Random Blog Clay Feet: December 08, 2008
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Monday, December 08, 2008

Confession or Faithfulness?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 KJV) This verse is one of the most used references in my dialog with God. I memorized it as a young boy as part of my religious upbringing, but the significance of this passage has not really impacted me until the past few years as my understanding of how true religion really works has been coalescing in my mind and heart. I think the main reason that its importance has become so much more clear to me lately is because my perception about my relationship to God has so radically shifted in the past few years. It is certainly not because I think I am finally “arriving”, finally accomplishing what I was attempting to do throughout my early years of attempting to become “good” and trying to be obedient enough to appease God and those around me. Nor is it because I have finally amassed enough spiritual knowledge and experience or have gotten rid of enough sin in my life that I now can feel safe to confidently believe I am on my way to heaven. These were all unspoken goals that were assumed in my heart to be the way to live out religion when I was growing up. But these are also the main components of one version of counterfeit religion that has produced a huge crop of bitter, angry people who today reject God openly and are looking elsewhere for satisfaction and fulfillment. They are angry about the lost years that they spent growing up in a system that robbed them of joy and instead only offered impossible demands for perfection. They are resentful that the God they were taught about let them down and only seemed to provide lists of overly-strict rules to follow while their heart languished inside longing for someone to just care for their deepest needs and pains. I can identify with many of their frustrations and reasons for turning away from God altogether or seeking out alternative religious philosophies. But I chose a different path early on that has caused my life to go in a different direction from nearly all of my friends. I realized when I was a teenager that there was something inherently wrong with the religion of my culture and the legalism in which I was raised. One of my great temptations was to throw it all overboard and just go out and plunge into a life of open sin and self-indulgence so that I could return to God later as one of those people that had such glowing conversion stories that entertained us so much during testimony meetings. But something else inside warned me that making such a choice might well result in my never returning at all and only causing me to loose everything in the end. I had no guarantee that I would be able to repent at a later date and find what I was really longing for as a Christian. Something told me that Satan was sinister enough to allure me into indulging in a life of sin and then finishing me off before I would have a chance to return to God and find what I was looking for. After weighing the options many times I finally chose to take what looked to be the longest possible route to finding true religion, to finding out the real truth about God. I would choose to stay within the system reluctantly while trying to figure out what was wrong with it and seek to discover truth for myself in the meantime. During many years of living under the influences of the teachings of the fathers and traditional religion, this verse was not much of an encouragement for me. It was more along the lines of yet another demand or requirement of God that had to be satisfied before He would ever accept me or forgive me. It was this huge obstacle at the very beginning of this verse that tended to always stump me from finding much comfort or solace in the rest of the verse. It was the nearly impossible precondition that I seemed to run into everywhere I turned in religion that prevented me from ever finding assurance and peace with God. IF!!! IF I would confess my sins... IF I could just confess enough of my sins to please a very nit-picky, all-knowing God who could always find sins in me that I could not recall myself... IF I could just make myself feel sorry enough or grovel enough when I admitted my sins to God... IF I could even be capable enough mentally to dredge up every single unconfessed wrong act I might have ever committed at any time in my whole life, and then somehow do whatever it was that God demanded of me in some elusive act of repentance, confession and begging endlessly for Him to forgive me... The main focus of my life for many, many years was an attempt to figure out how to fulfill this enormous precondition to receiving the grace and forgiveness of God that my heart so longed for. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times a day I confessed sins over and over – even the same ones many times – I could never find peace inside of me. It always seemed to come down to a sensation that I could never quite achieve the perfect confession or figure out just what would satisfy God in repentance that would bring me the inner rest that I so desperately needed in my heart. So over time this verse lost much of my attention. Since it seemed impossible for me to meet its nearly impossible demand for my perfect confessions I gave up trying to follow this route to God and simply let this verse sink into the background for a number of years. Sometimes it would come up to haunt me again and I would wonder just what this text really meant, but mostly I just tried to live a good enough life to stay out of much trouble with God, try to get along with others as best I could and look reasonably good in the church. I became busy with raising a family and just trying to survive financially which I didn't do too well at either. Even in those arenas I found myself frustrated, angry and confused much of the time. It seemed that God was so out of touch with the problems of my life. At times He might throw a few crumbs of blessings or rescue me in desperate situations occasionally, but most of the time I felt somewhat on my own trying to figure out what was wrong with the religion that I had and why it didn't seem to work for me like it did for a few others who seemed to be close to God and happy as well. About twelve years ago God began to work in my mind and heart in a more direct way that I had ever encountered Him before. As I reread a book that had previously been nothing much more than a written description of the life of Christ, this time I sensed something very different going on in my heart as I read each day. I sensed an inner voice pointing out many inconsistencies between what I was reading and what I had grown up assuming about God from the teaching and examples of those around me. I began to see a Man who cared about people's hearts instead of making impossible demands and preconditions for coming to God. I began to feel stirrings of a deeply wounded heart beginning to wake up and ask disturbing questions about the religion of my childhood that almost no one seemed able to answer. I began to see myself in the stories of Jesus' interactions with people and was stunned at times to perceive that He usually treated them very differently than how I expected He would or that I had been treated by most religious people. Over time I was forced to make a conscious choice about the direction of my own spiritual life. I found myself confronted by the Holy Spirit to choose between staying in the comfort zone of my beliefs about God that I had assumed all of my life, or embracing the radical new truths about Him that I was beginning to see and feel whenever I read about the life of Jesus. The two belief systems were clearly incompatable with each other. I could either accept the offer of the Holy Spirit to retrain me and challenge everything I thought I knew about God or I could remain in my current belief system and not face my fear of change. The choice was up to me. I am glad that I chose to release my grip on the traditions of my past and gave God permission to reveal Himself to me in brand new ways that I had never allowed myself to consider before. But like the last time I faced a fork in my spiritual journey, I chose not to simply toss everything out immediately but to allow the Spirit to deal with each aspect of my old religion over time and open my mind and heart to the reality of what God was really like, replacing the false notions about Him that have kept me in discouragement and fear for nearly all of my life. This has been a very long and slow process for me, but it has also been very effective in building a stronger foundation for my spiritual experience as I have examined and revised one thing after another in my search for the real truth. What I have noticed maybe more than anything else in my pursuit of what is real and true is that the most important aspect that has to change is my feelings and beliefs about how God looks at me. This has been the core issue that has taken longer than anything else to change inside of me and continues to be challenged. But it has also been the basis by which I am coming to measure every other claim or assertion about what is true and real. As a result of my complete shift of emphasis about what is important in spirituality and in life altogether, I now have a completely different paradigm in place whenever I come back to look at anything I read in the Bible. Instead of starting with the assumption of a God who is looking for reasons to keep me out of heaven, I am now living in relationship with a God who is passionately devoted to doing everything possible to attract me into an intimacy with Him in every part of my life. He is working behind the scenes and through all the circumstances of my life to allure me into trusting Him more fully, urging me to let go of the lies about Him that have frightened me all of my life and to allow Him to have more access to the deep, wounded places of my fearful, timid, wounded heart. Now He is bringing me back to take another fresh look at this verse and show me the incredible power in it that I could never see before in this text. Now, instead of getting stumped at the supposed precondition of perfectly confessing every sin before God will accept or forgive me, I see that the focal point of this verse is really on the faithfulness and fairness of God. This verse is not about what I have to do to change God's mind about me but is a window through which I can glimpse a God who is eager to save and transform me if I will just give Him permission and believe in the truth of how He feels about me. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NAS95) If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NRSV)