1068. Set Free

Are you still seeking peace and freedom from something? Hope is here.

IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING

Today’s article should sound familiar. I have posted parts of it before, but because it’s so significant and we’re so forgetful (and resistant to the truth about us), I wanted to present the complete picture all at once. I am sharing it because the truth it contains has set me free. It is so liberating that I’ll keep repeating it until Christ calls me home. Please let the truth of God’s Word penetrate your heart.

When I wrote it, I was recording my thoughts after God answered my request to identify the sin in me that continued to rebel against God—the sin from which all other sins spring.  God kept drawing me back to Romans 3 which describes His assessment of the entire human race (apart from Him). His indictment isn’t against child molesters, ax murderers, sexual perverts, drunks, drug pushers or gang bangers. He is describing the human race we were born into. He is describing you and me. Remove everything that happened to us when we were born again and this is what is left:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:10-18).

When it finally registered, it made perfect sense. We have lowered the bar so low that we accept as normal what God calls detestable and putrid. In our minds, we justify our critical and hurtful comments by mentally asserting that we’re merely telling it like it is. God, however, likens us to a viper sinking its fangs into someone’s neck and injecting deadly venom. We speak humble sounding words, but deep down, we’re ready to steal God’s glory by taking credit for something God just did. Beneath our innocent sounding questions lies a desire to prove someone wrong and us right. We see ourselves as being on a crusade for truth. God sees a tongue spewing lies and deceit coming from an open grave engulfed in the stench of death and decay. We give a colorful and detailed account of how we were so unjustly treated. God sees an ungrateful recipient of His unending mercy boiling over with bitterness and vile cursing.

These are just a few examples of what lies within us. No wonder God calls our hearts desperately wicked. Despite what we think about ourselves, the truth is that apart from God we are absolutely worthless, good for nothing reprobates who have absolutely no fear of God. We spurn His commandments, steal His glory, and think that because we bear the title, “Christian,” we deserve to be exempted from the coming judgment.

After letting the sad truth about myself sink in, I understood why so many things I have asked God to remove were still there, including my pride. I had refused to believe I was as bad as God says I am. Who wants to admit he’s really a scumbag? Certainly not me. I want people to think highly of me, and I will go to the ends of the earth to keep my image intact. People must never see the real me, even if it’s just like them. I’ve worked my whole life to be a successful, accomplished, intelligent, creative and upstanding person who should be respected. Even if I’m not, no one must see the real me. Sound familiar?

Like everyone I know, I am convinced that I can’t be as bad as God says I am. Worthless? No way. I’ve got a lot to offer. People have told me how much I have helped them. I see things others don’t see. I have spiritual insight…don’t I? The more I think about it, the more it seems like God has it all wrong. The real depraved me secretly believes that I have so much to offer that God is lucky to have me on His team.

Ever had thoughts like this? Of course you have. I’m speaking for all of us. Our personal assessments may vary, but the conclusions are the same. Our estimations of ourselves are way overblown, not even in the right universe. God has revealed the truth about us and it’s time to let the truth set us free. The truth is that all good things come from God. Everything we see as good in us has been given to us by God. Out talents and spiritual gifts came from Him. If we’re good natured, that came from God. Take away all the good things in us and what’s left is vile and worthless.

In case you’re rationalizing that these verses in Romans are from the Old Testament and, therefore, don’t apply to you, why did God choose to speak these words to people living in the New Testament times? Jesus settled the issue in two sentences:

 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:18-19).

Deep down, we all have convinced ourselves that, somehow, we’re the exception. Jesus couldn’t possibly be talking about me. He just couldn’t. Yet, Jesus says not even one of us is good. It looks like God was right. This understanding explains a lot about our pride. It comes from a stubborn unwillingness to admit the truth about ourselves. Every time our pride surfaces, it is because we are making sure that no one sees the real us. We must maintain our image. We must appear competent, and most of all, we must prove to everyone that we’re right. We must “save face.” We can never look bad…never. We must take credit for everything good, even if we had little to do with it. We must prove God wrong about us.

This helps to explain why so many men I deal with in my prison ministry can’t forgive themselves for things they have done. By refusing to believe the truth about themselves, they were setting an unattainable standard for themselves. Deep down they thought they were too good to have done something so bad. As long as they hung onto that lie, they would continue to beat themselves up. Once they realized that what they had done resulted from who they were, it was easier to forgive themselves.

Now for the good part. It’s about time, right? Once we accept the truth about ourselves, we can begin to appreciate the magnitude and the wonder of God’s matchless grace He continues to lavish on us, day after day, moment after moment. Once we stop imagining that we deserved even the slightest degree of His grace because of our goodness, we can’t help but fall at our Lord’s feet, silent and prostrate. What can we say? How could a holy God be so merciful to a wretch like me? While I was turning my back on Him, He was seeking me out. While I was stealing His glory, He was giving Himself to me. Not just a little of Himself, but everything He is and has. To me, a venomous viper. O, the matchless love of God who saved a wretch like me.

Now, because of that great exchange on the cross, I have exchanged my sinful self for the righteousness of God Himself—Christ in me, the hope of glory. When I was born again, I was transferred out of the line (linage) of Adam and placed into the eternal life of Christ. Therefore, when He died, I died. When He was buried, so was I, and when He was raised to newness of life, so was I. This is now what God sees when He looks at me—Christ in all His glory. The old person I used to be is gone. I am new creation. Praise be to God! As I walk in the Spirit, I allow all that I now am to be expressed in what I think, say and do. My flesh, however, refuses to go down without a fight. When I give in to it, all that I used to be comes back to life until I confess and repent.

This is the battle we all fight every day. The war was won on the cross. The battles are incidental. We fight from a position of victory. We walk in that victory when we remember that the old worthless and venomous scoundrel can rise up in an instant, but that’s not who we are. We are now children of the King, holy and righteous in His eyes because Christ, our Savior, now lives in us.

So, what was the deeply embedded sin that I asked the Holy Spirit to expose? It was refusing to believe that I was as bad as God’s indictment indicated. That was the sin that spawned so many other detestable attitudes, comments, and actions. Now that I have put that sin to death, I am free to accept the only righteousness available—Christ’s righteousness. Not my own righteousness on spiritual steroids, but the righteousness of God Himself through Christ in me.

You’ll never be willing to put your “old man,” your old self, to death until you are convinced that every part of it is worthy of death. Then and only then will you be ready to experience the resurrection life of Jesus. Then and only then will the Holy Spirit have the freedom to invade every part of you, take control of every part of you, and bring real change. You will know that sin is finally dead in you because you experience the life of Jesus all the time. You can sense that God has indeed placed the holiness of His Son into you. It is obvious to everyone around you.

God showed us how this works in His Word. When Adam sinned, he hid from God and tried to cover his shame and guilt by sewing fig leaves together (his works). God drew Adam out of hiding and into the light of His presence. After God questioned him, Adam admitted his guilt. God then clothed him with the skins of a sacrifice (an innocent substitute). We are to approach God in the same way after we stop hiding and admit or sin of disbelieving what God says about us—that we are hopeless, wretched, and worthless sinners and allow God to clothe us with His provisions instead of covering ourselves with our imagined goodness.

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