Interpreting Spiritual Jargon

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and as they talked about God all that was going through your head was, “What? Wait, what? What does that mean?”, but in that moment all you knew to do was respond with head nods and, “Wow. Cool. Interesting.”? I can say I have. I can also say I have been the one confusing others with my spiritual jargon.

I live in a deeply religious city. There are some 250+ churches and the atheists that live in my city believe in God and have quiet times. It is not uncommon for your checkout guy/gal, wherever you are, to “God bless you”. Whereas in the NW or NE to be a Christian is to be a minority, to be a non-Christian in my city is to be the odd one out. “Wait, you don’t go to church? Wait, you don’t call yourself a Christian?” That is my city.

It is also not uncommon to engage in a conversation with someone about God and come out wondering what you actually talked about. There are times I ask people very normal questions such as, “How did you end up with your job?” or “How did ya’ll start dating and get married?” and I receive answers with a lot of words/phrases used such as, “God,” “God’s will,” “the Holy Spirit,” and “God told me,” but I still have no inclination as to the answer to my question. Ever been in that situation?

I’m just a normal guy wondering how you ended up working at Starbucks, and somehow you made me start thinking about the rapture. What just happened?

So why am I writing this post? I want to free you from thinking that you need to justify every decision you make by making God the one solely responsible. I want to free you from thinking your life needs to be explained away as a spiritual mystery. If you are in Christ, your life is already a miracle. Ephesians 2 makes that clear. “…you were dead in the trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Eph. 2:1-5). You are a walking miracle, in Christ.

You don’t need every aspect of your life to be explained away in such a spiritual manner that no one understands what you are saying, though they might nod as though they do. You don’t need to justify choosing the job you did by saying, “God told me…” You can simply say, “I wanted to work there. The pay is great (or good, or what I needed, or whatever). I can glorify Jesus there. Therefore, I accepted the offer to work there. Next question.”

You don’t need to justify asking that girl on a date with, “I prayed and fasted and God told me to ask her out.” And you better not justify breaking up with him, or her, by saying, “God told me to.” It is just fine to say, “She is really good looking. She loves Jesus. I am ready to date and get married, therefore I asked her out on a date.” It is just fine to say, “I didn’t want to take our relationship further, so I broke it off with him.”

Don’t be so spiritual that even the writers of the New Testament would be confused when talking with you. In Christ, you’re free.

A New Part 1 to God’s Will

GOD'S WILL BLOG PIC

A few weeks ago I did a 4-part blog series on God’s will for your life (I Know God’s Will For Your Life). I started out right in the topic of what it means to discover God’s will for your life. I more or less tried to debunk myths about what it means to discover God’s will for your life. But I want to add a new part 1 to the series. I just want to hopefully get more to the root of all our worries about discovering God’s will.

If you are a Christian who thinks fairly consistently about God’s will for your life, one of two motivations is probably driving you. Either you are driven by a thankfulness in response to God’s saving grace in your life, or a fear of making God mad, condemning yourself, screwing up your life, or the like. In general, for the latter, we could just say fear. Thankfulness for grace, or fear of something bad to come.

If you are driven by thankfulness, thinking about God’s will is not burdensome, heavy, depressing, or anxiety-filled; thinking about God’s may just feel normal, light, joyous, and/or a privilege. If you are driven by fear, thinking about God’s will is burdensome, heavy, depressing, anxiety-filled and scary; thinking about God’s will is anything but enjoyable.

One of these motivations is brought about by a gospel-centered way of thinking about God’s will, and one is not. The root I am proposing that is driving you is either the gospel or it is not.

By believing in the gospel, you are secured forever. Every step you take is washed in the blood of Jesus. Every step of rebellion, every step of foolishness, every step that is self-centered that you take is paid for by Jesus. You are saved in full and forever.

To think about God’s will in a gospel-centered way is to recognize that any notion that being a Christian means every decision you make will be perfect is ludicrous. Jesus died because you consistently make bad decisions, and as a Christian you will continue to make bad decisions, though you will always be brought to repentance sooner or later. As a Christian, you will make sinful decisions, self-centered decisions, and stupid decisions. But you don’t have to walk in fear, because Jesus died once for all, for you and your bad decisions. Your joy comes not from being perfect, but being forgiven and given a new life to please God, which you will sometimes fail at.

To think about God’s will in a gospel-less way is to worry that not every decision of yours was paid for; that some decisions you make, if they are sinful, self-centered, or stupid, may condemn you, may rip you from God’s hand, may lose you in the black, God-less abyss called, “Out of God’s Will.” Forgetting the gospel, you worry that now that you are a Christian, it is your responsibility to earn God’s grace each day. You do it by working hard to make good decisions and figure out God’s secret, unique plan for your life. The problem is, that is not grace, because grace can’t be earned.

You think God is only going to love and bless you today if you follow his clearly revealed plan for your day. At any point, if you disobey, you lose some of his love; maybe, you think, one day you will lose it for good.

Lies. All lies.

Satan’s “chief end is to convince [Christians] that our sin is greater than our God’s promise to forgive it.” He wants to lie to you, convincing you that God doesn’t, or won’t forgive you in the future, for your sinful, self-centered, and stupid decisions. But He will. He delights to do just that through the bloody death of His sinless Son. Don’t walk in fear, walk in confidence in the love of God seen in the gospel, and just do something.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:31).

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29). 

I Know God’s Will For Your Life (Part 4/4)

As Christians, we have yet to be made perfect by God. We still struggle and war against sin and sinful desires in our lives. Though we are freed from the dominion of sin, we have not been freed from the presence of sin. We stumble in many ways. One of the many ways we struggle, if not the root of all our struggles, is with the sin of unbelief. We are not perfect in our belief in God. We all struggle with doubting God and his Word.

Scripture states that we can know God’s will. Many Christians would probably agree that we can know God’s will for our lives. However, many of us are guilty of believing a myth, a myth that says we can’t truly know God’s will for our lives.

Myth 3: “God’s will for my life cannot be known.”

Though many Christians don’t believe this to their core, they live as though it is true. Many of us live day to day unsure of what God’s will is, usually giving up on looking for it on a daily, or weekly, basis. I want to help you see that God’s will is not a secret for you to find with the right magic word, but rather has already been revealed to you in the Bible.

Common View of God’s Will

People commonly view God’s specific will for their life as hidden in the mind of God, and we have to unlock it. Maybe if you would just pray more, read your Bible more, surrender more of yourself to God, listen to the Holy Spirit, be nicer, or stop eating Bacon, God would reveal to you his will. (In part-2 of this blog series I tried to debunk that kind of thinking). Most of the time, I don’t think people ever feel like they have found God’s will for their life. Many Christians feel they are not doing everything right and possibly screwing up their chances forever. After all, one wrong decision may set you on a course that simply can’t be recovered.

Wherever and however and why-ever so many of us hold this kind of view of God’s will, it simply is not biblical. Yes, God has a will. Yes, you should live in it. But no, it is not hidden away for you to unlock in some special way.

Biblical Views of God’s Will

Gleaning entirely from a great and short book, Just Do Something, by Kevin DeYoung, I would like to lay out how the Bible speaks about God’s will for your life and for all of life.

God’s Will of Decree

God is sovereign. He is in control. Everything happens for a reason; God’s reason, though we may know what that reason is. God’s will of decree is his secret will that we often do not know. Eph. 1:11 says God “…works all things according to the counsel of his will“. God has a will for all of creation, even atoms, and he is accomplishing his will perfectly, even for each and every atom in the universe. Sometimes we can look back and see why God may have orchestrated certain things the way he did. Other times we have no clue. Either way, we can trust He is good, He is in control, and He decrees everything that happens for a good and holy purpose.

God’s Will of Desire

In the Bible we see what God desires. He desires that you would worship Jesus, live in righteousness, hate sin, and love people. However, you do not do any of that perfectly. You disobey God’s will of desire. None of us live out God’s will of desire perfectly, not even close. This does not mean that God desires something that we are preventing him from having (that never happens). It just means that while God legitimately desires all people to walk in righteousness, he desires something even bigger than that, and therefore allows people to walk in unrighteousness.

God’s Will of Direction

This is where we get all tripped up as Christians. God has a will of direction for our lives; specific to our lives. He governs us specifically with his will of decree, which is often not revealed to us; He shows us his will of desire, revealed in Scripture; and He has a specific direction our lives. However, here is the important thing to know, according to DeYoung, “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision.” God’s will of direction is not a secret will to be unlocked by your persistent prayers and avoidance of Bacon. God may or may not show you where he is leading you specifically. He can. He might. But He doesn’t expect you to figure it out ahead of time.

How We Respond to God’s Wills

“Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following his will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.”

Stop waiting for, or feeling responsible to figure out, God’s will of direction for your life. This will only cause you anxiety and confusion. You’re free to trust God’s sovereignty, obey His desired will revealed in Scripture, and make some decisions for His glory.

Here are some freeing words from DeYoung: “So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”

I Know God’s Will For Your Life (Part 3/4)

In my last post I tried to debunk the myth that the Holy Spirit wants to guide you by whispering in your ear all the answers to all your decisions. In this post, I want to bring to light an issue I usually see as directly connected to that myth.

Myth 2: “As a Christian, if you want something, it is probably sinful, because most of your desires are rooted in sin.”

Another way to phrase this myth would be to say that God almost always wants you to do the opposite of what you want to do. His will for you is almost always the opposite of what you want. Do you want to date that girl/guy, probably not God’s will. Want to get that job? Probably not God’s will. Those are probably just selfish desires rooted in sin, and the Holy Spirit is probably telling you to do something different.

Usually this myth is connected to myth 1, which says, “The Holy Spirit wants to make all your decisions for you by whispering them into your ear.” Many Christians who buy into this notion usually struggle believing myth 2. They are plagued with constant feelings that all of their desires in life are rooted in self-centeredness, and then they have constant “feelings” that the Holy Spirit is telling them to make decisions opposite of what they want. Do you see that connection?

In my last post I told a story about one day feeling like the Holy Spirit was telling me to wear an oversized shirt that made me feel like an idiot. What I didn’t go into was that I was heavily motivated by what I believe happened a few days earlier. A few days earlier I remember seeing a shirt and thinking, “I like that shirt. I want to wear that shirt.” I was immediately, or later, overcome with a sense that I was selfish; that I should not care so much about what I looked like. I was living according to the myth that if I desired or wanted something, something as simple as wanting to wear a certain shirt, it was probably just self-centered, sinful desires that I should reject.

I think a few days later I “felt” like the Holy Spirit was telling me to wear that ridiculous shirt to purge myself of self-centeredness. I thought the Holy Spirit was always telling me to do the opposite of what I wanted. The Holy Spirit never would tell me to go enjoy a good meal (which is created by God to be enjoyed), or to watch a good movie, or something sinless-ly enjoyable like that. No. The Holy Spirit was a taskmaster only interested in me living a life where I always did the opposite of what I wanted. I was buying into both myths, and they were almost always connected.

This led to a life of constant self-mortification. Anything desirable needed to be avoided. And the Spirit was always there to clue me into my sinful desires and tell me to avoid them, day after day, moment by moment. Ever feel that way? Ever feel like God has one thing on his agenda each day, tell you to suppress your desires and do his will, since evidently they are always in conflict? I used to feel that way a lot, and can still struggle with it. However, by God’s grace I have come to recognize that is not characteristic of God, nor is it true that all my desires are sinful.

The Bible uses the word “regeneration” to describe what happens when God saves someone.  It means he takes someone dead in sin and makes them alive. We call this being “born again.” This act of God to make us alive goes to the root of who we are, even our very desires.

When God saves someone, he gives them a new heart that desires him; a heart that is in love with Jesus and righteousness. It is a heart that desires to do God’s will. You see, God is not interested in people who merely outwardly obey his rules. Jesus is interested in creating people who obey his rules from a heart of desire for him and love for his rules. 

If you have this right view of salvation, and what God is after in transforming even our very desires, then you can maybe start to see why the idea that all of our desires are always sinful isn’t biblical. God does such a radical work in us at conversion that we begin to love what He loves and hate what He hates.

You can also see why the Holy Spirit wouldn’t need to constantly be telling us what to do. If God gives me the desires of his heart, meaning, I desire what He desires, then I am going to naturally (I should say, supernaturally) do His will. Sure, I still have to war against my flesh that rebels against God, but at my core, by God’s grace and Spirit, I am after God, his fame, his holiness, and his righteousness.

It simply isn’t true that the Holy Spirit wanders around behind you, waiting for you to want something, just so he can tell you to resist it. God gives us good gifts to enjoy. In Christ, we have been made righteous in spite of our sin, and we have been freed to enjoy God’s gifts to us. When we enjoy them, it glorifies him! 1 Tim. 6:17 says God “…richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” You are free to enjoy the stuff God has made to be enjoyed. Why else would God think up chocolate chip cookie dough, Oreos, friendship, and sex within marriage? They are good gifts to be enjoyed. Go enjoy them, worshipping God, not the gifts, as you do. (And by the way, don’t have sex unless you’re married).

Part 4 here.

I Know God’s Will For Your Life (Part 2/4)

In part 1 of this 4-part series on God’s will I said I would debunk a couple of myths many Christians, including myself, often buy into. In my experience of talking with others, it doesn’t seem to matter where you come from, you may live by these myths. And these lies we buy into have significant impact upon our walk with God.

There is a lot that can be said on this topic, so I have worked hard to be as concise as possible. Here we go…

Myth 1: “The Holy Spirit wants to make all your decisions for you by whispering them into your ear.” 

Many of us view the Holy Spirit in this way, as a taskmaster who wants to make every decision for us by directly telling us what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say, or what kind of latté we should order at Starbucks. We read verses like, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25) and, with great intentions, assume that it means the Holy Spirit is a guide that wants to whisper in our ear the answer to every directional question we may have.

For years I was plagued by a constant anxiety over whether or not I was “in step with the Spirit.” I never knew if I was taking the right “steps”. I was constantly asking the question of whether or not what I was doing was what the Holy Spirit wanted me to do. It always came down to what it “felt” like God was directing me to do. Rarely did I ever have much confidence in what I felt.

Late in high school one day I felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me what to wear. Now, I’m not the most fashionable dude. I’d like to have more swag. But I do care about what I wear. One day, I remember “feeling” like I needed to wear this huge, oversized shirt. It was motivated by the fear that I was too self-centered and that the Holy Spirit was calling me to, essentially, humiliate myself. It was horrible. I felt like an idiot.

Nothing in me wanted to wear the shirt. But I didn’t want to “disobey” the Holy Spirit. If God was telling me to do this, I needed to obey. I was filled with anxiety over whether or not I was making the right decision. On top of that, I had no joy in the decision. I wasn’t joyfully serving God. I was submitting begrudgingly, and that is not glorifying to Jesus.

The rest of the day, I was probably thinking about what I was wearing, to the point that I probably was not very focused on loving Jesus or loving people (the 2 greatest commands). At the end of the day, if anything, I was even more self-consumed, just thinking about putting on a normal shirt.

What is my point? The myth that the Holy Spirit is like a slavedriver, standing behind you, telling you exactly what to do in every situation, down to which shoe you put on first, is simply exhausting. I don’t think I have met anyone who lives by this myth that does not deal with constant anxiety over whether or not they are making the right decisions. Most people I talk to who live this way feel exhausted by God. The Holy Spirit is not a near and dear friend to them, enabling them to know, love, and serve Jesus daily. The Holy Spirit is seen more as a master who is constantly spewing out seemingly pointless commands to be obeyed. The Holy Spirit is viewed as a distant commander, rather than an intimate friend. The Holy Spirit is viewed as cold, whose love and care is dependent on how obedient we can be. This myth turns God into a taskmaster, not a gracious father. It turns the Holy Spirit into a slavedriver, not a near and dear friend.

This myth isn’t biblical. In the Bible we do see God show up in people’s lives in direct ways, but this is not the norm in Scripture. It is not the norm for the Holy Spirit to show up in such direct and miraculous ways like he does in Acts 10, 13:2, or 18:9-10. Often we think these extra-ordinary ways should be ordinary in our lives. When they are not, we despair, wondering what we are doing wrong.

Here is a quote from the best book I’ve read on this topic, Just Do Something:

“God may guide us in these ways in rare instances, but we should not expect Him to.
We have no record in the New Testament of anyone anxious to hear God tell him what
to do. Paul never sought out special words of knowledge concerning his future…But
when he gets to a fork in the road, hesitating and pleading with God to know which
way to go seem completely foreign to the apostle.”

It is not that the Holy Spirit is not near to us, for we have been united to Christ by the Spirit. The truth is simply that God the Holy Spirit is not interested in being a taskmaster over you, constantly telling you what you should wear, whom you should date/marry, or what job you should take.

What God is interested in is living through you in a much bigger way than just telling you what to do. He doesn’t just want to be an outside commander. The Spirit wants to live in and through you (Gal. 5:20). The Spirit changes your desires, gives you new desires, and has made you unique, to live a unique life for His glory. You are free in Christ to make decisions according to your understanding of Scripture (Ps. 119:105), counsel from your church community (Prov. 11:14), counsel from church leaders (Heb. 13:17), and your own wisdom (Prov. 1:7). The Bible is clear that some decisions are just immoral, and we should always avoid them. We should also not break our consciences. Other than that, you are free to make decisions you see as most glorifying to Jesus. Trust God with the outcome. Soak it all in prayer.

You do not need to fret over whether or not the Holy Spirit is telling you to do one thing or another. Could the Holy Spirit break into your life in an extra-ordinary way? Sure. If he does, you will know. But you don’t need to wait for that or even expect it. God is glorified in your when you live according to the new desires and wisdom he gives you.

Your decisions do not gain or lose you acceptance before God. One decision has already determined that for you, if you are in Christ. Jesus’ decision to lay his life down for you and then to take it up again has bought for you complete acceptance and intimacy with God. Make all your decisions remembering and trusting in that decision that was made for you.

I want you to be free today to be the person God has made you to be. Go study your Bible, live in community, submit to church leadership, recognize your own gifts and uniqueness, and then just go do something for God’s glory.

Part 3 here.

I Know God’s Will For Your Life (Part 1/4)

In my experience with people (and myself), most of the time when we think about God’s will for our lives, we think of it as an unsolved mystery. It is something for us to think long and hard about, search for, and maybe, just maybe, one day find. In my experience, most people have yet to find it. Until that day, we live in a steady state of anxiety over whether or not we have picked the right major, rushed the right sorority, accepted the right job, married the right guy, worn the right shoes, or been given the right name at birth.

But what if the whole issue surrounding knowing God’s will is much easier than we think? What if finding God’s will can be done without anxiety? What if we can know God’s will without going on some spiritually vague, seemingly unending search?

In this 4-part blog series, I want to help you understand God’s will for your life by debunking some widely held myths. Over and over again I see these myths grip people’s lives, no matter where they are from.

Myth 1: “The Holy Spirit wants to make all your decisions for you by whispering them into your ear.” In my second post, I want to help free you from the idea that God wants to be a taskmaster over you by constantly telling you what to wear, where to go, what Starbucks drink to order, what job to accept, etc. Are we slaves to God? Yes. Is God an exhausting taskmaster over us like that? No.

Myth 2: “As a Christian, if you want something it is probably sinful, because most of your desires are rooted in sin.” In my third post, I want to shed light on the reality that many Christians live under a principle that says if they want something, they are probably not in line with the will of God. They should reject many (if not all) of their desires and find out what God desires. The idea is that if we would just do the opposite of what we want, then we will finally be doing what God wants. I want to help you see that God does not just tell us what we should desire. He actually gives us freedom to desire things and He gives us new desires to live by, with joy.

Myth 3: “God’s will for my life cannot be known.” Though many Christians don’t explicitly believe this, they live often times as though it is true. Many of us believe we can know what God’s will is for our life, but we live day to day unsure of what it is, usually giving up on looking for it on a daily, or weekly, basis. I want to help you see that God’s will is not a secret for you to find with the right magic word, but rather has already been revealed to you in the Bible.

I know God’s will for your life. God has been gracious to us in Christ by covering all of our sinful decisions with the blood of Jesus. Today, you have probably made sinful decisions that are not in line with God’s will. If you believe in Christ, you are covered, forgiven, redeemed, and counted as perfect in God’s sight, because this is His will for you. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day'” (John 6:40).

I look forward to exploring what the Scriptures have to say about knowing God’s will for your life.

Part 2 here (and a new Part 1, as a free bonus, here).