who am I

Deciding Who’s In and Who’s Out

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Amazed by His Grace by Linda Rex May 17, 2002--resized

By Linda Rex

In the day to day issues of relationships, it would be helpful if there was a referee in our personal lives whose only responsibility was to tell us who’s in and who’s out. When we just can’t get along with someone because they are a stinking awful jerk (in our mind and maybe our experience too), we’d love to have someone come along and say to them “You’re out!” and blip! they’d just disappear.

This would be really helpful in those relationships where we’re not sure if the person is really what or who they say they are. We wouldn’t have to risk the danger of being wounded, hurt or rejected by them because the referee would just call them in or out, and everything would be wonderful.

When we’re having a fight with our mate, we’d be able to know for sure that indeed we are right and our mate is wrong (which is generally the case, right?). We wouldn’t have to wrestle with the discomfort of repentance, confession, and admission of guilt, not to mention the hassle of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.

I think this whole paradigm of some being in and some being out comes from the dualistic framework in which western culture and religion are framed. This impacts our relationships with one another and with God, and causes us to live out our existence with the idea that good and evil are real opposites with equal power. This way of thinking and believing has its roots in Greek philosophy. I appreciate Dr. Bruce Wauchope wrestling with this in his series on “God, the Who and the Why” (see the link on the blog site, bottom right).

We make a lot of assumptions that in reality are not based on the teachings of Christ and the early church. For example, we assume that either a person is in God’s kingdom or out of God’s kingdom. Often in our view, there’s no other alternative.

But the scripture teaches us that God through Christ and in the Spirit created all things, and all things are upheld by his powerful Word. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-5) Nothing exists apart from God or outside of God. When Christ came to earth, taking on our human flesh, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to earth in a real way in his very person and presence. God was present, and so his kingdom was being established in and through Jesus Christ.

And yet we talk about sin and evil and the evil one as though they exist in some place or existence apart from God. Dr. Wauchope points out that anything that exists in some place or existence apart from God is therefore self-existent, and therefore also a god. In other words, when we say that an evil person dies and goes to hell, separated from God forever, we are saying that person is capable of self-existent life apart from God and will sustain him or herself forever in an existence that is not dependent upon God in any way. But this is not the truth.

Nothing exists apart from God. All life is contingent upon God sustaining it and holding it. In order for anyone or anything to exist, God has to give it life. Even evil and the evil one, though not caused by God, are held within God’s very life and existence. They are permitted by God, but always servants of God. They must always bow the knee to God and God ever works to redeem and destroy the harm they do. They do not exist separately from or independently from God.

This is where alarm bells go off and people get offended. We believe that God cannot be in the presence of evil or sin, quoting Habakkuk 1:13. In reality the prophet was declaring that God cannot look on evil without doing something about it. And the way God did something about evil and sin was that he became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) God came into our brokenness and healed it.

So we have to wrestle with this whole idea of who Jesus Christ is and what he did when he as God came into our human existence and reconciled all humanity, indeed even the creation, to God. If indeed in the very beginning God through the Word and by the Spirit breathed life into us to give us our very existence, and if indeed, God himself as the Word through the Spirit came into our very human existence and lived, died, and rose again, ascending while bearing our humanity with him, all of us as human beings exist within the kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

Now, existing in the kingdom of God and participating in the kingdom of God are, I believe, two very different things. Just because we exist in the presence of God (which we all do) doesn’t mean that we even acknowledge that God exists. We can live our entire lives believing there is no such thing as a God. The gracious Creator of all allows us the freedom to do that. But the consequences of believing and living according to that lie are disastrous.

Suppose a person lived their entire life opposed to the idea that God exists at all, and they certainly did not believe that there was any such thing as heaven or hell. What if they were so adamant that when we die that we just cease to exist and that there is no existence beyond this human life—and then they died?

If it is true that God holds all things in his hand and nothing exists apart from him, it would be quite distressing for such a person to suddenly find themselves in the presence of a loving, gracious God. If this person had spent their whole life running from God and resisting every effort God made to draw them to himself, they would be caught in a serious dilemma.

They would find they had spent their entire life acting as if they were a law unto themselves, that they were a self-sustaining, self-existent one, who could make up their own rules and run every relationship however they chose. But now they are face to face with the reality that God in Christ defines and sustains their very existence. And they’re part of an enormous extended family. It’s like they’ve lived in a darkened room with the shutters drawn, and God has just walked in and turned on the floodlights, showing the room is filled with millions of people.

They’re in, but they’re wishing desperately to be out. God’s adopted them and given them life in the Spirit, but they’re wishing there’s some other family out there who’d take them in. So they run off screaming, hoping to find the door and leave, but they can’t leave. They’re on the inside—there is no outside.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to spend eternity, does it?

Especially since we really can’t take anything with us but the relationships we have built during our lives and the character God has formed within us through Christ and in the Spirit. This poor person has no relationship with God (at least from their point of view) and many, if not all, of their relationships with others were based on selfish, self-centered motives which no longer apply in this new existence. And the One they thought was the referee (since apparently he does exist after all) has called them in, not out! What do they do now? Good question!

Holy Father, thank you for including each one of us in your life and love through your Son and in the Holy Spirit. Remove the blinders from our eyes so we can see the truth about who you are and who we are in you. Grant us the grace to fully embrace and participate in the adoption you have given us, allowing your Spirit to lead us and to transform us into Christlikeness. Through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, …” Romans 8:15–16 NASB

Being Truthful vs. Truth of Being

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Honeysuckle on the fence
Honeysuckle on the fence

By Linda Rex

I don’t know if there is such a thing as social dishonesty, but I think there ought to be a term for fudging the truth for the sake of one’s relationship with others. Maybe it’s called telling a white lie. I guess, in reality, the real term for it would be hypocrisy. But none of us want to be accused of hypocrisy when all we want is to avoid hurting someone or to keep other people’s good opinion of us.

One of the most powerful tools of destruction when it comes to domestic violence is silence. In destructive relationships there is a rule, unspoken or not, that what happens within the relationship or family stays within it. Nobody is allowed to tell the truth about what is going on, no matter how hurtful or wrong it may be.

This type of silence and our “social dishonesty” create relationships based on a lie. It becomes very difficult to determine exactly what is true and what is false, because what is being said and done does not come from a place of safety, transparency and authenticity but from a place of fear, shame, guilt and/or manipulation. Rather than living out of truth, we live out of something we are not.

At some point God will bring all of us to the place where we have to face the truth of who we really are inside. And most of us are so terrified by the thought of what we might find there that we will do anything we possibly can to avoid this confrontation.

What if we discover, or worse yet—if someone else discovers—we’re not the image we’ve been trying to portray all these years? What if the truth about who we are is that we are a smuck, a selfish, thoughtless idiot? What if all the hateful things that have been said to us over the years are true? What if we really are worthless, useless and deserve only to die like our mom or dad told us over and over as we were growing up?

We so often seek to be what we are not, or believe that we are not, because that is what is expected of us. We hold each other to impossible standards, which none of us are capable of fulfilling—this is the result of a society built on the lie that to be truly human is to be attractive, charismatic, athletic, clever, smart and talented. Just like the Greeks who worshiped the perfect human form—we worship the superhuman who can do impossible feats.

Even though there is no such thing as a supermom, women still feel driven to “do it all”—have the perfect body, the perfect family, the perfect job, and the perfect home. Even though Superman is just a story, men feel the pressure to have the perfect physique and to be a person of presence and power in the marketplace or industry—wherever they work and live.

For those who seek to be moral people, there are the impossible standards that we hold ourselves and other people to. I know from personal experience how destructive and self-defeating it is to try and live up to someone else’s or my own interpretation of the Bible’s commandments. The best we can do is to keep up appearances and to hope that no one finds out the truth about who we really are.

At this point, I think it might be helpful to reevaluate our self-concept. We are so resistant to people finding out the truth about who we are because we believe the truth of our being is that we are awful, horrible monsters. I appreciate William Paul Young’s observation that when we try to live out of this lie—that the truth of our being is that we are evil and depraved—we find ourselves unable to become what we ought to be. We expend a lot of effort hiding, self-medicating or self-destructing as a result. We need to change the way we think about ourselves and about what the truth of our being is.

As I was reading 2 Corinthians 4 this morning, it struck me that if we could truly grasp the reality that Jesus is the truth, the truth of who we are, our lives and how we think and act would be entirely different. When we look deep inside ourselves, often all we see is evil and depravity. But God calls us to look further.

God shines the light of his Spirit in our hearts because he wants us to see ourselves honestly and in reality. We need to see that the evil and depravity, whatever form it may take, is not the truth of who we are. Whatever evil and depravity may lie at the heart of our being, along with all the good stuff that we are as well, died with Christ and rose with Christ.

The truth of our being is that we are made in the image of God and declared to be very good—and so God in Jesus Christ redeemed and redeems us so that we, in truth, are and can be that very thing. We need to see the truth of our being as being defined by Jesus Christ, who is our life and the truth of who we are.

This does not mean that we stop being ourselves, but rather that the ourselves that we are have been redeemed and made new. When we find ourselves living in ways that do not coincide with the truth of who we are in Christ, that is when we are living a lie. Evil and depravity no longer define us—no matter what anyone may say—Christ does. So our entire life now is sacred, devoted to God, to be lived in agreement with the person God has declared us to be.

This is why I love the Voice translation of 1 Cor. 1:6 which says that our life story confirms Christ’s life story. How we live now is a confirmation of the very nature and life of Christ. We are uniquely ourselves but we live in and with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit—a life surrounded by, filled with, and defined by God, and no one else.

This makes living authentically a whole lot easier. We’re not held to any standard other than the life of Christ. Since his life, death, resurrection and ascension is ours and we are united with him, our faults, failures and idiocyncrasies are redeemed. We are new creatures.

We can have hope in the midst of our faults because we can know that, as the apostle Paul points out, we have the treasure of God’s very presence and life in these “jars of clay”, right within our humanity. When we are criticized or ridiculed by others, we can look at ourselves with honest eyes, with a willingness to see the truth. Are we indeed what they say we are, or is there some part of us that is in the process of being redeemed by Christ and we need to participate in that process?

Because there will always be some brokenness in us that God is working with as long as we are in this human flesh. We will have the appearance of being faulty as long as we are not yet fully transformed into Christ’s likeness. It is a process—from glory to glory. We cannot just focus on what is seen, but must trust in what is unseen—that God is at work, transforming us and making us what he means for us to be.

This creates the groundwork for authentic, transparent relationships that are truly loving. In a relationship based on this foundation of Christ, both parties are able to be honest and truthful with one another because there is always Christ between them. They each live and walk in truth, leaving no room for “social dishonesty” or destructive silence, because at the same time, they are walking in grace and love. And this describes the Triune life we participate in through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. May we each experience this blessing of authentic relationship today and every day, and forever.

Thank you, God, that you have included us in your divine life and love. Thank you that you define who we are, and that you are at work redeeming us by the Spirit, renewing us and making us what we were meant to be. Grant us the grace to trust you, allowing you to work your process of renewal in us and participating with you as we live in agreement with the truth of who you have declared us to be. Through Jesus our Lord and by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“… we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2 NASB

“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB