What a year and a half we have all endured…
What a year and a half and yet, it still continues…
So many people have endured sickness, loss, depression, hatred, devastation, tragedy, hopelessness, and despair.
When I ponder on the past 18 months and stare into the ongoing devastation that is living in a broken world, I am tempted to throw myself into a cave of grief. I am tempted to allow the sadness, the anger, the hopelessness and frustration to overtake me. But then I am reminded of the true nature of our God and what this past year and a half has brought me personally and the peace and hope are restored leading me to get out of the cave and focus on “what is true.”
You see, 18 months ago, I would have called myself a solid Christian. Someone who has a Bible degree, who taught Bible, led studies, mentored, and had a personal relationship with our Lord in Heaven (albeit a fearful and confusing one at times). Yet, today, after the Lord has brought us all so low and slapped us with so much humility, I realize that my belief system did not contain the whole Truth. In essence, I don’t think I had found the “narrow gate” that Jesus described so eloquently in Matthew 7. I think I was happily trotting down a wider road…a road that led to my God but was filled with confusion and fallacies. Perhaps one that might have ended on the day of judgment saying, “be gone from me for I never knew you.” while I sat and pleaded all of the things I had done in His name.
This may be harsh. Yes I believed in God and Christ. I knew Christ as my Savior and I was devoted to pleasing Him, but the greatest thing I understand now makes me realize that I was missing the whole point. That whole point is that “mystery” that the apostle Paul referred to so many times. The “mystery” that leads to the Narrow Gate…the gate of true belief and true devotion. The Narrow gate of the fullness of the Trinity. The fullness of faith, freedom, and peace!
I have read the Scriptures over and over. I have done Bible studies upon Bible studies. I have gone to church diligently, read, researched, memorized, listened, gleaned, and achieved knowledge like I never thought possible, but I never encompassed or truly grasped the truth. Not until this past year.
Covid gave me the opportunity to step away from what I had known. Ok, not so much an opportunity as a forced reprieve. With my health issues, and even more so that of my son’s, we had no choice but to take Covid seriously from the get go. We had no ability to choose anything other than isolation. Yet, in this quiet and in this time of stillness God truly showed me what I had been missing. I had to stop relying on my weekly trips to church and my times with the ladies at Bible study and really rely on my personal relationship with God! With the isolation from activities came the isolation from people, which helped me to instead of focus on others’ faith, focus on my own. As my own idols were stripped from me and the world was plunged into so much despair, my heart sought comfort from the only place I knew to possibly find it. What came from this tearing of everything I held to be a part of my Christian life was a deeper relationship with the truth of faith and my personal relationship with Christ, through the Father, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
My journey started with my sister asking me to do an online study with her going through the book by Francis Chan called Forgotten God. This book completely rocked everything I thought I knew about the Holy Spirit. Learning for the first time – yes the first time – in my 20 years as a devoted Christian that the Holy Spirit was a person! Sure I had known the Trinity. The three in One. The thing I really didn’t understand but trusted. But the way my mind was shaped and molded around the work of the Holy Spirit was very taboo. We didn’t talk about the Holy Spirit. I knew He was there and that He was important and He would intercede for our prayers. I knew that He was part of God the Father and the Son. But really anything outside of that was almost equated to a Harry Potteresque feeling of the One Who Shall Not Be Named! The spirit, or being, that was like Christ’s silent partner. To have the lid blown off of this and revealed to me that the Holy Spirit is a person as much as God the Father and Christ the Son is…it was as if a light bulb had gone off in the whole of my spiritual life. I decided to dive further into who He is. I wanted to see this for myself, so started diving into the Scriptures to see the Holy Spirit. I also listened to podcasts, read different theology books, grappled with contexts and historical details. What God revealed was a truth that had long been hidden from me, but now had fully illuminated my understanding. I was reading the Scriptures like someone had illumined that intellectual part of my brain that revealed understanding and comprehension. No longer was the Bible a tether of to do’s but a love letter of hope! The “mystery” had been revealed. This leads me to the next part of my journey, The Law!
Again, my Christian life had always been marked by the law and my obedience to it. In fact, it was often driven home that my purpose in life was to be a slave to righteousness. This created in me a fear and an anxiety that ruled over my every thought and action. So afraid to displease God, so afraid that I wasn’t good enough to make it to Heaven. If this sounds like work based righteousness then you would be right. Now the funny thing is, I knew that was not the way to Heaven. I knew that I could not earn my way to Heaven and it was only Christ that could do that for me. His death and resurrection had paved that way for me to become an adopted daughter of the King but yet I still found myself working for it. Obedience was driven to be the key point of my existence. If I truly loved the Lord the I would obey. Obey Him, obey His law, or else I would get to the end and He would light the fire of my life and there would be an impending “Wah, Wah, Wah” sound as the whammy would show itself and God would say, “You didn’t do enough, no crown for you!”
Seems silly to me now. Now that I know the full blessing of what it is to know the fullness of God! I took a travel though the books of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and what I saw was astounding. Again, I had that moment of – oh my word, I have read this a thousand times and never truly comprehended! But what I saw was nothing of myself. Paul makes it so abundantly clear in Chapter 1 of Ephesians that there is NOTHING in salvation of/from me. My works – in all of their glory – are but dirty rags. Yet, the works done through me by the Holy Spirit are of a sweet aroma to the Lord. It isn’t anything I can or will do or have done, but what Christ has done and what His Holy Spirit is actively doing! I just have to get out of the way and let Him lead me, guide me, mold me. Allow myself to be His hands and feet. For we all know that our hearts are wicked but the fruits of the Holy Spirit are sweet! God tells us we have the same power that rose Christ from the dead living in us! The power of the Holy Spirit. That power can bring us to pure joy and blessed acts of glory to our Lord just by being in communion with Him (loving Him to the point He IS our all). It isn’t about our acts, it is about our devotion. It isn’t about what we do, but the motive by which we do it. Ok so this isn’t easy, obviously, we are selfish beings who want what we want when we want, but God says He has made it possible for us to free ourselves from ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to reign in our lives.
Another book that brought this to life was the Gospel of The Kingdom by Professor Ladd. Seeing what God truly had done for us by sacrificing His Son and giving us the ability to have the living Spirit within us. A little bit of the Kingdom to come here with us now! How glorious. We are no longer prisoners or slaves to this world or ourselves (our anger, our misunderstandings, our wrong desires). We are free to love God in a way that allows Him to do the good through us. A piece of the future Kingdom to come that will become full on Christ’s return. No longer having to fight with ourselves, we will finally have the fullness of Him always!
We always look to the Old Testament to guide us, but we are not the same people as Abraham, Daniel, or Solomon! The mystery of the gospel, the mystery that was held from them has been revealed to us – we have a piece of the Kingdom to come, living in us now. We have the fullness of Christ living within us. Of course, all of Scripture is important and we can learn so much about God, His character, the need for a Savior, the future to come, take solace in who God used, etc. However, to take the people in it and put ourselves on the same playing field is to take away something so special. We have the blessing of being on this side of the resurrection. The mystery has been revealed to us, yet we don’t act like it. We don’t shout the good news of the Gospel because we don’t realize what it really is. Oh my goodness I understand the apostle Paul so much more now. The freedom he must have felt after coming to the realization that his life was no longer under the law but given freedom and redemption through Christ, with the ever present gift of the Holy Spirit to accomplish all that he could not. It’s why he never worried – he knew what it was to be on both sides of the resurrection! Do we? Or do we find ourselves still so tied to the rules of God, that we cannot see the beauty of His Son and the power He has so freely left us with.
Now as Paul says, do we then just go on sinning? “May it never be!” I used to think I understood this, being free, but I never felt free. The reason is because I always attributed to MYSELF the work that was to be done. I felt a slave still to be obedient. Yes we are to be obedient, but once I realized that God wasn’t looking to me to do/be perfect, but to love wholly, to not figure out the right thing to do in every situation, but to give every situation over to Him – then the freedom came. When I realized He looks at me and already sees the perfect completed work of Christ by the Spirit living in me, I felt the shackles fall and the love fill in. When I realized that the Fruits of the HOLY SPIRIT were in actuality the actions of the Holy Spirit I was relieved. I always felt like I could never be good enough, and I was right I couldn’t be. But Christ is! And through my devotion and my love for God and His Son and my will to allow the Holy Spirit to work and guide my life I can let Him create in me the sanctified daughter He so actively loves.
Love that I have over the years of my life encountered has mostly seemed conditional. I am sure you all know what conditional love feels like – the performed based, expectation driven, or reciprocally demanded type. So it was natural for me, as it is for all of us, to see God in the same way. But He isn’t!!! The only condition is to come to Him, embrace the truth of His Son and accept the indwelling of the One who will make you whole! The rest He works out in and through you till the day your race is done and your rest is complete in Him. The day He says, “well done my good and faithful servant.” You just need to be a willing participant in the work He is doing in your life!
I think the greatest blessing of these couple of revelations has been the unique and encompassing peace of knowing the One who lives within me. That I don’t need to set my prayers outward into the universe, or feel alone in my torment or grief. He is inside, guiding, loving, giving me understanding, peace and comfort. I just have to look inward and see His presence. He can’t leave or forsake me because He is a part of me! My hands and feet are His workmanship that I can hand over to Him for His good works and purposes. What an honor. I can rest in Him FULLY.
I have so much more I can say, but it would just be me babbling perhaps about something you don’t quite understand. Maybe you find yourself like I was, stuck in the mire of obedience and the law, always afraid of disappointing Him and never truly coming to the fullness of a relationship with Him because you are missing the one thing that makes it whole. I welcome you to study! I welcome you to pick up Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, then Professor’s Ladd Kingdom of the Gospel. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind to the truth and then dive into Matthew, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians and do your own study and see what you find! I could list all of the verses in these Scriptures that make my points, but you need to see the full picture of grace, mercy and love for yourself. The Narrow Gate is calling.