Our church is doing something new and different. We are studying the 8th chapter of Romans for eight weeks and I love it! When I was a young wife and a mom and had a house full of preschoolers, we were living in the south. We attended a little Southern Baptist church with a pastor who taught verse by verse through different books of the Bible. He would stay in a book as long as it took to get through that book thoroughly. He loved to teach the Word and welcomed any and all questions. This study has been bringing up a lot of memories because Romans was one of Nap's favorite books.
If anyone had asked me when we moved to Mississippi if I was a believer I would have said yes without hesitation. But, in reality I lived in a great amount of fear. It began to surface right before we moved there when the church we attended started teaching out of the book of Revelation. At night I tossed and turned and had trouble going to sleep. And when I did fall asleep, I would often wake up crying from horrible nightmares. Not long after we had settled into our new church in the south, the pastor decided to teach out of Revelation. I quickly told him about my fears and said to him I just hoped I would be ready when Jesus came back. He looked puzzled and said something to me that day that I meditated on for years. He said, "Jesus paid the price for your sin. What more is there for you to do to be ready?" I didn't have an answer for him that day and we stayed at that church so I could face my fears of Revelation after agreeing to read and discuss Mark Cambron's book, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Later on, the pastor taught through the book of Romans. When he got to Romans 8:1, my heart did about 10 flip-flops and I wanted to stand up and shout. I began to understand that morning that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was now no condemnation for me. My view of God radically began to change as I let that truth sink in. I no longer saw God as a distant far off deity sitting up in heaven, just waiting to condemn me when I made a mistake. I began to see Him as a ever-present Father, intimately involved in every part of my life. I became settled and assured of my Salvation during that time.
Though I sat under that great teaching for 7 years, it took me many more years to realize how much I still lived under condemning thoughts. I faced them on a daily basis. Every time I made a mistake, big or small, I believed I deserved the worst punishment possible. Every mistake resulted in my thinking negative self-condemning thoughts--thoughts like, "Lord, how can you love me with all the wrong I do? How can you love me when I hurt people with my words? How can you love me when I am such a bad person, (wife, daughter, sister, mother or friend)? How can you love me when I am so angry? How can you love me when I am so needy? How can you love me when I can't love others like you do? How can you love me when I can't fix broken relationships? How can you love me when I am so imperfect? How can you love me?" And sadly, some of the condemning thoughts were not even for things I had done, but for things others had done to me. “How can you love me when I feel so dirty?”
I know the Enemy originally planted those negative thoughts in my mind. But I had rehearsed them over and over until they became a part of my everyday thinking. And those thoughts--they stirred up negative feelings and caused a self-hatred that ran deep to the core.
I knew I was supposed to do spiritual warfare, but the thoughts were so pervasive they had become a stronghold in my thinking. I was so ashamed of the thoughts I kept them a secret. Even when I tried to take them captive, I couldn’t think of positive thoughts with which to replace the negative ones. The true things God said about me in His Word felt like lies, which meant the negative thoughts were too much to battle alone.
Those thoughts were there a long time. I even remember telling the pastor in Mississippi I was the worst sinner ever. He chuckled as he opened his Bible and showed me the verse in which Paul claimed that title as his. He tried to normalize sin and grace for me, but I needed to wrestle with those concepts for a while to make them my own. Over the years, I grasped the truth that there is no temptation that is not common to man. That means that sin itself levels the playing field for all of us. And through the book of Romans I learned that we all fall short and all need a savior. That includes those who are good, those who are bad, and those who are legalistic perfectionists. I came to believe it is okay to hate sin, but not the sinner, even when that sinner is me.
One night during one of our high school discipleship groups a girl shared that she was struggling with believing and feeling her sin was forgiven when she confessed it. I prayed for wisdom before I answered, because I knew this had always been a stronghold for me and I was speaking to myself as much as to her.
We looked at verses together. The first was Romans 8:1. "There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." We agreed because of the blood of Christ that there is no condemnation for those who believe in Him. We agreed that all sin was covered--past, present, and future and that if God didn't condemn us, we should not be condemning ourselves either. We agreed that our condemning thoughts had their source in the Enemy and discussed how different the conviction of the Holy Spirit felt than the condemnation of the Enemy.
We also turned to 1 John 1:9 and reiterated that truth, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." We realized that it was God's job to cleanse us and that our self-condemnation had not been very fruitful. We also agreed when we are condemning ourselves, we are listening to the evil one, not believing God, and we don't trust God to be true to His Word. Lastly, I shared that from my own life I had learned that condemnation always kept me stuck and miserable. It was never a successful motivation for spiritual growth and change. I shared with the girls that God's goodness combined with godly sorrow over sin leads me to change, not hating and berating myself. We decided that night if Christ came and died in our place for sin and His death satisfied the Father, there was nothing more that we could add to it. Christ paid it all. It is amazing how confession of sin tends to humble us, but condemning ourselves reveals a sick pride that drives us to live with focus on self rather than a focus on Christ.
I can't help but wonder how different the lives of other perfectionists would be if they grasped God's truth and were no longer living condemned by their perfectionism, but instead, were resting peacefully in His grace.