Me, Luther, & God at Panera

paneraI’ve delayed writing this one for several weeks, as I’m still thinking through everything that shifted in my mindset at the moment of realization. Hopefully, this will help someone else too…

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8 & 9

Recently, as part of my studies, I was required to read portions of Martin Luther’s writings and the story of his life. I found myself immediately identifying with his mindset prior to his revelation of the grace of God.

Martin Luther struggled to do everything he could in order to be worthy of God’s salvation. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit revealed to him through scripture that justification is not earned through our good deeds or penitent acts, but through the grace of God… that he was finally confident in his relationship with God. His statement “by Faith alone, through Grace alone” was a rejection of the Roman Catholic teaching regarding works in the hope of salvation. Luther believed the repentant believer has already been justified; therefore, works are done out of the love in a Christian’s heart, rather than enslavement to an unsure eternity.

Upon realizing this truth, Luther found himself finally at peace. All of his work to strive for God’s love did not give him assurance of salvation. It wasn’t until his understanding of the concept of grace, did he gain confidence in his salvation.

At the moment I read this of his experience, I realized I was similar in thought. Although not consciously, at some point in my life I became determined to “accomplish something” for God… as if that would somehow earn His love and draw me closer to Him. The problem is that I could never be satisfied with what I had done. I would constantly compare myself with others… and find myself lacking.

All along, I knew in my head that I could never earn God’s love, my actions proved otherwise. I’ve always viewed God as my Father… in a very relationally literal sense… but, as a Father I needed to impress. His grace was something about which I had ministered to others, but never fully accepted in my own life…

…it was good enough for others… but not for me… I needed to DO more.

My entire life I’ve had expectations placed on me by others (with good intentions), I’ve always had the pressure that great things were expected. I spent most of my preteen years in very judgmental and conservative Independent Christian Churches in the midwest (remembering these places makes me even more grateful for my family at Legacy). Three events still stand out in my mind:

  1. Age 4: Being grabbed violently by the Senior Pastor’s wife and yelled at for running in the (empty) church.
  2. Age 5: After being baptized, the children’s minister told me he was going to “keep an eye on me” to see if I really meant it.
  3. Age 7: Being told by an adult (at church) that I was not the type of child she wanted playing with her children.

Even from a young age, I was given the impression that my outward actions needed to conform in order to be accepted… and I impressed this manipulative, hypocritical, and distorted mindset on God.

I made it my mission to exceed the expectations others had placed on me from such a young age, with the hope that I could impress everyone… and I would impress God. I’ve always been a person who is all or nothing in most (if not all) aspects of my life.

If I’m going to be a dad… I’ll be the best one ever.

If I’m going to love someone… it’s going to be passionately.

If I’m doing anything… I want to do the best I can.

As I grew older this desire to “accomplish” FOR God often BECAME my god… rather than God, Himself. That’s the problem with a works mentality… YOU are the god… because you’re doing everything for yourself.

I came to the realization of God’s grace through many different mentors in my life, but I must acknowledge that Life Church played an enormous role in my realization of God’s grace. I was repeatedly told “God is for you.” As this knowledge worked its way into my thinking, it changed the way I approached everything.

However, the concept of grace was still largely something that I offered to others, but not to myself. It hadn’t worked its way into my entire being until about six weeks ago when I read the words “by faith alone, through grace alone.” I couldn’t read any further… I immediately stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes… in that moment It was just me and God. It hit me much harder than I wanted to visibly acknowledge in the middle of a Panera restaurant.

I felt free for the first time in a long time. It was as if I was in a fog that suddenly cleared and I was staring at the cross of Christ again… in the progressive revelation of His love for me… He was reassuring me of the entirety of His acceptance… regardless of my own efforts.

He was clearing my vision, so I could see Him more accurately… so I could love others more deeply… and so I could be loved more wholly.

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