Many Christians have the idea that the height of godliness is always to be telling people how bad they are doing. Many have the idea that in order to be 'authentic' you need to make sure everyone knows how poorly you pray, how proud you really are, how unloving you really are, how selfish they would find you if they got to know you better.
Basically we need to go through life saying, "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (Rom 7:19 which is misapplied to the believer I might add, but that's another blog post). Many have this idea and so, just as grey has become the new black, sinfulness has become the new holiness. I mean it. Try telling people how well you are doing and neglect to add a few, "but I'm so wicked's" and you will come off proud in this sub-culture of ours.
The problem is that if you tell people how well you are doing spiritually you might actually be more like Paul than the person who is always sounding so Romans 7. Let's listen for a moment to that arrogant apostle who didn't know how to fit into our new 'sinfulness is holiness' sub culture.
- "For God is my witness whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers" (Rom 1:9) No ifs, ands, or buts Paul just tells us he was faithful from the spirit in prayer. If you don't believe him you can ask God his witness. Wow!
- "I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit- that I have unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish myself cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers" (Rom 9:1-3) Come on Paul couldn't you add something about your mixed motives and how your really doing this all for you, and how you just hope God gets a little glory in your pathetic life. Nope, just "God knows I agonize over the souls of others."
- "I thank my God in all remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy...I hold you in my heart...how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:3-8). "How was your prayer time this morning Paul?" "Great I was on my knees (as always) pleading for you with the affection of Christ." Did you read those four words? Read them slowly. THE - AFFECTION - OF - CHRIST. Unbelievable, well almost!
I could go on but I will stop there. What can we learn from all this?
1. Don't try this away from home, until you've tried this at home. By this I mean, we should not read this and just start talking like Paul. That is pharisaism. The religious folks of Jesus found the best corner to pray on so that people would be impressed with their prayers. God hates this. But, having said that, if you will go to your closet (where God sees in secret) and you will plead for men's souls with God as your witness there is nothing wrong (in fact it can be quite encouraging) to say, "God is my witness how I was pleading for your good this morning." Only once God has seen us praying should we even think of telling others about it.
2. By the Holy Spirit, Godliness is possible. Men and women, normal men and women, who are still in the flesh, can attain to great love and faithfulness. We should never speak in such a way that we encourage people to think that failure is the new normal. NO! Men and women of God throughout the centuries have learned how to pray, and plead, and feel like Paul. We do a great disservice to God and the Church when we act like our immaturity is normal and biblically expected. If you still think that failure is to be the norm for believers here is a caveat and a challenge. First the caveat. i am not saying that believers will not stumble (James 3:2), nor am I saying they will be sinless in this life (1 John 1:8). Now the challenge. Name one place outside of Romans 7 where Paul could even possibly be describing the Christian life as constant failure, and doing what you hate. And then think of all the places where Paul speaks of the power, joy, and reality he experiences in his difficult life.
(Hint, 1 Timothy 1:15 is describing Paul's conversion testimony, not his current experience).
3. Rejoice, God he who began a good work in you can actually make you like Christ, and as he does you can encourage others by telling them about it!
4. Remember even your best works are unacceptable to God, but we pray through Jesus Christ. We serve under his righteousness in the gospel (Romans 1:9, 5:1-2). So when you feel love and passion for God, even when it is being opposed through the flesh, remember God receives that passion, that love, those prayers under the cleansing blood. So brothers and sisters, pray on!