“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” –John 14:15
These words of Jesus are true, dear friends. And while I have believed it for years, a deeper part of my heart was always troubled whenever I heard this preached or read this verse for myself. As a Christian, I knew I had been saved by the grace of God through faith, and yet, something always pricked my conscience; it was like I knew I wasn’t really living up to this. Did I really love God?
Guilt over past sins in my life would often lay hold of me, sometimes to the point of physical discomfort. I cannot count the nights I have laid in bed and just wept because of my sin. I’ve been through some deep valleys in my life.
I always thought we’re supposed to mature as we get older, but I began to get used to the feeling like I was always coming back to square one. Sure, I may have learned to tolerate certain offenses, put away certain lusts because they weren’t appealing and even serve others more–when it felt “right.” But there were always plenty of other things that dragged me down.
In recent years, depression became more common-place in my life. Certain experiences and trials I went through would rock my world and threaten to destroy any remnant of faith that I clung to.
“Change my heart, O God!” became my regular prayer until it almost seemed pointless. Would God ever answer me?
I stopped reading the Scriptures regularly, and when I did pick up my Bible, I may or may not have avoided certain texts. It was too depressing.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
“I know I’m a sinner,” I would tell myself. “So this isn’t referring to me.”
“…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5b)
“Yes, but this is about God. And I believe it.” I said, ignoring the Spirit’s whisperings to my heart.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
“Yes!! I am in the light!” My heart would hope. “But am I really though?” I would doubt.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
“But I don’t love the world.” I would protest. “I’m a Christian, which means the old man is dead and now I love God. Right? But that part about ‘the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions’ I don’t know that I can honestly say I’m never giving in to those things. Maybe this means the love of the Father isn’t really in me?” Doubt swept over me.
“But I’m a Christian,” I told myself again. “I believe in the Gospel. Jesus died for me. This means the Father does love me. I’m just listening to Satan’s accusations and I need to stop believing him.”
“Lord, I have sinned: I have not spent time in prayer and devotions as I know I should. I’ve been tempted and not resisted the devil, giving in to the deceitfulness of sin. I’ve lusted after the flesh, I’ve not been entirely honest and forthright; I feel worthless. Please forgive me and change me!”
I cannot tell you how many times this scene has played over and over again in my life. I have felt so helpless, so incapable of change, so hypocritical, so depraved, so wretched, so discouraged and so uncertain of God’s love and favor towards me–because of sin.
Where is the grace of God?! Better yet, what is the grace of God?! I have often asked. God promises His grace, but I really don’t feel like I’m getting it…
Life would take me through seasons of great trial and stumbling and wrestling, then times that were less painful, seemingly good.
Looking back, I see so many ways that God would reveal His truth to me. I recently read something John Piper wrote where he said, “The fear of God is the fear of falling away.” I’m not sure I had ever looked at the fear of God that way. Remembering the story of Joseph, his motivation and consequent response to Potiphar’s wife’s temptations was a result of his fear of God–his fear of falling away: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9b)
Examining my own heart, I asked myself, “Do I love God like this? Do I fear Him? Is my motivation for saying “no” to sin and temptation because I love Him? Do I serve God and others out of genuine love for Jesus?”
Sadly, I could not say that it was so.
Dear friends, if you’ve read this far, please don’t stop. I want to tell you something that is so very very real and true: God is faithful! He hears our cries. He gives more grace–even when we don’t deserve it. He is so very good!
I recently found myself in a place of suffering, yet again. The pain that lays hold of the heart through rejection and feeling unwanted, unloved and uncared for is perhaps some of the most gut-wrenching ache I have ever felt in my life. At first, I laid hold of the Scripture and the promises of God. I fought hard and began to taste victory until my self-centeredness was exposed, and like a fish thrown upon the sands, my soul dried up. My heart became hardened and vulnerable.
One evening, I laid awake late into the night with my heart feeling torn apart. I recognized and acknowledged my weaknesses before God and cried out with tears that He would change me. “What do I do, Oh God?!” I would pray. “How can I change?”
The next day, I felt weighed down and overcome with depression. I was greatly discouraged and the Enemy was relentless towards me. Somewhere along the way, I had dropped my sword, and I held on to only one strap of my shield. Looking down at it, it was beaten and a crack ran down from top to bottom. The rest of my armor was fading, battered and wore heavily on me.
I stood in the midst of the battlefield, the war raging around me. It was night. Fear consumed me. A single arrow streaked across the darkened horizon, silently splitting the air. I was immovable–my heart, numb. Then bursting into flames, the arrow fell from the sky and struck my chest. I screamed and dropped to my knees. I was broken.
And then, He answered.
In that moment, it was though my life flashed before me–the darkest and deepest places of my heart exposed by the bright light that surrounded me. I saw my sin even clearer than I had before. Lust. Deceit. Selfishness. Pride. Bitterness. Resentment. Fear. All sins that I put away, telling myself that confessing them to God was enough. I told myself I could leave these things hidden under stones because I’ve confessed to God and He will forgive me.
The trouble was, I never repented–truly repented. Like scales falling from my eyes, I began to see how my heart had become hardened by the deceitfulness of my sin by believing I did not need to “come into the light” and confess not only to God, but also to man. In truth, I had only become self-reliant and continued to find that by keeping sin to myself and allowing it to harden my heart, I was failing to obtain the grace of God.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15)
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
As the Lord continued to expose the darkness of my heart with His glorious light, I began to see something amazing about Him: even in my deceitfulness and my wanderings, His grace was still given in a measure that provoked me to cry out for change. He could have left me to my sin and turned away from me, but He did not forsake me. Who is like our God?!
By His great grace and kindness, I came to realize that the only way forward in life was through genuine repentance–turning away from sin. As I let go and surrendered, something more took place in my heart and mind: His Word came alive to me. The guilt and shame and doubt that clung to me as I read His Word before had gone!
Dear friends, I share all these things with you as a testimony of the goodness and grace of our Lord Jesus. Some of you who read this might be in a similar place in your life. You know God, but have let sin into your life to deceive you and harden your heart. Know this: Jesus loves you. Keep crying out to Him. Keep asking Him to change you. He hears you, and He will do it. And oh! How sweet it is to be found in Him!
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5a)
Oh the joy and freedom that is found in His glorious light!
Oh the joy I’ve found
Surrendering my crowns
At the feet of the King
Who surrendered everything
Oh the peace that comes
When I’m broken and undone
By Your unfailing grace
I can lift my voice and say
You can have it all, Lord
Every part of my world
Take this life and breathe on
This heart that is now Yours
(Have It All, Bethel Music)