Save.Our.Souls | How saved are you?

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I have been saved eight hundred and forty three times. I could be the most saved person you know.

As a small girl I was scared into the kingdom. My church preached a ‘Turn or Burn’ gospel every Sunday and I was scared of going to Hell. So I prayed ‘the prayer’ over and over again just to make sure that I’d done it right.

Fast forward about 9 years and I was still in church every Sunday (by now a different church as my family had moved house). And yes, at every altar call, I was up there repenting. Confusing the life out of the leadership team but also making their conversion statistics look really good.

God doesn’t motivate us with fear. Nor does he encourage us with criticism.

Then one day, the penny dropped. I was in my bedroom, and just happened to glance down at the open bible on my bed. I read those words in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

KAPOW. The simple truth hit me with the full force of revelation. I had asked God to forgive me and therefore I had received my salvation. Simple. As those words settled in my heart, I physically felt the love of God fill my bedroom like a bright cloud of sunshine. After years of pleading with him for salvation, for the very first time I actually met him.

The turn or burn message that I was brought up on was full of scriptural truth. But the way it was preached was rooted in fear and so the fruit was fear. It was only when I met Truth himself that I got rooted in love.

God doesn’t motivate us with fear. Nor does he encourage us with criticism. Sounds kind of obvious doesn’t it? But if you listen to the way you talk to yourself, you’ll notice (if you’re anything like me) that you try to motivate yourself with criticism.

“I’m just lazy, that’s my problem,” says the mother of 4 small children, who works two jobs, and who is struggling to keep on top of her To Do list.

“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stop eating all the time. I’ve got no self-control” says the permanently sleep-deprived mother who suffers from a chronic illness.

“Blessed are those who criticize themselves for they shall by their own harsh words change their own behaviour.”

In the face of apparent failure I will often decide to beat myself up. It goes something like this: “I know, I’m having a tough time, what I’ll do is punch myself in the face. I’ll bang my head against a plank. I’ll drop something heavy on my little toe. That’ll sort me out.” Somehow I make a correlation between self-criticism and change. If I criticize myself a lot, and face up to my faults maybe that will help? If I was writing my own report card most of the time it would read: “Must try harder.”

Of course Jesus was a big critic. But only of one type of people: hyper religious fakes:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Mat 23:15)

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." (Mat 23:23)

I suspect that Jesus got properly cross with them because anything less than a verbal firm slap round the chops just didn’t get their attention. The word hypocrite that Jesus uses here has its roots in the Greek word for actor. A hypocrite is someone pretending to be something that they are not. As hobbies go, it’s rather absorbing and takes up a lot of time. His words are the equivalent of throwing a bucket of cold water over someone who’s so asleep they’re nearly in a coma. WAKE UP.

Self-criticism is your inner Pharisee talking to you. It is not a moral virtue. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who criticize themselves for they shall by their own harsh words change their own behaviour.” My inner Pharisee expects me to be perfect. Jesus hates this underlying message which boils down to: “Must try harder.” He knows better than anyone that our efforts to measure up to God’s holiness are doomed; it’s like trying to get yourself clean by rolling in mud. Yet my inner Pharisee coats it in religious-sounding explanations: I was in debt. Jesus paid off my debt. And now I have to pay it back in small installments of trying-to-be-good-ness. Seriously. It’s almost as if I have no understanding of salvation at all.

Patricia King says something along these lines: that most Christians need to get saved. Because we don’t understand grace. We get saved and then we try to be good. We start off in the Spirit (grace) and quickly slip back into the flesh (works). That’s not the point at all. When John Arnott gives an altar call he says to the people who came forward, “Now don’t go away and try to be good. Just love Jesus.” Simple. I think that the rule of thumb is just that: grace is simple, the flesh makes things all kinds of complicated. The outer Pharisee and the inner Pharisee love rules and systems of performance in which you almost never measure up. God measures you against one criterion: Jesus. Are you in Christ? Yes? Then you’re sorted.

My inner Pharisee is at total odds with what God sees and says about me. After all the truth is not always the truth. I might say to myself “ I am lazy “ and the truth is that sometimes I do act lazy. But that is not the truth of what the Truth says about me. The Truth sees me as righteous all the time. The Truth gave me his report card. My subtly self-criticising facebook status might be “Adele Richards is developing her kids’ immune systems the old-fashioned way – by not cleaning stuff properly”. But on my heavenly facebook my eternal status is “Adele Richards. That girl sure is holy.”

How can you tell if your inner Pharisee is alive and well? Easy. You’ll carry condemnation everywhere you go. Like a black cloud over your head on a sunny day. Condemnation is that indistinct feeling of being bad or having done something bad, but that you can’t put your finger on. It invites you to break open wounds over and over again and poke your dirty fingernails in them in an effort to get rid of this bad feeling. But the wound gets re-infected in a yucky cycle of self-pity and self-effort. It feels bad. It is bad.

Conviction is the godly alternative. When you are convicted by the Holy Spirit it feels like a clean cut from a surgeon with a super-sharp scalpel. It is illuminating. You see the error of your ways at the same time as the immense grace of the one who allowed you to see them. It’s a wound and a healing at the same moment in time. It, bizarrely, feels good. It is good.

The rule of thumb is just that: grace is simple

If you feel like there is a black cloud over your head, I have some good news for you. It doesn’t actually exist. Romans 8:1 is a corker. Write it on a hat and stick it on your head:

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

That icky feeling of general wrong-ness you feel? It’s illegal. It can’t touch you. Is no longer a part of your life. In fact you can tell it to go away. Please. Do that right now if you want to. There. Feels better, right?

I don’t know how to describe aptly the miracle of grace except that it feels like a brilliant light breaking through the dark clouds. I believe theologians classify truth in two categories: positional truth (I am in Christ, I am seated in heavenly places.) and an experiential truth. Experiential truth is where the theoretical truth breaks through into our souls and we feel the truth of it in our hearts. (Yeeehaaaaah, I, ME! I am in Christ! WOW I am RIGHT NOW seated in heavenly places!).

There is an on-going heart-revelation of salvation that takes us from positional truth into deeper experiential truth. That was my Matthew 7:7 moment. And my Romans 8:1 moment. And my Galatians 2:20 moment. I’ve been saved 843 times and I keep on getting saved. There is always more revelation available to us and all we have to do is ask. We know the theory. But we need to experience that inner-Pharisee-killing, condemnation-busting revelation from the Holy Spirit. That’s the difference between a Christian who has a black cloud of duty over their heads and one who is living under blue skies.

Don’t panic. It’s not a question of whether you’re going to heaven or hell when you die. If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord then you are saved. What I’m questioning is which of those two cultures you’re living in today: heaven or hell? I tend to switch back and forth because I listen to my inner Pharisee too much. So that’s why I’m going to pray this now:

Help me, Holy Spirit, to be tuned into your voice. I repent for listening to that inner Pharisee. Break me free of that religious spirit once and for all. And please keep these experiences of salvation coming. Thank you for the blue skies over my head.

Save my soul – save my emotions, my thoughts and my willpower – that the KAPOW of what you have done for us, Jesus, will keep me walking on sunshine.

Thank you for being brilliant.