Monday, August 8, 2016

Bingo!

Christians who are constantly measuring and testing their spiritual state are Christians in an unhealthy theology. The focus is in the wrong place - on themselves, their works, their thoughts, their obedience, their nearness or distance from God. This, sadly, is the condition of American Christianity.

--Has American Christianity Failed?, Bryan Wolfmueller

It ought to be where God intends it to be and where it has to be if we are going to make progress against the sin and unbelief in our lives: on Jesus and what He has accomplished and promised and declares us in Him to be: perfect as He is perfect. When we believe that, Christ is formed in us.

But for that to happen we have to keep our eyes on Him and on His grace, and not on ourselves. Only the proudest and most depraved of human beings will be pleased and will not be discouraged at what they see when they look at themselves. But no one who keeps His eyes on Jesus and what He has done and promises can fail to grow and thrive and live spiritually. It can't be otherwise because it is by keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than on ourselves and living by His grace rather than by our performance, that Christ is formed in us and His obedience becomes our own before the world as by grace it already is before God's throne of justice.

27 comments:

  1. Howdy,
    I have OCD and I've been having a lot of trouble with lustful thoughts. I feel guilty when thinking them but trying not to think them seems counter productive. I also get very anxious and panicky about it. Any suggestions about how to deal with this?

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  2. Understand that sexual attraction is normal and doesn't become lust until a fantasy is dwelt on and savored. You're right that trying not to think them will make them come. Making a big deal about them does the same thing. Since you repent when you realize they're there, there's nothing you need to do but let them be there and pay attention to something else instead. Don't try to "fix" them or somehow "unthink' them. Just let them be there, realize that they have only the power you give them, and instead of dwelling on them either to savor them or to beat yourself up about them think about something else and move on.

    You might also want to join The Scrupe Group. The link is above.

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  3. Thank you. I will join the group.

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  4. One more thing if you don't mind, Robert. As a Christian, what should my attitude be towards a certain sin that I habitually struggle with? I feel like I can't be happy or peaceful till I have have certainty that I've completely overcome it--that failing to do so makes me a bad christian or (worse) is evidence that I'm not truly a christian at all. Every time I fall into it I feel like a failure. So far as sanctification is concerned, should we expect genuine progress when it comes to rooting sin out of our lives? I come from a reformed background so this stuff (along with my ocd) confuses me.

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    1. Your attitude should be to recognize that your attitude is unbiblical, unrealistic, and self-defeating. First, as long as your eyes are on how you're doing with your struggle against sin, they're not on Jesus- and you're undercutting the entire basis of your sanctification.

      So what if you did "completely overcome" a certain besetting sin? then there would be the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Martin Luther compared the process to picking lice off your fur coat!
      News flash! You're never going to become sinless!

      Read Romans 7. Do you really expect to do better than Paul did? Seriously. You really think that you have to become sinless in order to be a good Christian?

      St. Ambrose- the mentor of St. Augustine- had a line I'm very fond of. You'd do well to remember it: "The Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners." A "good Christian" is one who is in fact a sinner and struggles with a multitude of besetting sins. But he doesn't direct his attention to his sins, but to his Savior. The more you take your eyes off of your sins and keep them on Jesus, who died for every one of them and for Whose sake the Father pronounces you perfect and righteous with HIs righteousness at this very moment, the fo re progress you'll make with your sanctification. The more you live out your identity as a constantly forgiven child of God and the less you wallow in your sinfulness, the greater progress you'll make with your sins.

      Be warned, though. The more sanctified you become, the more appalled you will be when you look at the condition of your own heart. The holier you become the more aware you will be of how unholy you still are. And that's good. God graciously hides our sanctification from us for a very good reason: if we could see it, we would become proud and ruin the whole thing.

      So no. Absolutely not. Yes, there will be a constant improvement in your life- but only as long as your attention is on Jesus instead of your sin. "Rooting sin out of your life" isn't your job. Moreover the job will never be completed in this life.

      Your job is to keep your eyes on Jesus. He alone is your righteousness. The more you do that the more your live will be lived out of love and gratitude instead of anxious, servile fear- and the more like Him you will become.

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  5. Thank you so much for that very helpful reply! I was taught for a long time that romans 7 is paul describing his prechristian experience of trying to obey God's law. A saved christian, I was taught,does not struggle like that--at least not with the same type of sins. But that being said, I think a lot of guilt that I feel is generated from the OCD. In my calmer, less anxious moments I'm able to brush them off and wonder what all the fuss was about. I'M still new to learning how to deal effectivly with OCD and debating going on medication for it.. "A constantly forgiven child of God." That's what I need to remember!

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  6. Legalists often try to rationalize Romans 7 away that way. The problem is that the text simply doesn't permit it The verb tenses are all present tense. The technical term for what you were taught is eisegesis- reading one's own agenda or preconceived notions into the text.

    People who teach that will have a great deal to answer for on Judgment Day, because they're undercutting the entire Gospel and gutting Paul's whole argument, especially in Galatians.

    What I've described is simple Reformation Christianity. Calvin would have no time for people who teach what you were taught- and I tremble to think what Luther would say!

    The Third Use of the Law- as a guide- is gracious information given to someone who loves God and wants to please HIm as to how to live in such a way as to do so. It is not a prescription for achieving what Paul called "a righteousness of my own." The only righteousness any of us will ever have this side of the grave is Christ's, and it's ours by grace through faith. Sanctification, as well as justiifcation, is by grace alone.

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  7. I have spent years thinking about my sins long after having comitted them--or more precisely,I've spent untold amounts of time examining myself to see if I was sorry enough for my sins. Being "truly" sorry was evidence of salvation, and the lack of such sorrow meant I had reason to be concerned. I'm slowly learning not to look at my feelings so much.

    Thanks again. Your blog is a huge help!

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  8. The word the New Testament uses for "repentance' is "metanoia-" literally, "to change one's mind." That's it. If you regret something, you have contrition. If you are sorry, and desire (not vow or promise or any of that presumptuous nonsense) not to do it again, there is no requirement as to the emotions you must feel or the degree to which you must feel them. We are not saved by the good work of feeling bad, much less of feeling bad enough.

    If you've come that far, that needs to be added to it in order for it to be as true a repentance as fallen human beings are capable of is faith in Christ's promise to forgive it.

    We are not saved by the good work of feeling sorry. We are saved by grace thorough faith. And think about it a moment: how insane is it to be in agony over whether or not you feel bad enough?

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  9. Thank you.
    Do you know how christians with OCD who are often filled doubt about things,have racing and intrusive thoughts,uncertainty, etc.--how is it that God's promise of having a "sound mind" applies to them? I suppose the same question could be asked of people with other mental or mood disorders. Thanks pastor Robert.

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    1. It doesn't. That's not what he's talking about. Some people think that Paul himself may have had OCD or some other affliction which today we would consider psychological. Paul is more concerned about having your worldview on straight. You'll never find Paul downplaying the important of accurately stating the Gospel, whatever our postmodern world might say!

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  10. Dear Robert.
    I am a new Christian. I have been plagued by heinous blasphemous thoughts about God. I don't know if I am to blame alone or if it is my OCD which causes these, or perhaps a mixture of both?

    Before I became a Christian. I willfully exposed myself to all sort of filth, including blasphemy and thus forever downloading bad images in my head.
    OCD is a chemical imbalance in my brain and thus I am not responsible for the thoughts I get. How should I view these two factors?

    I am very confused. I can't truly repent of these thoughts because I don't feel responsible and thus I can't feel sorry..

    Jakob, Denmark. 19 years old

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    1. You are not to blame at all. It is your humanity that causes them- everyone has random thoughts- and the brain is designed to retain thoughts we pay attention to rather than exclude them (try for sixty seconds to think of anything in the world other than polar bears. You won't be able to think of anything else).

      Your OCD causes the thoughts to become obsessions. Again, this is not your fault. You don't need to repent because you are not responsible and they are not sins.

      You do need to see a doctor and get a prescription for medication. SSRI's can really help. If Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is available, I would advise pursuing that, too. Remember that as long as you do not deliberately indulge the thoughts they are not sins and you should simply ignore them. Don't try to push them away; just think of something else.

      I'd also invite you to join the Scrupe Group where you will be among a thousand or so other Christians with the same struggle. Click on the link at the top of the page or on the Cranach portrait.

      Jesus died for all of your sins- and what you describe are not sins at all.

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    2. Thanks a lot for your response. My blasphemous thoughts are of a sexual nature dear friend. How can I have such horrible thoughts... God knows. I choose to believe that I am among His flock, sinful though I am.

      Sometimes I do, in irritation, dwell on the thoughts somewhat willingly.

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  11. Dear Robert.
    I am a new Christian. I have been plagued by heinous blasphemous thoughts about God. I don't know if I am to blame alone or if it is my OCD which causes these, or perhaps a mixture of both?

    Before I became a Christian. I willfully exposed myself to all sort of filth, including blasphemy and thus forever downloading bad images in my head.
    OCD is a chemical imbalance in my brain and thus I am not responsible for the thoughts I get. How should I view these two factors?

    I am very confused. I can't truly repent of these thoughts because I don't feel responsible and thus I can't feel sorry..

    Jakob, Denmark. 19 years old

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    1. Repentance isn't "feeling bad." The word the New Testament uses for repentance is "metanoia-" "changing your mind." And everyone has "pop-up" thoughts. They are not sins and mean nothing. They don't need to be repented of. They need to be ignored. They're background noise. They're static. Nothing more.

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  12. I am going to be beginning ERP pretty soon and was wondering how to approach the whole matter of going agsinst conscience. I know the bible teaches that whatever is not of faith is sin and I have a feeling I will be asked to do things that I'm in doubt about. Any suggestions? I figured you would be a good person to ask having exoerience with OCD.
    THANKS,
    JOE

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    1. My guess is that you're making the common mistake of thinking that "conscience" is an emotion. It's not. Conscience is what you believe is right, not what you feel.

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  13. For example, I used to be able to have a few beers and enjoy them as I watched a ball game or was at a party or something, but now I'm asking questions like, "What if I get a slight 'buzz' and sin? How much is ok to drink? If I'm thinking this way does it mean I'm going against conscience if I do have a couple beers?" I'm guessing my therapist will tell me to have the beers and tolerate the uncertainty.

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  14. Guilt-feelings are one of the main things I'm struggling with, sometimes even over things I know to be ridiculous (going 2 mph over the speed limit).

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    1. Typical scrupe. In fact pretty much the definition. Why don't you join the Group?

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  15. What Scripture can you cite that indicates that having a couple of beers, as opposed to being blotto, even might be a sin? Would Proverbs say that God created wine to help the poor forget their troubles? Would Paul have advised Timothy to drink it? Would Jesus have turned water into wine at a party?

    Why would it be sinful? That's a question. And it's not an unreasonable one to ask when you're wondering about whether something is sinful. Where's the evidence?

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  16. Thank you Robert,

    I realize Scripture does not forbid drinking alcohol as such, it's more like. "Is this giving the appearance of evil?" and stuff like that. Or in the case of going over the speed limit, I remember passages about obeying the governing authorities. Thankfully I nipped that one in the bud by just letting my anxiety build as much as it wanted over the course of a day and now I cant believe something like that ever bothered me. On most issues I actually KNOW what's right, but simple "what if" questions can still spike my anxiety to the point that I treat them like a threat.
    I think I did join the group but I haven't posted yet. I'll double check tonight when I get off of work. Thanks again!

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    1. First, "what if?" questions are almost always OCD. Secondly, Prohibition is no longer in effect. The trick is to recognize that WHENEVER you feel that anxiety- nothing else feels like OCD- you HAVE to ignore it and go with what you know. As Dr. Schwartz says, "If it feels like OCD, it is."

      Secondly, the Group would be the appropriate place to be having this conversation. The comments section of a blog isn't really ideal! :)

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  17. I actually have a Skype session booked with Ian Osbourne coming up. I found out about him on this website.

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