Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fall to grace, part 6

For the whole story, read this, beginning with Part 1. But if you don't want to read all of it, just read this post.

If you read no other post in my "Fall to Grace" series --- in fact, if you read no other post on my entire blog --- read this post.

The following was written about eight years ago. It was originally posted to an online Bible Study based on my friend Mike's lesson series on Law and Grace. It tells the story of my "fall to grace".

Who would have expected how my life would change when some pastor from Texas began emailing me his lesson series on the Law? Certainly I didn’t anticipate anything. I’m not even sure that I read all that much of the first one. I read enough to know where Mike’s lessons were headed, and to know I didn’t want to go there. I had debated his type online, I told myself, and I knew their arguments. They were, I thought, all touchy-feely antinomians who were living a weak, emotionally-driven and gutless version of Christianity. They were forever babbling about grace and love in an almost nauseating sort of way. Usually they were just trying to whitewash sin. It was both pitiful and infuriating.

Since I’d spend the last six years or so getting very comfortable in the Reformed Camp, I thought I knew all about grace and about the role of the Mosaic Law in our lives. I also knew, or thought I did, all about legalism through my involvement in homeschooling circles as well as through my study of the Ezzo controversy. Hadn’t God set me free in a few specific areas where I had been legalistic? Didn’t I now have a good grasp of this whole issue? What could Mike, some guy who was obviously not Reformed, and not even a 5-point Calvinist, possibly have to teach me?

There was only one problem with dismissing Mike categorically: I’d already read too much of his stuff online. I had too much respect for how he interacted with the Word. On the one hand, I didn’t want to admit that he could teach error. On the other hand, I didn’t want to admit he could be right. So, for the most part, I ignored his lessons.

I’m not sure what changed, but one day I found myself ready to confront the whole Law/Grace issue. As I started reading the lessons I had been avoiding, it took all my self-control not to send Mike scathing emails demanding, “Well, since Jesus didn’t condemn incest, is it OK now? What about rape---it’s not mentioned in the NT! What about bestiality? Is all this OK now? HUH? HUH? Answer THAT!”

Instead, I kept on reading, studying, and pondering.

The implications of accepting this teaching on the Law struck me. It was both scary and dismaying. Mike was contradicting Reformed Theology---he was disagreeing with the Westminster Confession of Faith! The nerve of him! How arrogant! Yet, if he was right...well, how could my beloved theological system be wrong about something as important as the role of the Law in my life?

Two questions stumped me. My theology books couldn’t answer them to my satisfaction; neither could any of my Reformed friends or anyone I asked online.

1. Where does Scripture indicate that the Law is divided into 3 categories--moral, civil, and ceremonial?

2. Where does Scripture give us the rule for determining to which category a specific law belongs?

It wasn’t just Reformed Theology that was under attack. It was my own system of applying the Law that was being threatened. It was my own way of picking and choosing which of the OT laws I would follow, my own rules, regulations, standards, and convictions---all of this was coming under question. The very way I approached Christianity was on trial. Scary stuff.

The more I read and studied, the angrier I got. What really frustrated me is that I could not refute, from Scripture, what I was reading. The case was too compelling; the Scriptures were too clear. But I felt as if I couldn’t live with the implications of accepting this ---at times it seemed dangerous to me. I was angry at Mike for spreading such a difficult and painful teaching.

So my husband read the lessons. He made my heart soar with hope when he said, “I found some mistakes” and then dashed those hopes when he said, “They were just a couple of typos.” My husband had always believed that he was free from the Law. We had spent much of our marriage debating the issue of the “Christian Sabbath”. I was beginning to see that maybe my husband hadn’t been a flake after all, but actually had a good Biblical case for his freedom.

The intensity of my response to all this came as a surprise to me. I simply couldn’t accept that the way I had been living my Christianity was wrong. I hurt. I was in anguish. I was grieving. I felt desperate. It felt as if I were standing on the edge of a cliff, being urged to jump---and it was all so frightening. I knew that God was there, but I had no idea what He would do. It was as if I were stripped of everything that had once given me confidence.

I finally jumped and cast myself on the mercy of God.

Mike, as well as my husband and friends of mine, had talked glowingly of the freedom there was in Christ. They described how wonderful it was to be set free from the yoke of the Law, how glorious grace was, how joy would come once I realized the full implications of my freedom and liberty.

There was nothing of that for me. The only freedom I experienced was a new, painful clarity that left me feeling like gutter residue. I had failed desperately. I had relied on my own filthy rags in my attempt to please God---certainly not for justification, but as a measuring stick to gauge my own sanctification and as a means of living in relationship to Him and pleasing Him. I had relied on the Law and my own rules, rather than on Him. I had taught error to my children. I had judged others harshly. I had been a sanctimonious, self-righteous, prideful legalist.

This was worse than the struggle that had gone on before. I felt as if I were in free fall. This was bleak despair. I don’t know how long the desperation and pain lasted. A couple of days. It seemed like forever. God was distant. I clung to His Word, but found only more pain in what I read.

Finally something happened.

The Scriptures began to penetrate my heart. My eyes were opened to the fact that I hadn’t been falling---the Everlasting Arms had held me all along. The fear vanished. I began to taste and understand grace. It was glorious, amazing, indescribable.

Theological and doctrinal shifts, it seems to me, shouldn’t be so emotional. I don’t do theology by experience, by throwing myself off imaginary cliffs. But this was more than just the "mind-y" way I had approached my Christianity for the past six years. This truth penetrated to the core of my being. It captured my heart and laid me bare.

Grace---wow! It wasn’t a matter of me saying, “Oh, cool, the doctrines of grace. What a wonderful theology. To think that my salvation was God’s idea all along---amazing!” No, this was much, much more than that. It was so personal. So intense, so intimate. Grace---God’s grace---for me!

I had experienced freedom before, but it was always freedom from something. This is much more than freedom from the bondage of the Law. It is freedom to a newness of relationship with God, a precious and sweet intimacy that is based on a fresh realization of the deeper meaning of what Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection. It is freedom to love others, without judging them for not sharing my convictions and standards. It is freedom to let God be God. It is freedom to experience more of the riches of what He has for us in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 became alive for me. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." No condemnation! That realization has been so freeing in more ways than I can describe. That chapter goes on to talk about what the Law could not do...what only Christ could do and did do...about the glorious, mind-boggling love of God.

That’s the part that really overwhelms me. I am completely shattered and undone by the love of Jesus. It is too much for me. It has broken my heart, but in a good way. One of the wonderful aspects of Reformed Theology is that it gave me such a high view of God and a sense of His awesomeness, power, majesty, holiness---it gave me such a good understanding of my smallness and His greatness, my sinfulness and His perfection. Now, added to that, was the almost unbelievable concept that such a God would love me so much that He would want the intimacy of me calling Him, “Abba! Daddy!” That the Holy and Perfect Son of this Holy and Perfect God loves me so very, very just melts me.

I’ve become convinced that this issue---the role of the Mosaic Law in our lives today---is foundational to our Christianity. Our Faith is not a system of rules; it is a vibrant relationship with the living God who wants us to walk in freedom before Him, relying on His Spirit rather than on our own efforts. Ah, yes...the Holy Spirit. As I’ve been reading and meditating on and devouring the wonderful book of Galatians, I’ve become convinced that being led by the Spirit is the only antidote to both legalism and licentiousness. Just as Galatians 3:3 says, I began in the Spirit, but then tried to live by my own efforts. I stopped being led by the Spirit, but put myself under Law (Galatians 5:18). It's not like the Spirit left me; I just had very little awareness of His presence. Now I’m learning again how to walk in the Spirit...what the Bible means about being filled with the to yield myself more fully. Legalism and walking in the Spirit are so antithetical. How could I have not seen that?

What Mike has been teaching in these lessons isn’t just some side issue, some theological point of interest. It has completely changed the way I relate to God and to others. It has been a rebirth in many respects; those who know me best are simply amazed at the change that God has wrought in me. To know that my Savior set me free not only from the curse of the Law but from the Law itself---to taste that freedom---it is simply too much for me. I never realized before that the love of Christ was this wonderful.


  1. Rebecca, my stomach is in knots again just reading your story. So much of it rings true for me, too. The pain. Yours only lasted a couple days? The falling. The desperation. The legalism. So much.

    Well, I haven't experienced the second part of your story yet. I'm getting a glimmer here and there, but I do know that for the first time in my life I feel born again! And my friends can't believe the difference in my life either!

    I'm looking forward to the good parts of this that you describe are coming!

  2. Jen, I knew this would ring true to you. In fact, you were the main inspiration for me to stop delaying the telling of this story.

    It's been a good experience for me to relive it.

    Unfortunately, my story gets worse before it gets better.

  3. "I had failed desperately. I had relied on my own filthy rags in my attempt to please God---certainly not for justification, but as a measuring stick to gauge my own sanctification and as a means of living in relationship to Him and pleasing Him. I had relied on the Law and my own rules, rather than on Him. I had taught error to my children. I had judged others harshly. I had been a sanctimonious, self-righteous, prideful legalist."

    I find myself nodding my head because I have been there. And sometimes I'm not so sure that I'm not STILL there. . .

  4. I'm not sure how I found your blog, but I have found your discussion of law/grace fascinating. I was raised in a very strict family and church. For me, I never felt like I measured up. My skirts were never long enough, my hair was too short, I wore too much makeup, I questioned Calvin, I really just asked too many questions, etc. When some pretty bad things happened to me, I was told it was because of my lack of "spirituality." My response was different from yours. I just quit completely. I quit living the christian life.

    I am now 30 years old and a wife and mother, and the Lord has restored me. While I have a very sweet relationship with my Savior, I have great trepidation about going to church. I struggle almost daily with the bitterness that I feel. I wonder if people realize the effect that they can have on others who are struggling spiritually?

    I do realize that I can add nothing to this conversation theologically speaking, but I did want to let you know that your story touched me. Thank you for sharing it.


  5. Rebecca,

    I found your other site ages ago while searching for the source of the "grace is God's enabling power to do His will" quote. Then I found your blog. The rest is history. ;-) I've read through your fall to grace series more than once. It's been such a blessing.

    Just so you know, I linked to this post this morning. I don't get much traffic, but thought I ought to let you know anyway.