"We need to press in to God."
"Lord I'm so hungry for you."
"I'm fighting the good fight."
As a good Christian, I have for years heard many messages along these lines, encouraging us in the "Christian walk". But what happens when they just don't work?
What happens when trying to get closer to God just wears us out? When we take time out of our busy schedules for daily bible study, small groups, prayer times, church and community service and suddenly we aren't sleeping as much as we'd like, or our family life begins to deteriorate, or we just can't seem to get on top of that secret sin?
For years I have struggled with my own secret sin, along with the guilt and shame that came with it. I tried everything that I could find to deal with it, including bringing it to light through confession with a trusted confidant and going through repeated prayer ministry. I even fasted for significant periods in the hope that I could gain some kind of spiritual breakthrough.
None of it worked. No matter how much I fought, or how much I pressed in to God, I could not shake my sin, or the guilt and shame that always followed. Every Sunday I would come into worship, tears streaming down my face in awe and shame. Every Sunday I would have a deep longing to press in to God and be right with him, but it just wasn't happening.
Freedom isn't free
It is for freedom that we have been set free isn't it? Yet this freedom seems so elusive. It certainly has for me for a large part of my Christian life. Our hearts should burn with passion for our Lord shouldn't they? So why do I so often feel like I need to drum up my passion every Sunday morning before the service starts? We leave our baggage at the door when we walk into worship, only to pick it back up again on the way out. The whole process just stopped making sense to me.
Until suddenly I came across 2 Corinthians 5:19 and saw, "that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them."
When has this ever been preached on a Sunday morning? We are so used to the usual 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God' message that we have been taught to live in fear of not living up to God's expectations.
I used to think that Jesus had done a really good thing on the cross, but we really needed to take the initiative to believe it for ourselves in order to make our own personal salvation a reality. Jesus has done 99% percent of the work, but it was really up to our 1% to make anything he did actually mean anything, and if we didn't he was going to get really offended.
The stumbling block
Yet Paul's version of the gospel is scandalously different. According to him, even before I believed I was reconciled to God. When God looks at me, he doesn't see my sin, he sees my righteousness in Christ. This is not even something endowed upon me because I have chosen to have a relationship with him, but because he has chosen to have a relationship with me!
All guilt and shame were washed away when I read these words. I realised for the first time that yes indeed, God has made a home for himself in my heart and that nothing could separate me from his love, not even my lack of faith or unbelief. He had reconciled me to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, long before I was born.
Finally I was free to accept a love that was not conditional on how I was going spiritually. A love that was not just meted out because I had popped a metaphorical hernia in spiritual warfare. A love that remained, even in the moment of my deepest sinful rebellion. A love that is freely given, not because of my wavering desire for God, but wholly and solely due to his unwavering desire for me.
Knowing that God loves me so perfectly, so unconditionally changes things. His desire is for me, always! I am in union with self-sacrificial love, and it has begun a great work in me. I'm no longer bound by my selfish ways. When I stumble and fall, God is right there with me in the dirt, picking me up and reminding me of my sonship.
Man, this blew me apart. If God loves me this way, then he totally loves all of his children this way. What if they knew it? What if you did?
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft