One of my Bible study groups is going through Ephesians. Because this is a Precept study, we’re also all over the place with cross references. I could preach a sermon on the scriptures God has been using to teach me what I’m going to share with you, but for our purposes today just sit back and observe the humble beginnings of true freedom.
Before I get to my point, I will share with you, for the sake of context, some places God has had me camped out lately. If you look up these passages you may have the same response I had - weeping and gnashing of teeth. I have been from Revelation 2:5 to Ezra 3, especially verses 12 and 13, and I’ve spent an agonizing time in Ezekiel 16 – all of it. I know at some point or another most Christians have read a passage of scripture and heard it in their head as if God were speaking the words audibly, inserting their name where appropriate. Ezekiel 16 was one of those places for me, and seriously, who just randomly chooses to study Revelation, Ezra, or Ezekiel in their daily quiet time? Not me, that’s for certain. These scriptures were God appointed, and they stung. I don’t want to be a prostitute! But that’s what I’ve made of myself and that’s what it’s taken me a while to understand.
I thought for some weeks that the take-away from these verses was that I’ve been doing lots of good things for the kingdom but I’ve been stealing God’s glory through pride, and I needed to relearn the lesson of humility. I’ve been trying to learn how to do all those things without pride but still do them. What I understand today is that what I’ve been stealing from God is not just His glory. What I’ve been stealing from God is me.
The Message says in Galatians 5:5-6, “…neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything.”(my emphasis). Well, that downright hurt my feelings. You mean I’ve been doing all this “religious” work for nothing? Worse than nothing! It has made me an adulteress. I’ve been so busy working to deserve God’s love that I have forsaken Him entirely. I’ve farmed myself out for hire by the gods of affirmation, approval, praise and a justifiable kind of love that tells me I’m worth it.
Picture with me prom night. OK, admittedly this speaks more to the ladies than the men, and maybe some of you didn’t go to your prom or have wicked memories (and I do mean wicked, not like when our kids say it because it’s cool) attached to the night…put all that aside for now and picture the idealized prom night. You’ve bathed in perfumed soap, lotioned yourself to a dewy complexion, and have been to the hair stylist for the perfect up-sweep. Your mani and pedi are complete; your make-up is a work of art. The dress you chose floats around you like a dream and the rhinestones in your ears throw sparkles that dance around your face. Your breath catches in your throat as your date-charming (not a prince yet, but trying) catches his first glimpse of you, eyes as wide as the corsage in his hand. You are the picture of perfection. He is overcome with adoration. And rightly so. You have worked hard to create this picture of bliss and you deserve his undying affection. You’re worth it.
Fast forward to the next day. Your hair is in flat lifeless strings. Your formerly dewy perfumed skin reeks of dance-floor sweat. The make-up previously so artfully done is now smeared by the pillow you fell on in the wee hours. One rhinestone is missing, the other is tangled in the shoulder strap of your dress, which is black and ripped at the hem from your date-not-so-charming’s clumsy feet. You roll out of bed, pass a little gas from last night’s over-indulgent dinner and rub the drool from your cheek. You toss the dress in a heap on the floor and climb into your favorite sweats – slightly worn. “Do you love me now?” That is the question we would ask of that prince, if he were one, and if we dared to let him see us as we truly are. Because this is who we truly are. God’s answer – our Knight in Shining Armor’s answer – yes. I love you now. I loved you then. I love you always and forevermore.
It’s unbearable. It’s scandalous. It is my undoing. God loves us in spite of ourselves and all our religious machinations, but He will only tolerate our adulteress works for so long, because He is a jealous God. He is jealous for us. He is jealous for me. He wants it all. ALL. ALL. ALL of me. All the time. He doesn’t want me parading around in my prom dress gathering names on my dance card. He wants His name on every line for every dance, tonight, tomorrow and the next day. He is not my prom date, He is my Husband. My One True Love. And He is not sharing me with anyone.
I’ve been down this road in my head (and in my writing) more times than are worth counting but I’m hoping this time to have my heart constrained by love. As I was mulling this over, trying to solidify it, I realized that there are people in my life who love me with Christ’s love, and it was through that thought that I really understood. They know me. I make no pretense with them and they love me anyway. They love me because of the lack of pretense and effort. I don’t get myself all slicked up before they see me because I am fully secure in their acceptance, and because of that, there is nothing I would not do for them as well. Love becomes the motivation for work, not to earn it, but in response to it because I’m filled up with love, pressed down, shaken together and running over!
I have not believed it possible, in spite of my sure salvation, that God could love me unless I was performing well (FOOLISH GALATIAN!). Bizarre, I know, but sometimes our head doesn’t communicate with our heart and we think that working hard is the necessary route to love. But we forget that it isn’t because we love Him that He loves us. He just does. For no discernable reason.
I hope for your sake that all of this has been so much blah blah blah because you know what you know what you know. But if you’re awfully busy about your religiosity trying to be deserving of God’s love by getting all spiffed up and looking the part, maybe it’s time to strip off that prom dress, put on those dirty sweatpants, do nothing, and ask the Lord, “do you love me now?” Guess what His answer is?