I’ve been doing a lot of reading in recent weeks about our identity in Christ and the lies we tend to believe instead. As I was thinking about it, I realized that subtle lies can slip into our thinking over time without being noticed right away. In my own case, I started learning about who I am in Christ when I was in college. It was a relief to know that I was loved and accepted by God and it didn’t depend on my performance or lack thereof. But I have to say that I’m not sure I ever really believed all that to be true. Yes, it sounds good, but surely God expects me to be working toward perfection anyway? I’ve always been a perfectionist, and even if God doesn’t expect that from me, I expect it from myself. So are my standards higher than God’s? There’s a scary thought.
I discovered that another lie had snuck in as well. My beliefs slowly migrated—I am complete in Christ, therefore my approval doesn’t come from other people, therefore I don’t need other people. It started out true but ended upside down. That shift wasn’t intentional by any means, though it was driven by a lot of other factors I can’t go into. It’s funny how pride can manifest both as self-promotion and self-protection depending on the circumstances.
One book that I should probably reread every few years is The Search for Significance, by Robert McGee. He begins by saying: “[If] we are honest with ourselves, from time to time, we find the light being turned on in our world, and we are amazed (and sometimes embarrassed) at what we see. It isn’t that we don’t know that certain things are not right. We just don’t realize how destructive these things are until the light comes on… It is difficult—if not impossible—to turn on the light of objectivity by ourselves. We need guidance from the Holy Spirit and usually the honesty, love, and encouragement of at least one other person who is willing to help us…” (2-3).
The past few months have turned on the light in my life, and I am convinced that God allows us to go through difficult seasons in order to help us realize we can’t keep walking in the dark. It’s been humbling to suddenly see the darkness for what it is, but even more humbling to look back over the past couple decades and see how quickly the light got turned out after prior “enlightenments.” It doesn’t take long to get distracted by sin, the world’s definition of life, and busyness (even ministry).
In thinking about the sermon on Hebrews 12:1-2, I’m thankful that our “cloud of witnesses” doesn’t just include those who have gone before us, but also those who are walking alongside us even now. It’s easier (at least for me) to overlook the lives of the men and women in the Bible than to try to ignore the people I see daily or weekly who want to know “How are you really doing?” It is encouraging to know that others have dealt with or are currently dealing with the same struggles and are finding victory in Christ. As McGee writes, “God’s love, expressed through His people and woven into our lives by His Spirit and His Word, can, over a period of time, bring healing even to our deepest wounds and instill within us an appropriate sense of self-worth” (7).
So when it comes to the question of what we need to lay aside in order to run the race, several things come to mind for me as well as for most of the people I know: pride (including self-sufficiency, self-preservation, self-promotion), control, perfectionism, seeking approval, apathy, avoidance, anger, blaming myself or others, false guilt… The list of destructive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors could go on and on. We’ve all got them, whether we’ve let the light shine on them or not.
Two books I’ve read recently (McGee and also Redemption by Mike Wilkerson) have made the point that sin is trying to fulfill real needs in wrong ways. These are things we need to lay aside, but part of that process will require figuring out what the real needs are (love, acceptance, forgiveness, etc.) and understanding how God meets those needs in legitimate ways. Without that, any effort to lay aside the sin is just going to leave us empty and searching for something to fill that spot. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any quick fix for our learned beliefs and behaviors. It took a long time to internalize the lies, and now may take just as long to internalize the truth. I’ll let you know when I’ve arrived, because the race is still in progress! As many have reminded us—if you’re running the race and you fall or get off course, you don’t go back to the starting line. You just get up, turn back toward the finish line, and keep running.