I’m trying to write about something here that I’m just barely starting to grasp.
It feels like I’m experiencing the same theological battles that have divided Christians from one another – going on inside of my own soul.
I’m just now starting to learn some words and concepts to attach to what I’ve been struggling with since last summer.
Sanctification. Justification. I know these have theological meanings but I can’t even begin to describe those meanings. I know they exist, and that they’re a source of differences between and among different communities of Christians.
What little I know of them seems like the very battles that have been playing themselves out in my own head.
When I first accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior I felt so – I don’t even know how to put it – cleansed … peaceful … blessed. I know what my experience was but I don’t have the right words to describe it. But almost immediately – as I sought to understand, “Okay, I’m a new person now … I feel like a little kid … born-again … unburdened of my lifetime of sin .. so now what?” – everything started to get harder. And harder. And harder.
Some of that, I’m pretty sure, is the Holy Spirit at work: You don’t belong to yourself; you belong to God. God has a plan for you, to fill His purpose. You need to let Him lead.
But there are other things that just become overwhelming and painful inner battles. More and more I have felt out of control and vulnerable — and sometimes I think those things are important things to learn. I do need to learn to surrender control to God, and that is not an easy thing for me. But then I begin to doubt my own salvation: am I really saved, or is my inner turmoil evidence that I am not? If I am truly saved already why is this so hard? Or am I still the same old unsaved sinner I always was, desperate for salvation and deluded into thinking I can somehow save myself by what I do?
Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed. I’m trying to be the person God wants me to be – but is that a sin? There’s a “me” in there that’s doing the trying – is that “me” still not surrendering to God’s will? Is there still a “me” that even should be trying to live a particular way? Or is the “trying” part the part that is sinful? Does that mean I’m still trying to save myself through “works?” Should that part of me that’s doing all that “trying” have died with the self that was supposed to die in order to be reborn in Christ? Or is there a “me” that is supposed to be trying to do God’s will?
As I struggle to survive a steady stream of worldly challenges – while reading and researching what others have said about these inner spiritual battles, I find that these are the same questions that have created whole new churches, new denominations, new movements – because sincere and devout and deeply committed Christians find different answers to these questions when reading the same Bible. Are some of those the right answers and others of them wrong? How am I to know which is which?
Is this the work of Satan? Torturing new believers with spiritual turmoil to make life as a Christ-follower harder than not being a Christ-follower? Or is this the work of the Holy Spirit, maturing me as a Christian by insisting that I learn how to grapple with hard questions?
I wish I knew. But I do keep learning (over and over again) that the most painful crazy-making spiritual battles occur when I’m not actually spending enough time with God.
And that is this lesson: When I’m feeling most dispirited, demoralized, uncertain … crazy … the insight I keep “discovering” (over and over again) is that when I feel the most broken and desperate it’s a sure sign that I’m not actually spending enough time with God. How often do I need to re-learn that time spent reading, thinking , talking, writing, blogging, studying about God is not the same as time spent with God?
It’s … complicated.
I find myself blurting out the same prayer that I blurted out the day that Jesus first came into my heart: “God, I can’t do this myself. Please help me!”