As humans, we strive to know ourselves better – to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses in order that we might grow and improve. This is all with good intent, but it often leads to efforts to improve ourselves apart from the saving grace of God. We are made in God’s image and He defines who we are, or rather who we should be. Learning how to improve does not come from knowing ourselves better, but from knowing our creator and savior more fully. As created beings, we only know ourselves to the extent that we know the one who created us. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)
It is commonly suggested that a person must learn how to forgive themselves. But can we actually do that? Only God has the power to forgive sins. So what does this phrase actually mean? We are held back by expectations and contingencies that we place on ourselves. We stubbornly refuse to accept God’s forgiveness and vainly strive to win His approval on our own. Not only does this lead us to further depravity, but it demonstrates our lack of faith. Oh if we would only believe that God is and does what He said He is and will do! He promised that there is no condemnation for those who are in Him and are called according to His purposes. Lord, we believe – help us in our unbelief!
Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This sounds simple enough, but why are we so bad at it? Some people might say that they love themselves too much to love others. But what if we don’t even know how to love ourselves? What we desire and pursue so often is not what is actually beneficial to our own well being. We think that we know what is best for ourselves, but our own fleshly desires get in the way of seeking the things that God has for us, which are better beyond comparison. We don’t love ourselves correctly because we don’t love God enough, and we don’t love God enough because we haven’t fully accepted His love for us. We try to earn love, but we as humans can never deserve love. The truth is that God loves us in spite of who we are. And this is where love all begins: love for God, love for ourselves and love for our neighbors.
When I present my problems to God, I often come to Him with a set of constraints or possible solutions which I hope He might help me with. Instead of laying everything before Him and letting Him pick up the shards of my life, I treat Him as a tool; a means to my own end. But God does not work according to the plans of man. He has broken me until I had nothing left of myself and restored me to new life in Him! “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2)
When Abimelech claimed innocence with regards to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, God told him that it was He that kept him from sinning. It is comforting to know that God is actively involved in keeping us from sinning against Him. He promises to cleanse us from all sin, in body, mind and soul. He alone has the power over sin, and His desire is for us to become overcomers with Him. We don’t have to defend our innocence before our judge who has already pronounced us innocent. We must simply walk in the light as He is in the light.
Lot was an example of a man who loved the world too much. When Abraham gave him the choice of which land to take, Lot chose the well watered area with the most promise for fruitfulness and success. But he soon became entrenched in the culture of the people living there. In Genesis 19, Lot was found sitting in the gate of Sodom by two angels. After they warned him of the coming judgement, Lot did not respond immediately but instead lingered. He even asked to stay in the town of Zoar instead of fleeing to the hills, hanging on to the little remainder of the world he had become so involved in. Lot’s wife made an even greater mistake by looking back towards the cities that God had chosen to destroy. How often do we hold on to the very things that God is trying to set us free from? We are frequently taking that last glance that will ultimately lead to our death. I am guilty of this on a daily basis. The book of Psalms begins with precautionary advice to avoid becoming entrenched in the world. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” Lot was sitting at the cultural hub of the city and clearly involved in the daily activities. In the end, the little that he held on to became a terror to him and his story concludes in a secluded cave.
The internet is full of websites with a list of 10 items that will inspire you or change your life. Some of these can actually be quite insightful and challenging. Jesus also gives us lists that are challenging and transformative. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents his disciples with a list of beatitudes, challenging them to count the cost of discipleship. The decision to follow Jesus intentionally and in full surrender is the most transformative step anyone can take.
As Christians, it is important to remember and convey the true meaning of Christmas. Obviously, the purpose of Christmas is to remember the birth of Jesus, but why was He born and why does that matter? The common response to that question is that He was born to die for our sins. This is certainly true and is pivotal to our salvation, but I think there is so much to consider in the context of the actual birth of Jesus. As soon as He entered this world as an infant, Jesus began to suffer on account of our sins. The pain of taking that first breath demonstrates the suffering He went through for our sake. Yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus is important, but He also lived for us and continues to live for us today.
This evening, I was wondering what God can teach us through a breakup. I realized that our imperfect love for each other is often dependent on the other person and subject to our own fluctuations in devotion and motivation. During a breakup, one person decides that the other is no longer worth loving (romantically at least). I have experienced this rejection and it is easy to feel like I have lost all of my value. But God never stopped loving us even when we rejected Him. God does not love me because I have value; I have value because He loves me. All of this pain of rejection from someone I deeply loved pales in comparison to the extent to which God loves me.
In my devotions for yesterday, both the excerpt from C.S. Lewis and the reading from Oswald Chambers talked about the agony of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus clearly came into this world with the purpose of facing death on the cross to bear the burden of our sins. However, that knowledge did not diminish the anxiety that He felt as He begged the Father to remove the cup from Him. I cannot come close to identifying with the suffering that Jesus experienced. However, there are many times where knowledge does not seem to alleviate the emotional pain I feel in the moment. I constantly need to be reminded not to worry and to stand on the promises of God.