“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” -Romans 8:1-4
When I think of myself, usually the description that Paul gives the Church at Rome here is not the first thing I go to. Those who are in Christ are “free from the law of sin and death,” they are not condemned, they live according to the Spirit. No, when I think of myself, redeemed as I am, I see someone who is enslaved to fear. I do not believe this is a biblical view of myself and reading Paul’s words to the Romans reminds me not subtly, but with the force of a tornado driving a nail straight through a wooden stake, that something in my life needs to change.
One of the biggest things I struggle with is insecurity. Much of this comes from a misplaced sense of self that I acquired in middle school. Maybe it’s a cop out, blaming the phase that probably 90% of people might consider their worst years in life, but it’s true. If I could point to one time in my entire history that I was the most far removed from God, most ignorant of the freedom I had in Christ, I would have to peg it somewhere in between grades 6-8. In middle school, I pretty much had two friends. They were good friends, and I thank God for them, but they were not believers and I felt this was the only place I could fit in…or at least the only place where I didn’t totally feel isolated. I led the Bible club at school and walked around with that Christian pretense that marked so much of my life, but I was absolutely empty. And if I learned one thing from my non-Christian friends, it was to depend on other people for my joy. And that, my friends, is emptiness.
In later years, I have learned just how dependent on others I am. I have also learned that God put a desire for community deep within us and we are supposed to be dependent on others. But what I learned at about grade 7 was an unhealthy dependence. It had me trying to impress people, writing lengthy tirades all over Myspace (I know, right? Myspace…heehee) that begged for attention. I would tell dirty jokes and bask in my own deviance publicly without care, pretending my sin didn’t actually affect other people, just so people would notice me. This began a rift in my Christian identity and my secular identity. Now, at 21 years old with a little bit, but not so much more experience under my belt, I am convinced that this is not healthy and it is not pleasing to God. The dependence on people that reduces you to a circus elephant, begging for peanuts.
I am a beggar,
with unholy fire burning in my bones.
Please just give me a handout,
Please just give me a glance,
Your opinions are worth more to me than any truth.
The value you give to me is what propels me forward.
My life, riddled with insurgency, provoking the armies of heaven with my blatant disregard for the only One whose opinions should give me true, lasting value. I learned false, sterilized Christianity as a result. After living a double life, I saw the problems in it, my act as an abandonment of God, so I reacted.
My reaction was quick, I withdrew, I became judgmental and cold. I retreated from those friends, and moving to a high school that most of those people didn’t go to gave me the perfect way out. What once was the darkest time in my life spiraled into an all consuming self sufficiency that led me away from reflecting God’s heart for the lost. There are the Christians who assimilate into society and those who retreat. I was the latter, and running to the other extreme was no better for me than my life in middle school. I became highly political, highly legalistic, highly everything that makes me cringe at this point in my life. I had no more of a heart for Christ then than I did when I was in middle school. My attitude may have changed, but really the only thing I did was move from one kind of insecurity to another. I still cared what people thought of me, but I moved from trying to impress to trying to offend. Either way, my concern was for myself and not for them. But God has taught me so many things since.
My freshman year of college, my dear friend Adam Barnes and I started working in a ministry called Prison Fellowship, where a group of Gardner-Webb students goes down to Spartanburg once a month to join in a worship service at a local minimum security prison there. One night, I gave a short message, and afterwards, Miss Faith, the spunky lady who was our chaperone from Prison Fellowship came up to me.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I grew up very, very Southern Baptist and was not used to people walking up to me and saying that God had a word for me. I always thought that was for the crazy Pentacostals that saw demons around every corner. But I was wrong. Faith came up to me and said “God wants me to tell you that he is pleased with you. That you are doing his will, but you are living in the wrong shadow. You care too much about what other people think about you. You don’t need to impress anyone but God. It’s the shadow of HIS wings that you need to live in, not anybody else’s.”
I was floored, and a little offended at first, but to see God move so boldly through someone I barely knew at least let me know that God was up to something new in my life. As the years have given me a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship with Jesus, Faith’s words give me hope, they fill me with an expectant hope that Christ has bigger plans for the world than what I can conjure up in my own head. His shadow is wide, and it is inviting. I am not here to live for myself or anybody else, but to him.
A month or so later, we went back to prison and I spoke again. This time, I was not met by Faith after the message, but by a guy named Ray. He was a prisoner in Spartanburg who told me, yet again, that God had a message for me. I wondered why God chose this prison to be a post office for me to get mail from him. But Ray told me that I was going to be a youth minister, something I’d been praying about ferverently but had never told anyone at the prison. I knew that this was God’s calling on my life then. As dramatic and unbelievable as it had all been, I knew that I had to believe this was true. Anybody would be crazy not to.
And I’ve been pursuing that ever since, because my insecurity and weak attempts to impress others gave them the power over me, not God. My life is not about me becoming greater in the world’s eyes, but about Christ. That is the point. And I will spend the rest of my life preaching this gospel that Christ is to be exalted, not me. My insecurities will buckle in the wake of the overwhelming truth that my heart isn’t owned by fear. I am not condemned! I am free in Christ! The subject here is Christ and what he has done, and the only reason it has anything to do with me is because God in his goodness saw fit for that to happen.
“He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” –John 3:30-36