Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Work Your Way to Holiness!

"We pray, 'Lord, change me.' But to answer our prayer, He will often allow circumstances or people to offend us. Our fleshly reaction spotlights the specific area where we need growth. Thus, the Lord initiates change by offending the area of our soul He seeks to transform. He does not expect us to merely survive this adversity...but to become Christlike in it." ~~Francis Frangipane~~

I came across this on a friend's Facebook feed yesterday, and it has been sitting like a stone in my shoe ever since!

I'm sure Francis Frangipane has written many things that have helped many people, but this one just seems wrong.  Or is it just me?

Here's how I see what he's saying.  I realise I need to change in some area of my life, so I pray about it, tell God about how I can see this sin in my life, and I can see how it's hurting myself and others, and I can't change it myself (I've tried), so I need His help to change.  In response to my prayer for help, God creates/allows something to happen that REALLY blows up whatever area it is that I've asked for help in.  I am now feeling like God has just rubbed my face in the fact that I have a problem, I'm sinful, and I can't change.  Apparently (according to Mr Frangipane) I now have to not only survive this situation, but somehow become Christlike in it!

My question is - HOW do I become Christlike, all by myself?  How does my asking God for help with a problem, God allowing the problem to become even bigger, making sure I'm very aware of  the fact that I'm sinful and I can't do anything about it, and basically saying 'You thought you had a problem before?!' as He walks off into the sunset, help me to become Christlike?

It feels like the kind of Christianity where we have to make ourselves holy, before we can come near God.  If we don't, He'll mess up our lives, while saying 'If you don't stop crying/asking for help/pointing out your problems to me, I'm going to really give you something to cry about!  Sort yourself out before you come near me again!'

In other words, pull yourself up to holiness by your own bootstraps.  Does this sound anything like 'works of the flesh' to you?

My big problem with all this, is that it's me doing all the work.  Me doing the praying, me doing the changing, me making myself become more Christlike.  I don't know about you, but I can't do that!  I have tried, for decades, to make myself behave better, to be kinder, more patient, less selfish, more generous, less lazy, less frustrated... and the end result has been failure.  I can't work my way into heaven, or God's good books.  I can't create the change I want to see in myself.  And it's not through lack of trying, or willpower, or determination!

What this sounds like to me is a big guilt trap.  'You've got a problem?  Great!  God's given you that problem, and He expects you to not only fix the problem, but use it to become more like Him.  If you're not doing that, and just wallowing around in your problem, overwhelmed by it and not knowing which way to turn or how to survive, then you are wasting a perfectly good opportunity, given by God, to become more Christlike.'

If I could make myself holy, why would I need Jesus?  If I could, through my own efforts, sanctify myself, why would I need His blood?  Why would I need the grace of God, or His mercies?  All I would need is to just try harder!  Pray longer!  Memorise more scripture!  Think less sinful thoughts!  Do less sinful things!  Stay away from all those other sinful people in case they contaminate me with their sinfulness!  Work, work, work, work work work work!!!!  This is a quick way to fundamentalism and legalism.

This line of thinking is why many people don't pray for patience - because they expect all God will do is to put them in frustrating situations where their lack of patience is exposed.  I've always thought of that as being like someone getting into debt, and going to the bank to ask for money to pay their debt, but instead of the bank giving them money, they give them another bill.  How does this help?

I don't tell God how I'm going to change anymore.  Instead, I tell Him that I can't change.  I tell Him that I hate my frustration and impatience, I hate the way it hurts Him, me and my family, but that despite my best efforts, I CAN'T CHANGE MYSELF!  And unless and until He changes me, despite my best efforts I can't help but carry on doing the things I don't want to do.  And so I pray for Him to change me, and for His grace to cover me until I'm changed.

I am helpless to change myself.  I can not do it - I can't become holy by myself.  And isn't that what the gospel is about?  We can't change ourselves - all our righteousnesses and trying to be good are as filthy rags in the sight of God.  I can't make myself more Christlike, it is impossible to do.  God is the only one who can do that.

I've been beaten over the head with this way of thinking for years - I've beaten myself over the head with this way of thinking.  But no more! 

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