Wednesday, November 3, 2010

His Truth Sets Us Free

I had been overwhelmed by feelings of unworthiness, shame, and self-contempt for the first few years that I was teaching Bible and Theology at the New York School of the Bible. Driven by such powerful feelings, my self-doubts seemed to speak with unassailable authority: “You teach? What type of Christian are you anyway? You think you really have faith? Look how selfish and self-absorbed you are! How are you going to help anyone? What a charlatan, posing in the front of the class as an authority! Hypocrite!”

Devastated by these indictments, I wanted to disappear and have NYC implode on me and swallow me up without a sign. Many times, I thought of calling my school to say, “Find someone else. I’m not your man!”

In my long-standing pre-Christian struggle to attain some sense of significance and value, I’d ward off the shame and self-contempt through positive affirmations: “I’m a good person; no, I’m vastly superior. I’m a once-in-a-lifetime person!” There was no end to the superlatives, and I was always inventing new ones—whatever I needed to tell myself to keep the shame at bay.

However, as a Christian, I learned that this self-stimulation was wrong. But I had to do something about these self-loathing poisonous, demonic arrows. I needed to prove myself, and now I had a new vehicle with which to do it. I would excel at spirituality! I would prove that I was worthy of God’s grace.

However, God loves us too much to allow us to continue in our delusions. He frustrated all my dreams of spiritual accomplishment. Even more difficult to endure, I began to see my true status before God – my poverty of spirit and utter unworthiness. My psychological defenses were overwhelmed, and the demons of shame and self-contempt came roaring back. I feverishly sought to rebuild my self-esteem with good deeds — anything that would tell me, “You’re okay!” In my torment, I began to read the Bible with new, tear-filled eyes, hoping to find a God who would be far more merciful than I ever dared to hope.

Jesus told a parable about two men who entered the temple to pray. One was a self-assured Pharisee. The other was a broken sinner who lacked the confidence to even look up to heaven (Luke 18:9-14). I had become a broken sinner, defenseless against the inescapable sense of my unworthiness. I had been stripped of the confidence that I deserved even a glance from a holy God, but I had come to the right place!

Paradoxically, the death of my self-confidence was the beginning of psychological freedom. I had been deprived of all my defenses and gradually found that I didn’t need them. I could finally let go of the delusions of my goodness and merit, because I was beginning to know a God who would gift me with His merit (1Cor. 1:29-30). I am complete in Him (Col. 2:9-10), not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

It took me a while to learn these lessons. Now, when my demons accuse me of my failures and unworthiness, I am ready for them: “Satan, you’re right! I am totally unworthy to serve God, let alone to teach. I don’t deserve the slightest thing from Him. But I have an incredible God who is everything to me. He loves me with an undying love and will never let me go. He has given me the privilege of serving Him by teaching. Besides, I’m so glad that I’ve been reminded of my unworthiness, because this just prompts me to be grateful and makes me want to sing His praises.”

I’m now rid of much of my psychological baggage, as Jesus taught:

“If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
(John 8:31-32).

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