This past Thursday, January 7, marked 18 years that I've been consciously engaged in a walk with the Lord. I say "consciously engaged," meaning that prior to that, I believe I was saved (I've been a believer as far back as I can remember in life), but it wasn't until that day that a very noticeable, undeniable change took place in my life that forever redirected my path in life. I've already told the story on this blog, and perhaps I made it a bit long, but you can check it out here if you want. Suffice it to say that I believe the Lord has always been 'at work' in my life, even when I had no clue and when I was not giving Him the time of day, so to speak. And it's always been His doing, not mine. I didn't consciously go chasing after Him that day. Even though I told my friend on that strange and wonderful day that perhaps I was looking for Jesus, it was more that He was coming after me!
In fact, a passage that I clung to in those early days, back in 1992, was Philippians 1:6 - "He who has begun a good work in you will carry it onto completion until the day of Christ Jesus." With all that had suddenly changed in my life, I knew that it wasn't "me" who was making it happen. I knew it was the Lord's work.
And yet --- I spent the first three years essentially making it about my work for Him. And I've spent the past fifteen years overcoming the mess that was made during those three years!! You see, as I said, I had the underlying confidence that all that was happening in my life was the Lord's faithful work in me, but even so, my understanding was "leavened" with a faulty view that it was up to me to "do my best" to keep myself in line. I not only had to try to keep myself from sinning, but I had a laundry list of activities that I was to keep up - Bible reading, praying (for long periods of time), listening to teachers on the radio, going to church, being involved in various ministry activities, "witnessing," getting people to come to church, etc, etc, the list goes on and on. All of that stuff was preached to me and taught to me, and I taught the same stuff to others.
Grace, to me, was not really much more than having a feeling that God would forgive me if I sinned. I did also have a general feeling that God's grace would enable me to do all those things that (I thought) He wanted me to do. However, no matter how much I did, and how much I "asked God for forgiveness," I always felt my sin was too great and I never felt I was doing enough. Of course there were many "convicting" sermons that got me all pumped up, making me feel as if I was finally going to leave church on Sunday morning and go out into the world and live the "Christian life" in victory! That is, doing all the stuff I was "supposed" to be doing, and refraining from all the stuff I wasn't supposed to be doing. But by the time Monday morning came around, I felt like a complete failure.
Well, I got rooted in that mindset, and those roots go deep. It was only three years, but it has taken A LOT of unlearning during the past fifteen years to overcome all of that stuff, and I still feel sometimes as if that old mindset keeps me down in various ways. Don't get me wrong - I've learned a lot and I've been freed up in so many ways. I live with an internal joy and peace and sense of freedom that I really can't even comprehend or fully express. And I'll never, ever, go back to that legalistic lifestyle. But yet even after fifteen years I can tell you that some of those roots are very stubbornly and deeply rooted, and hard to dig out!
I say all of this not to promote a "victim mentality," but rather to promote the importance of being rooted and established in God's unconditional love and grace! Each of us has had varying levels of legalism in our lives. For whatever reasons, God has allowed us to go through it. And now that our blinders have come off and we've seen the true freedom and grace and unconditional love of our Lord, we "strive" (hehehe) to remain free! We've entered the land of rest and freedom and we never want to go back to the land of religious legalism and burdens. It is good that the heart be established in grace.
So let's encourage one another often. Let's help one another to be rooted, grounded and established in God's unconditional love and grace. Let's help one another to be free. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!