I want to explain some more of the toxic beliefs I’ve alluded to so that you can understand what I believed for most of my Christian life. I began writing this particular post four months ago but never posted it because it followed three particularly heavy posts. I definitely had to listen to a few songs about God’s love while I wrote this because, when I share what I used to think, I always run the risk of getting stuck there. It is difficult to concisely explain these beliefs because they are inherently illogical and messy, but I’ll do my best.
I was convinced I was terrible. When God looked at me, all he saw was sin. I was covered in it. Even with Jesus’ righteousness I wasn’t good enough.
When I would imagine standing before God on Judgment day, he would let me into heaven because Jesus bought a place for me there. But when I imagined the discussion about how I spent my life, I always saw God shaking his head and saying, “I have to let you in because Jesus bought your spot, but understand that I’m disappointed in how you lived your life. You didn’t do enough. You didn’t give enough, love enough, overcome sin enough, pray enough, or read your Bible enough. You would have done more good things if you were truly appreciative.” I could see him swinging back the gates of heaven and saying, “Go on in. Have your eternal life. Enjoy it. Just remember I’m still disappointed and there’s nothing you can do now to change it.”
God would never look at me and be happy because I wasn’t working hard enough to prove I really was thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice. My sin perpetually disappointed him. I still wasn’t perfect, so God was still angry.
I believed Jesus didn’t like me specifically; I was part of a package deal. Jesus died for my sins because I was part of a randomly selected group of people who were a gift to Jesus from God the Father, but had to be bought back because of sin. We were God’s gift, but I was taught it wasn’t a particularly good gift.
I mistook my over-active conscience for the Holy Spirit. He was as fussy and demanding as my inner critic who said I was never going to be good enough. Trying to tune out the never-ending stream of criticism was trying to avoid conviction, so I had to accept those criticisms as truth.
I believed God was full of wrath.
I believed grace was something I had to earn.
I believed forgiveness was never truly mine.
It took a fantastic crash-and-burn to weaken my old perspective enough for God to show me something different:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Romans 8:33-34 (ESV)
This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
[A] bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.
Isaiah 42:3 and Matthew 12:20-21
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:16-18
I realized one day that verse 18 isn’t a condemning verse as I once believed, but a life-giving verse. If I’m still afraid of God’s disapproval and judgement, that means I need more of God’s perfect love.
I now know that I haven’t earned God’s love, but that he loves me specifically, character flaws and all, anyway. Before, it was impersonal. I was an object whose thoughts and feelings didn’t matter. Now I’m a child of God whose thoughts and feelings are important to God, even if they don’t change anything. If I tell God everything and hand him my thoughts and feelings, I don’t have to keep hanging onto them anymore. I’ve handed them over to someone who can take care of the situation and will tell me what I need to know and give me the strength to do what needs to be done.
I now know when God looks at me, he sees so much of Jesus’ righteousness that everything I have ever done wrong is now seen like I always did everything right. Otherwise, it would be unjust. It would be unjust to punish me for something Jesus paid for 2,000 years ago.
I now know God came to save broken, messed up church people who can’t get anything right anymore. He loves us, too. That’s about all I have to hang onto most days because I still struggle; I have trained myself to have an overactive conscience.
But God is clearing his name.
His perfect love continues to cast out fear, mine and yours.
I hope you see it in your life, too.
Until next time ❤
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”