I have been reading Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith and it has really challenged me to investigate how I view God and if my view of Him is accurate. In the book he talks a lot about our narratives about God and how that impacts how we interpret our lives and the things that go on around us. Not only that, but it will also impact how we read the Bible and the framework from which we live our lives.
For instance, if we believe in an angry God who is out to get us, we will constantly try our best to live up to His expectations. This will either drive us to try harder or to run the other way, but either way it will be a far cry from living from the love and intimacy and love that He so much desires. It’s hard to love a god who is out to get you. When we look at the Bible as a whole, yes, we see consequences for actions, but we also see God’s heart for restoration at work. As James Bryan Smith points out, we see David losing a son because of adultery, but we also see a son from that same relationship take over the throne and become the wisest man of all time. After David’s sin of adultery and essentially murder, he is called ‘man after God’s own heart.’ God’s theme of restoration, mercy and forgiveness is woven throughout the entire Old and New Testament as we look at restoration upon restoration in people’s lives and lineage and promise upon promise given to those whose hearts were a bit wayward if only the wayward would turn. From the narrative of a loving God, we see that since sin and wholeness can’t coexist side by side, we cannot live in and knowing the love of God while at the same time living our lives contrary to what HE says will make us whole. It is precisely BECAUSE of His love for us that He hates sin. He sees what it does to our souls.
If we believe that He is a God who overlooks sin or excuses it, we will live our life in bondage to sin. Our lives will lack intimacy and fall far short of what HE designed our lives to be. We cannot live free and live in sin – we just can’t. Sin is the thing that binds and He is the one who frees. This is what Romans 6:1-11 (NLT) talks about here:
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might LOSE ITS POWER in our lives. WE ARE NO LONGER SLAVES TO SIN. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him.10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
I know that some of you are reading and thinking things like, “Yeah, but I still struggle with anger and lashing out every day.” “What do I do when I can’t break this addiction?” “What about me? I just can’t seem to love those around me.” “I struggle with being judgmental, hateful, bitter, ungrateful etc.” Friend, can I just say that the power of the Cross can break those things off of your life on this side of eternity? I’ve experienced it firsthand – and I’m still experiencing it and I think I will until the day I die.
Walking with Him is learning to live according to what HE says is right and good and true. It takes time and process for Him to change our narratives, wrong beliefs, wrong ways of thinking and wrong ways of living. It takes repentance and heart healing. Let’s face it, some of our struggles come from unhealed places in our hearts that He wants to restore and others come from sin we hang onto. It won’t be from trying harder, crying more, hoping more or ignoring. True freedom has to come through Him. It will come from intimacy, but before there can be intimacy, there has to be trust and faith and before there can be trust and faith, there has to be knowledge of the truth (you can’t have faith in something you know nothing about) and a change in your wrong narrative or story of who God is. He isn’t who we think Him to be. He is Who He is. Our thoughts, opinions or beliefs don’t change Him.
John 8:31 says,
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:34-36 says, 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
Change in Narrative (or the story you live your life by) – This is a God Who loves you so much that He has come to set you free and you will live differently as a result. He has not only come to forgive, but also that you may live in freedom – now. You are no longer a slave. This is the story of the Gospel.
Truth – If you sin or walk in sin, you are a slave to sin, but if He has set you free – you are no longer a slave. If You have a relationship with Him, the truth is you are no longer a slave but may be living like you are in some areas. Those chains have been cut, but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t wearing them. I think many of us think we’re still stuck even though our chains have been cut.
Faith – You can believe wholeheartedly what this One who has set you free says – about life, how it works and what a life that is whole looks like. You can bank on it. Faith is believing what He says even when you don’t understand, but knowing that as you start to live out of the truth instead of lies, you will see more clearly. It’s faith in HIM.
Trust – You are free because of the Son. If someone wants to see your freedom so much that they are willing to die for it, they must be trustworthy.
Call to intimacy – If you are a son or daughter, you are part of the family forever. If you have given your life to Him and have chosen to live by what He says is best, you are able to come close to the One Who knows you more than you know yourself.
And I believe the cycle keeps repeating (not necessarily in that order) as He continues to conform us to His image.
Let me illustrate:
Change in Narrative: A few years ago, I was really struggling with heaviness and was much shorter than I ever hoped to be with my kids. This went on and on and on. God began to show me His heart for me over and over and over. He was changing what I believed to be true about Him and my place about Him. In other words, He began to change my narrative -or the story about Him that I was living by – through His Word, others and things He spoke personally to me. Instead of a somewhat far off, detached and a bit angry God that I truly believed in, He was showing me the loving, kind, on my side God that He really is. I voiced He was kind and near, but deep down I really believed He was disappointed and angry. The way I related to Him and the way I lived my life revealed my wrong narrative about Him. The way we live always reveals what we truly believe to be true. If you are really struggling with sin or hung up on something, you may need a change in your narrative of who God is. There may be a lie that has been believed that needs to be exchanged for truth.
Truth: Truth came as I began to see clearly where I had been believing wrongly. Reading my Bible, I began to see truth through my new eyes of a God Who is on my side and many things began to become much clearer to me. Because of that truth, my faith grew.
Faith: I was able to have faith that this God Who is on my side, was fighting for my freedom and wanted to see it even more than I did. Not only that, but He had the power to free me where I didn’t and the wisdom to know exactly what it was that was at the root of my anger and depression. He healed the source of my anger. I had faith in this One Who is much bigger than me and is also wanting my freedom and paid a higher price for it than I ever could.
Trust: As I began to have more faith in Who He is, my trust and hope deepened in Him and I was able to open up parts of my heart to Him that had been previously closed off and hidden.
Intimacy: As He began to heal those closed off and hidden places, I was able to experience a deeper level of intimacy with Him because less was held back from Him. Intimacy always results in life change for both ourselves and those around us because we start to see things through His eyes and have His heart.
We can know we have been changed and are being changed by the power of the Cross when we live and see things differently than we did before.
Take a moment to think about these things:
God could never be more loving than we hope Him to be.
God could never be less merciful than we hope Him to be.
God could never be less kind than we hope Him to be.
God could never be less patient than we hope Him to be.
He rejoices when the truth wins out.
He never gives up.
He is more just than we hope Him to be.
The Gospel cannot be less than we had hoped.
Misunderstood? Yes. Worse than we had hoped? Never.
It can be misunderstood as in when we are led to believe that somehow because God loves us, our sin doesn’t matter. I don’t know about you but a belief in that kind of gospel isn’t that great of news, because that means we’re still stuck. If we’re truly stuck and not free, then we’re not free even if we say we are.
It can be misunderstood as in we have to work ourselves to death trying to attain His love and acceptance and at least do more good than bad. This is not good news either and is a far cry from the true Gospel.
It is misunderstood in many ways. I suppose we’ll all be shocked when we can see clearly just how amazing the true Gospel is. We’ll need all of eternity to worship this God of ours.
When we undestand that God loves us and what He truly has in store for us, to continue to sin is a tragedy. To continue to live in sin is a travesty BECAUSE He loves us and has so much in store for us. So much in fact, that we could never imagine it. (Ephesians 3:20) Sin and wrong ways of thinking are the enemy of all things truly good and hopeful. imagine the heart of God! These hopes and dreams He has for each of our lives. This God who designed us as we are with our personalities and the things that make us unique, seeing the sin that distorts His creation. It was such a tragedy to Him that He sent Jesus to set us free from it. When we see God this way, we want to run to Him when we sin – not away because we know that He stands there with His arms outstretched. Not only that, we lose our desire for sin because we find wholeness, freedom and Him to be so much better.
Friends, if your struggle is with an addiction, anger,unforgiveness, wrong thinking, lashing out, crabbiness, joylessness, stress, unthankfulness or any of the other many things that define our human condition, go to the One who makes all things new and is waiting with outstretched arms toward You. Open your heart to Him and allow Him to do what He needs to do so that You can be free. You can trust Him with you.