I know a really neat high school student in our church. Recently she was spending the weekend with a friend and visited that friend’s church. Early the following week I received a text that she’d like to speak to me about the message.
She said, “The preacher taught that when you get far from God you should do the things that you did when you first became a Christian and that would get you back close again.” The fill-in-the-blank outline she showed me had words like-repent, read your Bible, pray, evangelize.
My young friend said, “I don’t think you’d preach that, would you?” I said that I didn’t know the preacher and that I hadn’t heard the message, so my response would be to only what the outline taught. But I told her, “No. You are right. I wouldn’t have preached that message.” She then asked a profound and incredibly insightful question, “Why do so many preach messages like that, and why do so many believe such things?”
That question has haunted many of us for a long time. As I was preparing the message I would give the following Sunday her question was ringing in my ears.
Philippians 3:3 says “We worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Bill Thrall, the week before, had defined flesh as “the essence of our humanity apart from God’s grace.” I added, “My best effort generated to get more of God, more favor, more intimacy, more ability to do right.”
We are incurably religious people. Deep within our flesh is this conviction that we have to rehabilitate ourselves by caring enough, trying enough, working hard enough.
Then I found myself writing these words:
“In our flesh we are always looking for something we can do to get right with Him rather than trusting what He has done to make us right, so He can get on with doing something right through us.”
Maybe doing a few more drills or such might give me a sense of something happening for a week, a month, a season. Jump starting myself back into the intimacy of God with my efforts. Confident in my ability to get myself back to an elusive, hard to get God. But you’ll eventually wonder if you’re doing enough. Always feeling behind, never quite feeling enough. Those very good things-used as a method to achieve renewed intimacy with God will actually deceive you into thinking you and your sacrifice had something to do with it. You’ll applaud yourself and you’ll think, “Hey, I’ve got it going again, don’t I?” And it will always, inevitably, eventually let you down.
The problem is you can do many external behaviors in the flesh. But it does not and cannot change the internal motivations, internal voices, internal darkness, jealousies, bitterness, criticism, arrogance, pride, comparisons, hypocritical pretending, seething resentment, fear, shame, the sense of inadequacy.
You can behave well externally, while unresolved issues get buried alive.
The flesh, even the best intended flesh, cannot heal, cannot release, cannot bring life.
I think about this raising my kids. We have to decide what kind of adult we want them to grow up into. Because we get to be used to shape their destiny. We can promote a child who is well behaved, learning to say the right things, appear right, give the right answers, trusting in their abilities, will power and self-righteous goodness. Or we will raise one who may sometimes behave poorly but is learning to trust in God’s power and sufficiency.
One you will parent to keep from messing up. You will be proud of their appropriateness and right answers. The other you’ll parent to learn to depend, trust, need and admit weaknesses. The 1st will keep their issues to themselves, hiding their deepest pains and fears. The 2nd will be in touch with pain and fear and they will need you a lot. The 1st will become anesthetized to intimacy with Jesus most of their lives. The 2nd, no matter how much they fail, will have a great life, tender in his heart to Jesus. The 1st will struggle to ever own their faith and will learn how to play a game with religion. The 2nd will never have to live a double life.
That’s why 3:3 speaks of worship and glorifying. I must teach my kids and myself that when I get away from intimacy with Jesus I must not try to impress Him with a drill of my renewed efforts. Instead, I must stand in worship and trust again who He says He is and who He says I am. Trust in the revealed truth of His person, His Deity, His sovereignty, His love, His tender affection, His power, His ability, His mercy…
We admit that He is God and we are not. That everything good in me comes from Him. I receive and rest in His love, His power. I rest in His joy, peace and sufficiency, crying out, “You are the only one who has ever fully loved me! You are my reason to live! Anything good in me You have caused! You are the only One who can take evil and turn it into good! You alone know how to take care of me! You alone can satisfy my heart. You alone fully are the lover of my soul! You alone fully care about every step of my future! You alone can enter into my darkest fears and sadness!”
Now here’s the beauty the result of standing in trust of His person. I will want to let go of all that could possibly keep me from experiencing that love. This is called repentance. I will be drawn to Him. This is called reading His Word. I will want to talk to Him, freely and intimately. This is called prayer. And I will naturally want to talk to others about Him. This is called by some evangelism.
The best thing we can do as parents is to teach them to learn to trust who He says He is in us and who He says we are in Him. That is their safety net they can always return to. Our kids, when they get far away, are going to want to know, “What do I do to get back?”
• They’ll want a list. We take them to a Person.
•They’ll want things to do. We give them a place to be.
• They’ll want to avoid the big sins and flirt with the rest. We give them life that is stronger and more delightfully satisfying than vanity.
• They’ll want to know how much, how far. We teach them to receive love.
• They’ll want to try to be better. We’ll teach them to depend upon Christ in them.
• They’ll want to religiously stuff it. We give them a place to tell.
• They’ll want a technique to fix. We give them a Person who heals.
• They’ll want to use their own strength. We offer them His.
• They’ll want to do their faith in private. We give them us and others as fellow
• They’ll want to earn their way back. We teach them to rest in the cross and resurrection.
• They’ll want to make it hard and complex. We offer them Christ’s light yoke.
• They’ll want to do the heroic. We teach them to trust the heroic that’s been done
All this so they’ll get to experience Him doing the heroic through them.
I don’t know why so many teach and are desperately trying to live the striving, performance life. But I’m encouraged by my young friend that not everyone’s drinking the Kool Aid. Our kids sometimes are understanding this before we do. That makes me smile…a lot.