How do you know God loves you, really? When life and everything around you gives evidence of sin and suffering, what basis do we really have for continuing on?
This past week at Christ Church Mansfield, I endeavored to show from Romans 5:1-11 that there is a way to break through without breaking down in the midst of our sin and suffering, our chaos and catastrophes, or our flaws and failures.
It’s only by gaining gospel resiliency by looking ahead, looking around, and looking back, that we can have confidence to keep moving forward, knowing that with God, the war is over. Now we can fight the battle of living by faith.
Here are six practical signs that you actually are rejoicing in the gospel, even in the midst of sin and suffering:
- Regularly meditate and enjoy the Gospel. You study God’s Word in such a way as to better see (understand) and savor (enjoy) who God is and what He has done for you. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have a plan for reading through and studying the Bible. I even put together a sample plan for our church, which you can download here if you’d like. But there are some great reading plans available elsewhere: YouVersion, He Reads Truth or She Reads Truth, as well as the ESV Bible app. Another great resource to help you navigate the Bible with a “gospel lens” is the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible.
- Interpret and process your life through the lens of the Gospel. What is most true of you is not your feelings, emotions, reactions, or circumstances of your life, but rather the Word of God regarding you in light of the Gospel. When you mess up (and you will), or when “life” happens to you (which it will), start to process it all not by saying, “What a mess I made there. How could God love me?” but “God loves me, despite me. Despite my flaws and failings, despite my record, yes, even now, God still loves me. I am far worse than I think, but also more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope!” That’s the beauty of the Gospel!
- Repent of Sin and Walk in Newness of Life. Sin is both the bad things you do (commission) and good things you don’t do (omission), but, and perhaps, more disturbingly, anything other than God you boast in. We can make a “mini god” out of anything, and more times than not, we make one in our image and likeness. We are to repent of that tendency to find value, worth, significance and strength in anything we can do or make for ourselves, and instead, willingly and joyfully strive after obedience (“newness of life”), out of love and gratitude, not guilt or fear. Don’t doubt God’s love when you discover more character flaws – draw closer to Him! Remember the two aspects of the gospel: You are worse off than you think, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope! (In case you are wondering, yes, the repetition is purposeful. The Gospel leaks out of us, so we have to, in the words of Martin Luther, beat it back in there continually!) Here are some great resources that have helped me get this over the years:
- Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
- Repentance by C. John Miller
- How People Change by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane
- We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale
- Stop Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands. When we sin, or when we suffer, the tendency is to “do something about it”. Miroslav Volf paints the picture vividly in his masterful book, Exclusion and Embrace when he says that our instincts when we have been hurt, harmed, or wronged is to reach either for a shield (self-protection) or sword (others’-destruction). Instead, we are to let the open arms of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross welcome us “in” to the happy life of God Himself. Don’t quiet your conscience when you’ve messed up, discover you’re a wreck, and rediscover that you are a failure with reference to your performance or your circumstances. Hold tightly to God’s love for you in the Gospel, even as you let go and stop clinging to your own performance, record, or anything you can do to take matters into your own hands.
- Embrace Self-Forgetfulness When Faced with Criticism. Take criticism well, letting it illumine and inform the areas of your life where you can repent and live out a new obedience. (And yes, that is another reference to a Tim Keller book that has had a huge impact on me in regards to this – right now it’s $1.99 on Kindle, or $4.69 in paperback).
- Worship Your Way Through It. The only way we can break through without breaking down is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. See and savor Him as your highest, greatest, and most enjoyable reward. Nothing – not even death, let alone failure, fear or frustration – can intimidate you out of holding onto Jesus above all else. Sing with the saints:
Look and see our God
And celebrate the power of the cross
And the empty grave
And now we’re free
Let the Redeemed
Lift up your heads
O look and see our God!
(“Look and See” by The Village Church)