THIS BLOG has been a long time coming. Partly because I am a terrible procrastinator and partly because, well, for the last four years my life has been in a state of constant change. Pretty much anything that could change, did. The big life changes, they say, are the death of a loved one, loss or change of a job, moving to a new city and the birth of a child. With the exception of the death of a loved one, three of these have gone down in my world, along with the inevitable stresses that accompany them. But change is good: especially when you’re stuck.
My husband and I met and fell in love in Los Angeles almost a decade ago. He had just moved to L.A. to make it as a singer-songwriter. I had just graduated from college with the same goal. The first time we ever met we talked for hours about God, music, our faith as Christians, culture, and where they all intersect. We didn’t know it at the time, but our lives had inextricably intersected too, at a point of no return. Within six months we were married, and the road lay before us.
But we were naive. We made assumptions about this “Christian life,” “walk of faith,” – or whatever the Christianese term for it is. We assumed that if it wore the label “Christian” then is must necessarily be Christian. And in our mind’s eye that path wasn’t narrow as Jesus described it (1), but broad, accepting of a wide range of views. We sincerely believed that the way of Christ was as big as our dreams, as big as we needed it to be in order for us to define our faith on our own terms. We failed to recognize that God should be the one to define our faith. (2) We were Christians – yes. But we were so stuffed full of our own ideas and those of the people around us that we lacked spiritual discernment on a basic level. We couldn’t have heard God’s voice if he’d used a megaphone to break through all the noise. But he didn’t need a megaphone. He’d already spoken the words of freedom we so desperately needed to hear. He’d given us his Word. But we didn’t compare the words of people to the Word of God. We didn’t check our Bibles, we didn’t test the spirits, and we just – kept – going.
In L.A. we found no shortage of churches peddling the Christianized Hollywood-works-righteousness gospel – and we found ours. For eight years we were promised the best of both worlds: earthly success and successful Christian living. We could have it all. All we had to do was try really hard to be really good. That, and to meet the particular, extra-Biblical expectations within our church community. The notion that we could engage with the world on nearly every level, yet remain unpolluted by its darkness seduced us, hooked us, and then began to slowly, steadily reel us in. Disappointment made us numb as our faith was reduced to a social club whose members poured every last ounce of energy into maintaining a facade of Christian virtue. On the outside we were the ideal Christian community: religiously progressive, stylishly staged. But inside there was a struggle raging. Because deep down we knew we were running after the wrong things, the things Jesus told us not to seek. We were working so hard to do things right and earn approval. In Mark 8:36 Jesus said, “What does it profit a main to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (3) He goes on to say that the one who tries to save his life will lose it – but the one who loses his life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will save it.
Losing it hard. Change is hard. And if we take God at his word, then choosing a life in him means turning your back on the world. But to choose him is to choose life. The life that is truly full and free and victorious. The life we all want more than anything, if we could just swallow our pride. Jesus said the message he came to bring was hard. Isaiah the prophet told us years before Jesus was born in the flesh that he would be a stumbling block to many (4). But that’s why he came. He came to divide: truth from lie, life from death, his works from our works. And there were times when he preached, that many abandoned him.
This last season has been hard: leaving an abusive church; walking away from dreams and ambitions that had enslaved us for years; admitting our sinfulness, and the part we had played in being deceived. But the more we understand the difference between Law and Gospel, the greater our joy and freedom. Because true freedom comes from knowing that Christ has done everything for us that needs to be done. (5) And while we do desire to keep God’s laws, our faith is no longer about a set of rules to keep. What a relief it is to realize that we therefore no longer need to “try” to be good, perfect, model Christians. We are free to fail. Because Jesus was perfect, we are free to be imperfect. Because Jesus was extraordinary, we are free to be ordinary (6). And we are free to live unto God alone, not people. We are learning to hate sin like God does, and to discern his truth – as those who were blind, but now can see.
I know I was a Christian before. But I never really understood the gospel until my life unraveled. I’m so thankful it did. Because change that unearths rotten, dead beliefs, and plants seeds of real faith in its place will last, will live. These days, I’m in constant shock when I think about what Jesus has done for me. I’m giddy with gratitude. It’s so hard to fathom that there’s nothing God needs from me. I don’t need to progress or improve myself as a Christian; I don’t need to try harder; I don’t even need to “find my purpose.” And he’s not disappointed with me or waiting to punish me for failing to meet his standard. Because his love is perfect, and has already been made perfectly complete in Jesus. (7)
I’m thankful for change. Thankful to be unstuck. I’m thankful to have found an anchor for this vessel in the Word of God. Because I’m tired of being tossed to and fro by the waves, carried about by every wind of doctrine. (8) I don’t have the truth. But God’s Word does. His word is the truth, and the gospel that alone has the power to save. I’m not exactly sure what the focus of this blog will end up being. But I want to share honestly. And my hope is that whatever thoughts I’m sharing, I’ll speak the truth in love.
1. The narrow gate – Matthew 7:13-14
2. Pure religion – James 1:26-27
3. Gaining the world but losing your soul – Mark 8:34-36
4. Jesus as a stumbling block – 1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Isaiah 8:14-15
5. Christ has done our works for us – Isaiah 26:12-13; Jeremiah 23:5-6
6. The Gospel Coalition, “I’m Addicted,” by Tullian Tchividjian
7. Jesus’ work is complete – John 17:1-4; John 19:28-29
8. Tossed about by winds of doctrine – Ephesians 4:14-15