Monday, December 10, 2007

obeying God for all the wrong reasons

I have finished (at last!) that fantastic but slow-to-read book, Martyn Lloyd Jones’ Spiritual Depression. Read it! - I'm sure you'll find a chapter dealing with the main causes of spiritual discouragement in your life.

For me, if there's any one issue which has hampered my joy in God over the years, it's my perfectionism. So I was excited to find that chapter 12 addresses the “conscientious type of person ... who says, not, ‘Now I am converted, all is well’, but rather, ‘This is a great and glorious life, and I must live it.” (p.164, italics added)

That I would put myself in the “conscientious” camp should come as no surprise to friends, family, or readers of my blog. In that significant source of self-knowledge, the facebook big 5 personality test, I scored highest for conscientiousness.

The other day, even when the librarian allowed me to borrow 1 extra book over the 3 item limit for books on a topic (rainforests, for Lizzy's school project) I felt compelled to put it in the return slot in case another parent needed to borrow it.

In Sunday School as a 10 year old, the teacher asked what we wanted most of all. The other kids mentioned toys; I said “to be able to obey God in everything”, and I was completely sincere (not to mention an unbearable prig.) I saw this as an indication of godliness until about 15 years ago, when I realised it represented an unhealthy obsession with perfection.

Conscientious Christians, according to Martyn Lloyd Jones, tend to turn Christianity into a new law. They treat holiness as a great task, and “plan and organise their lives and introduce certain disciplines in order to enable them to carry it out”. (p.166)

I'm no longer a great follower of rules and disciplines, but I used to come up with all kinds of programs for self-improvement. I've given up on them because I've found that I become exhausted, anxious and guilt-ridden when I inevitably fail to live up to them.

I'm fascinated to see that according to Lloyd-Jones, the concientious Christian's main motivation for obedience is actually fear:

a) An inappropriate fear of God the Father, as if he is “a task-master…constantly watching to discover faults and blemishes in them, and to punish them accordingly.” (I find it really hard to view God as a loving Father, rather than as someone who wants me to obey the rules.)
b) A "fear of the greatness of the task" because "they are in trouble about ... the possibility of ever really living this life as it should be lived.” (The main emotion I feel in the face of God's or others' demands is fear of failure.)
c) A "craven fear" of the power of the devil. (I can’t relate to that so much, but this probably shows how little we talk about the devil these days.)
d) A fear of the “sin which is within themselves. They spend their time in denouncing themselves and in talking about the blackness and darkness of their own hearts.” (Ok, ok, now I’m ashamed of all those blogs where I anguish over minor sins!)

And how’s this for an insight worthy of a modern psychologist: these fears are “ultimately a fear of themselves and a fear of failure.” (p.169)

So what's the solution? Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers this from Romans 8:15-17:
1. To realize holiness is not something God expects me to do alone, for he has given me his Spirit to help me.

2. To be assured by the Holy Spirit of my new relationship to God, which gives me new motivations for obedience:

a) God is my Father. So we don’t obey to reach a certain standard, but “to please God because He is our Father…to show Him our gratitude for all He has ever done for us.” (p.172)
b) I am now part of God's family, so I obey because "I belong to God and…must glorify him.” (p.173)
c) The Holy Spirit lives within me. Conscientious Christians should actually avoid praying too much about their sin (a wonderful point you’ll often find in Lloyd-Jones!) and simply believe that God’s Spirit will empower them to obey. (p.173)
d) My destiny is to live with God forever. Holiness is “not a question of keeping to a standard” but “a question of getting ready for the place where you are going ... You are destined for heaven and for glory, and…all the things you see inside yourself and outside yourself cannot prevent that plan from being carried out.” (p.174) (Go on, do yourself a favour, read that quote again, it’s fantastic!)

The conclusion is quintessential Lloyd-Jones – “Work out this theme”, reflect on what you already know to be true. “Lay hold of it, appropriate it, practise it. Do not worry about what you feel. The truth about you is glorious …Take your full salvation and triumph and prevail.” (pp.174-5)

It’s easy to obey God for all the wrong reasons: to attain certain standards, to practise spiritual discipline, to please a harsh task-master, to avoid punishment, or (my own tendency) to feel better about myself because I am closer to perfection.

Instead, I would love to learn to obey God for the right reasons: because he is my loving Father and I delight to please him; because I belong to him and long to bring him glory; because his Spirit has already given me the power to obey; and because I am getting ready for heaven, which not even the sin I see so clearly can keep me from – a place where all God’s people will perfectly and joyfully obey him for all eternity.

1 comment:

Ruth McIntosh said...

Fantastic Stuff! love it Jeanie
How reassuring - especially to know that our task here is to get ready for what's coming!
love Mum