This is where John Owen has helped me tremendously, which I will discuss later. On a personal note, I have often looked at the experiences in my life and sins that I have stumbled into or things in my Christian life that I feel I should be doing but am not, I have been so weighed down by guilt and shame that at points it has rendered me nearly paralyzed, emotionally, mentally and at times, in a way physically. I look at my sins committed or duties and obedience omitted and felt an utter disgust at myself for the things I have done, but my main error is that when I look upon my sin and sinfulness, or the actions that I didn’t do that I felt I should be doing is I became filled with a total despair, and a feeling that God cannot look on me in pleasure, nor can he delight in me. I often feel that the only way that God can look on me with pleasure is that if I read the right books, pray the right way when I pray, feel the right emotions during my day, read my bible every single day sometimes twice a day, then God is pleased with me. I (or sin through me) have set up this concoction in my head that my acceptance with God is relational to the performance of all the works that modern Christianity sets forth as those things which “God-Honoring” Christians do. And here is my idolatry, the idolatry of the Pharisees. And this is where too many Christians are at in their walks as well. They condemn the whole world for all their idolatries, yet take not one look into their own hearts to see what they look to to find acceptance. They are not looking to God, they are looking to prayer; they are not looking to Jesus Christ, they are looking to how much time they spend in the word. They look to instances they can measure and hold up before God, which are like dangling shining worthless trinkets in his eyes, so that they can commend themselves for their great deeds – they can assuage their guilty consciences because of their self-wrought righteousness.
So how does this idolatry relate to God’s love and grace? The primary way that I see this idolatry relating is through your perception of your acceptance with God. There are a manifold of different things God has done so that he can accept you, but its not my purpose nor do I have time or space to write exhaustively all those things he has done to make you acceptable in his sight. As a list of what he has done though is mainly his Justification, Reconciliation, Propitiation, Redemption, Adoption, etc. are some of the things God has done to accept you. But note who has done these – God – in Jesus Christ – not you. But here’s the key issue: if you cannot see yourself as acceptable to God by what he has done, then you will do one of two things – do everything in your power to make yourself acceptable to him, i.e. Pharisaism; or you will do everything in your power to find acceptance in things of this world, i.e. worldly idolatry.
If you are trusting that your prayers will make you acceptable in his sight, as stated before, you will not rest until you have completed them to your conscience’s satisfaction. But, if you are like me, and you try and try and try, and see that it is not enough, then you conscience will never be appeased and you will further yourself deeper and deeper into your idolatry and become more and more depressed because you see yourself constantly not living to the standards you set for yourself. If you are trusting in some kind of ministry that you are doing, then you will only be satisfied and believe God accepts you when you perform well and do everything right and do it constantly.
This should be a blaring demonstration to you of your lack of faith in what God has promised to you. This is not necessarily a condemnation, but a mirror for you, to behold for yourself your incessant idolatry. What I hope this does is not discourage you, because you see how pitiful your state is, but rather is a piercing light to reveal to you the sin that you could not see, and that the Lord is now showing you that it is there, and aside from his spiritual illumination, you could not have otherwise seen it. Now you have grounds to move forward on. How we move forward is the topic of my next post, so more on that later.
But, in opposition to all this is God demonstrating his love to you and calling you to trust in who he is and what he has done for you; to see his love poured out for you and to rest in the fact that he accepts you. Its as though many of us, myself included, look on the cross, and then turn our backs and start making our own sacrifices. But God is, like Lady Wisdom of Proverbs, raising his voice, calling out and telling the children, the fools, the simple ones to look away from their foolish idolatrous sacrifices and look to what he has done.
Were you to see this and experience it in your heart, you would not find constant obligatory feelings of needing to serve God but instead a delight in the fact that he loves you and has provided every way possible for you to be accepted in his sight – and it all is based on what God has done – not one thing of it is based on a thing you can do, have done, or will do for God.