Grace (Jan 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Anonymous

Sometimes when I look at this world all I see is evil: those in power exploiting and abusing that power, those who are weak taking all they can get from others. I see anger and hatred, nation against nation, brother against brother. All of life seems to be based on competition, the struggle to be better or stronger than someone else, whether in government, at home, on the playing field, in business or in pleasure.

I’m selfish and self-centered. I delight in beating my husband at cribbage, or winning at Mexican Train, and I sulk when I lose. I chafe at being a poorer housekeeper or cook or mother than other women.

I put down my peers and do my best to overcome all competition. This gives me only fleeting satisfaction even if I succeed, for I have heard that there is an all-powerful God who holds all the cards and trumps me every time. I have heard that He makes all the rules and will send me to Hell if I don’t obey Him perfectly. I’m told that I have to go to church Sunday morning and Sunday night. If I go Wednesday night that is even better. When I go, I hear about how evil the world is out there because they don’t follow God like we do. I don’t question that the person telling me all this is keeping all the rules himself. I try to be obedient, but I know I am failing. I can pretend to others, but it is difficult if not impossible to deceive myself. I have nowhere to turn. I fear God and man and can’t trust anyone.

It occurs to me that if this is the God I am trying to serve, it would be better to fight Him even though there is no way I can win. I’m lost already.

I begin to hear contradictions to what I am being taught. I begin to read the Bible for myself. Jesus says, "Do not judge", but my teacher is very judgmental. Jesus says God loves us, but I hardly feel love and I know I’m not loving. Jesus says, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." That sounds like an impossible rule. I try to follow it by accepting the lines of perfection drawn by my church: I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t miss church when the doors are open, don’t dance, don’t hang out with folks who do. I rationalize the exceptions. I don’t play games with "evil" cards, but Flinch and Rook are okay. So are dominoes. I feel more righteous than my friends who don’t go to my church and follow these rules. I don’t have many friends. I’m too busy trying to save myself.

I build a wall around my secret thoughts and actions that I fear are unacceptable to God and people. I try to keep up appearances. I live in fear. What if God is real? Surely He knows how hard I try to please Him. I have good credentials. After all, I’m an American, White, at the top of my class in school. What if He won’t make an exception of me or accept all my excuses? What does He mean by “Repent” & “Confess”? How could I ever do that? People would laugh me right out of the church! And how would that pacify God?

Though I don’t know it at the time, my gracious God is at work, drawing me to Himself. He knows my secrets. He knows my fears, He knows that deep down my desire is to be good and right, but I don’t really know what goodness is. He knows the way to Him is blocked by my pride as well as false teaching. I finally begin to realize that His righteousness is greater than anything I can ever achieve on my own. As I see it, I have two choices: I can believe that the only way I can ever be right with Him is through believing in the sacrifice of Jesus, His only begotten Son, Who died on a cross 2,000 years ago so that my sins could be forgiven, washed away, remembered no more. This seems too good to be true.

My other choice seems to be to deny who I am, to listen to the voice that sits on my left shoulder while I play forbidden solitaire and says, “This isn’t you. You are better than this.” I think about the consequences of listening to that voice. I can refuse to accept responsibility for my life, I can blame my parents, my church, my teachers, my husband, God, and circumstances to justify my own failures. I think, “If they would do what’s right, I could, too.” I envision spending the rest of my life in a mental institution, playing solitaire and shutting out the whole world, still pretending and eventually believing the pretense that I am good. (I believe that it is God’s grace that shows me what the end of this choice would be.)

I spend months and then years see-sawing between these two choices. I become emotionally unstable, lashing out defensively when criticized, finding fault with the church, with the preacher, with my husband; withdrawing even from my children. In desperation, I turn to the Bible. I’ve been told the Bible is the only way to salvation, that when it was completed, God left it for us to read it, believe it and live by it, trusting those who have already figured it out for us. I hear controversy over the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Is it for us or was it just for the apostles and those they personally taught until the Bible was completed? I begin reading the Bible more. I start underlining passages that speak of the Holy Spirit. If I take out the Spirit there isn’t much left of the Bible. I read that the fruit of the Spirit is peace, joy, love, patience, self-control, kindness and gentleness of spirit, but the harder I try to produce those results, the more angry and disillusioned I become. That other choice, never-never land, is so tempting!

God hasn’t given up on me yet. He puts books into my hands which present another view of Him than I have previously seen. I read testimonies from people who have actually put their faith in Him, repented and confessed their sins. They are experiencing the peace I have only heard about.

When I finally begin to realize that His righteousness really is greater than anything I can ever achieve on my own and that the only way I can ever be right with Him is through faith in Jesus and obedience to His commands, I give up, and admit to myself that I’m not God. When I give my life to Him to do with as He pleases, when I repent of my selfish, self-centered pride, He accepts me with open arms and overwhelms me with His love. I learn that His grace is sufficient for me. I am finally able to do His will by the power of His gracious Holy Spirit living within me. When I turn and try to go my own way, He graciously and patiently waits for me to yield to Him again. He really is my loving Father, teaching and training and disciplining His child. I am a slow learner of His way, but there is never any condemnation because I am already buried in Christ, covered by His righteousness, redeemed by His blood. When I wander or deliberately turn away from him to do what I want to do, I suffer the consequences of my foolishness, but I do not forfeit my salvation, nor do I weaken His love for me. He is continually drawing me back to Him. He is always patiently waiting for me to feel His love and respond with repentance and gratitude. Even repentance and gratitude are His gracious gifts to me.

Now, when all I see is evil, I am reminded to turn my eyes and my heart toward Jesus, to see how He reacts to this wicked world and I see again how much He loves it and me – enough to redeem us all if we will let Him

Note from Keith

I’m not a fan of publishing anonymous articles, but when the writer and situation are known to me, I’m willing to consider it. When the situation involves the comfort and ongoing fellowship of the writer in a long-time and dearly-loved church home that could be at risk should an identity be divulged, I understand. "Grace" was not a dirty word in the church family in which I grew up (and never should be, in any church home). Nor was the term “Holy Spirit”. Words like “command” and “obey” are good words, too; meant to work with “grace” and “mercy” and “Holy Spirit” — not against them. When we forget this; when we overemphasize one set of scriptural words and terms at the total expense of another set, we only tell a half-truth. That’s the same as a lie. ~ Keith Brenton

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About...

This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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