There is a reason...

Yes, there is a reason I chose Breaking the Chains as the title of my book rather than Broken Chains. I recognize that I am in an ongoing process of being set free from the chains of my past -- and perhaps always will be.

In my preface, I referred to my chains as crippling deception. Well, I must confess that while I am no longer crippled by that deception, it is like a chronic illness that comes and goes. When the symptoms are not present, I am free and healthy. When something triggers a "flare up," I am knocked down and scraped up. Sometimes I experience temporary paralysis. And then I remember that Jesus has delivered me and I am free. Again, I get up and walk.

Yesterday was one of those days of paralysis. This morning, I have remembered my freedom in Christ.

For some who grew up as I did, the worst thing about growing up there was the control over our lives and the stringent legalism that was imposed on us. I explain that with examples in my book. I didn't like it, but for me, that wasn't the worst part of growing up there. I don't really care all that much that I didn't get to wear what I wanted to, didn't get to participate in many school activities, couldn't go to sporting events or school dances. I cared at the time, but I'm fifty-years-old now and I can choose my own clothes and activities. (The up side to all that is that, as a fifty-year-old woman, I have an actual appreciation for my choices that most would never give a second thought to.) Many people in this world have no freedoms growing up and are horribly abused. I recognize that some of my worst days have been better than a lot of people's best days. And I have never struggled to count my blessings instead of my tears.

The worst part of growing up the way I did, for me, was being taught that I had to reach literal, moral perfection in this life in order to go to heaven. I lived forty-plus years of my life, trying to be a good Christian, without any real hope of ever seeing Jesus. That, to me, is an atrocity that was enacted upon me. I have to say forty-plus years, even though I left there before my forty-fourth birthday, because that false doctrine followed me and haunted my thoughts long after I left there and was exposed to the true gospel and grace. Oh, I found the cross. And it sounded wonderful and beautiful to my ears; the thought that I could go to heaven because of what Jesus did FOR ME as opposed to earning it for myself. But it sounded too good to be true. It sounded almost like a fairytale to me. I couldn't put my complete trust in Jesus to save me because of the horrible, damnable doctrine of perfection that had been deeply embedded into my mind and heart.

Despite my inability to believe I could ever be perfect as Jesus was perfect, I was thankful that He died on the cross to give me a chance. I believed He loved me. But I lived in the constant awareness that I could not be good enough to please Him and I would ultimately disappoint Him in my imperfection. Except for my occasional high moments (which were emotionally driven), I lived a defeated life. I remember thinking that I wouldn't "make it," but maybe I would play a role in someone else's life who would. But because I loved God, and no other life but the Christian life held any appeal for me, I still wanted to live for Him even if I didn't believe I would go to heaven. Since we did not believe in a literal hell, I didn't fear punishment. And as I thought this all through, I remember so many times coming to the conscious conclusion that if this life was all I had, and nothing more than death and non-existence awaited me, I still wanted to live this life for God.

How tragically sad that is to me now.
Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 15:19,
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

I remember sitting with a Christian counselor one afternoon. He said something about one day seeing Jesus in heaven and I began to cry. He looked at me rather confused. I had not really explained to him what I had been taught at that point. And through my tears, I told him that I had never really believed I would ever see Jesus because I was taught from birth that only perfect Christians get to go to heaven and be with the Lord. I believed I would have a resurrection. But that was an extended opportunity to reach perfection. If I came up in the resurrection and still failed to be perfected, overcoming all sin as Jesus did, then I would still not have eternal life. So I had a hope of a resurrection. But the nagging thought in my mind was always, "If I couldn't achieve it in this life, what would make me think it would be achievable then?" I didn't find a lot of comfort in the resurrection. Sometimes I would think that just knowing I had come back from the dead would give me some kind of motivation I didn't have here. But that just didn't seem to make sense to me, either.

All kinds of reasons were given for why someone might reach this perfected status after the resurrection. We were not under a perfected ministry and there would be a perfected ministry in operation at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ. Stuff like that. I remember the question being asked, "Is it possible for the saints to go to perfection if they are not under a perfected ministry or part of a restored church?" I always listened carefully to those questions because perfection was on my mind from a young age. (This was not the case for every young person, I have realized. Many have told me they never thought about it the way I did. My son, however, was just like me. He remembers feeling the weight of the perfection doctrine in elementary school.)

Believing this doctrine had a profoundly negative effect on my life, even in some of my choices. Because I believed that Jesus' sacrifice accomplished nothing in my life other than giving me a chance to be saved, I didn't really think my choices were going to matter much in the final outcome of my life. So I could make selfish and ungodly choices in small areas quite easily, without my conscience really bothering me very much at all. The reason was that I processed it this way: "I'm not going to heaven no matter how many things I do right (or don't do wrong) because I can never be perfect. So this life is all I have. And what difference is it really going to make anyway?" Of course, I now see this thinking as completely self-absorbed. It was all about me and what was in it for me. I wasn't thinking about my opportunities to honor and glorify God through even my smallest choices. And even a few times in serious choices, I justified living for myself more easily because I believed I could not measure up no matter how hard I tried.

This was the crippling effect, upon my life, of being taught perfection. And this teaching is the intermittent, chronic illness that still sometimes plagues me. My imperfection and the fear of making mistakes -- saying things wrong or the wrong way, believing the wrong thing, displeasing God in any way -- can literally put me in the weeds...still.

I post pretty regularly on a message board for people who have come out of the group I was raised in. It's quite a mix of people and opinions. Some have rejected faith in God. Some have embraced a more Universalist view of God. Some don't think it matters that much what you believe theologically and that everyone is in error in some way. Some believe truth is very important, but we don't all agree on what that truth is. Some have come out of the group but still hold to some of the group's doctrines. And the one doctrine that most seem to have the hardest time getting free from is the group's teaching on the Godhead. In fairness to them, they believe that God has shown them in Scripture that it is the correct understanding.

We were taught that Jesus was the Father's first creation and that He never shared equality with God even prior to His earthly existence as a man. He was not eternal. And we were taught that the Trinity was false doctrine. God was the Father or Jehovah. The Son was always "less" than God in every way. And they use many Scriptures to support what they believe, just as Trinitarians have many Scriptures to support their view of the Godhead.

This was THE biggest hurdle for me and the doctrine I struggled with the most after leaving. But I now see in Scripture that Jesus, as God's Son, shares the nature of God. And I do not believe He is a created being. God is very clear in Scripture that we are not to worship men or angels; only God. And we are to worship Jesus. John 1 says in the clearest words possible that the Word WAS God and the Word was WITH God. Another very convincing Scripture for me is Colossians 2:9,
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.

My book is about my life; it is not a book on theology. But I do touch on this subject in the book. Before I could even begin to consider the Trinity, I had to be convinced of Christ's deity. I was taught so strongly against the Trinity that I experienced fear and anxiety in even considering it. I was afraid I was displeasing God. (I struggle with the fear of God getting mad at me, for some reason. And this fear is extremely incapacitating at times.)

Yesterday I posted (on the ex-gac message board) some of the reasons I had become convinced of the deity of Christ and that I now believe it is serious error to reduce Him to a created being. I received some harsh criticism (it felt harsh to me -- it may not have been intended as harsh). And I crumbled a bit here in the privacy of my home. There were tears off and on throughout the day. (I hate offending people with my words.) I was rebuked for defining a cult by what a group believes and warned in pretty strong terms that what I was saying/doing was wrong (by someone who has also left the group, but continues to hold to that view of the Godhead). The reprimand triggered fear in me. I was plagued by thoughts of "Who do I think I am? Why do I think it's my role to say these things? I am nobody. I am not a Bible scholar." (My fears are always tied to my fear of making a mistake or doing something wrong that cannot be undone.) The problem is, I feel like God IS asking me to say these things. And I'm caught between a rock and a hard place because I do not want to displease Him - either way. But I am often plagued by self-doubt in my ability to know I am saying and doing the right things.

I had several conversations with my son throughout the day and I told him how fearful I was. He asked, "Have you repented for being afraid?" I hung up the phone and asked God to forgive me for allowing fear and anxiety to grip my heart. I told Him I needed Him to take it from me. And I felt His calming presence immediately.

I feel stronger this morning than I did yesterday, but still I feel the inner struggle to find God's will. So I went to my friends's (Todd Edwards) blog this morning. (I have a permanent link to his blog, Nothing to Boast, on mine.) He was raised under the same teachings I was and God has used him to speak truth into my life on many occasions. I read many things that helped me this morning. (Thanks, Todd, if you're reading.) I found Colossians 2:9-10. And then I read this:

If you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then you are in Christ, then you are complete, there is nothing to add. There are no additional steps or levels to achieve. John 8:36 "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

The narrow gate is a turnstile and if you try to go through with anything else besides your spiritual clothes (Christians are clothed in the Righteousness of Christ), then you will not go through the turnstile and you will be on the wide road of false religion. False religion includes those who think they are in Christ yet they are trying to hold on to their sin and go through the gate. It includes those who think they are in Christ, yet are trying to take their works of righteousness with them through the gate. The gate is only big enough for us to go through with the Righteousness of Christ.

I will make mistakes. I am not perfect. I won't always say everything perfectly. But there is grace for my shortcomings. God is sovereign over all and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Please say a prayer for me that I will be bold in Christ and will stand for Him with enduring faith till I come to the end of my journey.


Danny Bryant said…
late at night I wonder why
sometimes I wonder why
sometimes I’m so tired
I don’t even try
seems everything around me fails
but I hold on to the promise
that there is a reason

late at night, the darkness makes it hard to see
the history of the saints who’ve gone in front of me
through famine, plague and disbelief
His hand was still upon them
cause there is a reason
there is a reason

he makes all things good
he makes all things good
there’s a time to live and a time to die
a time for wonder and to wonder why
cause there is a reason
there is a reason

I believe in a God who sent His only son
to walk upon this world and give His life for us
with blood and tears on a long, dark night
we know that He believed
that there is a reason
there is a reason

for the lonely nights
and broken hearts
the widow's mite
in the rich man's hand
and the continent
whose blood becomes a traitor

for the child afraid to close their eyes
the prayers that seem unanswered
there is a reason
there is a reason

have you heard this song by caedmon's? andy cowrote it.
Shari said…
I don't think I have, but those are great lyrics. Thanks for sharing them on my blog.