Saturday, 6 September 2014

A Pharisee Like Me



I’ve never really had too much interest in world religions.  I’ve had friends who were Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Bahai and friends who came out of the Mormon church but I’ve never really been that interested in other faiths. Well at least not enough to read up about them too much. The closest I’ve come is getting annoyed at being visited by the Jehovah Witnesses week after week. Not quite annoyed enough to find out what they believe, but annoyed just the same.
Now that I am living in a country that does not have its foundations or laws based on Biblical truth it makes it quite an interesting place to think about these things. Even if western countries deny who God is, they cannot erase the history of morality and the footprint of God’s laws from their past. 

So here I am, living in a historically ‘animistic’ country recently converted to Christianity. This shows itself in some ways and not in others. Meanwhile I’m loaned a book called Unveiling Grace by Lynn Wilder.  This is the story of how a family found their way out of the Mormon church.  I wouldn’t have purchased this book, but after reading in advance ten of my boys up-and-coming home school books, I thought an adult book might be on the cards.  So I started.  I was riveted from the first chapter.  But as interesting and enlightening as the book is there was one thing that really struck me.  It was the legalism, the trying to earn your way to Heaven that permeated the book.  Sadly as much as I desire to do God’s will and work as a sign of my love for Him, I fear some of the time I am doing so with a subconscious thought of earning my right to go to Heaven.

Lynn Wilder looks back on her 30 years in the Mormon faith and concludes, “All day long I worried, perhaps not consciously but unconsciously, if what I was doing was the right thing.  I worried whether each decision I was making throughout the day was moving me closer to being good enough to be accepted by Heavenly Father.”  Even as she talked about all that was entailed in being ‘good’ as a Mormon, I was pierced in my heart. I may know the one true God, but I still find myself doing the very thing she highlighted. I try earning my way into God’s good books. I try to be good by weighing up if I have done all I should today, if I am reading enough, praying enough, doing enough, even surrendering enough, and repenting enough.

She goes on to say “I did not realise that evaluating my own righteousness was self-centred. I thought I was honouring Christ and the Heavenly Father according to the Mormon gospel. But this worldview is self-centred, and this is why I had to constantly think about myself and my behaviour to determine where I stood. I was thinking about me all the time. Plus I gave myself credit for being able to stave off sin. This groundless belief was toxic to my soul, blinding me to the many sins I did have.”

I’m not sure if you are feeling uncomfortable right now.  Safe to say I was when I read this. It reminded me of something Brennan Manning said in his book A Furious Longing for God. I’m paraphrasing because I borrowed the book and no longer have it.  He said something like, if I could go back and do life over again, I would not waste a minute contemplating how my faith walk is, nor comparing it to others around me.

I do this.  Do you?  Do you, like me, waste time thinking about how much better you could be doing? What else you could be doing? Whether you will ever grow in your faith like … them? What you could be doing to surrender more? How you could go deeper in your relationship with Christ?  Do you, like me, do your best to be good enough?

“History tells us it’s not whores, thieves and pagans who find it most difficult to turn from self-reliance; it’s devoutly religious Pharisees who feel they have nothing to turn from.”(Brennan Manning, Posers, Fakers & Wannabes, Unmasking the Real You).

I’m not suggesting you are a Pharisee, that would be hugely judgemental of me, but I’m telling you I am. If I spent half the time I use to contemplate whether my own efforts have been good enough and instead spent that time praying, or enjoying time with God, the striving for goodness would be gone and the presence of God would be enjoyed, because in the end it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. 

Have I been sucked into some false doctrine about works?  I was raised memorising Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is be grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” So it’s not my theology that’s misplaced, or totally wrong, it’s my interpretation of my own self importance.

How natural it seems for me to strive, in my own strength, for what I desire in my faith.  This is the mandate for all other world religions. Work at it and you may be good enough. It seems to be that the gospel of grace that Jesus gives is the only free gospel, yet we can so easily turn it into a gospel of works. What a slap in the face that must be to Jesus.  We take all he has done and make it ‘not enough’, and we add our efforts and make it all about us. 
I don’t know the answer to this inherent human problem. Maybe we start by throwing off the self-imposed pressure to read more, pray more and do more.  Let us allow ourselves the pleasure of time with God as we amble, wander, walk, run, or rush through our day, knowing that what Jesus did was enough and all he wants from us is for us to turn our face towards him.

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