Many Christians know God loves us and wants to be with us, but we also believe our sin has put an impossible mass between God and us. We understand that Jesus has made a way for us to one day be together in heaven, but right now—until we get better, do better, or start to take things seriously—we believe we'll have to settle for rare moments of intimacy with him. We know ourselves too well, and there is no way we're ever going to be able to keep from sinning. We believe God loves us, but we also believe he's pretty disappointed with us. We expect to see him someday, but for now we can only hope that some days we will feel his touch on our lives. That's as good as it gets on this earth … or so we've come to believe.
Here's another way of putting it. Imagine a lake, maybe one hundred yards across and so wide you can't see a way around in either direction. On the other side stands someone you long to see. But you can't walk around the lake because bushes bristling with thorns and needles cover its banks. To complicate things even further, the lake water is so polluted and full of poisonous snakes and amphibious eels that it's not safe to wade in, let alone swim. You have no boat and none is in sight. What do you do? You yell back and forth across the lake in a deeply unsatisfying relationship.
The lake represents your sin, and the person on the other side of the lake is God, whom you want to be close to more than anything else in the world. Question: How do you get to him? Answer: You don't. Not unless you can find some way to remove the sin from your life. But you've got a small problem-you are pouring more sin into the lake every day.
Thousands of people heard an illustration something like this just before they asked Jesus to save them. It's an accurate picture of someone who doesn't have life in Christ, but the illustration makes no sense for the Christian. So why do thousands of Christians, now possessing the righteousness of God, live as if this illustration still depicts their relationship with God? They feel distant from God, imagining that a pile of sin separates them. It's as if their salvation never took place.
Ironically, striving to achieve this relationship with the Father will keep us in unresolved sin and immaturity. It produces just the opposite of what we're working for! People in The Room of Good Intentions hold this view. There, piles of sin separate each person from God, who is on the other side of the pile. Supposedly, moral striving will save the day, so everyone in the room keeps trying to chip away at that mound, all the while realizing they're creating a bigger pile. Then, every time they manage to change a behavior or not succumb to a poor choice, they think they have accomplished something big. This process breeds pride, not humility; sin, not maturity.
Sin will not be managed. Behavior change and sin management are deceptively tricky boxing opponents. We win some early rounds. This increases our confidence and by the fifth or sixth round, we break into a rendition of the Ali Shuffle. Hey, this isn't so hard. Soon, we're mugging for the cameras … and the next thing we know, we're on the canvas, knocked into another world by a devastating left hook.
Our efforts will not make us godly. Such thinking winks at sin. Moral striving to become godly only keeps us slaves to sin.' Our friend Mark lived under this enslavement … until he chose to let God handle his sin. He was like thousands of Christians whose life motive prevents them from living out of their new identity, who think, If I just add this to that and that to the other thing, and keep all the dishes spinning, I'll get there! Do you see the futility of this thinking? If the only thing we received by Christ's atoning death was a "get out of hell" card, then we have no hope of living a life worth living. Our life is as bleak as it was before we ever came to know him.
Grace teaches us to trust that God can handle our sin, and only God. Our thoughts begin to run like this: I can't handle my sin. I can't save myself. I can't change myself. Thank you, God, for already making me godly, so you could stand with me, ready to address my sin out there in front of us. Lord, thank you there is no pile of sin and junk between us. If there were, I wouldn't stand a chance of intimacy with you. I know I can't survive away from you. Once, I thought that this particular sin would fulfill and satisfy me. But, Father, as we look at it together, I am learning to trust your assessment of what will satisfy me. So, what do you want us to do about this sin? I am not going to try to manage it or throw it to the ground. I trust you for the next step.
This heart-set changes our entire approach to sin. It helps us take ourselves less seriously, while taking our sin far more seriously. Now when we mess up, we can say, "Lord, this sin doesn't surprise me a bit. I hate that I am prone to sin. I am practiced. I expect that kind of thinking to trip me up at times. As a matter of fact, I can't even handle that sin, and on my own I can't even stop that sin. That's how powerful I believe sin is. I need you now"
Do you really think God would make it so hard to live a life that pleases him? What if we didn't have to work so hard? What if our sin doesn't affect how close we are to God? What if God meant it when he said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you"?' What if God, knowing that we don't have the power to address our sin, could walk around that impossible mass and right up to us? What if he could put his arm around us and enjoy us right now-no matter how much unresolved sin we have in our life? What if we could both stand together, looking at "my" sin, not for the sake of condemnation, but to solve it together? What if we truly believed we were without condemnation? What if grace was that strong?
Welcome to life in The Room of Grace! Amazingly, the more we depend upon Jesus and his full ability to heal the effects of our sin, the less we sin! Now, that, friend, is like eating the grande Mexican sampler and losing weight at the same time!
Excerpted from TrueFaced, copyright 2003 by Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. For copies of the book visit www.navpress.com.
Also posted today is a review of the book.
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