A Soul Only a Father Could Love

Perhaps it is a cultural value, this need we have to impress others. It starts at home, the desire to make our parents proud, as if we have to prove our worthiness to justify their admittance of us into their family. We may have siblings, and we fight to prove we’re cool enough and fun enough to join in playtime games.

We learn to make friends by showing off our skills, or toys, or unique personality traits, and we never really grow out of it. We enter school, and we’re tested and graded on our intellect and learning abilities to determine if we’re worth graduating and sending out into “the real world.”

We start dating, and we struggle between the balance of “be yourself” and “be someone worthy of his love,” believing the two could perhaps be the same if we’re seen in the right light. We get jobs, and we work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the tasks entrusted to us, worthy of raises and promotions and hard-earned retirement parties.

At some point our lives end, and–I haven’t experienced this first-person–I imagine we leave this earth wanting to know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life, that our time on earth wasn’t wasted, that our life’s work was worth the time we were given to live it. We hope and pray we’re found worthy enough to advance into an afterlife of bright lights and joy and comfort.

And all along, we spend our whole lives overcompensating for the one truth we’re not willing to admit–we’re not worthy. We’ve never been worthy.

We are ugly, sinful people. If you cracked each of us open, you’d find layers of disgusting filth and grime in our souls. You’d find lying souls and cheating souls and adulterous, murdering, idolizing, thieving souls. You’d find souls who shamelessly covet and crave the most dangerous and harmful elements of this world. You’d find souls only a Father could love.

We do not deserve blessings and peace and admiration for our accomplishments. We don’t deserve to be included in a family or circle of friends. We simply are not worthy to take accolades from anyone, because anything useful or worthwhile we have to offer is a gift from God to bless others and be used for his glory, neither of which we care much about when we’re focused on using them for our own glory and for others to bless us.

But–

There is hope. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see me for the lying idolator I am. He sees Jesus. He sees me as worthy of an eternal relationship with him, not because of any inherent worth, but because of Jesus’ worth. Because when I said, “Okay, God, I believe you. You are the only God, and you saved me through your son’s sacrifice,” I took on the righteousness of Jesus. At that moment, the dirty, old soul inside me was changed into a clean, new soul reflecting the love of Christ. The habits of the dirty, old soul remain, and will continue to linger until my dying breath on earth, but the soul is all-new.

And now we return the favor. We extend to others the same courtesy God extended to us when we were at our very ugliest. We love others, we show grace to others, we make amends for others. Not because others are worthy of our love, but because we aren’t worthy of God’s love. We love others as an offering back to God, an appreciation of his grace.

It is only when we surrender our need to be found inherently worthy that we can “lead a life worthy of [our] calling, for [we] have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1). And this call, of course, is to love.

What are some areas in which you constantly struggle to be found worthy? 

about not being a satan worshipper

Satan doesn’t want us to become Satan worshippers. He just wants us to be anything-but-God worshippers. He’s not even looking for us to consciously disobey God and say, “I’m done with this God fellow! The world is so much more fun without him!” We don’t have to dress all in black with capes and pentagram tattoos and sacrifice cattle and babies to please Satan and disobey God. Satan only wants to create enough doubt in our minds for a compromise, and that compromise almost always leads to disobedience.

When I was much younger, I knew there was only one path to heaven. I could point out verses in the Bible and show you, how God says right there that Jesus is the only way. Over the years, over time and conversations, I began to compromise what I knew to be true. I met dear friends who had zero belief in God, and rather than speaking the Gospel boldly, I conceded to their beliefs and attempted to fit theirs into mine. This usually looked something like, “Well God’s grace and mercy is so great I can’t even imagine it, so surely he would have grace for those people who die without knowing him. As long as they tried really hard and followed what they believed to be true, whatever religion or non-religion that may be, surely God’s mercy will rain down on them and we’ll all get to heaven through our chosen paths.”

Turns out, I know now that’s called Universalism and that God, as full of grace and mercy as he may be, is not a Universalist. But I compromised, one thought process at a time, and ended up a false prophet, telling other people that what they believed was okay with God as long as they followed those beliefs. I’ve had to repent from the damage I’d done, working against God. I wasn’t a Satan worshipper, but I was an others-worshipper, a Rebecca-worshipper, more concerned with other people thinking I was hateful or close-minded of offensive than whether I was accurately representing the Gospel.

All Satan wanted from me at that time was for me to doubt that God is who he says he is, that he’s said what he’s said, that I am what I am in him. If you go back and look at the fall of man, that’s how it started, with one probing, doubting question from Satan: “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) And there, the doubt was presented. Eve didn’t say, “I know that’s what God said, but I’m going to disobey him anyway.” Instead she started rationalizing, judging for herself, and compromising what she knew was true. She said, “Well, this is what God actually said…” and Satan said, “Oh, that’s not true, just think about it,” and next thing we know, we’ve got sin and death and evil in the world. It all came from one seed of doubt and compromise.

Satan tried the same thing with Jesus in the desert. He said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). Satan had Jesus in a lose-lose situation. Jesus would prove to Satan that he was indeed the Son of God by turning the stones to bread, thereby obeying Satan. Or he would disobey Satan in rebellion and not turn the stones to bread, and hopefully doubt and compromise his identity as the Son of God.

We know Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s tricks and instead turned it back against him, saying, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (4:4). It’s genius, really. Satan gave Jesus an either-or option and instead Jesus said, “No.” He clung to Scripture, stood firm in what he knew to be true, and still demonstrated his Son of God status in the process. I love that.

So what for us? We follow Jesus’ example, and it’s not easy. We learn the Scriptures, we read them, memorize them, and cling to them. We stand firm in what we know to be true, and in doing so, we’ll demonstrate our children of God status. I’ve failed at that in the past. I’ve even ended up in conversations with friends recently where I start getting confused and questioning what I originally believed going into that conversation. Times like that I have to get away, get alone with God, and regroup. Otherwise I’ll keep compromising my way into disobedience. It’s a tediously constant, conscious process, but it’s effective and keeps me focused on worshipping God and no one, or nothing, else.

about being judas

Jesus specifically chose Judas to be one of his twelve closest disciples, knowing he would eventually betray him. I know Judas was fulfilling God’s plan and it was crucial to our salvation that he betray Jesus, but I can never seem to distance myself from the things Judas did.

The Gospel of John gives the most attention to Judas at the Last Supper. While Jesus was washing the disciples feet, he makes a little comment about one of them being unclean. They sit down to dinner, and Jesus makes several statements that one of them is going to betray him and all the disciples start panicking in their minds and asking him aloud, “Who is it?” So Jesus says, “It’s the person I’m about to give some bread to,” and he dips the bread into the bowl and hands it to Judas.

Firstly, I just want to say I’ve always thought this whole scene was one of the most awkward in Scripture. What would the rest of the disciples say after that exchange? “I’ll have another glass of wine, please”? “No thanks, I don’t need any more bread”? How uncomfortable.

The Gospel of Luke implies a subsequent conversation about which of the disciples was the greatest. At first glance, I thought it was a weird time and place for that conversation. But the more I meditated on it, the more it made sense. Perhaps the disciples saw Judas’ acknowledgement of betrayal and grew proud and self-righteous. Maybe Peter patted himself on the back and said, “I would never have done that to Jesus. I’m the greatest disciple he has.” Maybe John said, “Well, look at all the miracles I was able to perform.” Or Andrew said, “Wasn’t I the first chosen?” Maybe this was the reason Jesus said, “Don’t kid yourself Peter, you’ll be the first to deny me tonight, and you’ll do it over and over again.”

So there I am, all over that. I see someone else stumble, fail, or falter, and my first reaction? Pat myself on the back and say, “Good thing I have a daily quiet time with God.” Or “Thank God he already called me to walk in the light so I’m not wandering out there in the darkness like those people.” And Jesus looks right at me and says, “Don’t kid yourself Rebecca, you’ll deny me today and tomorrow and over and over.”

Crap.

Secondly, after Jesus hands Judas the bread and Judas eats it, the Bible says it’s at that point Satan entered into Judas. So Jesus tells Judas, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” What if, every time we’re about to disobey Christ, he came right to us and said, “I know what you’re about to do. Just hurry up and get it over with”?

Crap, again. Would I still sin? Would my conviction be greater? If a brother or sister in Christ brings something to my attention, some way I’ve been disobedient to Christ, it cuts me deeply with conviction. How much more incredible would that pain be if Jesus himself was standing before me, staring into my eyes, and telling me he knew what I was about to do, he didn’t like it, and just to hurry up and do it? I go back and forth on it, thinking if he was there, right there, there’s no way I could outright disobey him, and then realizing I do that very thing every single day. I’m like the worst parts of Judas and the other disciples rolled into one.

The irony of all of this, of course, is if it weren’t for Judas’ betrayal, I wouldn’t be cleansed of these redundant sins. I wouldn’t be righteous enough to enter God’s presence. The Biblical character I see so much of myself in is the same Biblical character whose terrible actions have opened the door for salvation for every one of us. Praise God that he will always use us to bring about his glory, whether it’s a result of our obedience or our disobedience. And praise God that he loved us enough to orchestrate all of this so we get to spend forever with him in heaven.

about the authority of learning about God

The more I study Scripture, the more horrified I am at all the things I’ve been taught through the years about God that simply aren’t true.

Little details, like with Noah. He didn’t just get on that ark with two of every animal. He got on the ark with seven pairs of every clean animal, one pair of every unclean animal, and seven pairs of every bird. Maybe that’s been simplified over the years for little kids to understand it, but it’s not a story just for little kids.

I was taught Noah tried warning other people about impending judgment and was mocked. That part? Not in the Bible. 2 Peter 2:5 has a brief reference to Noah as a preacher of righteousness, but even that doesn’t specifically say he ever directly warned the others. God clearly chose only Noah’s family to be saved. Otherwise he would have sent Noah to the world as he sent Jonah to Ninevah.

I often hear what an amazing thing it was for the first disciples to drop their nets and follow Jesus instantly upon his calling. And yes, that’s a big deal. But when Jesus told them to follow him and he’d make them fishers of men, they already knew him. They’d already met him. As John 1 tells us, at least Andrew and probably John were disciples of John the Baptist. They would have constantly heard JtB talk about Jesus as the Messiah. When JtB sees Jesus, he points him out as the Messiah. This is when Andrew goes to get Peter and shows him Jesus.

Why does that matter? Because it diminishes the importance of our responsibility as sharers of the Gospel. We know people may have radical conversions and suddenly drop everything to start following Jesus, but these disciples heard about him, met him personally, and then, when he called, they dropped everything to follow him. Isn’t that how most people come to Jesus? That’s why we’re instructed to share about him, lead others to him, and let him call them. We have a responsibility to point out the Messiah to others, not just sit back and keep quiet and pray for a radical conversion. As Romans 10:14 says, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (NLT)

It seems several times a week I go to Ronnie and say, “Did you know this-and-this thing isn’t actually Biblically accurate? I was always taught that it was true.” And most of these things are relatively minor, like whether or not Noah actually warned people of the flood and was mocked for it. I’m not saying that’s not important, because a right understanding of the Bible is always important. But it’s likely not as damaging spiritually as some of the things I’ve been taught over the years. I could list tons of them, like the fact that I have to be good enough to get to heaven, I have to have enough good deeds, I have to recommit my life to Christ on a regular basis, I have to weep and respond to every altar call, I have to be completely sinless, I have to be baptized or take communion or do something or nothing or anything or everything to in one way or another earn my spot in heaven. All of that is a blasphemous, offensive lie. It’s not only not Biblical but it’s actually in direct contradiction to the Gospel. And it was all extremely damaging to me as I struggled to understand the Gospel not in terms of what God had to say but in terms of what I’d previously been taught. Sometimes I wish I’d had a clean slate going into the Gospel.

I love the pastor at our church. He’s incredibly knowledgable and a great speaker. I learn when I go to church. In our weekly Gospel Community, I learn as well. But my greatest learning always comes through reading Scripture and prayer. Sometimes I’ll learn something (or think I learn something) about God from another person and in my next quiet time, God will deliberately bring me to Scripture that shows me what I thought I knew wasn’t Biblically sound. It’s happened countless times.

Quiet time should be our ultimate priority through the week, above church or school or small group or discussion or any other form of Biblical teaching. These other things are just hearsay–sometimes they’re 100% correct and sometimes they’re not. If you want to know me, you can ask friends or family and they’ll tell you all sorts of things about me. Some might be true, some might be false, some might be exaggerations. But if you really want to know who I am and what I think about things, you’ll desire to spend time alone with me. If we’re learning more about God from anyone other than God, that’s religion, and that’s dangerous. If we’re learning more about God from God, through Scripture and prayer, that’s a relationship, and that’s where God wants us.

about obedience and sacrifice

In October last year I acted incredibly foolish one night. I had been praying about being a credible witness toward one person in particular—a dramatic nonbeliever (and by that I mean someone who is more angry than ambivalent toward God). And then, given a perfect opportunity to show grace and mercy and love, I got selfish. I felt offended by him and reacted with indignation. It was a very ugly night, one I wish had never happened. After I had a little time to calm down and realize how terribly ashamed I was and how completely I’d failed God in that moment, I knew I had to apologize to him. Whether or not the apology would mean anything to him personally, I had to humble myself before him, admit my guilt, and ask for forgiveness. I had to be a minister in love by my humility where my grace was obviously lacking. The Holy Spirit was heavy at work within me, stressing the importance of that apology.

Yeah, so. Anyway.

I didn’t do it. I just left it alone. I had about a million justifications for why an apology was not necessary or would even be welcome to him, but of course it was just too awkward and I was just too proud.

The fallout from the event dragged on. It caused a lot of problems. There were a lot of hard feelings, and not just on my part. It greatly hurt my husband—the most important person in the world to me—and still I tried to ignore it. I’m the poster child for complete selfishness, motivated by pride.

A couple weeks later, in my Monday morning quiet time, God spoke loudly and clearly—I was being blatantly disobedient to what he’d commanded and I had to fix it. I couldn’t continue on, worshipping him and acting like a good little Christian if I wasn’t obeying him. Kinda’ like how Jesus tells the disciples if they love him, they’ll obey his commands. That’s a little nugget of truth that hasn’t changed over the past 2000 years. Oops. So I prayed in anticipation of apologizing. I prayed a lot. I prayed and fasted and prayed. And once I took that step in apologizing, he was quick to acknowledge we’d both acted ridiculous and we’d just pretend the event never happened. And it hasn’t been spoken of since.

Whew.

So back up a bit. Meanwhile, I had been getting super-stressed about finances. The numbers just weren’t where I needed to be, and I couldn’t understand it. Ronnie and I are careful to tithe off every income we get and give above and beyond the tithe monthly to other places. When someone has a need, we usually pray about it together and donate at least something to help with the need. And yet we were struggling, big time. This had gone on for a while, and I was so stressed about money I could barely focus on anything else. I didn’t understand—we were obedient, we made sacrifices, and still we were struggling.

Then that Monday morning came, I obeyed God in apologizing, and afterward experienced a shocking transformation in my mind about other areas of faithfulness. This is about where the Bible says (in James), “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” I may be the best steward of my money that I possibly can be, but if I am deliberately disobedient to God day after day in an unrelated issue, that’s as bad as if I was greedy with my money and kept it all to myself. Instead, I fell in line with the Pharisees Jesus cursed when he said, “[Y]ou are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” Again, here’s the “love of God,” which is equivalent to obedience to God. Meaning: yeah, you need to be tithing, but don’t think being obedient to God in one area cancels out disobedience to him in another.

I got it, then. I wrote in my journal, “I really feel like I’m understanding more about what you mean when you say ‘obedience is better than sacrifice.’” That’s from 1 Samuel 15:22. King Saul had been told explicitly to destroy this town and kill every living thing—including the livestock. Instead Saul kept the livestock. Samuel, a prophet, asked him why he had disobeyed God’s commands and Saul tried to justify it by using the livestock as a sacrifice to God. Samuel responds, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” Meaning: if God had wanted Saul to sacrifice the livestock to him, he would have said so. Instead he demanded obedience, and he didn’t get it. You’ll find similar comments in Isaiah 1 when God really unloads on the nation of Judah. “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?’ says the Lord. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. …Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.’”

Did that mean God hated sacrifices? Absolutely not. Open to almost any page of the Pentateuch and you’ll find God outlining instructions for one offering or another. But the sacrifices and offering to him are meaningless if we’re disobedient to his commands. I’ll end with Hosea 6:6, which echoes the same idea: “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Jesus re-emphasized this point in Matthew 9 when he scolded the Pharisees that they needed to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6. That, if you can imagine, was a huge insult to someone who’d spent his entire life studying the Scriptures. It’s kinda’ like telling a rocket scientist that he needs to learn what Newton’s First Law of Motion means.

God’s commands to us? Give offerings and sacrifices, pay tithes, help others, yes, all of this. But above all: Know me. Love me. Obey me. These things come first.