Learning about Grace

I confess, I am legalistic. It's one of my favorite sins. It's not my favorite in that I'm unashamed of it, it's my favorite in that it's one of my "go to" sins. Rules are not squishy. They are hard and inflexible. They don't change. Perhaps that's why I like the rules, it's my favorite way to deal with change. However, the idol of legalism is cold. Living with it is like trying to snuggle an teddy bear made of polished marble. I can't put my head down on it and rest. There is no comfort in the rules. The rules also do nothing in helping me overcome those things that I'm doing wrong continually. Two recent posts on the blogs on grace revealed my legalism and then gave me hope.

The first post came a couple weeks ago from Jon Acuff, who writes about grace all the time, even though he claims to be making humorous observations about Stuff Christians Like. I will quote the end of it, then my reaction to it.

“Logic can beat sin.”

I wish that were true. I wish that in the battle of sin vs. logic or sin vs. rational action, sin always lost. That would make life so much easier. When faced with a dilemma, you could just pull out some algorithm and avoid sin altogether. “Should I gossip about my friend? That might get back to her and really hurt her feelings. Logically, I should avoid the drama that would come with that. I won’t gossip.” Or, “Should I cheat on my wife? The minutes of pleasure are certainly not going to be worth the possible years of hurt that causes. The value of cheating is far less than the value of growing my marriage over the long run, I’m not going to cheat.”

But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Men across the planet know their wives will be hurt by alcoholism. Dads around the world know ignoring their kids through workaholism is wounding them. People everywhere know that buying things they can’t afford with money they don’t have isn’t the smartest financial decision in the long run. But we still do it, don’t we?

Why? Because sin is bigger than logic.

I can’t think my way to a pure heart. I can’t logic my way toward sanctification. I can’t will myself to redemption. Sin is bigger and meaner and more powerful than everything in the world except one thing, grace. Only grace can beat sin. Only God’s love and power can defeat it. Porn or gossip or lying or anything else sin entices you with will crush you if you put your trust in your logic.

When we try to beat sin with logic, sin says “That’s adorable.” On the other hand, when we surrender, and admit like Paul that we keep doing the things we don’t want to do, grace has room to step in. And grace can win.

My response to this when I first read it was, "Logic can win too." God must have chuckled as I whispered that. I'm glad he is so kind to me though. A week before I read this blog post I was chatting with a friend who is a Christian psychologist. I told him how I would be a lousy pastor because I am not pastoral. In my hypothetical church office where people came for counseling, I predicted I would have 20 sessions in one day, because they would be no longer than 15 minutes. Tormented soul would walk in, tell me the sin which hinders them, and I would tell them, "Stop it." My friend found something positive in my confession and told me there is something redeemable in the Gestalt school, whatever that means.

But God kept pointing out to me that I wasn't able to convince myself to just stop it. He was letting me humiliate myself. Legalism is a cruel idol. It crushes. It suffocates. The more you try to appease it, the more it demands and the less it helps. It's like that plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. In the midst of this, comes a similar post, now that my heart is in pain and being squished. It's from the Exodus blog. It's written in the context of Christians who think the resistance to their sexual expression is impossible. But I find it applicable to any believer who despairs over their sinfulness.

To me, sin (homosexual, heterosexual, addictions, whatever) is like a 10,000 pound weight sitting in our living room with instructions that it must be moved out of the house. The sinner is thus given the notion that he or she must pick up that weight and move it. And, in my opinion, that’s exactly what so many of us try to do. We see the weight and know it must be moved and so we may spend years trying to pick it up and move it out. And naturally, when someone sees the weight still in our living room, they wonder that we haven’t moved it out and they call us to “repentance.” Even WE wonder why we haven’t been able to move it out yet.

The answer, of course, is that God never expects us to lift that 10,000 pound weight at all. He’s fully aware that we simply cannot lift 10,000 pounds. Not even an inch. He, in fact, designed us so that we can’t lift such a weight. So why then would He instruct us to move it out of the house? Of course, it’s so that we would simply turn to Him and acknowledge how utterly powerless we are to move it. We simply can’t. And at the point we fully grasp that fact, God Himself deals with the weight. We really don’t have to lift a finger. In fact, all our own efforts to lift it are counterproductive in that they just reinforce our own inability.

The blog post even has a picture of a living room bulit around a very large boulder.
It's not like this is new information for me. But I forget. I drift away from grace. I don't know why. I think I should just stop it. Oh, wait, I can't. I need God to save me from my sin. What was begun in the Spirit, can't be finished in the flesh, Galatians 3:3. And if I can't finish it in my flesh, I don't know why I expect that from my brothers and sisters.

Paul writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8, 9.

I have nothing to boast in, except my savior, Jesus Christ.
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Rich said…
Thanks for posting this... I can relate to this too. I fall into legalism very easily as well.

The problem I have with thinking that it's impossible to move the "10,000 lb. weight" is that I feel like I have to move it all by myself. That's where I'm wrong I think. If I walk in the flesh, then I can relate with Romans 7 (not able to do what I want; always doing what I hate). But if I walk in the Spirit, do I struggle in that way? I'd have to admit I don't, and the lusts of the flesh are not fulfilled (Galatians 5:16).

This balance is still a mystery to me! Thanks for sharing, I need constant reminder of my helplessness apart from the grace of God in His Spirit!

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