torn between two things – the Christian life not only that I wanted to live, but also the reason for everything I was doing, and the direct contrast to that, which was to do what I wanted to do. I had a hard time loving myself, and at times I even hated myself. It caused so many insecurities in me. I couldn’t imagine how someone would want to love me and all of my mistakes. I could not see beyond the tracks I had lain in front of myself, blinding myself too well. It effected every area of my life, what should have been purely sweet and a blessing always had some tinge on it, and wasn’t as beautiful as it should have been. There was always the weight of what I had done clinging to my shoulders. My fight with sin was leaving my soul worn out and scarred from battle, and losing. It would seem victory was right around the corner, only to slip away because of my rash decisions. At times within myself, I gave up fighting, yet in the end I simply could not cease to fight. I had fought for so long, seeking righteousness, but after all the enemies I faced the one I could not defeat was myself. I knew Scripture said it was possible to be free, and not a slave to sin. Yet, in my own life I had a really hard time picturing that.
What did it take for me to finally find the freedom from the bonds of sin that had held me for so long? In one word, love. From here it gets beautiful and simple, yet complicated. For the longest time, I had the hardest time loving God. For one, I couldn’t understand His love for me. I couldn’t understand the height, depth, or magnitude of it. I also couldn’t understand how to love Him. I knew He was real, but had so much trouble grasping how to love Him. I knew in my mind I did, but I had a lot of trouble connecting that with my heart. I knew I had so much going for me, many blessings beyond what I could ever ask for. Those blessings allowed me a peep into His love, but I just couldn’t get the full picture of it. At this time, I was still in sin, and it was blinding me of the above. People have said to me that I am too hard on myself, and sometimes I am, but I’m hardest on myself when I sin. And for good reason, I knew the damage it was causing to my own soul and I wanted desperately to be freed. I wanted desperately to see the full picture, but the battle I waged in myself would result in sin hindering my ability to see the picture I longed to see. My heart cried out Paul’s words in Romans 7, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” and “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”
God had given me the chance to see His love for me, and be consumed by it leaving my sin because of His blessings and favor in my life. I had the choice to choose the easier way in His discipline, or the harder way. Like so many times I foolishly do in my life, I chose the harder way. Eventually He brought me to these questions: Who can truly love God and still remain in sin? Will not that sin disrupt the relationship with the very One you love? How can by your words say you love Me and by your actions deny Me by remaining in sin? 1 John 2:4-5 says, “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” God had tried to bestow blessing upon blessing upon me, giving me the chance to choose His love through His blessing. But, like the Israelites I took that for granted and either didn’t care, disrespected them, or wanted more. What God had given them to show His love for Him and direct them to follow Him was disrespected and unappreciated. If you remember with the Israelites, God would have to discipline them as His children whom He loved so that they would return to Him. And they did. So did I.
How is discipline love? Read this passage from Hebrews 12:3-11
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the period in my life that began. It was a period of discipline. And, like Hebrews says, it was rather unpleasant at the time. Being shown the magnitude of your sins and the consequences you bear is rather painful. Yet, during that time I was also still being shown the full breadth of the love of God, just in a way that I hadn’t asked for (Proverbs 3). It was love through discipline. It was during this time that my life began to be illuminated by His love. He had brought me to a point where I desired that illumination more than anything, and He answered. In a very short period of time, He shown bright into my heart and revealed what was inside. I found out, deep within me that all of this time I still had wanted sin more than God. It was reflected by my actions. He began to give me the tools (most I have already known), in such a way that I could really use them to be freed of sin. He also put me in positions of responsibility, none like I’ve had before. Not only was He showing what I had done wrong, but also gave me the opportunity to serve Him and learn at the same time. I still had a problem – I had the tools to cease from the sin that had held me in bond for so long, but then didn’t use them! He was patient with me during this time, but I sensed that I didn’t have long before I would have to make a choice – follow Him or stop following Him. I eventually led myself to still keep myself in error, invoking what I sensed was coming. His love was irresistible, and He gave me a choice like a father would – follow Me or bear the consequences. I chose to follow Him, because like with my earthly father, I didn’t want to find out what those consequences were. I was tired of the battles I had faced for too long, and when I chose to follow Him and not the sin, I began to experience freedom.
I know I love to go barefoot, and after a while my feet get calloused and used to the ground after a while. But say there is a road, and that road is completely covered in glass – sharp glass that is sticking up. It is possible for me to get across this road, but my feet may be bleeding profusely once I finish but it is possible. Now lets say Jesus is my shoes, and the glass is sin. I will need to keep my shoes on to avoid being cut by the glass, and running the path that has been set before me.
I’ve done my best to lay before you in a real, and applicable way. We have all faced sin, and will continue to have the choice whether to choose it or not. We can choose freedom from sin or bondage to it. We aren’t slaves to circumstance, but slaves to the One who is in control of the circumstance. Once freedom is chosen, that is only the beginning of your journey. It was just the beginning of mine. Romans 8.
“God cannot give us a happiness & peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
I’ll leave you with these lyrics from Shawn McDonald, from a song called Simply Nothing…and some more supporting Scriptures at the bottom.
So hard to fathom the pain in Your eyes
As You’re watching Your children, doing what You despise
In pursuit of our own
We just go round and round
Another nail to our cause
We continue to pound
What are you, man, if you do not learn love
What are you, man, if you do not learn love
So hard to fathom, oh, the feelings inside
As You’re watching Your people choosing to die
You called out a warning
To all that would hear
Saying come to Me, come to Me
And I will draw near
A few Scriptures
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.