Paradigm Shift: Confessions of A Pharisee

This blog has been a long time in coming – maybe 20 years in coming…

Let’s just say that for the last couple weeks, (week especially), the Lord has really been putting something on my heart, and today was the culminating and all captivating epiphany moment.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about legalism, and how I’m a legalist. Not in the traditional sense of “Hey, if you dance you’re a sinner,” or “If you drink even a sip of that amber liquid you’re going to hell,” or “Oh no, did you say what I think you just said…” No, it’s been more in the grown-up-in-the-church-my-whole-life-have-never-really-felt-like-a-sinner-kind of way.

And I think I finally do. And, in a weird way, I’m glad.

There have been some really good comments made at Bible study, and conversations with friends, and then finally this morning’s service, that have really challenged the paradigm I’ve been living in all my Christian life. What I’ve realized is that I’ve been living a very subtle, but very dangerous lie. All the head knowledge in the world has not gotten quite to the heart of this matter for me until just now. It’s as though slowly but surely I’ve been sitting in a dim room, where the light has gradually been growing brighter and brighter until finally now it has flickered gloriously into a brilliant ray of revelationary luminescence.

See, here was the problem. As a kid born and bred in the “Church” (which, don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for), I have had this unconscious worldview of “levels.” I have fallen prey to evaluating my life, and others according to this unseen standard of spirituality. In my opinion, some people have attained certain glorious levels, while others, have, poetically speaking, remained in the dark, or at least the dim. I have analyzed my own “spirituality” in terms of service done, Bible-reading accomplished, prayer spent, decisions made, actions done, words said, or thoughts had. If I begin to slip and fall backwards in any of these ways, I have found myself thinking I am somehow less pleasing to the Lord and therefore less worthy of offering advice, or ministering in some capacity, or even worshipping for that matter. And, if I am excelling in any of these areas, I tend to think myself more worthy of ministry positions, service projects, and divine worship experiences.

Oh, how wrong I’ve been. The Christian life is not a ladder in which each rung represents another gold star next to your name in the Lord’s throne room. God is not sitting there noticing a good deed or bad deed and thereby ripping stars off or placing new ones on accordingly. There is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or make Him love me less. No “good deed,” no “great deed,” indeed no “divine deed” I’ve ever done could have merited His mercy and grace. And, when it comes to sins, well, quite frankly, as if one “truly bad sin” could ever displace me from His favor when all I am is a sinner in the first place, flat out! I’ve always been in need of His grace – on the good and the bad days. I’ve never done anything to fall into His favor, and I’ll never do anything to fall out of it (because that presupposes that a good thing could merit falling into it in the first place, and it doesn’t!)

Along with this, I’ve found myself in a position of envy. Not envy in terms of clothes, jewelry, cars, money, etc, but envy in terms of a relationship with the Lord. I’ve placed certain people on pedestals based on their external relationship with the Lord – the things I see them “doing” for Him. Now, I happen to know these people’s hearts, and know that they are truly, genuinely seeking Him. But let’s face it. That’s just me being a legalist again. I’ve found myself wondering, “Wow, how do I get to the level they are at? What is their secret? I wish people could think of me in such terms as people think of them. The spiritual giants so to speak.” Some amount of adoration in people’s pursuits of the Lord is good. But, what happened to me, over the course of my life I think, is this built up understanding of those levels again- that ladder. I’ve thought that if I can only reach a certain spot that someone else I perceive has reached, then I’ll be good. I thought that would put me out of the “danger zone” and in this happy, flower-filled meadow with the Lord in which He will truly look down upon me in all majestic happiness. Silly me. All this has done for me in reality, is create guilt for unmet expectations and a humanistic fear of man.

So, after listening to last week’s sermon and today’s sermon, I’ve shifted my paradigm. No more looking at my life as a person climbing a ladder. No more guilt for somehow making God “less pleased” with me for not reading my Bible enough or not making the wisest decision in a certain area of my life. No more “feeling good” after having a great conversation with someone, as though I somehow can take credit for that. I just want to need God. I just want to be totally dependent upon Him. I want to be like the little children who will see the kingdom. I want to be like the persistent widow described in Luke 18.

Everytime I start to think about my relationship with God in terms of levels achieved, I’m going to go back to the cross, and remember that under that tree, we are all on the same level before God – absolutely wretched, and absolutely forgiven. It is our heart for Him and our dependency upon Him that He cares about.

For all of you Pharisees out there with me, or all of you tax collectors who have beaten yourself up over your sins for long enough, sing this song with me. “Jesus, your love is enough, sufficient for me, all I have needed You’ve given for free. Your love is enough; don’t need man’s applause. I know what I’m worth , I remember the Cross.”

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