"In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me." (Augustine)
A few weeks ago at my church's Bible study, we discussed strengthening our hearts in relation to Hebrews 13:9. Since then, I've been thinking about how much we strengthen our hearts in things that cannot save. We want strong hearts – hearts that are confident in our peace with God or hearts that are confident in some sort of “good” that is ours – but nothing ever seems to be enough to give us this security. Our greedy saviors are never full, and we're often stuck in a joyless circle as we try to sustain them. We can never relax and enjoy what we have in Christ, because we are being our own saviors.
I've noticed that women especially strengthen their hearts by comparison. We have joy when we feel superior to our sisters in Christ. Conversely, as soon as we see someone else with better possessions, a more picture-perfect family, or a purer righteousness, our hearts faint again.
To solve such weak-heartedness, it seems silly to say that we're not guilty enough, but I think we're often guilty over the wrong things and miss true conviction of sin.
If our hearts feel weak, we plan what to do better next time. We read articles and talk to others about what to do. When we talk about “what to do,” we don't expect someone to rattle off the ten commandments. We are looking for practical tips on how to be better at doing devotions, being a wife, working a job, or being a mom. There is absolutely a place for practical advice, but have we put practical advice in the place of God's law? (And have we taken the time to see our guilt before a holy God and believed the forgiveness we have in Christ?)
I think many Christian women view things that God does not explicitly command/forbid as God's law. We focus more on personal application (which can differ from person to person) than on His actual commands. For example, we might pressure ourselves to make meals for others and feel righteous, even though we speak to our children harshly as we prepare the meals. We look good and feel loving, but if we are unkind to our children, are we truly loving our neighbors as ourselves? We fail to measure up to God's true law, but we miss conviction for this sin. Instead, we pat ourselves on the back for some outward performance. We'd feel guilty if we didn't make the meal – everyone else would think we were unloving. We consider our own personal standards and what other people think of us, but do we consider God's standards and what He thinks?
We aren't the first people to emphasize our own laws or misinterpret God's law. The Pharisees did it. For example, in Luke 6:6-11, they wanted to accuse Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath, but He asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” They were so fixed on their own “righteousness” that they missed what truly honors God.
In Hebrews 13, we see that some people follow certain regulations about foods (that were pronounced clean after Christ's coming) as a means of securing themselves before God, but it is not good for us to strengthen our hearts this way. In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Paul warns of teachers who teach the law without truly understanding it and points out that they emphasize vain things. This theme appears in Titus as Paul warns of “the circumcision party” who teach “unprofitable and worthless” things as they quarrel about the law (presumably like the Judaizers of Galatians who wrongly required circumcision).
We're living age old legalism, and the solution to legalism isn't simply to see grace.* (Let me explain.) First, we need to see that we've never kept God's law and have fallen short of His glory. It is only after we are gutted by the law that we can see true grace. When we twist His law, we miss conviction of sin and, consequently, the true love of God.
We think things like: “She wakes up before the sun, but I wake up 30 minutes before I have to leave for work.” “She only eats whole foods, but I ate processed lunch meat today. Am I a bad steward of my temple?” “I have mom-guilt because I didn't make my kids a fun picnic lunch like she did.” “Man, I wish I followed a cleaning schedule like she does.”
When did God command us to wake at 5 a.m.? Did He forbid us from eating lunch meat or command us to make at least one special memory with our children per week? What pricks our consciences more – our apathy toward reading God's Word or the fact that our husbands came home to a messy house? Devotional time, healthy foods, events with our kids, and clean homes absolutely matter. But these examples are just a few of many ways in which we emphasize laws that God did not.
He has commanded that we love Him with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. Waking at 5 a.m. may be a way for some to love Him more. We may decide eating lunch meat isn't the best way to care for our bodies. Making memories with our children is a wonderful way to love our neighbors. However, when we focus on these things, at the expense of His true law, we miss His love.
Unlike the Pharisees of Luke 6, the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-49 knows her sinfulness under God's holy law. Even so, she loves Him. Her love for Christ pushes her into place where He is, and she worships Him in tender wonder. She doesn't pour out her expensive ointment because she is keeping some law she invented. She doesn't risk humiliation and kiss Christ's feet because of legalism, and she is not strengthening her heart by her actions. Her tears explode as a dam bursting from a heart already made strong in His love. She knows that she has many sins and that He's forgiven every one – thus she loves much.
If we water down the law, we are forgiven little because we see little sin. But the woman of Luke 7 shows us just how dazzling our forgiving Jesus can be.
Jesus did not pay for the fact that you woke up at 8 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. this morning. He paid for the fact that you love yourself and your own glory above Him and His glory. Christ is so much bigger than we, with our watered down laws, view Him.
Setting an alarm clock is something we can do. Loving God and others as He demands is an insurmountable mountain. It is as high as our guilt, and only Christ can climb these mountains. Praise God that He did once and for all.
When we recognize our true sin and repent of it, we honor Christ and His sacrifice. We lay hold of who He truly is and what He truly did for us. We honor Him by abandoning ourselves to His grace, and our hearts grow stronger.**
We miss so much of His holiness, His law, and our sin, but Christ did not miss it when He bore our sins away at Calvary. Only here can we be forgiven much, and only here can we begin to love much. I want your heart and my heart to be strong in His forgiving love. May we see Him meeting us here, in a wound deeper than we know, and be dazzled.
*Antinomianism and legalism spring from this low view of His holiness, law, and Christ.
**Then, knowing His forgiveness, we love Him and obey Him. In Titus 3:3-9, Paul recaps the gospel and explains that this trustworthy word is what benefits us. The gospel produces godliness and good works. We know this, but how much time do we spend seeing our sin and seeing His forgiveness? Thank God He will be faithful to lead us in this trustworthy Word more and more.