Monday, November 26, 2007

Adjusting to Being a "Righteous Sinner"

This post has been a long time coming. And I mean a long time. It is the culmination of a long walk down a long dark "tunnel" of sorts, trying to deal with a lack of perfection in my life and yet calling myself a Christian. It also ties in, somewhat, with my last post on seekerism.

There are many of us out there who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies and performance traps. I've been that way for a very long time. If you were to ask me to wash your car, I'd probably have it sandblasted, primed, repainted and detailed. Then I'd give it back to you, hoping you were happy that I had done what you asked. It's a hard place to be, especially as a Christian. You have a habit of not allowing yourself any room for error. You hate legalism but you also are afraid of falling into the trap of "easy believism" and antinomianism. You end up walking a tightrope and the fallout is you end up being a bit "touchy" because you still aren't sure if you're "ok" or not...which of course feeds back into the doubt trap.

Well, I've professed Christ now for almost 9.5 years now...and it has been a long haul. Lots of tough lessons. It hasn't been easy but the Lord has been there through it all.

You know from my previous post that I endured the lack of discernment of the seeker church (at least two, actually. I had been very troubled about my conversion. I had deceived myself before and, to put it plainly, I didn't want to deceive myself again.

Well, my faith has been growing over the years. God has allowed all manner of hardship to drive me to various points where I've had to make key decisions about in Whom I will put my trust. And I've been repeatedly confirmed, in my spirit via God's Word. God puts in you places and pulls out props. He gives you the opportunity to show yourself where you are putting your trust.

It's not about "praying a prayer then doing what you want". If you are really converted, you will grow. And growth comes through testing.

All this to say that a big "pay off" has come at this point in my life.

I love it when the Lord lets you go through so many things, and helps you understand what is happening. You see yourself making decisions over and over again to trust in the Lord. How many times I've echoed the words " whom else will I turn? You alone have the words of eternal life." When you get to a point like that, you know you are in good company.

Then after all that, the Lord brings a good book into your life. Actually, in this case it was a book I had owned since 1999. But I didn't read it then -- it scared me too much. I didn't have a "history" with the Lord yet. At least not one of any real longevity.

The book of which I speak is "Righteous Sinners" by Ron Julian. It is a great read. It is very well done. It is theologically sound, but not geared mainly as a theological work per se. I don't have it with me for a page count, but it's 150 or fewer pages are readily understood.

I picked the book up last week and had it read in three days. When I got done with it, I started reading it again. It's hard to put down. Ron wrote the book with a person like "Joe" in mind; someone who struggles with the reality of his faith because of the sin he sees in his own life. In other words, It was like I was reading about myself.

Let me say it was extremely rewarding and I believe it was put in my life for this precise moment to underscore what God has been doing in my life and convince me that, yes, I'm pointed in the right general direction.

We tend to wrongly define what it means to be "righteous". I can't do the book justice here but mainly what Ron had to say is that "being righteous" has more to do with a proper view of self in in light of God's holiness than always "doing right". We fail, we slip, we simply mess up. And if you are like me (and the "Joe" mentioned in the book) you sometimes say "Ok, this time I've just betrayed myself for what I really am...a phony". How strangely excited I was to read that paragraph -- which was almost an exact quote from my own mouth just a few days before.

Yet it's not about being perfect. It's about seeing your own inadequacies before God and knowing all the more that the Lord is your only hope.

It was late in the book that Ron summarized this so well. A true Christian walks that tightrope. See, a legalist can deny his sinfulness by keeping a list of rules. The other extreme is to be an antinomian. Yet God has called us to be "set apart". "Joe" (and myself as well) will not favor either. I cannot deny my own sinfulness -- keeping a list of rules won't comfort me because I know I fall short of God's law repeatedly. But I (just like "Joe") won't let myself (by God's Grace) to slip into a life of licentiousness because I know God wants me to obey Him. True faith obeys. Not perfectly, but that is the desire of a "righteous sinner".

So we walk a tightrope. I used to ask "How can I be a Christian and mess up so much?". Now I say "I realize I'm a sinner. I need a savior. I'm certainly not perfect, God understands that and while He wants me to grow He has helped me to see that, like Paul in Romans 7, I struggle with sin". Well, actually, I've been saying that for some time now but reading this book has helped me to see how scriptural things have been.

Yes, the book stresses the importance of perseverance. That, I'm sure, is what scared me so badly years ago. But that book has been sitting on my shelf, all while God has been working in me and bringing me through the very things Ron Julian wrote about. Now, instead of being horrified by my lack of a "track record" I rejoice by reading how closely my growth (as imperfect as it has been) has been Biblical and real.

If you are bothered with a lack of assurance, as I have had to deal with for so long, you'll get very frustrated with the "comfort" given by well meaning but very wrong "believers". They will say "Hey, you're just calling God a believed. I know you did because you prayed the prayer, so just believe God". They'll even get a tad angry or at least frustrated. Or, they will say something else just as shallow. If you point them to Romans 8:16 and ask them point blank what that means, they will sidestep your question altogether. Don't be surprised. I've been there countless times. They can't deal with it because syllogistic salvation and assurance can't account for the lack of an "inner witness". When this happens (not if), don't let them give you false comfort. Keep seeking God and obeying what you know to be true from Scripture...leaving those "brothers" alone regarding your struggle. God will give you subjective assurance when He is ready...and assurance is both objective (scriptures) and subjective as mentioned in Romans 8:16. You can't have true assurance without both. But you can obey God's revealed will without either. The Lord just may want you to learn (as He did me) that, yes, you are really pointed in the right direction. You won't be showing Him anything but you will value the assurance you get because of what you went through to get it. Your own life will end up preaching assurance to you to some extent. Don't let anyone short circuit that.

Will I struggle again? Yes. and in a way I certainly hope so because it is through those kind of trials that God helps us grow and clarify our priorities.

No way have I even begun to give this book a fair treatment. Too many details. I'll let you read it for yourself. And I'll be reading it again!

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