Anna and Jim welcomed me into their home during the summer of 2013 – which, in hindsight, was one of the most volatile and transformative seasons of my life so far. I was sort of ascending into adulthood like a person rolling backwards down an “up” escalator trying to figure out what I wanted. During that summer, I wrestled with God about a relationship and the value of commitment (spoiler – we got married). All while I was experiencing so many new and exciting things, I could have spontaneously combusted at any moment.
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Most of my young adult life, I believed that spiritual growth happened by gaining knowledge about God, and “performing well” as a Christian. I loved being in situations where I could impress others with my “devotion” to God by bragging about books I’d read or moral standards I’d stuck to. Such a mindset was unhealthy and inauthentic, and prevented me from experiencing God deeply.
The older I get, the more God reveals to me how empty morality, knowledge, and goodness are when not rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. I realize that spiritual growth comes from going deeper in the foundations of the Gospel – not by ascending the ladder of knowledge. This Gospel, this good news that I’m talking about, is that I am separated from God and deserving of death because of the brokenness and self-centeredness we call “sin.” But, God saw me (and you) in our wretched state and showed us what true love looks like by sending Jesus to die and pay the penalty of death that we owed. By enduring the wrath of God that we deserved, Jesus made a way for each of us to be reconciled back to God. This gift of salvation from death is a free gift to anyone who declares with their mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believes in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9) – proof that Jesus has the power to conquer death.
With age also comes the admission that old stumbling blocks and struggles have a tendency to rear their ugly head when I am not running hard after God with an authentic desire to honor Him. When I’m in a funk, or see former struggles resurfacing, I try to take an honest assessment of my life to discover whether I’m living my life based on moralism or based on the truth of the Gospel.
The four questions below help me think through whether or not I am maintaining a right view of God and his grace, power, and love, and discern how I can thoughtfully respond to Him.
- Am I receiving God’s grace?
Throughout my teens, I thought Christianity was about good people getting better, not about sinful people admitting their need for God. Instead of resting in God’s grace, I strove for outward perfection and found myself managing internal darkness, guilt, and shame. I remember being eighteen and confessing a past sin to a friend. Rather than condemning me like I expected, she pointed me to repentance and God’s grace. I cannot describe the joy I felt upon realizing I could release the guilt and shame I’d been carrying around. Recognizing my need for grace and that God offers it freely forever – allowed me to walk in the freedom that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.
- Am I taking my sin seriously?
We are all tempted in different ways and have different weaknesses. Some people struggle with sins that are outwardly obvious; others struggle with things that no one else can see. Small indulgences or big mistakes, it doesn’t matter – God has called us to be set apart from culture. He calls us TOWARD certain things and AWAY from other things for our good and His glory. There is such wisdom in His commands! If you are walking down a path that leads nowhere good, turn around. For me, some examples of this have been changing the TV shows I’m willing to watch, ending relationships, and changing my spending habits. Jesus died so we would not have to be a slave to addiction, destructive behavior, busy-ness, perfection, or to anything else. Be courageous in naming sins in your life and turning from them.
- Am I applying the Gospel to my daily life?
The Gospel changes everything. If I am living as if what I say I believe is actually true – that I am a broken person reconciled to an all-powerful, loving God by His grace alone – then every area of my life should be affected by it. Romans 12:2 talks about being “transformed” by the renewing of our minds. When I take time to reflect on my great need for God and His great love and mercy in rescuing me, it transforms my mind, which, in turn, transforms my actions. Applying the Gospel means that greed becomes generosity. Individualism becomes vulnerability. Pride becomes humility. Love becomes urgent. When I am not allowing the Gospel to transform my thinking, I get petty. I get proud. I get selfish. I get materialistic. And I think I am in control.
- Am I committing to spiritual disciplines?
Discipline is one of my biggest character flaws. It does not matter what discipline we’re talking about; I am usually inconsistent. Diet and exercise? One week I may eat nothing but kale and work out every day, the next week you may find me on the couch with an empty box of cheese snacks from Target’s dollar section (Whales – they’re the best). I am so thankful for a God that remains faithful even when I am faithless, just because of who He is (2 Timothy 2:13).
Disciplines can be a tough one for me for other reasons as well – I mentioned earlier I have a tendency to measure my spiritual growth by my “performance.” It can be easy for me to slide into a routine of “checking off” disciplines of Bible study and prayer without really wholeheartedly engaging in them. There can be a danger of slipping into legalism. We aren’t made righteous by our spiritual disciplines, or anything else we can do – but by grace alone through faith in Jesus. The truth of the matter is that God reminds us of who God is (and how we relate to Him through the gospel) through prayer and the study of his Word, and we are likely to forget His grace without interacting with God in these ways.
Friends, God’s love does not come as a result of our obedience. But because of God’s love, there is freedom and joy in living lives aligned with the wisdom of God.
You can read more thoughts from Madisson at www.madissonrogers.com