By the time I was a senior in high school about to go off to college, I found out I was a very angry person. I wasn’t angry at any person(s) in particular, but more at an invisible “system”. It was the pressures and obligations I had adhered to and lived under for so most of my life.
I was a Christian, a worship leader, the oldest child of four, second oldest amongst my extended family in America, a second generation Korean-American who had the world on my shoulders.
That’s just what it felt like to me. I’m sure some of you other “second generationers” would understand.
There were family expectations, church leadership expectations, and on top of it all, as a Christian, I felt very responsible to do what was right… a.k.a Christian duties/morality. And I wrestled with the frustration of seeing so many friends and fellow Christian peers going off and doing what was blatantly wrong.
I didn’t understand.
I didn’t understand how a Christian could choose to do one thing during the week and come to church on Sunday morning to worship. It bothered me. And it angered me on the inside that that was okay. Not because I was angry at those people. I was angry that Christianity and going to church had become a joke. That it couldn’t keep my friends from living like they were and doing what they were doing. If Christianity was powerless, then I was even more so.
But, I have to admit that I was also angry that I had lived so long following the rules and trying to fulfill expectations and doing what’s right, being a “good girl”, that at times I envied their freedom. It looked like such freedom to me. Oh, to be able to do whatever you wanted without and regard for anyone or anything else! From my point of view, I felt like I was the one in bondage, doing things I didn’t want to and feeling no sense of fulfillment.
There’s a song by Avril Lavigne that goes like this:
“All my life I’ve been good, but now, oh oh oh I figure, ‘What the hell?”
It sums it up well. I wanted to rebel. Throw up my hands and say, “What the hell?”
All of the right and wrong, all the of the “God tells you to do this, this, this, this” and more importantly “…NOT do this, this, this, this, this…” was driving me crazy. My own convictions, and many voices of the adults drove me crazy. All of this pressure made me want to just give up. Why try so hard when you fail anyway?
I knew the importance of doing what was right, and to live a good life, but the more I tried to do what I knew I should do, I would get frustrated because even my best attempts sucked. More importantly, I didn’t really know for what reason I was living like this. Was it to please God? To maintain my reputation? To please my parents? I didn’t know anymore if it was worth it.
People would praise me, would praise my parents, would compliment them and even express some jealousy in that they did a good job raising such a wonderful first-born daughter who was a good Christian and a great example, but I wasn’t feeling any sense of fulfillment whatsoever. And still, the more I continued, the more I seemed to fail the standard. So what difference would it make? Everyone else was living just fine doing whatever they wanted. So why did I have to carry such burdens?
Christianity and my life as a whole was lived out of a sense of duty. I did things because I knew I ought to. It’s what a good Christian girl would do. Moral, law abiding, manner minding, polite, patient, obedient.
But like the song lyrics implies, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I thought I was doing it because I wanted to, but the resentment and frustration told me otherwise. The good I was doing was out of a sense of duty and fear of punishment, but never out of true desire.
On top of all this, even if my life looked pretty clean on the outside because I was doing the right things, my heart was far from perfect. I knew that so well.
No matter how hard I tried to stay away and be “good”, I struggled with pornography. I wouldn’t consider myself to have been extremely addicted at all (like stories of people losing sleep, missing school, stealing money, lying to do it), but something that was introduced to me by someone out of curiosity became a thing that I secretly gained relief from life with.
I knew it was wrong. But, it didn’t stop me. I didn’t understand that either.
Honestly, I was repulsed by a lot of it. But my desire for something more, something deeper, something more intimate, pleasurable, real desire, turned into looking at people and watching meaningless sex.
Though it wasn’t every night, or every day even, maybe a few times a month or a streak of a few days and not going back for another several weeks or months, it still ate at my heart, my conscience, and the guilt just grew heavier and heavier. And it didn’t help my struggles with identity and sexuality either. Yes, I even went through a time where I questioned my sexuality.
I was so confused. So so so confused.
Looking back, this is so sad to me.
Why? Not because sin is horrible and pornography or homosexuality is gross and so wrong, but because while this was my past, it is the present for many, many, many Believers. Yes, Christians.
Christians are the LAST people who should be living like this. And I’m not even really emphasizing the part about living in sin, but I’m more talking about living out of obligation, duty, and fear.
We think that we can live out of knowing what we should do and what God has told us to do, somehow sacrificing our lives because Jesus sacrificed His for us, feeling the pressure of living pure and sinless lives, living in obligation, and doing good things like feeding the poor and loving your neighbor, following the law, etc., and that our sustaining motivation for living a good Christian life would be that “Jesus paid your debt and now you owe Him one.”
– Morality is not righteousness.
– Doing what is right, is not righteousness. Nor is it “pursuing” righteousness.
– Not sinning, is not holiness.
– Not looking at porn/not having sex before marriage, is not purity.
– Doing good things, is not Christianity.
– Being a good person, does not please God.
– Doing what you’re told, is not true obedience.
How? Why? Am I being outrageous?
All of those things – righteousness, holiness, purity, goodness, pleasure, fulfillment – can be summed up into only one thing, or one person, rather… JESUS. It’s ONLY faith in Him that you can be any of these. And now you’re like, “yeah, yeah of course! But we still need to do our part after you get saved!”
While I can go into explaining this more in depth, I’ll just do it briefly for now.
You can be moral but not know righteousness. Being moral, nor doing what you know is right, doesn’t make you right with God. And the Holy Spirit is not your conscience (that’s a whole other topic).
Holiness is not gritting your teeth and abstaining from all the bad things in the world. Holiness is to be completely set apart. It’s not about being segregated from “sinners”, but about belonging. It is completely and fully belonging to God. That means it takes a lot more than not doing a,b,c,d… even perfectly to the tee.
Purity is innocence. It’s freedom. It’s freedom from guilt and evil. You’ve probably never heard it that way before. It’s not abstinence, not not-drinking, not not-smoking, not not-watching rater R movies, etc.
Goodness is God. Only God is good. Your good deeds don’t give you brownie points. Nor is the mark of what it means to be a Christian. No matter how good of a person you are, you will never be able to please Him. Anyone can be a “good” person according to our human definition.
Obedience is SO over emphasized in the wrong way. It is shouted over love. Obedience was never meant to emphasize duty and doing things because you were told to. Obedience is joyful submission to the one who lives inside of you. It is love. It is passion. Which in reality is the ONLY way to live or to have life, whatsoever. And most importantly, it’s not void of desire or pleasure.
All of this is only found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t come to earth to teach us how to do it like He did it, to make us nicer, to make people be better versions of themselves, etc. He came to DIE, and to display God’s power. The ultimate power to remove sin completely from our lives. It’s by Him dying on the cross that has made everything I said true and a reality for us, instead of just a mere possibility.
How? Because Christianity is not behavior modification. It’s a HEART TRANSPLANT.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
The Prophet Ezekiel foretold how God had decided to handle Israel’s sin problem – and ultimately the sin of the world. It wouldn’t be more laws, better disciplinary measure, more wrath, more rewards. He knew the human heart would resist all because it was taken over by an invisible master – Sin. Sin had driven our hearts to be decayed, cold, impenetrable, and unresponsive. In other words, you could say our hearts were full of cancer. It was dead toward God. The only option, a plan that was put into motion since the beginning of all creation, would be the removal of the source of the problem and replace it with something better. He gave His people a new heart.
Gee golly WHIZ!
Don’t miss this glorious truth! It is a truth that makes Christianity distinct! Jesus didn’t just save us from Hell. He was the only one with the power to make us completely NEW. He gave us His Son to display love and power through Him dying on the cross, and then gave us His Spirit who lives inside of us!
With a brand new heart that the Holy Spirit lives inside, we have brand new desires, a brand new identity, a brand new home, a new language, hope, life, and the ability to know and have LOVE, joy, and peace! And if the Holy Spirit lives inside of me in this new heart, then that means He has made Himself one with me! The old and new cannot take up one space!
This is how I was truly set free.
I believe this the answer to all addictions, and even homosexuality.
My struggle with pornography didn’t disappear no matter how hard I tried. I fasted, I prayed, I confessed it to my closest friends, I did all that I knew to do. But it still overtook me. If pornography itself didn’t, the guilt did. And so it continued on through college. Trying to fall more in love with Him doesn’t take it away either. I’ve worshipped for hours. I’ve prayed that I would only desire Him. I encountered Him in powerful ways and it did fade and lessen, but it was still there, and I knew it. And it would taunt me and tempt me over and over. It would cause me to further struggle within myself with so many other issues that made me wonder if I could truly ever get free. And then just pile on all my insecurities, fears, mistakes, etc., that wasn’t necessarily “sin”. That’s a lot to try to fix. It seemed hopeless.
And then I discovered this truth.
Only this gloriously good news is what set me free. Because what I was really believing underneath all of that struggle was that I would be a sinner forever, that my heart would remain full of sin and weak to temptations, and my struggle would be a lifelong one. No one told me that my sinfulness and my old identity was actually ripped out of me on the cross, making me a brand new creation altogether.
When I accepted this truth, I found my desires to be completely revamped and replaced. And I, myself, did NOTHING to produce this except believe in Jesus. I started to believe who the Bible says I am. Holy. Righteous. Blameless. Good. Pure. Innocent. Clean. New. Because of Him. All given to me by His grace. By grace through faith.
When most people hear teachings on grace they freak out because what translates in their minds is that I’m saying it’s a free for all, doing whatever you want, however you want. They are happy to accept that everything that we were given through Jesus was by grace, but now on earth as Christians, we must continue to live in pursuit of living righteously, obediently, dutifully, morally, holy, pure, etc., everything we talked about earlier. It’s repulsive to think that we could be exempt from doing “our part”. So if grace is preached at all, it is a pick-me-up when you fall, or an empowerment to go through certain things in life. Christianity then, is somehow understood as a lifelong process of getting “closer” to Him by seeking oneness and communion by the things you do and the ways you serve, working really hard to become like Him, in which you never really expect to arrive.
On the other side of the fence are those who think that Grace really is a free-for-all. That because “God will love you just as you are” you are truly free from religion and can go around spatting in people’s faces who have lived by or still live by the Do’s and Don’t’s. That’s pride.
And neither of those is God’s grace.
Real grace is the very essence of God. It’s not just an attribute that you see every once in a while. Nor is it just a doctrine. It’s not God looking away and letting things slide because He is remembering Jesus’ death on the cross. Grace is the only reason why we are alive and continue breathing.
This example will cover both sides.
By grace you were made Holy. Not by you living life and following the Do’s and Don’t’s of Christianity. And not for a moment or just partially. Just like how by grace you were saved. Period. Completely. Not partially. By His grace He took out the old heart, gave you a new one. When He did that, He didn’t save you from Hell, He took sin away, and gave you holiness.
To live in God’s grace is to live in Him BY living as who you were made to be, which is holy. The new heart is holy. So grace and holiness cannot be separated. To accept His grace is to live according to the truth. Only according to the truth.
To preach grace is to proclaim God’s favor to all people. It is to preach the Good News that God has made a way for us to be with Him. For free. That it’s a gift. And that we can live a full, happy, joyful life with Him on earth.
Real grace is not an excuse or a license to do whatever you want. By grace you were set free, but true freedom is not doing whatever you want, nor is it an escape from what we think of as obligation, duty, or morality.
It’s a joyful embracing of it because it’s overflowing out of who you are.
No longer is it obligation, duty, or mere morality, but now our lives are overflowing joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, etc., because God gave us NEW hearts that are righteous, holy, and pure! It is overflowing out of who we are! It’s easy! It’s effortless! It’s amazing! That is true freedom!
Romans 15-18 (The Message):
“So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!”
Freedom is knowing that we were made new and effortlessly allowing Jesus to live through us. Freedom is having a new master, Mr. Goodness Himself, living right inside of us. And all this is only possible through that Heart Transplant.
So now here’s me wrapping this all up.
There is nothing we can do to please God. And there is nothing we can do to disappoint Him. Our relationship with Him isn’t dependent on us. It never was. Otherwise, we would never have one. There is no amount of sacrifice, no amount of obedience, no amount of doing good that would prove our worthiness to Him. Because simply put, we are not worthy.
He doesn’t even expect us to “sacrifice”, “kill ourselves”, “purge ourselves”, “obey” like it’s our job in order for Him to be pleased, or “move”, or for us to made holy. He just expects us to believe and to trust with a child-like dependence in Jesus. Joy becomes the response to all of this. It’s easier than we imagined!
Allowing our lives to burn with His love and allowing Him to live through us is the joy and beauty of the true Christian life. Because it’s not about what we can do to prove that we were worth it to Him. It’s allowing ourselves to be completely taken over by the truth that, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
I think that even to say we need to have a “relationship” with God is a still a shallow way of expressing the truth. A relationship implies two people, two separate beings trying to communicate, live, and work things out. But in reality it is not Jesus plus me, it is Jesus inside of me, who is living, and therefore I live! Every part of me is interwoven into Him. There is no separation. All of me is all of Him. We are one. It’s a mystical, supernatural thing that happened on the cross. There is no more trying to live focused on your performance and trying to please a far off entity outside separate from who is inside you.
Galatians 19-21 (The Message):
“What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.”
From beginning to end, it is HIM. It is His work, His life, His sacrifice for us that has made all the difference necessary. Our complete victory, identity, righteousness, sanctification, freedom, is all HIM. Not just in Him. It is Him, who has come to live inside.
Because of this truth, I am filled with real and genuine desire, love, and joy for Him and am now living out a life from my heart, as the person who God truly created me to be. I am confident and full of peace because I know that it is He who gave me a new heart and now works in me completely and causes me to continue fully and completely dependent on His grace, with complete faith and satisfaction in Him. A life with God is immensely enjoyable.
My dream is that more Christians would be able to live in the simplicity of the Gospel, simplicity of Jesus, and the pleasure of being His. Let’s see real Christians living in this power, and message of His grace, living lives that shout to the rest of the world that what Jesus did was really more wonderful than we could even imagine. Let’s see a people totally enraptured by His love and living so joyfully in Him, overflowing life, love, and truth from out of the core of who they are, transforming the face of the earth with such ecstatic news of His love!
Wooohooo, His Kingdom is really here!! Let’s spread this Good News! 😀