I’m having trouble understanding what it means to live by grace and not by law.
My biggest hang-up is the fact that from the outside, there may be no visible difference between the woman who lives by grace and the woman who lives by law.
My upbringing did a lot to make me comfortable living by the law. I went to Sunday School classes that gave me a sticky, foil star if I was there, if I had brought my Bible, and if I had brought money. You were the best if you had three stars. It was to be expected from all the “core” kids. The kids whose parents had once occupied the same classroom as a child, sticking the same foil stars in a row. I always felt sorry for the little girl with the bad haircut and the ratty dress that only had one star, just because she had arrived. Sometimes she would have a pink KJV Bible the size of her hand and so she would get two stars. But she never had money. My parents gave me money every Sunday morning, so I always got three stars.
One year at VBS there was a competition in the 5-6th grade girls’ class to see who could memorize the most verses. Second place would receive a cookie cake. I don’t remember what the 1st place prize was, but I won it. I worked every afternoon and evening and even in the mornings on the way to VBS memorizing several chapters in those five days. I’m still proud of that achievement.
I knew a lot about the Bible. Sometimes my Sunday School teacher would ask a question, then say, “Can anyone answer this question besides Aanna?” It humiliated and infuriated me. One time, a close friend of the family graduated from a bible college. My father sat us children in front of the graduate and proceeded to show him how we knew more about the Bible then he did. “What were the names of all the judges in the Old Testament?” my dad asked. I remember our friend just smiling and shaking his head. Then my sisters and I recited the names of the fifteen judges.
In high school I began to have a personal drive and desire to know God. I began waking up at 4:00 in the morning so I could have more time to read the Bible and pray. I had read through the Bible by the end of my freshman year. I fasted for days at a time. Whenever I looked inside myself to find the reason behind my actions, I just felt a deep sense of “should”. I felt guilty if I didn’t. Eventually, my dad told me to stop waking up so early and to stop fasting unless I had a really good reason. So I stopped and then felt really confused, wondering why God had led me to believe that what I had been doing was from Him.
I pushed myself in other areas as well. I won competitions in piano performance. I got a great score on my ACT, but was disappointed when I heard that someone at my high school had got a perfect score. I was only ever content if I was the best.
My first true encounter with grace came my freshman year of college when I took a class on the book of Galatians. I can’t remember exactly what affected me, just that I was affected. “Grace” became a very important word for me. I remember feeling deeply humbled. Put in my place. I began to pray that God would show me my true “lostness”.
Later, a professor who knew me pointed me to two verses. John 6.44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day,” and Acts 16.14, “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” I needed to understand that even my ability to come to God and to believe was a gift from God. I needed to understand that I couldn’t and didn’t do anything on my own.
I have way more in common with Pharisees, the prodigal’s older brother, and pre-Paul Saul than with Mary Magdalene, the penitent tax-collector, or the centurion. It terrifies me that I can relate more to the enemies of God than the friends of God.
I spent an entire year or more intent on examining my motives and only doing those things which were born from a love from God. I would read my Bible only when I felt a love for God and a need to be in His presence. I prayed when things popped into my head that I wanted God to handle or again, when I felt a need to be in His presence. I stopped reading my Bible every day. My prayer life faltered. My patience and self-control grew thin. I felt like I was drifting aimlessly.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I still needed to spend time in the Word and in prayer, but to come to an understanding in my heart that it was out of love for God and not from a duty or a need to please and not disappoint that I was doing it.
I can’t seem to find a steely discipline within this heartfelt love.
I often approach the throne of God with a strong sense of His disappointment. He still loves me, but He’s disappointed and I think that I should have tried harder.
The verse I can’t get out of my head right now is, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
I guess I am.