Grace, Love, and HolinessI wouldn’t say I was addicted. I never had to go to rehab or to the hospital for overdose treatment, but I just really liked the way it made me feel. It was a feeling I didn’t get to experience much. Powerful. Confident. Happy. I just wanted to feel happy.
by Rebecca Lee Gates
by Rebecca Lee Gates
Happiness came with an expensive price tag, too expensive for my high school allowance to afford often enough. I was feeling so empty and hopeless this particular day. I wondered how I was going to pay for a couple of lines of this drug that had the power to give me what my parent’s little church on the corner couldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t last. Even if by morning I was more angry, more alone, and more hopeless than before - it would be worth a few hours with this powdery substance.
What did I have to give that a drug dealer might want besides money? And then I knew what I had to do. I will never forget the look of disappointment on my best friend’s face when I took the dealer upstairs. I had stooped to a new low, even for a couple of users. I was disappointed in myself. I felt dirty.
Driving home from work only a few years later, I was a completely different person. Dressed in an outfit that looked like something my mom would wear, I cranked up my Christian music and headed quickly to church. I was now a leader and felt proud that these kids looked up to me. I didn’t really want them to know the person I once was. I liked that they seemed to think I was perfect. In a way it made me feel powerful, confident and happy. I wanted to teach these girls how to act like me … the NEW me.
Something almost ugly would rise up in me and splash out of my mouth like a toilet overflowing all over the beautiful bathroom rugs when I saw behavior in them that was familiar to me. Old wounds would suddenly come alive again. Didn’t they get it?! When you change your outward appearance, you change the way everyone views you! Say the right things, abstain from the wrong things–at least demonstrate in the way you present yourself to others a little self respect, even if you don’t feel it on the inside.
Was this passion to see girls live pure coming from a place of love in my heart to see them living whole, free lives where they know they are beautiful and loved? Or was it fear that compelled me to aggressively defend my choice not to date? Was this choice that I pushed on others as the ONLY way coming from my fear that they would make the same bad choices that I had made?
So many of these kids found temporary refuge from their troubles in sexual relationships and substance abuse in spite of my efforts to offer hope. But what hope had I really been offering them? I lived my life for too many years preaching a “good news” message that was impossible. In fact it was in direct opposition to the good news gospel that Jesus preached.
It wasn’t like I was suggesting that anyone live a holier life than I was already living. If I could abstain from TV, R-rated movies, four letter words (with the occasional slip up), extra marital sex, alcoholic drinks, of COURSE drugs, secular music, running to the doctor to fix me instead of to God; if I could read my Bible and pray everyday, plan to homeschool my kids, drive the speed limit, show up to church every time the door was open, breast feed, serve at my church and cover my shoulders ALWAYS, then anybody could do it too!
I had a great argument proving how each of these standards I held to were not only beneficial, but a sign of maturity in the Lord. But sometimes when no one was around and it was just me and God, I felt empty. This holiness I felt I had achieved didn’t wash me, and I still felt dirty.
Having exchanged my shame for a righteousness that the Bible refers to as “filthy rags,” I was like the apostle Paul, only in reverse. He had once been a zealous religious leader opposing Jesus’ teachings. He was sincerely passionate in his pursuit to purify the church, until Jesus revealed Himself as God and struck Paul (then called Saul) blind so that he could see how he had been persecuting the God he was so zealous to serve.
Paul had a powerful conversion (including a name change) where every ounce of his passion was now channeled through his love for Jesus. He gave up his life to preach the same Good News of grace and God’s kingdom that Jesus had preached before He was crucified. Sadly, Paul’s biggest battle was with people like me who were saved by God’s grace, but then turned to the Law for their righteousness.
“For I through the Law [under the operation of the curse of the Law] have [in Christ's death for me] myself died to the Law and all the Law’s demands upon me, so that I may [henceforth] live to and for God.” Gal 1:6 and Gal 2:19 AMP
(I suggest reading ALL of Galatians.)
My problem was simple: a common mistake or twist of the truth made by many others just like me. I exchanged my shame for the righteousness of Christ because of what Jesus did for me. I knew I didn’t have the power to fix myself, so I submitted my life to God. But somewhere along the line I got mixed up. I stopped pursuing Jesus’ heart and started thinking I could be better - more loved by God - if I read the Bible more. Abstinence from more “worldly” things could make me better than someone else. A life spent surrounded by people who agreed with me would make me more powerful and keep my children from ever falling away from God. These were MY reasons and motives for living this way...and they were WRONG. If you have personal convictions to raise your kids a certain way, or to refrain from movies or TV, for example, then that is freedom for you. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying and fall into offense. I am addressing our hearts motivations as we obey God and love others for who they are in Him.
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. ’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 22:34-40 NKJ
But of course we don’t see any of that in our modern church body, or do we?
I see in my story how emptiness was what drove me to sleep with a dealer to get drugs and also, emptiness made me think to myself, “what do I have to repay God for all that He has done for me?” I had nothing except a vain idea for holiness and perfection as defined by ME. I was a modern day Pharisee living in opposition to the true gospel of Jesus. My judgments served as a kind of persecution of Jesus. My heart sinks when I think of how many I confused with a message that we are saved by grace while trying to “fix” what people looked like on the outside before the Holy Spirit had a chance to really get a hold of their heart. How many walked away from God because they could never feel good enough? How many are still in church, looking the part, but feeling lifeless inside without a sincere love for God because I never introduced them to His unconditional love? They fear falling out of favor with Him. They fear losing their salvation. I didn’t offer them hope. I taught them an impossible gospel.
Through my personal Saul-to-Paul conversion, God has shown me that spiritual maturity isn’t doing all the “right” things and abstaining from what someone else defines as sin. It isn’t even laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover. Spiritual maturity is a sincere love for God while also demonstrating His unconditional love for others. The gospel that Jesus offered while He walked the earth expressed perfectly love and acceptance for people just the way they were. Now that’s GOOD NEWS!
My hope is that we will each examine our own hearts on every one of our “pet peeves”, “personal convictions”, and “spiritual passions” in light of the kind of love God has extended to each of us personally. His love sees us as He sees His Son, perfect and lacking nothing. I pray that we will see ourselves through God’s perfect love and that we would have eyes to see others in the same way as well.
The Good News is a gospel of GRACE.
The Law I am under is LOVE.
Pharisees can’t define Holiness. It can only be seen in Jesus, recognized through His eyes and achieved by God’s grace through the Blood.
Maybe your life has looked very different than mine. You grew up doing all the “right” things. Grace is a hard concept for you to understand because your conversion didn’t make you look that different from the outside. Maybe you even struggle sometimes, feeling like you don’t have a powerful testimony compared to people like me. I assure you that if you ask God to give you a revelation of what it cost Jesus for your salvation, He will! And grace will suddenly take on a new meaning in your life as you share your testimony powerfully and confidently.
Bless you friends in the perfect love of God!
Rebecca is in love with her King and passionately seeks to administer His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. She does this everyday by loving her husband and three boys while also praying God's best good to be poured out on her community. She loves to study the Word as His Spirit teaches her how to apply it to her life. Rebecca is thankful for the opportunity to teach others and blog what she learns, preferably while enjoying Starbuck's. Please visit her blog often: Rebecca Lee Gates
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