On the few occasions I have gone hiking in a tick heavy woods, the immediate task upon completion of the hike is to search each person’s scalp for ticks and to help search one another for those little blood suckers in places they may be hiding. I’ve used this analogy before, but I like it because its so obvious. Nobody minds being surveyed for those little parasites and welcomes the searching eye of friends and family. And yet, with those far worse parasites in our hearts, the things which obscure my view of the grace in which I now stand and hold me hostage to fear, shame, self-righteousness and depression, I don’t want anyone poking around and seeing that!
Today, Scotty wrote this: Help me and my friends know how to hold each other accountable for believing the gospel, Lord Jesus. Help us to take each other’s heart-struggles seriously. Help us never to minimize nor marginalize the deceitfulness and hardening power of sin. Help us know how to preach the gospel to our own hearts daily, and to each other’s hearts increasingly, until Today gives way to the Day.
I’ve always been afraid of “rebuke” because it implies condemnation, rejection, failure, shame and even isolation. But, really, it’s as Scotty says, holding “each other accountable for believing the gospel.” Its replacing areas of shame and blindness with the covering of His perfect righteousness and sight! And that is GOOD news.
The privilege of friends who will help you see where you are not believing who God says He is, not believing the grace that places us confidently in His cherishing gaze, not believing the Fatherhood that always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres but instead foolishly living like an orphan in self-reliant survival is another gift of the Gospel. A strong area of that unbelief was searched out by dear friends last night.
When we think of idols, we usually think first of Baal and other material, man-made creations. Next we might think of money. We rarely picture our spouse, our children, or friends. But people are our idols of choice. They pre-date Baal, money, and power. Like all idols, people are created things, not the Creator (Rom. 1:25), and they do not deserve our worship. They are worshipped because we perceive that they have power to give us something. We think they can bless us. (Ed Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, p45)
I have always risen and fallen (in confidence, energy, joy, peace, etc.) from the “vote of confidence” of people, particularly people who I respect and whose opinions I genuinely value. It’s more specific than just generic people pleasing or need for approval, because these are not always the case. My security or feeling of stability is comfortable with disagreement on a particular topic but totally undone when the disagreement is with me, the person behind the topic. I have a high need to be believed in, even if not agreed with on every point. This is the very dangerous place a president finds himself when the opinion polls start to influence his decision making. Subtly and below the surface where I am not even aware of it, I become driven to attain public approval even while I am not consciously aware that I really care what people think.
In reference to the leaders in Jesus’ day who struggled to fully and openly believe, John 12:43 explains, “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” This is me! God has promised me over and over from Genesis-Revelation that I have His vote of confidence, not because of my own cute little self, but because of the reliability of the work of Jesus for me which is certain to be worked out fully in me in His time by His power. Yet, as Ed Welch also wrote, “The praise of others – that wisp of a breeze that lasts for a moment – can seem more glorious to us than the praise of God.” (p40) It is more than simply people pleasing, it is fear of man rather than fear of God. It is greater confidence in man’s judgment (opinion, assessment, respect, enjoyment, cherishing, etc.) of me than in God’s judgment of me.
And here is where my loving Gospel friendships can help me believe the Gospel more: man’s judgment of me is almost always strictly based on law, whether it be God’s Law or any of our limitless new laws of the moment (appearance standards, cultural vocabulary, dietary choices, entertainment favorites, parenting practices, etc.) whereas God judges through the completed work of Jesus. We usually only see where we (and others) fail to meet God’s righteous requirements but neglect seeing and showing each other where Jesus has met every letter of these requirements and credited it to us. He is just and the One who justifies while we tend to neglect one for the other.
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us…Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:31-34, 1-4
What this is not saying is that magically everything I do is pure, perfect and praiseworthy. What it is saying is that everything He has done is. And it is upon His merit that I stand before God approved, cherished, adored, respected and with an undefeatable vote of confidence. This is the grace in which I now stand. This is the confidence I have even as I justly (or occasionally unjustly) receive the disapproval of people. The Gospel will free me, eventually, from riding the waves of confidence from people and bring me to believe that “such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
Oh how I look forward to that Day when I will be able say from experience the words of Jeremiah: But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. 17:7-8