More on, “What do we still have to do??”

question1440x690So, to recap from the previous post –

  1. God’s standard is not a list of rules. It’s LOVE.
  2. Human beings are totally messed up and unable to love very well.
  3. So we need someone to bring justice into the pain we’ve caused, and…
  4. Do something for us so we can belong in God’s Circle of Love.

Enter Jesus. We are very familiar with the fact that he died for our sins. But the second part seems to be something that isn’t talked about a lot in evangelical circles. Jesus lived a perfect life and that was for us, too. He accomplished on our behalf what we will never be able to, and the Father was delighted!

So what happens is we are let off the hook and receive mercy, and we receive the huge gift of a perfect human life credited to our account. Is that Grace with a capital “G” or what?! Paul says that we now stand in grace – we are in good standing with God. There is no more to be done to earn God’s approval. God is satisfied, completely satisfied. As Jesus said, “It is finished.”

In some circles, grace like that is regarded as a bad idea, a dangerous message, because where is the motivation to shape up and become better people? Everyone knows self-improvement is the name of the game. Some form of good works to earn God’s approval is highly desirable; it’s man’s natural religion.

But….once you truly get hold of the reality that you will never be able to do enough to make God happy, then the truth of the Gift is a staggering relief. We are accepted in the Beloved. Imagine that – we are brought into the embrace of the very same tender, passionate, focused love that the Father has for the Son! John exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”

Believing and receiving that kind of love brings security and rest and peace and happiness. It provides the deep soil of connection and worth in which we can grow. It’s the environment in which human beings are designed to flourish. Infants fail to thrive when cuddles and delighted smiles are missing, no matter how well they are cared for; babies who are loved develop and grow. The same is true of our souls, from birth till death.

Being so loved, then, is the context for the New Testament “commandments”. The “do’s” are a result of God’s love, they don’t earn it. Paul reinforces this in most of his letters, expounding the gospel in the first chapters, and only after that giving instruction on the Christian life in the latter chapters. There is a handy way of describing this order – first the indicatives, then the imperatives.

This casts the imperatives in a completely different light. They come AFTER the good news, the Gift. They grow organically out of Love. Being loved, you become more loving. As John says, “We love, because he loved us first.” Growing in grace means understanding and receiving more and more deeply the meaning and extent of the love of God, and loving people more as you grow in grace.

Your attitude toward people begins to change. You want to help, you don’t want to hurt, you want to be more patient, there are people you want to pray for…and there you are, involved in the main things we are instructed to do, but from an entirely different motivation. It’s not about us trying to achieve “sonship” to make ourselves acceptable; it’s focused outwardly on God and neighbor.

And it puts an entirely different aspect on guilt. You still feel it, of course, because you don’t love perfectly, you’ve failed in many respects. But that is not the same as guilt for having not done enough to achieve spiritual stature and earn God’s approval. When you let yourself off the performance hook, trying to do stuff perfectly and do enough of it, and instead allow yourself to simply grow in grace as you live your normal life learning to love better, guilt becomes manageable. You confess it to God, ask for grace to do better, and go on.

The confession of sin in the English-speaking church since the Reformation puts it so well, “… how often we have offended you in thought, word and deed, not only by obvious violations, but by failing to conform to its perfect commands, by what we have done and by what we have left undone”. We pray that together every Sunday, because we need to, and God knows we will need to until the very day he takes us home.

It’s a huge relief of soul to accept our fallibility, and stop. Stop expecting that we ought to arrive at a point in this life where we won’t have to pray that prayer. Stop feeling that God is disapproving of us because we aren’t there yet. And relax in the finished work of Christ.

When you find yourself all tense about what you “ought to be doing”, remind yourself that you are in the Circle of Love, and because of God’s love, you are growing in grace, and that is what he is expecting of you. The instructions in the New Testament are to that end, to show us what growth looks like.

An Assembly mental roadblock pops up at this point – “What about rewards??” Funny how you don’t hear much about this subject in normal churches. It takes a narcissist to blow it all out of proportion – to feed his ego – and leave the rest of us scrambling. And then there’s the flip side of “losing out”. We have all those threats hanging over our heads as believers! The “Reality Therapy” concept of consequences wasn’t just used in Brothers Houses – the ministry inflicted it on all of us as if that were God’s way of dealing with his children.

What Do We Still Have To Do – Part 1 »


“Just carry on”….

PostIt copy“Just carry on” is one of the cards in The Oblique Strategies by Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno. Haven’t seen the set of cards, but I ran across this quote just now, and was surprised how a load suddenly felt lifted. Hmmm, wonder what that could be about….Even though I’ve consciously rejected the performance-based life, the mental conditioning still “carries on” (ironic, that). I guess I still usually go around with this monkey on my back. I’m going to try to develop measures to shake it off! Like writing out this quote and posting it a few places around the house.

(My reaction to this quote is one example of the results of Assembly mind control. Here is a short piece on Assembly Reflections on the subject, and here is a much longer treatment.)

Quote on spiritual freedom…..

Here is a great quote on the sweetness of spiritual freedom from Chuck Swindoll, Grace Awakening, posted on “The Cult Next Door”. In response to those like Betty G. who would retort, “You just don’t want to be subject to the Lord and go the way of the cross,” I would reply that being obedient to Christ is not the same thing as being subject to people who call themselves God’s servants. The New Testament is pretty clear that Christians are not to try to control one another. There is Paul’s example in the book of Philemon, where he requests that Philemon free his slave Onesimus and send him back to Paul. But he says, “I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.” Jesus said, “The rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over you, but it shall not be so among you.” How sweet it is to be free from a system where “counsel” was as binding as chains of steel.

“We shall see Him as He is!”

daddyandchild1The Internet Monk describes pretty well the prevailing concern of legalistic pastors over the dangers of ‘cheap grace’ (here, here and here). Betty G. once said to me, “If there weren’t the possibility of losing out on the inheritance, what would be the motivation for sanctification?” This was a rhetorical question – the obvious answer was supposed to be, “You’re right. Christians need rules and threats hanging over their heads, or they’ll just live careless worldly lives and they won’t ‘strive to enter in’.”

I John 3 describes an entirely different motivation.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are…And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him–and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own. —The Message

Christians grow in godliness because they want to be like Jesus. A little guy growing up in a good home naturally wants to be like his dad. Dad is his hero, he craves Dad’s approval, he wants to show off his accomplishments for Dad. That’s the amazing bond of family.

But harsh treatment can erode family bonds, in the natural family and in the family of God. I just finished reading The Man Who Listens to Horses, about Marty Roberts’ innovative way of ‘breaking’ horses by respectful communication rather than harsh domination. Marty’s father was also a horse trainer, who used the old methods of ropes and whips….and used them on his son as well. There was never a father-son bond. Marty did not grow up wanting to be like his father. He forged a different path and there was always tension between them.

Significantly, both George and Betty Geftakys seem to have grown up unbonded to their fathers. Apparently they never experienced that childhood adoration and closeness. It makes perfect sense, then, that Betty wouldn’t know any other motivation than fear of consequences. G & B perpetrated strict legalism, harsh treatment and threats of eternal loss as motivators to godliness.

The result may have been better performance, but many of us came away feeling estranged from God. The images of G & B have been stamped all over Him, because it was all said and done in His name. If a true picture of God can be recaptured, He wins our hearts back again. The more we remember and appreciate the love and attention God lavishes on us–the sacrifice Jesus made to bring us into oneness with himself, His present intercession for us, His constant presence with us–the closer grows our bond with Him, and the desire to please Him and become like Him starts growing again. It just does, completely apart from external rules and threats!

It’s not because we’ve run fast enough….

Joe Sperling posted this on the Assemblyboard:

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”. (Rom. 9:16)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have to stop and remember the day that I was saved. I have to ask myself, “Was I worthy to be saved? Was there something about me–something I had accomplished, some righteousness I had achieved–that caught God’s eye?”  And of course, the answer is a flat “NO”.

So then, what would make me think that there is something about me now, even after years of being a Christian, that would make me worthy?  There is absolutely nothing!  God didn’t save me because he saw something in me worth saving—he saved me solely because he LOVED me.  I absolutely did not deserve it!! So why would I think there is something I could do to earn MORE of God’s love, or, on the other hand, something that I could do to LESSEN God’s love for me now?  I was a complete sinner—an enemy of God–and in my heart, which is desperately wicked, I am STILL a sinner and an enemy! Only God’s grace changes that—his mercy alone!

Yet, how often we all can fall back into a “works based” conception of acceptance or rejection by God! It can happen so easily at times.  And I truly believe that it is our enemy’s greatest deception when it comes to Christians–to lead them out of the simplicity of accepting what Christ has already done, into working for acceptance with the Lord. Or falling into despair over what we have not accomplished for the Lord. Of somehow thinking the Lord MUST be displeased with us due to our great unrighteousness and ungodliness.  How often I need to go back and remember the verse above. In fact, it’s worth repeating again—it’s so simple, but sometimes so hard for us to just believe:

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”. (Rom. 9:16)

A different concept of God….

Here is a thought-provoking quote from iMonk Michael Spencer:

|| Why are Christians the most incomplete, frantic, “wretchedly urgent” and religiously imbalanced of human beings? Could it be that our conception of God is, “What can he do for me? What must I do for him?” rather than, “The God I worship is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have everything that I need. His love for me is the foundation of everything in existence. How can I honor him today?” ||

I would change just a couple of words here. I don’t think all Christians fall into “wretchedly urgent” characterization, nor do I think Christians are the only ones suffering from the malady. But the iMonk has certainly captured the life of Assemblyites in a few words.

I would delete ‘for me’ from the sentence near the end, to read, more correctly, I think, “His love is the foundation of everything in existence.” I love the inference Spencer draws–“I have everything I need.” God has already done everything necessary to provide “well-being like a river” for us – even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death (or the Assembly experience).

The Secret of the Abundant Christian Life

When I was in high school my mother (who was known as Sister
Mayo in the Assembly), developed a library for Fountain Avenue Baptist Church in Los Angeles. She and I had a great time discovering Christian books that were new to us.

I read They Found the Secret by Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College. Edman wrote about many well-known Christians who “discovered the secret to abundant living”–Hudson Taylor, Andrew Murray, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, and Charles Finney, among others. Their secret, as Edman described it, was to stop trying to live the Christian life, and let Christ live through you. The main point of his book was to find freedom from performance-based Christianity.

If you read the comments on Edman’s book, apparently many of his readers got this message. One reader wrote,

“If you’ve reached the place in your Christian walk where you find you’re running on a tiring performance treadmill offering no end and no rest…. They Found the Secret is the book for you, because it certainly was for me… In my own walk, I had no peace, no rest. Ministry was just work, work, work….Through very simply written mini-bio’s, Edman explains how each person literally “stumbled” into the abiding life (John 15), and how after stumbling into it, their Christian walk and life was revolutionized. Such is my own testimony. Regardless of your personality type, in one or more of these sketches, you’ll see yourself and what you need to let go of. Once you do, then you, too, will have found the secret.”

But in those days I wasn’t yet tired of trying harder. I hadn’t been active in church ministry long enough to have discovered the performance treadmill in operation. The simple message of Edman’s book went over my head. But I went on to read the books written by these spiritual giants, and as a new convert, I heard another message: “There is a deeper encounter with God to be sought that will result in the Abundant Christian life.”

Andrew Murray said it would be found in abiding in Christ. Oswald Chambers said it was entered into by giving your utmost for God’s highest. Hudson Taylor said it came by a special encounter with God that enabled one to trust God completely, etc. etc. The message I got was that I needed to figure out how to find God in this powerful way and have a more abundant spiritual life. I was subtly diverted at the outset of my Christian life from drinking in and growing in God’s love for me to thinking there was something more.

A more mature reader of Edman’s book was hit immediately by the message of “something more” and had a more biblical response to the idea:

I had a really hard time getting through this book. I had to read it for a class, so I had to finish it, but I found that it irritated me more than it uplifted me. I am a believer and I believe that God does work in many ways, but this book was very one sided. One reads of all these people who all of a sudden in their lives found God in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit came to them and changed their lives and that’s all we hear about.

While I know that the Spirit can do wonderful things, this book ignores the fact that these people were also human. It makes it seem that once these people had found the secret they never had problems again. God seemed to bless their ministry and their faith remained strong. But it never tells about their home life.

How did they treat their wife and kids after this experience? Were they kind at home, or did they all but abandon their family so as to serve God better? I dislike the image that if you are serving God, prior commitments, such as family don’t mean anything anymore. I doubt that their lives were perfect in every way or that they never struggled again. Perhaps Edman did not intend to convey that message, but he did nothing to present a more balanced picture either.

I cannot be uplifted by these stories because they feel too false – I know there is more there. One sided stories do not uplift me; my life is nothing like that. I have encountered God and have been blessed with the Holy Spirit, but I still struggle with sin and doubt, which I see as a necessary part of a healthy Christian life. I would find more hope in the story of someone who was a real person dealing with everyday life who still managed to serve God and be blessed. Books by Philip Yancey and Anne Lamott are more realistic and therefore much more uplifting. (Quoted from

Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I too have concluded that there is no second work of God that results in a special “abundant Christian life”. The Bible is emphatic in both the Old and New Testaments that loving God is our number one priority. This is no secret–it’s the main thing. In fact, Moses says in Deuteronomy that this is to be uppermost in our thoughts. The second thing is similar: love our neighbors.

Loving God and neighbor works itself out in a lot of different ways. At one point in the day it might be expressed in trusting God to meet a particular need. And in thanking God for specific gifts and blessings. At another point it might be expressed in acting on God’s behalf to help someone. Later, it might lead to denying an outburst of impatience so someone else might be encouraged. And so on.

The Christian luminaries described in Edman’s book each got hold of certain of these aspects and their lives were changed. But reading them is like watching the blind men feel the elephant and describe it. The experiences of each, taken alone, result in a distored concept of the Christian life.

If you look at the Bible as a whole, you see that living in an awareness of God’s presence (“abiding in Christ”), striving your utmost, resting in faith, etc., are all aspects of the life we have in God, but it is pretty clear from beginning to end that as human beings, our experience of them is an on-again-off-again sort of thing. The Bible doesn’t show us anyone, other than Jesus, who always, consistently, had an abundant life of faith. There doesn’t seem to be a “secret”, other than the one Edman is pointing out: Trying harder to do better or do more isn’t the way to live the Christian life; resting in Christ is. This concept can be summed up in these four propositions, which constitute the Gospel:

  • God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our failures.
  • Jesus lived the perfect life of love for us.
  • His life is credited to my account instead of my own messes.
  • God the Father therefore loves me just as much as he loves his perfect son.
  • Wow! Do we really need some other secret?