by Dustin Cannon
Bad theology in Christian music doesn’t surprise me anymore, but I heard a Casting Crowns song recently that caused me to take note because I think it reflects a prevailing notion in much of popular Christianity.
The lyrics said,
“Lord, I know I let You down
But somehow, I will make You proud
I’ll turn this sinking ship around
And make it back to You”
There is a dreadfully dangerous deception thriving in Christianity that the goal of the spiritual life is to grow closer to God.
The notion is based on a lie from the start. I lie that says God is distant from us. I lie that says our sin separates us from him. A lie that says we need to work hard to become holy and grow closer to him.
The truth is
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
Nothing Can Separate Us From The Love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus taught the kingdom of God is within us and therefore nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. In John 15, He compared our relationship to God as a branch connected to a vine. It is God who grafts the branch to the vine. We only need to remain. We don’t even need to worry about producing fruit. That is his job. We are only to remain in him and that simply means to trust that our redemption is secure in Christ.
There was a time, not so long ago, that I too had allowed myself to become burdened once again by a yoke of slavery (see Galatians 5:1). I had believed the lies that said that I must examine myself to be certain I was truly in Christ.
Make no mistake about it, when we look in inwardly for evidence of our salvation, it leads only to despair.
I was being crushed under a weight of obedience and spiritual disciplines and longing to “make God proud” as the song lyrics say.
In desperation and asking for prayer, I reached out to a Lutheran pastor and friend of mine.
His reply was shocking. It pissed me off. And I’ll be honest, my first response was that this was the worst possible advice a pastor could ever give.
It was almost a year later when I stumbled across that email again, only to find the most life-giving liberating words anyone’s ever said to me.
I’d like to read the letter to you.
I’m praying for you and your family brother. And while I hesitate … this is what I believe God wants me to tell you.
Are you disobedient and lacking in faith? Absolutely! But I did not need you or your so very pious soul-searching to tell me that–scripture tells me that. I take what a liar like you (Rom 3:4) says with a grain of salt. You are way too blind and stuck on yourself to be in any position to know what is actually wrong with you.
And please don’t insult my Good Shepherd Savior by suggesting something as paltry as your dipshit disobedience could cause Him to remove his protection from you! As if your obedience has anything to do with His protection. Would you ever dream of removing your protection from one of your children no matter how dis/obedient they were? So Jesus is a worse Shepherd than you are a dad? Give me a F—‘n break!
So what should you do (not that you asked)? How about not praying and reading the bible and writing for a while–at least limit it to 15 minutes a day (and no writing/teaching)? I think you have made an idol of your own devotional, prayer, reading, writing life. You’ve made an idol of “seeking His face” so give it up and, instead, just let God seek you in the places he has called you to be– the place of a husband, father, a normal guy who just wakes up and goes to work, and someone who is part of a Christian community (God hates alone-ness… don’t blame that on him). I imagine it would be very difficult for you to give that stuff up… a difficulty that proves only the depth of the idolatry. Same for if you dismiss this as theological bullshit…
Your brother in Christ,
Ps. I am always up for beer.
I will forever thank God for this pastor and dear friend who was willing to be honest and tell me the truth. That was exactly what I needed to hear. You see not only had I made an idol of my own fictitious piety, but I had attached too much spiritual significance to seeking God rather than, as my Pastor friend said, allowing God to seek me.
He was right. Praying and reading the Bible and doing acts of charity for the poor had become … a sin …. for me. The truth is for the believer in Christ there is no secular versus spiritual. I am not more holy or pleasing to God when I’m on my knees receiving the holy sacrament than when I am when wiping my little boy’s poopy butt. Both are holy acts of worship for the one who has been declared to be righteous by the blood of the Lamb. It can be tempting to attach greater spiritual significance to praying and studying the Bible and serving the poor but there is no difference. We are just as much serving Christ when we go about our daily God-given vocations in the home as well as the workplace. That was why my friend told me to start focusing on spending more time being a dad to my children and employee in my job.
And in doing that I found Christ was there serving others with and through me.
You can stop trying so hard. You can stop trying at all. Stop asking what would Jesus do and start asking what does Jesus look like. Stop trying to love him more and simply bask in his love for you.
The law leads only to the despair and death. But the gospel brings life. Jesus said my yoke is easy and my burden is light. You can stop trying so hard. Rest in Him. if you’ve been relishing in sin, and feel like you must clean yourself up before you get back to him, I’m telling you right now – that’s a lie. Nothing you could ever do, could surprise him or separate you from his love. He’s right there. Jesus never left. Trust Him. Let Him embrace you in His loving arms. Let Him love you. Amen.