This past week, I saw this article going around on Facebook, titled "God Won't Give You More Than You Can Handle", which was just an amazing blog post, and I would really recommend you go read it. Like right now. And then go read "The Bible, Swearing, and Redeeming the Profane" by the same guy. Seriously, go read those now before you finish reading this post.
This man's faith is just incredible. The pastor of a church in Indiana admitting that he has been given more than he can handle, that sometimes life gets in the way and we just can't take any more. He is asking questions of God that most would see as questions best reserved for those who are unsaved. He uses language that would get you thrown out of many a church congregation.
And this shows me that this man has ridiculous faith in his Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because who else can say these things and not have it tear them from God but rather draw them nearer? Who can have the faith to be living in hell, asking God in straight frustration why all this has fallen upon him now, and have it serve only to strengthen his faith and draw him nearer to God? Only one who's faith is already unshakable could do this, and only one who's faith is rooted in Christ, not judgement, could empathize with this man.
And what he says is true. Why does the church so often praise that which is not in the Bible, like the phrase "God won't give you more than you can handle," while we frown upon and judge those who use a specific word just because no "decent" word in the English language is strong enough. Sometimes what we feel can't always be expressed nicely, and this has a tendency to offend people. And rightly so, it should: if you feel like you need such strong words to accurately express how you feel, then your feelings themselves must also be pretty raw and heavy.
But does the fact that we have something to say and no "clean" words to describe it mean we shouldn't say it? Does it mean we should keep these thoughts bottled up inside so that no one else knows how we feel? Let me ask you this, did David the psalmist hide his feelings from God? No he didn't, and you can see some of his raw anger in the verses listed in this blog post, and especially in Psalm 22. But also note how he didn't just keep these thoughts between him and God, but he made them known to us all, because he wanted us to know that he has struggles, that he can get angry, and he wants people to know that this in no way changes the fact that he loves the Lord. In fact, this man who repeatedly points the finger at God is the only man who was said to have been "a man after God's own heart."
And God gets angry too; anger in itself is not sinful. But when this anger is not dealt with properly, when it is not confessed and resolution is not sought, then it becomes sin, because in that time we are refusing to give that part of our lives to God. We want to hold onto this anger inside us, and we don't believe that God will help us through it, that he will be glorified through the way we approach our anger and frustration and seek His guidance and forgiveness.
But at the heart of this all, this post is not about anger. It is about following God with our whole lives and trusting him above all else. And if we know that Christ is the ultimate goal, and that nothing can take us away from the love that he pours on us each day, then we seek to glorify him with our entire lives. We know that we are a fallen people, separated from the God who made us because of the sins of our fathers. But the beauty of the Gospel is that these sins have been taken away from us because God loves us more than anything else He had made or ever will make. He loves us with a love that is never ending, and in return he asks for nothing. Absolutely nothing. We can offer God nothing, except to reciprocate this love back to him. We can't do anything for God, and so we offer our whole lives, surrender everything we are to the God we trust is good, so that others may see our lives and trust in Him as well.
And if you know this all to be true, that our sin separates us from God, and that we can't save ourselves, but Christ alone makes us clean, well that changes things a little bit. You begin to realize that we are completely hopeless in this world without Christ, that we need him more and more every day, because we sin more and more every day.
But it is interesting, what exactly that means for us. I was talking to a friend the other day and I shared where I had come from, the sins I struggled with for so long, and how Christ revealed himself in the midst of my dark life to show me that there is light in this world. There is freedom in Christ, but this freedom is given for Christ. Jesus doesn't save us from our sins so that we can go on living the same sinful life; no, he saves us so that we can experience true freedom and begin to live his life, the one our Father has so graciously given to us.
And that is what makes verses like Isaiah 64:6 so difficult for us to believe: "all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags." But going back the the first half, this is just a polite way of translating what Isaiah really means, which is infinitely stronger and more meaningful. "Filthy rags" in this context literally means "menstrual rags"; dirty, bloody, foul menstrual rags are what God thinks of the good we do in this world, because even the good we do is still tainted with sin. Indeed this is the reason why we could never mate it to Heaven on our own, because sin has so intricately poisoned and tainted this world that nothing can escape it.
So lets put this together:
- We are sinful
- God hates sin
- We cannot even do good without it being sinful
- God hates it when we sin
- God hates it when we don't sin, because we are sinning and we don't even know it
- Christ alone is without sin and has taken ours from us
So then if everything we do is sinful, and Christ has forgiven us for all of it, then why should we even avoid sin? Why should we feel bad for watching pornography or lying or swearing? And this guy was telling what exactly this all means. As he was struggling with sin, he tried to be holy by avoiding this sin. Except that in simply avoiding this sin, he was still a slave to it. He actively fought temptation, and doing so made him feel every bit as trapped as he did whenever he would give in to temptation. And so one day, as strange as it sounds, he just gave it all up to God and said, "I am a slave to this. Jesus I am done running from this sin, so I am going to run after you. If I want to give in, I'll give in, and I won't feel guilty because I know I am forgiven. But I also know that if I run after you, you will remove my desire for this and replace it with holiness, which I cannot gain on my own." And it did; he stopped running from sin and ran toward Christ with open arms. And while he stumbled a couple times along the way, he found that he no longer had the desire. He was free in Christ so that he could be free for Christ.
So why should we avoid our sin? Why should we avoid strong language? Because it all keeps us from enjoying the love that our Father rains down on us. But how do we avoid sin? By running to the only one who can take it all away. And if we stumble, we fall in the arms of grace. But if you do stumble, move on, draw a line and continue forward knowing that it is in the past and believing that you are already free. And if you look at sin in this new light, if your heart is set completely on Jesus with the ultimate end-goal to see his Kingdom come to earth, then God will perfect your faith, make you holy, help you avoid this sin which has so enslaved you, because He is holy and this is His desire for you.
This is a promise, because "no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can endure it." Will we face trials? Certainly. Will we be given unbearable hardship? Maybe so. It is wrong to get angry, even at God? Probably not, considering even Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as he died. But all this is done so that we may know Him more intimately, that we might live lives of stronger faith and complete abandon to Him.
This is done so that we may stop simply trying to avoid sin, and rather start living in freedom for Christ.