Thomas Jefferson was a man of his time. His age of reason denied the possibility of miracles. So he took his old Bible and an old pair of scissors, and he cut out any verse with a hint of the supernatural.
Modern Christians do the same thing, only ours is the age of therapy (we like miracles). We rescue the Bible, highlighting anything that makes us feel good, and ruthlessly amputating every verse about sin (except for the sin of feeling bad about ourselves).
We adopt the book, I’m Okay—You’re Okay, baptize it, ordain it, and put it in the pulpit. Our new preacher skips any verse that questions our okay-ness, like:
- If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children…
- For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness…
- You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?
We are modern day Jeffersonians, cutting, twisting, and distorting the Bible, forcing it to say only what we want to hear. And we wonder why the church is a mess.
The truth is: I’m not okay, and neither are you.
But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater
Therapy addresses a need that many believers overlook. The world is filled with broken people. We are fearful, angry, insecure, and self-absorbed. That’s on our good days.
Many of these adult problems come from painful, unaddressed childhood experiences. Perhaps we had an angry, frustrated father who dealt with his disappointments by verbal abuse. Then many of us grow up mistrusting any authority figure, even God.
And it’s understandable.
Infants are born with soft bones that need the strengthening of dietary calcium. A lack of calcium causes rickets, bent and fragile bones. Likewise, infants are born with soft hearts that need emotional nutrition. Any lack of emotional calcium causes rickets of the heart, fear, anger, and authority mistrust.
Therapists ask adult patients to revisit childhood experiences of abuse or neglect. They ask the patient—as an adult—to see those experiences through mature eyes, and to recognize that the abuse or neglect was not their fault.
And it wasn’t their fault. It’s not that the child was perfect—none are—it’s that God designed us to receive love even in our imperfections. When this love is missing, it is not the child’s fault. Someone failed to feed us the nutrition needed for a strong heart.
A step too far
Many therapists (and quite a few Christians) go a step too far. To bolster self-confidence and self-esteem, they say, “You’re a good person. I’m okay, you’re okay.”
This contradicts the Bible which says we are broken sinners. I understand why they say it. They’ve heard too many preachers scowl, “You are bad, wicked, and sinful; you have absolutely no value at all.” This too contradicts scripture which claims every human soul is valuable because God’s image is stamped on our very soul.
Modern therapy says we are valuable because we are good; scripture says we are of infinite value and precious in the eyes of God; but nowhere does it say we are okay.
The gospel is just different
At a public dinner, Jesus deals with a Pharisee and a prostitute. The Pharisee feels good about himself and the prostitute feels bad. Jesus doesn’t commend the Pharisee’s self-esteem, nor does he encourage the prostitute with an ephemeral, “Hey, you’re okay.”
Instead he praises the woman, “She loves greatly because she’s been forgiven much” and he denounces the Pharisee who “loves little because he’s been forgiven little.”
The key to esteem (and loving others) isn’t the arrogant, self-esteem of the Pharisee; it is the humble God-esteem of a person who was not okay but has been forgiven.
Forgiveness is the key to a transformed life, but forgiveness requires the essential first step, admitting we are not okay. Don’t we get it? God’s love is proven when he loves us before we’re okay. Only that love gives unshakeable confidence:
God demonstrates his love for us by the fact that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8).
Logic, truth, and confidence
I recently read a book that describes a woman who couldn’t come before God because she felt bad about herself. The authors’ only solution was to try and build her self esteem. They said, “All she had to do was feel good about herself.” Their logic was lacking and their theology was abysmal.
There is another way. Our problem isn’t that we feel bad about ourselves—we might have very good reasons to feel so—the problem is our bad, unbiblical opinion of God. Like the man with one talent, we say, “I know you are a harsh God.”
This is the opposite of the Biblical God who loves us so much he personally pays for all we’ve done that causes us to feel bad about ourselves, who died while we were sinners.
Where will you get more confidence: if you come before God because “you are okay,” or if you come before God because he can love and forgive even before we’re okay? “I’m okay—you’re okay” burdens us with an unbearable load.
Next time we’re tempted to take scissors and cut out a verse of the Bible that makes us feel bad, let’s take out a highlighter instead. Let’s meditate on that verse, and let it drive us to God. The more we’ve been forgiven, the more we’ll love.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “Redeemed humanity will somehow be better than unfallen humanity.” Let’s find our unredeemed-ness and come to God with that.
Thanks for capsulizing the difference between Jefferson’s bible-snipping and ours today. Never saw that. Brilliant. I suppose everyone snips according to some belief or another.
I sense an invitation to lean into any verse that makes me squirm by looking at it directly with Jesus, rather than just skipping over it like a long name in a Russian novel. I’m sure he’s up to it.
The semantics of worth has come up at my church lately. We had a sermon recently—part of a series on the very relevant topic of crippling shame—in which it was stated that we are worthy of love and belonging. But in order to accept that premise and benefit from the point of the sermon, I had to take the mental time to define “worthy” for myself. I was just too aware that I don’t deserve the great things that God has given me the power to claim.
There is an important difference between the popular definition of worth, which is based on a denial of sinfulness as you point out here, and a worth that’s based on how much we are valued.
Likewise, I think it’s important to qualify the idea of goodness in human beings. This is one of those great theological paradoxes. We are not good. We are good. We are not good because we are morally corrupt and self-serving by nature. We are good because we were made by a Good Maker and bear his image indelibly.
As Chesterton observed, holding onto only one of two paradoxical truths will ultimately yield a kind of falsehood.
Beliefs of the Heart
Thanks! As Faramir says to Samwise Gamgee, “The praise of the praiseworthy is praise indeed.”
And I love your insights into paradox, “we are not good, and we are good (infinitely valued).” We need to hold those together. It brings humility (we are not so hot!) and confidence (we are loved with an immeasurable love). I want humility without despair and confidence without arrogance. Your comments give me just that.
Just don’t be snipping at that Bible 🙂 !!
I was NOT OK, then I came to Jesus, and he gave me HIS OK-ness. ;0) He’s plenty more than OK: He is good. And through his transformational sacrifice and redemption, I share in that goodness. So I’ve stopped spending a lot of time feeling bad about myself. I am finally, at this late stage of my faith, beginning to BELIEVE in his redemption. And when I sin, which obviously I still do regularly, I feel sad, then bring it to God (who has already forgiven me). We acknowledge it together, I say I am sad and sorry, and he reminds me of his forgiveness, I accept it, and move on. And in this process, he empowers me to behave more like him next time. But his acceptance is not dependent on my improvement. I am already fully forgiven, and in his eyes I am perfect, because I am in Christ. This is fully scriptural.
It is FOR FREEDOM that we have been set free. I highly recommend a book called The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley, which has helped me to truly grasp the depth of that freedom in Christ. Yes, pre-redemption, we are all lost sinners who fall into the camp Jesus describes in those passages (though in all but the first one, he is addressing hypocritical religious leaders). But post-redemption we are, well, redeemed. And I am not going back into that prison of self-condemnation for anything human beings or the enemy of our hearts can give or threaten!
Beliefs of the Heart
I love your comment, “I’m beginning to BELIEVE in his redemption.” So few of us do exactly that. It’s precisely because we don’t believe in his redemption that we do all kinds of things to feel good about ourselves … but it is just striving after the wind. The only solution–as you say–is to believe in his redemption.
Great post Cynthia and a great recommendation for the book the naked Gospel, excellent read!
From what you wrote I am guessing you believe in once saved always saved. Redemption is only worth its weight if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light by being led by His Spirit, 1 John 1:5-7. Please explain where in scripture it says that Christians will continue to sin and we are already forgiven. Everything God has given us is so that we will not sin or stumble. Do you not believe that God is able to keep us from stumbling, Jude 24. How about that He will provide a way out from very temptation, 1 Corinthians 10:13. He has given us everything to life and godliness so that we might become partakers of the Divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (escaped from sin), 2 Peter 1:1-12. How about those who love God and have overcome the world, 1 John 5:1-5? How about those who do not sin because they are born of God, 1 John 5:17-19? It says Christ died while we were yet sinners, not because we continue to sin. He died while we were still helpless, not because we continue to be helpless. Christ died so we would no longer be sinners and sent His Spirit so that we would no longer be helpless. This is the grace of God. The real reason people feel bad all the time is because they are constantly told they will continue to sin. Such an unpleasant thought, believing they will never be able to truly please God. It is like telling a child they will never be good enough. This would bring so much destruction to the child’s life if they believed what they were told. Talk about ultimate depression. However God says through Him we can. Here are a few questions to think about in regards to who Christians are supposed to be and can be because of what He has promised us:
Who are the righteous and what makes them righteous?
Who are the sinners and what makes them sinners?
Who are the ungodly and what makes them ungodly?
For whom was the Law made?
Now read 1 Timothy 1:5-11 and answer the questions again. Interestingly the verses following describe the Christian as once being deceived and disobedient, not continuing to be disobedient.
Diane Davis Kniskern
2 days ago
“From what you wrote I am guessing you believe in once saved always saved.”
To believe in once saved always saved is to believe that God is not the same God of the Old Testament. God has never allowed sin to go unpunished. Christ dying on the cross opened up the way to heaven, but it did not guarantee heaven. If it did then man would not even have to accept Christ. We do have to accept Christ which does not mean to simply believe He was the Son of God. To believe in Christ is to believe in everything He was, is, and has commanded us to do. Christ came to demonstrate the way into heaven. He did this by being led by the Spirit whom He has given unto those who come to Him. He showed us what God fully expects from us, which is to live like Christ. If we are continuing to have sin in our lives then we are lukewarm like those in Revelations of whom God says He will spew out of His mouth. He continues to say that He would rather have us be cold (ungodly) than to be lukewarm. Far to often we compartmentalize sin, making some sins worse than others. However all sins are equal. The homosexual will receive the same condemnation of a liar. To believe we are saved in our sin contradicts everything the God has said from the beginning. We are to be sanctified through His Spirit. Sanctified means to be completely freed from the power of sin and not freed from the guilt or penalty of sin.
Diane Davis Kniskern
I feel very sorry for you. So, do you believe you are perfect and without sin, or that you are going to hell?
The better question is do we believe our way is right or do we believe God’s way is right. Please read Ezekiel 18 and 33. God says that if a wicked man turns from all of his wicked ways and does that which is righteous, all of his wicked deeds (sins) will be forgotten. He also says that if a righteous man turns and does ONE of the things the wicked man has done then all of his righteous deeds would be forgotten. This is the same as what John is telling the non-believers in 1 John. John says that if we walk in the light as He (Christ) is in the light, His blood will cleanse us from all sin. To claim we have fellowship with God while we continue to have sin in our lives is to lie and not practice the truth. John says it another way in chapter 2 verse 4. The one who claims to know God but does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him. To claim once saved always saved even though we continue to sin is to tell God that it is our way that is right and not His.
I am more comfortable to believe I am lost because I am not in Him due to sin in my life which I have not given up then I am to essentially tell God that it is His fault that I continue to sin because He made me fallible and to say that He can’t condemn us for continuing to sin.
Christ says that in that day many will come saying Lord, Lord, we did all these things in your name. And Christ says to them, “Depart from me I never knew you, you workers of iniquity (those who commit sin). It doesn’t matter how much we live to the Lord, if we continue to sin then Christ will claim He never knew us.
That’s a very powerful word.. I don’t know if I like it or not, but I believe it is true. I like the term ‘God esteem’ as opposed to self esteem. Self esteem has a very limited source…God esteem is infinite and as you said, the only truly unshakable one. Thanks for sharing your heart,
And the reason I’m not sure how I feel about it is because I’m not okay…;)
I like the term “God-esteem” as well. Puts the emphasis back where it should be.
Beliefs of the Heart
And, frankly, I’m much happier with God-esteem than self-esteem anyway.
I think it’s what we are made for.
Beliefs of the Heart
And God-esteem turns our not-okayness into something great!
Love you man!
Basically, I agree, Sam. HOWEVER, John Eldredge, in his book WAKING THE DEAD, makes a good point that the same belief system leads us to CONTINUE thinking our hearts are bad EVEN AFTER they have been renewed. We have trouble thinking that there could be a “good and noble heart” in us–but THERE IS, once we have been redeemed. It’s a fine line to walk, I realize, but I think in many ways our culture–at least the “Christianized” version of it, goes too far in the other direction–I was not, and can never be, OK.
When you go bowling, there are two gutters–either one gets a big fat zero. Keeping in the lane is where the winning combination lies…
Beliefs of the Heart
To borrow your language, basically I agree…however. 🙂
Christianity has always taught our need for Justification AND for Sanctification. When we are justified, God sees us wearing the perfect, white robes of righteousness. He looks at us and sees his son.
Sanctification is the process by which he purifies our hearts and desires so that we actually live the life he designed us for. He has given us a new heart, but we still allow weeds and thorns to grow that try to choke out the gospel in our hearts. Sanctification is the process of choking out those weeds.
As you say, it is a two gutter bowling alley. I see too many men and women who live hopeless lives of despair, thinking they can never be redeemed (WRONG!!). I also see too many men and women who say, “I am good; I don’t sin” and they let live the weeds of anxiety, anger, fear, and sometimes abuse.
Someone once called Justification and Sanctification the “Already but not yet.” It is the, “We are already redeemed and we are still being purified … at the same time.”
And the long Christian teaching has been this: we are justified by the cross (as we see and believe what he has done for us), and we are sanctified too … by the cross (as we see his love and believe what he has done for us … even as we daily stumble.)
Love you Ken, and I always love your challenging observations. You dah man.
Naaah! Jesus dah Man… but we DO get to be like Him… (Doesn’t “Christian” = “little Christs”??? )
Love you too! You do some great observations yourself!
Please provide scripture that says we stumble daily. Please define what sanctification means according to scripture.
Almost every “saint” and great Christian I have read about admit their sin. In some ways, the greater the believer, the humbler they are.
Just take the summary of the law (Love the Lord with all heart, mind, soul, and strength and love neighbor as yourself). Do you honestly know anyone who does that perfectly every day or any day? Yes, let’s strive to do so, but let’s admit our weakness.
There are tons of sanctification definitions from the Heidelberg, Westminster, Augsberg, etc. They agree far more than they disagree.
What is your definition of Sanctification?
Thankfully it is not my definition, it is God’s definition.
What is sanctification according to God’s Word?
It is what occurs when we become slaves to righteousness and enslaved to God. Romans 6:19-22
Sanctification is possible because of the free gift God gave to us, the Spirit of Grace, who taught us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. Titus
It is the will of God, that is that we abstain from sexual
immorality, that we know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God, and that we do not transgress and defraud his brother in the matter. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. He who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
It is and always has been God’s plan from the beginning,
sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It is so that through it we may gain the glory of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
It is what is required in order to see the Lord in the end. It means to not fall short of the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. That there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who gave up his birthright for a single meal. That is to say for one fleshly desire he gave up his right to his inheritance. Hebrews 12:14-16
It is to be hated by the world because we are truly in
Christ. It is not being of the world, set apart from the world, being sanctified in the truth. It is being sanctified even as Christ is sanctified. John 17:14-19
It is to have no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but to
be holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27
It is not quenching the Spirit, examining everything and
holding fast to that which is good, abstaining from every form of evil. It is having our spirit, soul, and body
preserved complete, without blame at the coming of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-23
It is being able to have a good conscience so that when we are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to open shame. 1 Peter 3:14-15
It is being made alive in the spirit and body because through the Spirit we have put to death the deeds of the flesh so that we may be sons of God. Romans 8:10-14
It is turning from darkness to light and from the dominion
of Satan to God, so that we may be able to receive the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance among those who have been sanctified. Acts 26:16-18
It is being acceptable, obedient in both word and deed. Romans 15:14-19
It is no longer being unrighteous or deceived. Not being a fornicator, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexual, nor thief, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, because if we are we will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is glorifying God
in our body. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20
It is abstaining from wickedness. By cleansing ourselves from wickedness we will be a vessel of honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. It is fleeing from our youthful lusts and pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:19-22
It is not going on sinning willfully after receiving the
knowledge of the truth, for if we do we will only have the fearful judgment of God to look forward to because we will have regarded the blood of Christ as unclean and insulted the Spirit of Grace. Hebrews 10:10-31
God is very clear about what it means to come to Him and to be sanctified. None of it is possible without the Holy Spirit, God’s grace given to us, but that does not alleviate us of our obligation to serve God through the Spirit. Romans 8:11-17 It is still our choice just like it was Esau’s choice, Annanias and Saphira’s choice, and Paul’s choice. You asked if I knew anyone who did this daily. That would be the one who God had write most of His definitions. Paul the Apostle. I hope you are not one who believes Romans 7 is Paul’s description of his life after coming to Christ because his description of himself throughout his books would say otherwise. Paul claimed that he and those with him took every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. He said they once were deceived and disobedient, Titus 3:1-7. He even made the the claim that he was perfect, Philippians 3:15-17. Why doesn’t anyone do this today? Because the churches have all become those who seek out those who will tickle there ears.