Friday, August 28, 2009

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Trading the Scalding Nearness of God for the Lukewarm Comfort of Religion


Last night's Bible study focused on God's character. Eventually we were forced to discuss His justice (gulp), which led us into an examination of our sin (double gulp). That's when the gloves came off, and to her credit, our facilitator kept it real. Romans 7:15-8:2 came front and center:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
It's not until we confront the depth and extent of our sin problem that we are able to break out of our dull religion and into real spiritual vibrancy. Yet moving in this direction runs directly counter to my bias toward worldly comfort.

Proverbs 20:5 says that "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." The deeper I swim into the purposes of my heart, the darker it becomes. In fact, the closer I get to God, the "dirtier" I see myself.

This is terrifying, and has the potential to crush me, or it can finally break me down to the point where I reconnect with the incredible grace of God. It must be done, or else I surrender my intimacy with God for the comfort of lukewarm religion. I don't want to do it ... I want to feel good about myself. But if I have the courage, it can lead me straight into the arms of my Savior.

It is sadly rare that we dwell on our continuing, intense, immediate need for grace. We generally talk a pretty good game and sing the right songs, but we mostly behave like we needed grace a little bit, a long time ago ... once upon a time when we were "lost". Now what we "need" is other stuff: healing for ourselves or our loved ones, money, a promotion, etc.

Very seldom do we act like we need the grace of our Lord today, just to stand before His throne of God and not be consumed. And thus we trade the scalding nearness of God for the lukewarm comfort of our religion.

8 comments:

  1. God's grace is often defined as "the unmerited favour of God", rightly so. However, it is also defined as God's "devine influence upon and reflected in my life". I certainly need God's favour, but I also need His influence. To do so means, "the scalding nearness of God".

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  2. First, Jailer, great title!

    You said, "This is terrifying, and has the potential to crush me, or it can finally break me down to the point where I reconnect with the incredible grace of God." Every time I pull away from Him, I internally kick and scream until I finally reconnect. Then, in brokenness, I yield it all to Him and the floodgates of His grace, mercy and love open.

    It is often, during those moments, when I most sense His presence. He communes with me. I weep for joy.

    Thanks for a precious reminder and well-thought description.

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  3. Very well-said. I don't have anything grand to say -I just wanted to peek in and say I read this and that I loved it. Very challenging.

    What a holy, holy God we serve. I don't think I really got that until about a year ago.

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  4. Very powerful Jailer.

    I love the line; "...we trade the scalding nearness of God for the lukewarm comfort of our religion."

    To me, this shows the full deceitfullness of the devil. He lost, and he knows it. If he can't have us fully, he can at least muddy the waters in our relationship with God by using religion to insure we don't reap the fullness of our walk with God.

    My 26 year old son recently gave a great parable/example of this: When we have walked away from God and decide to stop and walk back to Him, the devil makes us walk back with a huge bag of heavy bricks called "guilt". Is is only when we realize that we are free from sin, that we can be free from guilt (which religion often uses) and remove one more tool of the devil that can keep us from our relationship with God.

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  5. While I read your blog, I rarely find myself needing to add a comment, but this one got to me. First, while I belive that Satan provides a variety of temptations, he cannot force us to go against God's will. That decision is totally on us and what free will is all about. Blaming the Devil is like blaming your child for making you lose your temper. They may have provoked you, but your resulting actions are your own. For me, blaming Satan for our own lack of control and resistence to temptation is a cop-out. Jesus died for my sins. He knows I am not perfect, nor does he expect it, or he never would have had to make the sacrifice he did. There should be no guilt when we come before God if there has been true repentance. If you have truly repented of your sin, why would you not trust in the love of Christ and God's forgiveness? Why continue to punish yourself? Accept the fact that you sinned, not Satan, but you, youself. Repent and accept the forgiveness that has been offered. Wallowing in your sin is in effect turning your back on God and denying the sacrifice of Christ.

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  6. Kerry,

    I don't disagree with you, but also feel the need to point out that for the redeemed there's a difference between guilt and conviction. If I may quote the redeemed man David in Psalm 32:

    When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
    For day and night
    your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.
    Selah
    Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
    I said, "I will confess
    my transgressions to the LORD"
    and you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.
    Selah

    And perhaps also Psalm 139:

    Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

    David's quest for intimacy with God took him through confrontations with his sin problem, which at times lay very close to the surface (Psalm 32) and at others required searching out (Psalm 139).

    However, as Paul implies, an examination of personal sin should always be accompanied by the application of Romans 5:20-21, "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus does a healthy confrontation with our sinfulness drive us straight into a humble, desperate, loving embrace with our Redeemer.

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  7. I don't have a problem with confronting our sinfulness. How can you repent and seek God's forgiveness if you never take the time to recognize your sins in the first place? What I have a problem with is blaming Satan for our sins. While he may tempt and provoke us, the actual sin belongs soley on our own shoulders. Guilt simply leads us to uncover that sin, recognize it, and repent. Once that process has been complete, there should be no guilt before God. Humbleness, gratefulness, awe in His power and forgiveness, yes. Guilt, no.

    I agree with your comment, "Thus does a healthy confrontation with our sinfulness drive us straight into a humble, desperate, loving embrace with our Redeemer. " I just think that some people spend too much time dwelling upon their sin and weakness and not taking action to change it. God forgives our sins, but it is up to us to obey and live a life according to His will. This is not to say that we will ever do this perfectly, but this should be our goal. Dwelling on our sin, looks to the past and to things you cannot change. I believe it is more productive, once you have recognized your sin, to dwell on God and how you might improve yourself in the future.

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  8. Well amen to that! And thanks ... you've given me an idea for my next post. :)

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