Iâ€™ll let you read over my shoulder again, because I think this email exchange exposes a major battlefield for lots of people. Religion has so linked us to performance, that it blinds us to the reality of godâ€™s love for us. This is part of an email exchange I had recently with a dear sister sorting out what it means to live in Fatherâ€™s acceptance:
Thank you so much for writing. I was truly surprised to receive your response. I can only imagine how many emails you must receive. Your words caused an unexpected flood of emotions, and I cried and cried — not sure exactly why. I’ve read Jakeâ€™s book (can’t wait for the rest of it) and have also printed and am reading the BodyLife articles. You emphasize God’s love and acceptance and the fact that Jesus is working in us to build His church.
I have not seen anything in your writings that address my major concern. I have been absolutely miserable throughout most of my Christian life, although I appear to be contented and strong because I counsel others, smile, and say, “Praise the Lord” a lot. I’m doing some serious soul-searching away from church meetings and the church family. I truly do know that God loves me. I believe that nothing can separate me from His love. But I also believe that all of the people who are eternally separated from God will be people He truly loves. So for me, whether God loves me is not the concern. It is whether I am accepted by Him.
I assent to the fact that we are accepted only through Christ, but it is obviously not a reality for me. I live with constant internal agony. I cannot reconcile being accepted through faith in Christ (Romans) with scriptures such as Eph. 5:1-7; Hebrews 3, 6:1-2, Galatians 5:21, Colossians 1:23, and many, many others. Paul told the church to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith. Jesus gave many warnings. He spoke about the “many” to whom He will say, “I never knew you,” even though they apparently had actually done mighty works in His name. How did these many do mighty works if they never knew Him and He never knew them? At the judgment, the sheep and goats are separated based on what they did and didn’t do. I am truly afraid of being found at the judgment as one who was not accepted — a foolish virgin, the man who hid his talent, a branch broken off and worthy only for burning.
The bottom line is, I cannot reconcile that we are saved by grace through faith with the frightening warnings throughout the scriptures. I know beyond any doubt that I was born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit as an older teen. There has never been a time since then when I turned away from my faith in Christ or did not want to please Him. There have been times when I have failed miserably, and I realize that I fail often to be all He would want me to be. But this is something more. It is who I am in my inner most being and the spontaneous responses I have to life stressors at unexpected moments. The truth is, I am afraid of being cast away and lost.
I know the Word says that Jesus will not cast out those who come to Him. But I am still always afraid that God expects more of me than I am giving. I always feel that the Lord is trying to get through to me something that He requires or expects from my life. I don’t know what that something is, but I fear that I have failed and will be ashamed at His appearing.
My Response: I wish I could answer all your questions, Sister, but email is a lousy way to try to help someone through things like this. Words are so limited and Iâ€™m never sure I read them the same way you wrote them. It would be great if you could find an older sister in the Lord whose life in God you truly respect and have a sense that they are connected to Him. Share this with them and see if they can help you get through it it. I just donâ€™t trust email as a way to sort out these deeply personal issues.
First of all, I think it is fabulous that youâ€™re struggling with this. It shows you have a heart for truth and not just hide in comforting thoughts. Thatâ€™s incredibly positive. God wants you to know his acceptance from the deepest core of your being and you donâ€™t need to be satisfied short of finding that. So, keep on this journey with him. Let him sort out in you why you donâ€™t know that acceptance. Because you surely have it. Of that I have no doubt, but there is something blocking your perception of that reality and finding freedom from that will be a wonderful moment on this journey and it will guard you well in days ahead…
You seem to be hung up in the performance trapâ€”that somehow his love for you is not enough and you must be very, very good to prove your worth to him. Yes, there is much in Scripture that talks about his transformation in us, and invites us to live the way he lived in the world. Yes, this journey leads us to ever-increasing righteousness as he transforms us. Yes, there is much in Scripture about the way he wants us to live…
BUT, there is a huge difference between reading those admonishments as someone trying to perform for acceptance, and someone living out of that acceptance wanting his transformation. You seem to be stuck in the former, fearful that you will somehow fall short of his expectations for you. I donâ€™t know exactly what youâ€™re struggling with there, and thatâ€™s where someone else might be very helpful to sort that out, but the admonishments of the New Testament are not qualifications to earn acceptance, but the way God wants his accepted people to live in the world. I hope that makes sense to you.
All you have to do is look at how Jesus treated his followers when they didnâ€™t believe him, tried to work against him, and even acted unloving toward each other and the world around them. He kept telling them his Father had something better for them, but he didnâ€™t reject them. He didnâ€™t berate them, he kept loving them into his Fatherâ€™s transformation. Yes, we all fall short. Sister. None of us is perfect. But I donâ€™t read the admonishments of the New Testament and see how far short I fall, I read them in the hope that this is what he is producing in me and what I want him to produce so badly.
But performance will never get us there. It wonâ€™t! It wonâ€™t! It wonâ€™t! Youâ€™ll never be good enough and neither will I. But, transformation comes quickest and we learn to live settled in his love and in communion with him, even at the point of our failures. Perfect love casts out fear! Fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears cannot be perfected in love. (I John 4). In other words itâ€™s our security in his love that begins the transformation, not our performance to escape punishment.
Does that make sense? I donâ€™t know why youâ€™re caught where you are, but I have no doubt that something in your past, the way you think, or some religious infection makes you think wrongly about these things. So while you are accepted by a loving Father, you donâ€™t know that yet. But he wants you to. So donâ€™t give up. Donâ€™t feel you need to pretend. Ask him why you cannot be settled in his love and acceptance and ask him to change you so that you can be.
Thatâ€™s a great freedom, Sister! I canâ€™t wait until you know it for yourself. That will be a wonderful day, and well worth the struggle youâ€™re caught in now to find it… And know you are not alone. Every genuine child of God has struggled through this issue at some level or another. I have many people who write me with similar struggles. So keep going, Sister! Keep pouring yourself out to the Father and search the Scriptures to see whether our performance leads us to acceptances, or whether his acceptance leads us to transformation. Read John 14-15, Romans 8 and I John 4 again and again until the reality of it all sinks home…
And for all of you who wrestle with the same deep agony of being uncertain of Fatherâ€™s acceptance, I pray for you, too, that you might keep coming close to him and sorting through every thing that says differently, until in the deepest core of your being you know Fatherâ€™s deep affection and delight in you as his child.