If asked to describe God, what would you say? Would you talk about a harsh, authoritative judge whose demands must be met in order to win His approval? Perhaps you would characterize God as passive, uncaring, or disinterested. Or maybe an image of a loving gentle father comes to mind. Regardless of how you would describe Him, it is imperative that our image of God lines up with the truth about who God is.
In our first two newsletters, we talked about the way that we attempt to have our basic needs met in life through our relationships and circumstances and how doing so helps us develop our personal belief systems or “life messages.” Moving through life, we put unrealistic expectations on others in an attempt to feel okay, always resulting in unmet needs. As our flesh struggles for happiness and satisfaction, we become disillusioned and frustrated with our lives, others, and even God. We may begin to question His love and goodness, and maybe even doubt His existence. We formulate our own “concept of God” and relate to Him and others based on our interpretation of who we believe He is. Sadly, there is often a huge difference between what we feel to be true about Him and Who He really is.
A God of Our Own Making
So how is it that even Christians often have misconceptions about who God is? Similar to the way we receive our unique life messages, we also develop our ideas about God, resulting in a “god of our own making.” Because we are born “in Adam,” we begin life with a marred concept of God due to sin. We are born believing the lie of the serpent to Adam and Eve that God cannot be trusted and that He is “holding out on us.” This lie is reinforced through our earthly relationships. Beginning at a very early age, we form our concept of God from our family relationships and experiences, or lack thereof. We compare Him to the performance of these people, as well as our own, drawing conclusions that are often erroneous. It is easy to see how unhealthy relationships can reinforce faulty beliefs about God, yet even healthy ones can have the same effect simply because they cannot satisfy our need for love, acceptance, security, value, and worth that only God was supposed to meet.
The Choice is Ours
Certainly realizing that we have misconceptions about God is the first step in beginning to truly know Father God. An understanding of His character by learning what He says about Himself is also necessary. It is through His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ, that God has revealed His character to us. Jesus said, in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Therefore, if we really want to know who God is, we need only look to Jesus. Allowing Jesus to reveal Himself to us by trusting in Him to meet our needs as we go through the trials of this life is the only way we will ever live full and satisfied lives. Again, we have a choice to make. We can struggle through life, attempting to get our needs met by the god we have “created” or we can trust in the one true Source of Life, the only One who “will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Next month we will begin looking at just how God went about making provision for our every need by changing our status from “in Adam” to placing us “into Christ.”
Before arriving at True Life, my life had no meaning. Although I knew of Jesus and was grateful for everything he had done in my life, there was a void to fill. I was depressed, frustrated and angry, and there was nothing I could do to change that. No matter how much I tried to believe that I had the power to change things, they got worse and I felt hopeless.
I quickly learned that just because I felt like I was in darkness didn’t mean that God had abandoned me. I began to learn who God is and who I am.
There were many parts of the process that were difficult for me to understand as English is my second language. As I progressed through the process, I came to understand that it wasn’t just a language barrier, it was more because I had the wrong impression of who God really is and didn’t fully understand that my life is “hidden with God.” I thought God accepted me based on how well I performed in every aspect of my life.
It has been a wonderful experience every day discovering who God really is and how He repeatedly reminds me who I am.
I am very thankful to God and True Life for giving me this opportunity.
Maria M., Abingdon, MD
Why Do Christians Sin?
Last month we looked at Life Messages. These are messages we received (good or bad) from situations and relationships about ourselves. We internalized these messages and formed beliefs and experienced feelings which affected our choices and relationships. Let’s take a look at the effects of those messages. Why do Christians sin? It seems the harder I try to obey God’s Word, the more I experience? This was the Apostle Paul’s experience as well. “For that, which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….”Romans 7:15-21.
The Flesh: Living Life Independently of Christ
Paul is talking about the Flesh. The Flesh is the condition in which my focus is primarily on myself, in which I am living out of my own resources in order to cope with life, solve my problems, and meet my needs or, in other words, living life independently of Christ. God created us with a need for an intimate personal relationship with Him. In this relationship He promises to meet our need for which our love, acceptance, security, adequacy and worth. In the circumstances of our lives and our relationships with others we experience unmet needs, pain, fears, disappointments, and anger. Often this causes confusion as to why we are experiencing pain and why God has not met our needs or healed our wounds.
The Effects of Flesh Wars
Flesh is a by-product of what happened to Adam in the Fall. When Adam disobeyed God, he chose not to place his faith in God but in Satan. Adam rejected the TRUTH and power of God’s Word and accepted Satan’s lies. Enter the FLESH! When Adam sinned, he died spiritually and became a child of wrath. So the nature of the problem is functioning without God as the center of life. Using the soul, we develop a self-centered functional approach to life, where the mind and heart is set primarily on ourselves. Patterns of thinking and feeling result in behaviors motivated to meet our needs and solve our problems. A defense strategy or battle plan develops to try to make life work for us. Flesh tries to function in its own way. Flesh responds by doing things based on our own understanding of circumstances, myself, others and God. Apart from God, our needs remain unmet because the Flesh cannot interpret life or relationships according to God’s truth. The Flesh wars against the things of the Spirit. In as much as the Flesh struggles for happiness and satisfaction, the effects are always the same: conflict and frustration. So how do we eliminate this conflict and frustration from our lives? As believers, we now have a choice to make: whether to live by the flesh or to live from the Spirit. Choosing to rely on Christ’s life is the only way to experience the abundant life He came to give.
Put to Death the Deeds of the Flesh and Live!
“So then brothers, we are debtors, not to flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live by the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh you will live.” Romans 8:12-13 As we continue to move through True Life’s Discipleship Counseling process, next month we will discuss how our “Concept of God” affects our relationship with Him.
“God, I truly love you! Why does this hurt? What am I missing? Help me, please. I’m tired.”
Mary seemed privy to my flare prayers and met me at the door with her signature embrace. “I’ve been thinking about you, Jul, and I want to ask you something.” She listed my life roles like a verbal resume: wife, mom, volunteer, small group leader, cook, teacher, daughter, sister, employee, accountant…
She pointed to her head and whispered, “I know that you KNOW that Jesus loves you and died to restore you and accepts you unconditionally. You read about it and you teach it. ”
Mary slowly moved her hand to her heart and asked, “But do you really believe that He did all that for YOU? Do you know in your heart that YOU are unconditionally loved by the same God who defeated death? Do YOU rely on Him?”
I fumbled the attempt to answer her question with confidence. The word “rely” ricocheted in my soul. The chalkboard of my brain was suddenly peppered with words depicting patterns of self-reliance… an exhausting dependence on personal pronouns, titles, and to-do lists.
Identifying your flesh is the first step of freedom to walk in the Spirit! Choose daily to rely on Christ and to rest in the truth of His unconditional love.
Juli T., Forest Hill, MD
“The term “flesh” has many meanings in the Bible, but our primary definition hear is this: Flesh refers to the old ways or patterns by which you have attempted to get all your needs supplied instead of seeking Christ first and trusting Him to meet your needs. These patterns develop as you are growing up in your parents’ home. And when the Holy Spirit begins to work on tearing them down, most Christians panic at the idea of losing them.” – Bill Gillham
What Are Your Life Messages?
Have you ever found yourself wondering if there was more to this Christian life? Do you feel like everyone is happier and living a more fulfilling life than you? Do you wonder if somehow you’ve missed something? Perhaps you’ve found your mind flooded with thoughts like I’ll never amount to anything. I can’t do anything right. I should have done that differently. It’s my fault. If they only knew. I must keep my feelings to myself. I must do this to be okay. I feel so anxious about the future with all the uncertainty in the world. I go to church, read my Bible, and pray, yet I just don’t feel like God hears my prayers. Maybe I’m not even saved.
Why is it that so many Christians are plagued by these condemning thoughts, which often leave them feeling unloved, insecure, inadequate, unacceptable, and worthless? Is it any wonder that Christians often seem more miserable than their unsaved friends and family? How is it that these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are even in the mind of a believer?
Our Personal Belief System
We must consider the way our beliefs are established. From the moment we are born, we begin to develop our self-concept based on our interpretation of the feedback, both negative and positive, that we receive from the circumstances, as well as the people in our lives. All of this “data” is internalized and becomes our very own unique belief system—the lens through which we view all of life, ourselves, God, and others, as we attempt to answer the question, “Who am I?” For example, a young girl who is neglected by a parent who favors her sibling, may come to believe the lie that others are more important than she is. Over time, these feelings of rejection may translate into the erroneous belief that she is unlovable and unacceptable. These beliefs may continue, even after she comes to Christ. Sadly, this is the case for many believers.
Transformed by the Renewing of our Mind
All of us, as we move through life, look for relationships and circumstances to fulfill us and make us feel “okay,” allowing these things to define us, often failing to realize that at the moment we received Christ we were “redefined.” It was then that it became all about what God thinks about us, and no longer about what the world says about us. The only thing left for us to do is to choose to believe what our loving Heavenly Father says about us by “being conformed no longer to what the world has told us, but by being transformed by the renewing of our mind.” (Romans 12:2) By choosing to believe what God says, our faulty beliefs can be renewed by His life-changing truth, resulting in a transformed mind and a new belief system from which to live the life of freedom Jesus came to give!
Life Messages is the first part in the True Life – Discipleship Counseling process. In our next publication, we will be discussing how our messages become our unique version of “The Flesh.”