The Problem with Testimonies

Most testimonies that you hear go like this, “Before Jesus, I was x, y, and z. I struggled with a, b, and c. Then Jesus saved me, and now I’m no longer x, y, and z. I no longer struggle with a, b, and c.” When I hear testimonies like this, I’m thankful that Jesus saved this person, however, I also get discouraged. When people say that they no longer struggle with those certain sins, sins they struggled with before Jesus, I get confused. I really do believe that Jesus washes us white as snow when He saves us and I believe that when we are saved, sin no longer has dominion over us. I believe that God takes the heart of stone, and gives us a heart of flesh. I believe that we are new creations in Christ. However, just because all of these things take place, does not mean sin goes away. Even though I have a new heart, I still live in my sinful, fleshly body.

Paul, in Romans 7, says this: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (v. 15) A few verses later he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (v. 18-19) Even though Paul is a new creation, and has been saved, sin still lingers. Many people argue whether this section of Scripture that Paul wrote was before his conversion or if he was writing in the present tense. Read it for yourself, I believe and many others believe that Paul wrote this section as his current situation, not before his conversion. Maybe even the sins he struggled with before being converted were the same ones he struggled with after being converted. Paul gives us our only hope at the end of chapter 7, “Wretched man that I AM! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 24-25a)

Before I continue on, I want to make something clear. I am not saying that just because sin will be with us until we die, that that gives us a license to do whatever we want to do. I believe that we should strive for holiness, and obey God’s Word. I am not saying to continue in sin like it is no big deal. Like Paul says in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (v. 1) What I am saying is that we need to have a realistic understanding of our nature, and not to believe that once we are saved, then we will no longer sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…….If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8,10) Martin Luther called Christians, “simultaneously saint and sinner”. Luther also added this, “The saints are sinners, too, but they are forgiven and absolved.”

As Christians, in the fallen world we live in, will continue to have some type of sin in our life, until the day we die and are glorified with Christ. In our life here on earth, the Holy Spirit does something in us to make us more like Christ. What the Holy Spirit does is called sanctification. An article from my study bible says this about sanctification, “It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to make us saints. He consecrates us. The Holy Spirit fulfills the role of the sanctifier. To be sanctified is to be made holy, or righteous. Sanctification is a process that begins the moment we become Christians. The process continues until death when the believer is made finally, fully, and forevermore righteous.” Paul says this in his letter to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring is to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6) Sanctification is a cooperative thing we do with the Holy Spirit. Just to be clear again, I believe before we start the sanctification process, we first must be regenerated by God and then come to faith, which is a gift from God. Regeneration and faith are given and done by God, we do not play a part in that. Sanctification is a process that will take our whole life, we will not achieve perfection in this life. However, with the Holy Spirit working in us and us obeying, we will be made more and more like Christ every day. Paul says this later in Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (2:12-13)

Maybe testimonies should go like this, “Before Jesus, I was x, y, and z. I struggled with a, b, and c. Then Jesus found me and saved me. After Jesus, I hate my sin. But, just because I hate my sin, does not mean my sin will go away. I will still have sin in my life. I will still have struggles in my life because of my actions before Jesus. But thanks be to Jesus Christ who saved my wretched soul. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who is helping me with my sanctification. And thanks be to God who began a good work in me and will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ. So I will continue to confess and repent of my sins, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive me of my sins.” ( 1 John 1:9)

 

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Shame.

We live in a shame culture. And the sad part of it all, that most of that shame comes Christians shaming other Christians. Shame has been here since the beginning, “Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:7-8 

Shame makes you hide. Shame keeps you from being honest. Shame keeps you from being vulnerable. Shame keeps you in bondage. We like to keep people in their shame. We like to walk past them when they need a hand. We like to be better than people, so that’s why we keep people in their shame. We don’t want to help them because we want to stay better than them. We want to stay ahead.

When we see other Christians struggling with certain issues, most of the time we shame them. Addiction to drugs? Shame. Addiction to alcohol? Shame. Addiction to pornography? Shame. Mental health issues? Shame. Sex before marriage? Shame. I have been on both sides, the one doing the shaming and the one receiving the shame. And receiving shame? It might be one of the worst things that can happen to a person.

The shame culture was around during Jesus’ time as well. There was a woman who had a blood disorder for 12 years and had spent all her money to try to fix it, but nothing work. And because of this blood disorder, she was deemed ceremonially unclean which meant she was cut off from many social and religious relationships. People didn’t want to be around her because she wasn’t “clean”. She heard of the stuff that Jesus was doing, and she knew if she just touched Him, she would be healed. And guess what? She touched the fringe of His garment and she was healed. She couldn’t approach Jesus like everybody else did, she had to come behind Him and touch Him. Why? Probably because of shame. Jesus asked who touched Him, and Peter told Him because of the large crowds Him everybody was touching Him. But Jesus knew that it was a specific type of touch. Then this happened, “And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before Him declared in the presence of all people why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ ” Luke 8:47-48

She was trying to hide. She was trembling. She came in front of everybody and said what happened. Then Jesus, in front of those same people, didn’t shame her like everybody else was doing. He called her daughter. He spoke life into her. This just one story of shame from Scripture, there are many more. Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba, and the Woman at the well.

Are there people that you stay away from because they aren’t clean? So instead of getting close to them and helping them, you stand back and shame from afar. You don’t know anything about them except the stories that you hear from others. And that makes you stay away. It is easy to judge and shame from afar, but you know what’s radical? Befriending that person, loving that person regardless of what they have done.

This is the problem with shame when you shame other people for what they are doing or what they did, you keep them in that shame. Because they think, “Well, I’m already in it, and people are readily shaming me for it, so I’ll just embrace it and stay.” But you show them grace, and everything changes. Imagine if God didn’t give us grace. Because none of us deserve it, but we still get it. Even though every single one of us sins every single day. And the crazy part of that is that we are shaming people for the same exact sins that we struggle with. The only difference is that their sin is out in the open and yours is not.

I beg you to stop shaming people whether it’s to their face, on social media, or talking behind their back. We all need grace. We all need love. That’s how we change, that’s how we are saved. Because of God’s grace, mercy, and love. So my question is if we are Christians, shouldn’t we be showing other Christians and non-Christians, grace, mercy and love? Just like God showed us? This is how we change the culture by building people up, by making people shine, by showing grace, by showing mercy, by showing love, by speaking life to them. We do this for one reason. Jesus. He showed and did all this to us. So if we are to become more like Him, let’s start doing it.

It’s not about you.

Faith vs. Faithfulness.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ ” Romans 1:17 

A couple of years ago when I was beginning my journey with Jesus, I thought I had to impress Him for Him to love me. I thought I needed to read my Bible every day, pray 27 times a day, read different types of books, and try my best not to mess up. I believed if I did all that, He would be impressed with me, and decide to love me. In the moment, I didn’t think I was doing that to impress Him so that He would love me, but looking back on it, that’s definitely what I was doing.

I needed to show my faithfulness to Him, I needed to show Him that He didn’t make a mistake in saving me. But I quickly realized, there was no way I could keep up. I couldn’t keep the performance up. Especially, in the moments of sin, I thought God surely hates me now. So I would try even harder to impress Him, to work myself back up to His good graces. But then I would stumble again and start the process all over again. It was a never ending cycle that I could not get out of.

Then, on a mission trip in Rwanda, my eyes were open. Well, they were kind of open. The leader of our trip and our pastor were having a conversation about theology, and they were saying things that I never heard of. I sat in the back of the truck, listening to every word they were saying. When we got back to the states, I asked the leader of the trip about the things they were talking about it, and he opened the rabbit hole for me and I jumped right in.

The rabbit hole was Reformed theology. (I know there are some people who disagree with the reformed beliefs, and that’s okay. This post isn’t about arguing who is right or wrong. The post is about how my eyes were open.) When I jumped in the rabbit hole, I came across Martin Luther. I heard about him from my time in school, but I didn’t pay attention to him. I knew he was a monk and he nailed something to a door, that was about it.

Luther struggled with the same thing that a lot of us struggle with today, he was trying to impress God. He was trying to show his faithfulness to God. And Luther had a struggle with the verse I put at the beginning, Romans 1:17. It what is known as the “tower experience”, was the breakthrough moment for Luther. Here is a section from Luther about that verse and the breakthrough that happened,

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Byron Yawn, says this about the experience Luther had, “The Gospel completely transformed his understanding of Scripture. No longer was it a recounting of the faithfulness of man to God, but rather it was about the faithfulness of God in saving men. Not man in pursuit of God, but God in pursuit of man. What he calls, ‘the work of God.’ Stated simply the story is about faith (in God) and not faithfulness (of man) to God.”

When I finally understood this, just like Luther, everything changed for me. I went from dreading God to delighting in God. The Gospel was so clear to me for the first time in my life. It was a breath of fresh air. I could rest in Jesus. I didn’t have to work for His acceptance or love anymore. My relationship with God was good, and I was counted righteous because of Jesus Christ. Sola Fide. Faith alone.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. I didn’t save me, you didn’t save you. Jesus did. He lived the perfect life, He fulfilled the law, and was the perfect sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s wrath and judgment. We are justified because of our faith in Christ alone. None of our works satisfy God, only faith in Jesus Christ is what satisfies God.

Still today, there are times I fall back into that trap, into performing for Him and trying to show Him my faithfulness to Him. But I have to remind myself, it’s not about me. It’s about Him. My prayer for anyone who reads this is that God opens up your eyes and heart like He did for me and to stop working, to stop trying to impress God, and to stop trying to earn His love. ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Rest in Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30