This week's 'thought' comes to you from Bryan Chapell. It is found in his superb book entitled: Holiness by Grace. This book (in my opinion) is a must read for all who are looking for good, solid, practical, Gospel-centered advice on how to grow in godliness. I have left out some sections to make this entry shorter -- merely hoping to whet your appetite for more! Enjoy.
"Early in my ministry I didn't recognize how damaging it is to threaten people with God's judgment (or my disapproval) as the primary means for motivating Christian obedience. I used lots of this kind of guilt as a pastor. And I saw people's behavior change... for a while. Still, I often discovered later that he people who did change simply because I had made them feel guilty did not mature. Those whom I pressured with guilt did not grow in faith nor seem more spiritually whole even though their outward actions may have changed.
For instance, I might deal with a married couple whose relationship was coming apart because they were not being faithful to each other. I would tell them that if they changed their behaviors God would bless them, but as long as they pursued sinful relationships they could not expect him to love them. With this threatening advice, such a couple might very well cease their immoral activities, but I would later see that their abandonment of the immorality did not necessarily better their lives spiritually. A year of two down the road these same people were often locked into depression, pursuing other addictive behaviors, or were simply disinterested in godly priorities.
It took me a few years (we preachers can be notoriously dense), but finally I figured out what was happening. I was telling people that the way to get rid of guilt before God, and assure his blessing, was to change their behaviors. But what did this imply? If people expect behavior change to get rid of their guilt, then whom are they trusting to take away their guilt? Themselves!... I was encouraging people to look to themselves rather than to the cross as the place for guilt's erasure.
Only Christ can remove the guilt of our sin. By letting people think that what they did made them right with God, I was driving a wedge of human works between them and God. The people who listened to me, though they may have changed some aspect of their lives to get my approval, or secure God's affection, were actually further away from God spiritually than when I began to 'minister' to them. When mercy got out of view, grace went away and a works-righteousness jumped into its place before I even knew it. My words were making people try to become acceptable to God by being good enough... I was teaching that if people just did things right, they could make things right with God. How foolish was my instruction.
The Bible says that when we have done all we can do, we are still unworthy servants (Luke 17:10), and our best works are only filthy rags to God (Is. 64:6). I was teaching people that if they just offered God more filthy rags he would favor them more, or smile more, or love them more. What an eccentric and cruel God I painted for them!
I denied people grace by teaching them that God's love was dependent on their goodness. It was I who had made them intolerant of less mature believers. By listening to me, they had to gauge their holiness by their works. And what better way is there to confirm your own righteousness than by finding fault in others!...
We should know from our own family experiences how unproductive is obedience motivated by guilt. What happens to a child who obeys only out of fear of parental rejection -- a child who stays good to stay loved? He may obey when he is young, but he is scarred for life. Because such parental love is never more certain than the child's actions, acceptance is always in doubt. As a result, the child grows up calloused or weakened -- hating his parents and doubting himself.
Many of us know these truths very well because we were manipulated by guilt as children and we may still bear the scars. We hate what makes us feel guilt to gain favor... We cannot offer loving service to a God who loves us only when we are good.
If God's love is conditional, if he is only waiting to get us if we step out of line, if avoidance of his rejection, or relief of our guilt is our reason for serving him, then we may obey him for a time, but we will not like him very much....
Paul exhorts us to keep mercy in view because grace alone will keep us serving the Lord. If we try to compensate for the guilt that only Christ can remove, then we will lose the capacity to love him and to serve him rightly. God doesn't want us to punish ourselves to erase our guilt. He punished his Son to cancel our guilt. God will not build his kingdom on our pain, because he is building it on his mercy."
One of the most spiritually hurtful ideas (and it's common in the Church) is the idea that by our efforts, or by greater efforts, we can "purchase" more of God's love. That by repenting, reforming, or performing better we can earn more of His love (at least until we mess up the next time).
Yet, though it is the cause of much striving and effort in church circles, it would do us good to pause and then counter such un-Gospel-like notions by remembering and believing the Gospel truth that in the economy of grace there is no place for merit (Luke 17:10). That we can never obtain even the smallest fraction more of God's love than what Christ both displayed, and irrevocably secured for us, when He went to the cross to pay the sin-debt for all our innumerable transgressions.
We do well to remember the love of God is given, not earned. It's a gift of grace, not pay for increased effort or attempts at greater moral renovation. It isn't ours if we "fix" ourselves, it was there long(!) before we ever even come to the conclusion we were in dire need of fixing!
We work FROM grace, not FOR grace. We stand in grace, we don't have to strive for it. By faith we discover ourselves to have been the undeserving objects of a free love, not hired hands called to make ourselves worthy of a conditional love.
In the Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff