Sunday, June 19, 2011

Abiding in Christ

Today my heart needed some encouragement.  I've been dealing with some depression and anxiety and in part it has taken a form of obsessing over end times theories and various versions of Christian theology.  Mixed with grief over my miscarriage and continued infertility and frustration with the limitations of my diet (gluten and dairy intolerant), I'm primed for a pity party, vulnerable to attack. 

This morning I heard a sermon that used the life of one of the kings of Judah to illustrate how a good start doesn't rule out a bad end.  That a good start could just be riding on the coattails of another's faith.  The speaker said that there are those who preach "once saved always saved" and those who preach that salvation is something that can be lost.  He said that both groups have in common the way to know if you are saved are not is whether or not you are abiding in Christ, as evidenced by the fruit of your life.  What fruit?  The fruit of living rightly and obeying God's commands.  What commands? 

Jesus gave many commands during his ministry, as recorded in the four gospels (here's one attempt at a list), and the apostles amplified that in the Epistles. 

It's rather overwhelming, but things get simpler again when I remember Christ said that the Law and Prophets hang on two commands: to Love God with all our heart soul mind and strength and to love our neighbor as our self.

But what does that look like?  How do we love God?  Again and again in the New Testament, love of God is equated with keeping commandments. Here are just a few verses:
John 14:15  If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

John 14:21  He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.

John 15:10  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

1 John 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

2 John 1:6  And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

His commandments are not burdensome, it says.  But reading each command in this list, I saw only how short I fall of truly keeping them. 

My walk with Christ is hindered by distractions, worries, love of the world and its pleasures and entertainments.  I say I have no time for Bible study or prayer but spend HOURS and HOURS wasting time online or watching TV.  Rather than loving others, I navel gaze and often can't see beyond my own nose.  I hold grudges, I seek revenge (albeit in petty passive aggressive ways), I am angry, jealous, and selfish.  Rather than making disciples, I shrink from sharing my faith. 

The more I read, the more burdened I felt.  Not only do I not keep these commands, but I saw that it was impossible to do any better than I have been doing.  That was just the New Testament commands.  There are those who say I should be attempting to keep the Old Testament feasts and dietary laws as well, and there I'm really sunk.

No matter what standard is used, the bottom line is that I am not perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect.

No one is, you may rush to say.  Don't be so hard on yourself, Pio.  Don't forget about grace.

Yes, there is grace.  But I wonder if it is cheap grace to dismiss these failings as something everyone does?  So it's OK, and I don't need to change because there's grace?

Then I began to wonder, when I become a fruit inspector and scramble to think of ways I could possibly measure up to the standard, am I abiding in Christ or relying on my works for salvation?

In the midst of the list of commands, this jumped out at me:
Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
I'm not righteous, we've established that.  Repentance means to agree with God about my law breaking and mistakes and admit I can't save myself and turn to Christ as my only hope not only of heaven but of having the fruit of obedience and right living in my life.

But I still felt uneasy and burdened until I read 1 John 3:18-24:
18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. 19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
That was New American Standard, but I also read it over again in each of the translations available on Bible Gateway.  The Message translation of verses 18-20 particularly comforted me (emphasis mine):
 18-20My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
The truth is, my heart does condemn me.  I know I am broken and my only hope is in continually throwing myself at God's mercy.  But what a blessed hope that is!  It is only then that the Spirit works IN me to produce the fruit.  The branch on the vine doesn't strain really hard to pop out a puny cluster of fruit.  The sap flows through and naturally grows out into fruit. 

I do see the Spirit at work in me, which is all the assurance I need that I do abide in Christ and He in me.

He's still working because I'm not finished yet.  I'm still that work in progress, that pearl in an oyster. 


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