Friday, May 26, 2006
STOP TRYING TO BE GOOD
His teaching has helped bring sanity to my life the last few years and I wanted to post this letter of his(Malcom's) on my site in case there are others who have struggled with living the Christian life like I did few years after being born again and still do at times. I believe very much that we are responsible to God but the devil is a murderer and seeks to kill and destroy, but he does not have an answer to God's grace through His Son Jesus, all he can do is tear us down by accusations if we let him.
While I agree with alot of what Malcom teaches, there are some things that I don't agree with or understand. I'm sure thats true of everyone who is a student of God's word about anyone else who teaches also.
So please read it when you have time, give your comments if you want. You can get a copy of this from his website if you want.
Let us not forget what Memorial Day stands for and have a great weekend.
STOP TRYING TO BE GOOD
In the last years people of all denominations and faiths have experienced a meeting with God in a personal and life-changing fashion. However, what has followed in the wake of that renewal is disturbing. As I travel the land talking to these people, I hear the low cry of despair. At times, I feel I am in a spiritual Egypt listening to the cry of God’s people in slavery, crying under the whips of the taskmasters.
The situation today is much the same as among the Galatian Christians prior to Paul writing his letter to them. Having been born again by helpless trust in the finished work of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit, they had been seduced to live in a constant struggle to please God by keeping the Law. Their definition of abundant life had withered to a despair struggle in which they sought to do something that would please God. In this effort they were helped by religious dictators who imposed rules and regulations on them that allegedly guaranteed spiritual maturity.
Do not get a distorted picture! Multiplied thousands are rejoicing in the freedom and liberty that is in Christ. My concern here is for the others who are presently struggling under the Law that they might come to the freedom and spontaneous life that is theirs in Christ.
In many hundreds of hours of talking with the dear people who have placed themselves under the Law there has emerged a predictable profile. We will call him ‘Floyd.’ Floyd thought little of the things relating to God and His kingdom before he came to a very real meeting with Jesus as his Lord and Savior when life took on a totally new meaning and purpose. He lived in a state of constant rejoicing as he discovered the promises of God and all that was his in union with Christ.
Gradually the euphoria passed and he began to think in terms of doing something for the God who had given him so much, so freely. Although he had received of salvation without cost or merit, surely to show God his appreciation, there must be something he could do in return. There must be some way to give special pleasure to the One who had been gracious enough to bring him into the Kingdom.
Floyd was not alone in his feelings. His prayer group or church was quick to back up this kind of thinking. In fact, they praised God that he was now moving to a deeper spiritual walk. They encouraged him to improve himself so that he might become worthy of the salvation God had given him.
Floyd had come under the Law. This is the power that gives strength to every spiritual problem we have. Thinking that by keeping the Law one can please God is the fundamental misunderstanding of God’s ways. The road to God and the only way of walking in His pleasure has been established from the beginning of the Bible. The way of salvation outlined in Scriptures finds its origin with God alone. All man can do is respond to His announced salvation with repentance, praise and thanks.
One of the earliest descriptions of a man becoming right with God is Abraham in Genesis 15: 6, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” It was not his meritorious works that made him right with God, but his abandonment to God’s character and offered gift. The word ‘believe’ in this Scripture means to commit oneself, to rest in. In that act of committal to who God was and what He would do, Abraham was accepted as righteous.
It seems strange that some hundreds of years later God appeared to change His mind concerning the way man would approach Him. At Mt. Sinai He gave the Law summarized in the Ten Commandments. Reading through the law expounded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, it seems that the way to God and living in His pleasure is no longer faith responding to His grace gift, but rather the self-effort of responding to the ten rules that must be kept in order to live in harmony with God. Even though it certainly appears like that, it cannot be, for God is the Unchangeable One.
The Law was not given as a new or alternate way to God, but to show man the depth of his sinfulness and selfishness, and to bring him to despair of his ability to change his condition. In the hour of helplessness he is driven to receive of God’s grace.
By nature man hates the God who will only deal with him in grace. Romans 8:7 describes man as being hostile to God. The reason for his antagonism is that the grace of God faces man with the fact that he can do nothing to merit God’s gifts. Man is the helpless receiver of all God’s blessings, not because of who he is or what he may have done, but because of who God is. This brings everyone to the same level with none being able to boast that he deserves the gifts of God.
When this man saw the Law, he grasped at it as an opportunity to get out of the humiliating position grace had placed him in. Looking at the Ten Commandments his attitude is that now the rules have been clearly spelled out! Now he can keep the rules and show God that he is not as bad as He says he is! By keeping the rules he can prove to God that he is capable of improvement and of pleasing Him.
Floyd has fallen into the error that has plagued man through the ages. He sincerely believes that although he entered God’s Kingdom by grace alone, he will now show he is worthy of such a gift by keeping the Law. Reading through the commandments, Floyd’s first thought was that they were relatively easy to keep, a marvelous way to please the God he so badly wanted to prove his love to. The first two commands were a little confusing because they were so open ended. How does one know when one has loved God enough to have obeyed the great command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 5:6)?” How much love must be showered upon a neighbor before one can feel God is pleased?
Pondering it, Floyd decided that the fact he had quit gambling, smoking and drinking and was faithful in church attendance proved that he loved God! For the present he decided to work on more involvement in the church and prayer groups. He joined witnessing teams and committed himself to read through the bible in three months. Surely that would be evidence of love to God and man?
The other commands fell into place rather easily. He had never worshipped idols, treated his parents badly, killed anyone, nor had he been unfaithful to his wife. Everyone at work knew that he would not tell a lie. He sat back feeling smug. He kept this Law a lot better than most folks he knew!
Then he became aware of the last commandment, “Thou shall not covet.” He found out that the word ‘covet’ means to desire, to want to do something. This brought the Ten Commandments into a new perspective. The tenth commandment was saying that a man must not even want to break the other nine!
He then saw that the Law spoke to desire, attitude and motive. He remembered the times when he did what looked right while his thoughts were very far from wanting to do it: he did what he did to appear good. It occurred to him that it was possible to appear to be keeping the Law while actually breaking the tenth commandment. This last rule meant that anger, hatred and bitterness were murder begun. 1 John 3:15a took on new meaning to him: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him,” as did Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
It was not a matter of what he did, but of what he really wanted to do in his heart. We would expect that anyone considering this would be devastated, but not Floyd! He is undaunted. The project has certainly become more complicated, but according to his logic that will only make his efforts to please God more outstanding.
For a God who has done so much for him, the least he can do is love Him with all his strength. He gave himself to the task and the following Sunday he walked forward to the altar dedicating himself to pleasing God.
Floyd had missed the whole point of the Law! God gave the commandments to show up mans’ guilt and clearly define to him the extent of his wrongness. As Floyd worked hard to make himself loveable to God, he was like a man who looked in the mirror and upon seeing how dirty he was, took the mirror off the wall and tried to use it to remove the dirt! The mirror was only to show how badly he needed a wash – the remedy was in the soap and water. Tragically, Floyd was trying to use the Law to make himself presentable to God.
Now that he had dedicated himself to pleasing God, things got worse. The more Floyd tried to be better, the worse he got. It seemed that his anger, pride, lust and impatience all received new strength! He had never noticed these negative characteristics before. His cry is beginning to move into despair. I heard him say so many times, “I don’t know what has come over me. Why doesn’t God help me?
The more I try to please Him the less He cares to help me!
He did not realize it, but the Law was doing the work God intended. God gave it to show up man’s sins and helplessness. Romans 7:13 puts it succinctly, “…that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” Imagine a crystal clear pool with inches of fine mud at its bottom. You take a stick and stir the bottom filling the pool with its mud. Given personality, the pool might shout at you, “Stop it, you are making me muddy.” No! The pool was muddy all the time, your stirring only showed just how muddy the pool was! So the Law stirs our helpless selves, showing us just how helpless we are to please God.
Floyd tried to encourage himself by comparison. He looked around the prayer group and realized that he was better than most, more devoted to pleasing God, more spiritual in his outlook. He became smug, forgetting his despair by dwelling on the fact that he was holier than most. He despised those who did not see life as he did. It wasn’t long before even members of his prayer group did not want to be around him. They were tired of being despised in the name of God! Floyd interpreted his rejection as being persecuted for righteousness sake! But the Law continued its relentless work. The despair returned again and again reminding him that in his heart he did not love God and certainly did not enjoy keeping His commands. At times he wondered if he was demon possessed. All the time he hated himself for not being able to do the simple things to please the God who had done so much for him.
It is at this point of total despair of the ability of self that the Holy Spirit turned on the lights and showed him that Christ was the whole and only answer – not only to the past, but also to the present struggling self. Salvation is not merely Christ dying to save us from our past guilt, but Christ alive and by His Spirit actually living within us. This coming within of the Spirit of Christ occurs at the new birth. Romans 8:9 points out that if we do not have His Spirit we do not belong to Him. However, most of us are like Floyd and go through endless miseries, drawing upon our self-strength before we realize that the whole of the Christian life is not us struggling, but Christ simply living His life in us and as us.
For a man like Floyd this comes as a staggering fact that throws apart everything he has ever believed. The question, “What shall a man do to please God?” is now answered, not with rules and neat formulas, but with the amazing words, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! He is to reject all his efforts to improve and make himself respectable before God and rest in the One who is the life within. Such a revelation is devastating because it shows that all that Floyd called spiritual life was in actual fact spiritual death, the dead struggles of self proving again and again its inability to live a life pleasing to God. True spiritual life is not what I am doing for God, but Christ being Himself in me.
The revelation of God’s grace demands a renewal of mind, a new way of looking and thinking about life. The Law-way is a life of promises, calling upon self to do and be better, a way characterized by formula, methods and the how to’s of cold principles, all working to achieve a lifestyle that will allegedly please God. Grace shows us that Christ has done all and is the all of life. It leaves man to accept the fact he is helpless.
There are no more ridiculous promises to God that vow more determined efforts to be like Jesus; no more searching after methods that depend on self-effort and self-discipline to achieve the Christian life. The helpless cannot draw from their own resources for they have none! The Christian life, step by step, is seen as Christ living within us by His Spirit. When describing the believer’s lifestyle, Paul describes it as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is the believer living, but the Spirit of Christ living within his life as his true new life.
Thousands of Floyds have come to see the despair and death of the Law-way, and the total rest that grace brings showing us our life is Christ in us. In the seeing of the way of rest in Christ many need to commit themselves to the revelation with a simple prayer. “I recognize you to be my everything; that we are joined in one Spirit, a perfect unit; that for me to live is simply You living in me. You are my life, my all. I recognize and rest in this fact now. Amen.”
It takes time for Floyd to live in the fact that he is a weak human and Christ is his only strength. At first he will probably be shocked that he does not feel any different. Don’t worry, we are not supposed to! It is not a wiping out of all feeling and negative emotion, but a new attitude toward them. When life pressures him he will feel the rising within of anger, jealousy, unlove, lust and all the rest. All his life Floyd has been told that such feelings are sin, and he must fight such feelings by trying to be loving. Now he must learn that those feelings are not sin, only the fact of human weakness making itself known. If he chooses to follow through with those feelings, it will result in sin.
As he is tempted to follow a certain line of sin, his feelings urging him on, he hears the Law speaking within him: “You ought to try harder to overcome…” or “You should do thus and so as a good Christian.” That is where the real temptation is joined: to try in his own ability to follow the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of the Law and overcome his feelings. The temptation has strong appeal because he is usually surrounded by fellow Christians who demand that he produce a better self by his self-energies. If he yields to this he will undoubtedly sin. What should Floyd do? Remember the message of God’s grace, that he is helpless, Christ is his life and the Gospel is not helplessness trying to be like Christ, but Christ living in his helplessness His own life.
In that moment of temptation and pressure, he must realize that Christ is his true life and deliberately replace the weakness of helpless self with the reality of Christ his life. When he feels the risings within of unlove, he recognizes that Christ is his love. Faced with the fear of indecision, he recognizes that Christ is his wisdom. Having recognized the truth, he must speak and act on it. In so doing, he will discover rivers of life flowing through him.
When this has been grasped, Floyd will have a new outlook on trouble and pressures. All the pressures of life will be seen as an opportunity to let Christ be and live Himself through the human. To see this fact is to actually welcome trials and pressures (James 1:2). Paul stated plainly in II Corinthians 12:9-10, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We will never get away from the Law, but now we know its purpose, we can rejoice in it.
The Law continually defines sin. As we hear its condemning voice, we cringe in guilt. If we dwell on the condemnation and remember all our past sins, we will soon end in despair. Stop! Thank God for the Law that so clearly shows up sin and go on to praise Him for the death of Christ that has satisfied all the just demands of the Law. Revel in the fact that the blood of Jesus has cleansed you from all sin. The Law will constantly confront you saying its ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds.’ Before you would have responded with, “I will try harder,” but now you smile and thank God that you have come to death concerning your natural ability. Your life is no longer a straight jacket of rules, but the life of Christ lived through your weakness.
Recognize who you are and walk away from your bondage to the Law, to the freedom of Christ living His life in you.
By Malcom Smith