Enjoying God: My Wife’s Break From a Legalistic Perspective

Enjoying God My Wife’s Break From a Legalistic Perspective

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Do you enjoy God? You know, like a good movie or a nice dinner. After a long day, you’re looking for a pleasant escape to something you enjoy. Is God at the top of your “things I enjoy the most” list? My wife was not that way. Because of her longstanding relationship with legalism, God was not as satisfying, so other options competed with her affections. How about you?

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When you crave “me time” and want company, who do you bring with you? What do you do to fill the gap between the last busy thing you did and the next busy thing you have to do?

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23).

“Me time” for Jesus was time with His Father. How does that strike you? His most treasured treasure was God. That is where His heart was. When there was nothing else for Him to do or when He needed to get away, He sought His Father’s company.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

Where and how you spend your time reveals the condition of your heart, which can be complicated for those who are busy doing ministry. Sometimes ministry can be a significant disadvantage for the Christian. Religion can be such a bustling and blinding juggernaut that it keeps you from enjoying God the way Jesus did. That is what happened to Lucia.

This coming September will be the 13th anniversary of her breaking free from religion. I’ll never forget the day. I saw it happen. We were riding together in our van. She was listening to a gospel-centered song. The cross was being lifted up, and she began to extol the victory Christ secured through His resurrection.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

What did she do? She lifted her hands in spontaneous praise as she reflected on God’s work in her life. That was the day she was spiritually emancipated. For freedom, Christ had set her free (Galatians 5:1). (Lifted hands are not the secret to being free in Christ, but for my wife, it was the clue that indicated a new kind of work in her heart.)

Her lifted hands pointed to a new reality. Her lifted hands led to a rehabilitated heart treasure. The following excerpt is how she talked about it in her journal.

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Lucia’s Journal Entry: September 6, 2003

I can only attribute the glow I am beginning to feel to God’s graciousness and the teaching on what the gospel really is — all Christ’s work, none of mine. It is like spring after a long winter.

I was resigned to being spiritually unmoved forever toward the things of God, but God saw fit to use the teaching from Galatians to break through my heart. God quickened my heart. He drew me to Himself.

For the first time, probably in my life, I realized I could contribute nothing to my salvation. That realization, along with seeing how all my wrongs are enough to crucify the Savior, has impacted me.

Rick is thrilled to have a dimension of joy added to our relationship. We have been discussing for some time now how I should have gratitude and joy even if I haven’t done drugs, theft, or “wild” living. Those are “big” sins.

I have always seen how a “big” sinner could rejoice — they have been saved from much. I didn’t see myself as being saved from much. I viewed my sins of anger and laziness as acceptable or at least not as bad.

Now, I am thrilled that my heart isn’t stone. I have a long way to go in realizing that I sin every day (and many times throughout the day) and even though it isn’t murder, it is enough to warrant hell and thus my need for a Savior.

After years of “doing Christianity” and the works of Christianity, now I can enjoy Christianity for the first time in my life. God has patiently brought me to a very good place.

Getting There From Here

Let me re-ask my questions. Do you enjoy God? Does your heart pant for Him like a thirsty deer pants for water? When you have nothing else to think about, do you want to think about God?

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God (Psalm 42:1-2)?

Before I met Lucia, I lived for some years as an adult single. My solution to my loneliness was to get a dog. It wasn’t my brightest idea since I’m not into animals, but I did enjoy my dog and his dog drama.

During this time, I went on a trip for a few days and forgot to leave food for him. I came home from my trip, and my starving dog went nuts. He did not go nuts for food. He went nuts for me. I’ll never forget how he responded when he first saw me. He had no perceived desire for food. The only thing that mattered to him was being with me.

He repeatedly jumped on me, trying to lick my face. He was falling all over himself to be rubbed and hugged by me. His highest priority was spending time with his master. His exuberance to see me, coupled with his lack of desire for food, brought a forceful rebuke from the Lord.

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food (Job 23:12).

I did give him food and water, but only after I cried. I needed to repent to God for my cold heart toward Him. The irony is the Lord used an animal to bring the condition of my soul into view. Part of my confession was asking God to help me be more like my dog.

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you (Job 12:7).

Religion By Numbers

My wife was born into a religion, and like most second-generation Christians, there was a temptation to miss the practical force of the gospel. Lucia fell for that temptation. How did she do this? She became a nice person.

Apart from stealing a pack of Lifesavers when she was 7 years old, her sin list was nearly non-existent. She was not a bad person, so she thought. She learned the ropes of religion. She did all the things you’re supposed to do to be a good person.

As far as I know, she never caused her parents a minute’s trouble. Then she became a Christian, which made her a better person, though she was a passionless one. She understood the gospel enough to be born again, but she did not understand it enough to be transformed by it.

  1. At salvation, the gospel regenerates the soul.
  2. During sanctification, the gospel transforms the soul.

Lucia was different from me in that she needed transformation from being a good person. I needed transformation from being a bad person. (You can read my story here.)

The need to be saved from being a good person has a unique set of difficulties, the biggest of which is self-deception about who you really were before God saved you.

If you were to ask my wife about the “distance” from where she was to where she needed to be in Christ, she would tell you the distance was not that great. In fact, she told me how she thought God got a good deal when He got her because there was not a lot of work to do to make her a good Christian.
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Grow the Gap

The theological fly in her ointment was her lack of understanding of the gospel as it pertained to her pre-existing condition before God. Her most significant problem before the Lord saved her was never about her sin list. Personal sin before salvation is mostly irrelevant.

God does not categorize and segregate big sinners from little sinners. There is only one category for sinners. Lucia belonged to the universal collection of worthless people that God was going to discard to hell.

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

She fell into the trap of subtly comparing herself with others. I say subtly because she did not wear her righteousness on her sleeves or demonstrate an aloof arrogance toward those who were not as privileged as she was.

She saw herself as privileged while naively and ignorantly buying into class distinctions, thinking she was better than the people we tend to pity in our society. She needed a gospel reckoning, and God gave her one.

The first thing Lucia had to do was take her seat with the rest of us. Paul talked about it as being the chief seat. It’s that anti-self-esteem place where you humbly and soberly realize your true condition before God.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul saw it as mentally healthy to think of himself as the worst of all the sinners who ever lived. In Paul’s view, the gap between where Christ was and where he was could not have been wider.

Key Idea: If you do not enjoy God and if your relationship with God is cold or stagnant, there is something wrong in your thinking about your prior condition before God regenerated you and where you are today.

For Lucia, the gap between her and Christ was not that great. Then the gospel light began to shine in her dark heart. She began to grasp a fuller understanding of the gospel. She started to see her wickedness before God despite her puny little sin list.

The bad she did before God saved her was terrible (Romans 3:23), and the good she did before God saved her was also wicked (Isaiah 64:6). Lucia was bad to the bone, and her works did not alter that reality one iota. You could put her in a lineup with Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham, and there would be no distinction between the three of them.

The only thing that differentiates one from the other is the gospel. The badness of Adolf Hitler and the goodness of Billy Graham are consequentially different, but as far as their state of being is measured and understood, there is no difference between them. Everyone is depraved. Totally. Comparing one person to another person as though one is better than the other is the mental exercise of the unwise and ignorant.

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Compare Yourself to Christ

To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him (Isaiah 40:18)?

Lucia came to terms with the gospel by changing how she compared herself. Rather than comparing herself to me and my sin list, she compared herself to Christ. This change is when she realized she had no leg to stand on or any hope of being transformed unless He imposed Himself into her life.

Lucia Got the Gospel. Jerry Bridges wrote in one of his books about how you show off a diamond necklace. You place it on a black velvet backdrop. The blacker the backdrop, the more the diamonds shine.

No longer did she think she was better because her life was different from the less fortunate. She saw her putrid brokenness before the Lord and cried out for mercy. Then the gospel crystallized in her heart, and her hands went into the air as an act of thanksgiving as she reflected on the glories of Calvary on her behalf.

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it (1 Corinthians 4:7)?

Call to Action

  1. Do you think you are better than someone else? One of the ways you can assess this is if you get sinfully angry with someone and do not confess it and seek their forgiveness. Only a self-righteous person would not repent to a fellow sinner. A self-righteous spirit is a “greater than/better than attitude” toward someone, which will keep you from humbling yourself before them.
  2. Do you secretly judge people as inferior to you? Are you actively confessing this to God, seeking His grace to mortify this sin?
  3. Do you separate from people who are different from you when it would be better to engage them, hoping to serve them?
  4. Do you compare yourself with others and pummel your soul because you feel inferior to them?
  5. What needs to happen for you to find peace with God, to find that place where you can truly enjoy Him?

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