For the past seven years I’ve worked in an environment in which I had freedom to experiment with new software – clicking around to see what happens with no apprehension about anything bad happening. It’s great to not have to be absolutely certain before every little move. In the worst case scenarios nothing happened, cluing me in that I needed to tweak my formula or click on something else to get the result I targeted. For a tweaker like me, it’s the preferred method of learning.
Recently I decided to take on a new work challenge, and although I knew I would be starting over regarding to some extent, I felt confident that I would figure things out in the same way that I always have: by testing to see what will happen.
At first, things appeared to be as I expected. There was no pressure. I was free to try something and see if it worked. If it didn’t, I learned something. No worries! But that all changed one day as I was trying to tweak a file only for my own edification, and within the hour I learned that I had impacted hundreds of people across the company. My incorrect modification had crashed the server. Later, I learned that had I been in test mode I could have avoided this catastrophe. I got that set up the next day, but the damage was already done, not only to all those who weren’t able to use the application that crashed, but also to my own psyche.
For a while I didn’t even want to learn anything new because I was afraid of what might happen if I messed up. It wasn’t long before the fear of losing my job began to outweigh the fear of another fatal error, forcing me to move forward. Yet, that one event really impacted my overall approach. I no longer had the confidence to test things out, or even to play around with something for instructional purposes. I now felt I had to be perfect in my preparation and in every detail beforehand. With every click I made or formula I constructed, I heard a voice in my head say, “Don’t crash the server!”
Unfortunately, this is the culture in which many Christians live most of their lives, and not only does it crush the joy that God desires us to have in our union with Him, but it also destroys the effectiveness of our witness. When unbelievers observe us living in fear of failure and worried about punishment, they aren’t attracted to or convinced of our message of freedom. Who needs more fear and worry?
The freedom of the Gospel of Christ is the beauty we often miss. Jesus had to blind the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus before he got it, but he finally did: “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Later, he repeats the same sentiment with another clarification, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
The first time Paul quotes this popular proverb, it is in response to a serious issue of sexual immorality. The second time he is addressing practices which were causing division among Christians of that time – eating meat offered to idols. In both cases, Paul does not refute the saying – arguing that all things are not permissible – but clarifies what that means to us. After all, he has written much to say that it is true; all things are permissible for Christians, because we have been entirely forgiven and freed by the death of Christ.
In the first instance, Paul makes it clear that although nothing can keep us from the love of God, including sin, we do not want to be mastered by anything, especially sin. As we’ve discussed previously, there’s a give-take relation with sin in that it takes increasingly more from us and gives back increasingly less, much like a drug. So one reason we deny our sinful nature is to avoid returning to the bondage of sin from which Christ rescued us. We don’t fear the condemnation of sin. Christ took care of all of that once and for all.
Neither our mistakes or our sins will crash the server bringing down our salvation, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
When Paul repeats the message later in the same letter to the Corinthians, he makes clear that although we don’t have to worry about doing something wrong in regard to our relationship with Christ, we should be very aware of how our actions impact our brothers and sisters for whom Christ also died. Our love should be greater for them than for our own indulgences, causing us to err on the side of caution rather than turn someone away from God.
We should share the same attitude Paul had later in the same letter, “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32). In this passage, as did Christ during His ministry, Paul directs us to the motivation of our hearts. We have been freed from slavery to sin, but we are still enslaved to doing right, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).
The difference now is that we don’t obey because we must; we obey God because it is our desire to do so. Sure, we won’t obey perfectly—far from it. The more we respond in faithful obedience out of a sincere love for God, the more God’s Spirit increases our faith and our love for Him. That’s a little insight to how God’s Spirit works along with us in our sanctification.
The trick is understanding the inverse proportional relationship which exists between the trust we put in our own efforts—good or bad—and the faith we place in the completed efforts of Jesus on our behalf. The degree to which we trust in our own efforts, is the degree to which we fail to trust in what Jesus accomplished for us. Perhaps that’s why Jesus often spoke to those He had just healed as He did to the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, “Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’” (Matthew 9:22). Once they’d given up hope in healing themselves and trusted in what Jesus could do for them they were healed by their faith in Christ and finally set free!
He loves us—this we know. Now, we can go about proving to ourselves that we love God in return. We won’t prove anything to Him or to anyone else. He knows what’s in our heart and it He knew what was in it before He saved us: envy, hatred, anger, selfishness and all kinds of darkness. While we may still exhibit these sinful qualities at times, He has given us a new heart which is able to do good things by His Spirit, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
As we allow Him to tell us this in His Word, and as we allow His Spirit to reassure us in this manner, our response is to love Him more. The stranglehold which fear has on us loosens as His love slowly warms the frozen tundra of potential rejection and failure, on which we shuffle through life. We will start to feel free from accusation, as a matter of fact, we are, and commit to trusting only in His constant love for us as we once did so long ago. Those voices we hear in the background telling us, “Don’t crash!” will eventually quiet into an indistinguishable murmur and we will live in the joy of our salvation. We will once again be able to test our gifts for His use without the fear that our world will crash down or that we’ll ruin someone else’s world with our imperfect efforts. We are free to test things out. We won’t bring down our divine server. In a sense God says, “Bring it on! I can handle it.”
It may seem like an eternity, but it will happen, just don’t give up. Oh, go ahead and give up on yourself. You will let yourself down—no doubt. But, don’t ever give up in God’s deeply engrained love for you. It will not quit. It will not fail until you are home and safe in His presence!