Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Just Do It!

    The past couple weeks, I've been on vacation. Before that, I've been dealing with various projects and church stuff and other things... in a nutshell, I've been busy or mentally exhausted enough to not want to have to bother with the blog over here. Hopefully this post marks the end of that couple month part of my life.

    The past couple weeks, I've been walking through a very difficult time in a friend's life. She's been wrestling through a couple personal struggles, things that include nearly daily panic attacks and anorexia. I'm 18 years old, and I have absolutely no experience dealing with such things, so it's been a trying couple weeks for both of us. But it's also been eye-opening to me about how grace affects our thinking... and how often our patience runs thin and we just want to forget the whole grace thing and jump to our default.

    This may be news to that friend, but there are nights after a long day where the temptation is to message that dear friend to just... do it. Just eat. Just do this. Just don't do that. Just do it. It's easy to talk about grace as a philosophy or a concept, but isn't it harder to actually go and apply it to real life people in difficult situations and realize that this is when the proverbial rubber meets the road?

    See, I think we tend to talk a lot about grace as theology but ignore it as practicality. Even those of us who are more "into grace". I think grace tends to become a theological concept, something for sermons and for counseling... but only for the first five phone calls. Or the first ten calls. Right? Isn't that the temptation? Like after a certain period of time, it's time to stop talking about this grace stuff, this trusting Christ to change us into His image and likeness as we learn to love Him, and start talking about, well... buckling down and doing it!

    Isn't that where we tend to see a lot of our thinking devolving to if we just cut out all the Christianese and theological lingo we tack on... doesn't it come back to a glorified, spiritualized Nike commercial? One where the cross meets you when you're lost and have nothing, and then helps you back to your feet so you can get your life together. One where grace is a concept, but a concept that eventually, after enough tries, devolves to "Just do it already!" Where grace works the first ten times to pick you back up, but then we realize that you're just not trying hard enough to hear about grace again.

     C'mon, we say, isn't that a bit excessive? I mean... Paul gave commands! Paul told us to do things, and Jesus told us to, and James did... but what is sprinkled so liberally through their writings? The gospel of Jesus' atoning work on the cross for us so liberally sprinkles Paul's writings and the other apostles it's practically impossible to read a set of commands without in some way running into the gospel staring you in the face again.

     Giving commands, without any relation to the gospel and the working of Jesus in our hearts, simply cripples us with guilt as we realize that if I'm honest, buckling down to work harder doesn't usually result in the results I'm looking for. We realize this constantly as we pray for God to change our hearts to be Christ-like. We pray for God to make us unselfish or strengthen us to be more loving.

     So why are we so quick to run out of this same grace for other people, grace that is born of the realization that those in Christ re being sanctified and worked on by Him, and that we are all simply learners at different rates and places along the same journey toward the image of Christ, and that it is Him who is the grand architect of this, not us? If sanctification is God's work in another person, maybe one with more unconventional struggles than myself, just as much as it is God's work in me, shouldn't that change our outlook and our response to fellow believers, and of our response to even ourselves as we deal with guilt and our view of ourselves?

     I am not trying to imply that it does not require any effort in order to follow in the steps of Jesus or to blame our own sin struggles on the Holy Spirit for not having sanctified me yet. This is not an excuse to blame shift. What it is is an encouragement to show patient, abiding grace to other people in their struggles, a grace that comes alongside others to help each other rather than stand over one another and rebuke each other toward action with trite encouragements to more self-effort.

     I want to sum up, because this may seem more complicated than it really is. Simplified down, my entire point is found here: Moral living, the kind of change that "Just do it" inspires, is not the goal of my walk with Christ. It can be a useful message to hear occasionally from a trusted person when I need a push forward, but it fails to change the heart and only changes the outward. True heart change, what Christ is after, is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit in us, each of us, in your annoying Christian brother in the other pew just as much as in you. So pressing each other toward Christ does far more for our path toward sanctification than does pressing each other toward outward conformity without inward change of heart.

     Anyone can change behavior patterns. Atheists, Hindus, Confucians, Buddhists, and Muslims all are quite capable of living outwardly moral lives.Our first goal for ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches, and the like should never be moral superiority but a close and fervent, living, breathing, vibrant walk with Jesus, from which heart change can flow. And if we truly believe that, the way we relate to brothers and sisters, particularly struggling ones, changes. It ceases to be about making them get their lives and acts together in order to be obeying the morals nearly so much as it is pressing them, gently but surely, toward Jesus and back toward the cross... where the Holy Spirit will open their eyes and guide their steps from the inward, outward, rather than stagnating on the outward and never getting beyond that to the inward.

     The Pharisees had the outward perfect... and Jesus called them whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside full of rotting flesh. Not a pretty picture, right? That's what moralism without sanctification is to Jesus. Demanding someone change the outward for the sake of the outward, without inward heart modification, is worse than useless... it's guilting. Because no number of motivational sayings will help a person resist temptation when they're weak, particularly when they're weak alone, and failing when the outward is the goal only leads to more guilt, which leaves us vulnerable to more attack.

     The goal of our walk with Jesus is a closer walk with Him as our sanctification progresses. Sanctification is not a changed moral life. Sanctification is a changed heart, changed desires, that will, over time, change our moral lives. So, as friends, as believers, as family members, let's press each other nearer and nearer to the cross. Occasionally, a friend will need that push forward in their moral living... but far more often and far more likely, your friend will need that reminder that the power of God and the atoning, strengthening, long-suffering grace of God reaches them where they are today.

     So, you've heard it. You know what to do now. So just go out and do it! Just do it already! ;)

1 comment:

  1. This was fantastic Taylor! Thank you for writing this...!