As we have discussed learning to think a new way—by faith rather than by the law—we have looked at several illustrations of my natural way of thinking and God’s radical, counterintuitive way. These illustrations may have been shocking to you, as “God’s ways are not our ways.” We continue to look at the world through the lens of law no matter our knowledge of the Bible or our years as a Christian until God shows us another way.
In today’s newsletter we explore another example of this way thinking that provides “cover” for me as I attempt to evade the daily cross that is the only solution for the unconscious sin that lies buried deep within my heart.
1. My way: “I want to focus on who I am in Christ—what God has done in my life—and not on the sins of my flesh. I must focus on the positive. Away with all this negativity about sin!” This is the approach of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, 12. He thanked God for all the positive things God had done in his life. He was not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that poor, sinful tax-collector in the parable. “Let’s not focus on the negative,” he said. “Thank You God, I’ve grown past all that.”
God’s way: “Though understanding clearly, believing and never forgetting who you are in Christ, your job is to be continually conscious of the sins of your flesh and affirm their ever-present reality, not as mistakes, shortcomings, blunders, gaffes or oversights but as wicked sins, and then repent. That is your job—what you are called to do, just as did the tax-collector in Luke 18:13. His entire focus was, 'Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.' It is then My job to conform your conduct to that of Jesus Christ by My Holy Spirit in your life (Romans 8:4). That is My focus, not yours. As My Spirit does His job, the by-products are not only unconscious obedience to the law of God but love, joy and peace in your heart. I give My grace (power) only to the humble, the one who remains “the chief of sinners,” not the proud one who in his mind is leaving all the unpleasantness of sin behind him.”
Focusing exclusively on the positive (who I am in Christ) is man’s way of thinking and makes the daily experience of the cross seem to me to be unnecessary. This mind-set is a fig leaf that gives me cover. It causes me to ignore my sin, hide it, be ashamed of it, not talk about it and convince myself that it is not really there as I desperately try to save my life. Those are all indications that I am a Pharisee, still on the ladder of performance, still trying to save my life, still wanting to present a righteous front to God and to others, still refusing to view all of life through the cross.
This “positive thinking” is a foolproof prescription for seeing little necessity of repentance, therefore little understanding of the depths of God’s salvation in my life and hence little love for others, for “he who is forgiven much loves much.” This way of thinking man’s way is ingrained in me and is my default mode unless God continues to open my eyes to another way to think.
Several months ago I had as experience that underscored this truth for me in living color.
I had recently received a scathing letter attacking me and my ministry from a long-time acquaintance who does not agree with the thesis of Gospel Parenting. We have had multiple exchanges over the years and have agreed to disagree about the nature of the gospel, but it is very hard for him to let that disagreement lie. He is convinced it is because he loves me and he is trying to save me from fatal error.
This letter was the last straw for me. As I read it I felt my temperature rising and I began formulating a response. Cool, calm, incisive--and lethal, designed to put him in his place. As I began to answer his letter I realized that responding in kind in this way was certainly not the right thing to do, so I decided to take the high road and not reply at all. Subconsciously, I focused on who I am in Christ. After all, I am holy and righteous in Him, becoming more and more like who I really am in Him in my daily experience. After 50 years as a serious Christian, I have certainly now progressed past such sinful responses!
Later, while recounting the incident to several couples in our church, the Lord showed me as I was in the very act of speaking to them, “You are really proud of your “right” response, aren’t you, Robert?” I realized that I had been thinking in man’s way by trying to keep the law—the law of not answering in kind--so proud of myself for making a “good” decision and not a “bad” one, and feeling very, very righteous in doing so.
How could I have reacted if I had been walking by faith, thinking God’s way? I could have recognized the situation for what it was: murder! The anger in my heart toward my brother was tantamount to murdering him, according to the Sermon on the Mount. That anger was not put there by my brother. I had killed him for whom Christ died, and I could have recognized that sin and repented. Amazingly, as I saw what I had done, focused on my sin and not on who I was in Christ and then began to actively share that sin with others, I felt a love for my brother I had never felt before. Strangely, by affirming my lack of love, even hatred for my brother, and then proclaiming that sin to others, God brought love! God comes to us in opposites.
Until God opens our eyes, we continue to think in man’s way, by cause and effect, without a clue as to what we are doing. We think that the harder we try to be spiritual, the more we ignore the feelings of pride and self-seeking, even denying that they are sin, the more we will progress in our Christian lives. That way of thinking is as natural and unconscious to us as breathing. However, when we see that this old way of thinking died at the cross when our old man was crucified in Christ, we begin to think another way. We begin to think as God thinks--in opposites. The more I focus on my ever present sin rather than hiding from it and wishing it wasn’t there and then repent, the more the love and power of God are released in my life to set me free from that very sin! Truly, God’s ways are not our ways.