Written By Leslie Koh
After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.
I’m back in court again.
No, not that one. This one is an internal court of conflicting thoughts and feelings about my faith and my actions. It’s where I have to face accusations, and it’s where I sometimes try to defend myself. It’s a court I visit often.
I’m there again because I’ve just read yet another article warning me not to take God for granted. Yes, one of those pieces filled with stern warnings:
“Don’t take God for granted.”
“Don’t think you can get away with sin just because salvation is yours to keep.”
“Don’t test God’s patience.”
Et cetera, et cetera.
To be honest, I don’t like these warnings. I don’t like them because . . . I know I’m guilty. I know these warnings are meant for me. I don’t like them because they inevitably send me on a guilt trip—which I then try to escape by defending myself:
“Won’t I risk thinking that I need to earn my salvation by trying to be holy?”
“Isn’t God merciful if I repent sincerely?”
“Isn’t salvation mine to keep? If not, then what does grace mean?”
And that’s where the court proceedings begin.
Guilty! I do take God for granted . . .
First, the accusations:
You take God for granted. You go ahead and sin and sin and sin, thinking that it’s okay because you can be forgiven the moment you ask for forgiveness. You do this because you think salvation is yours, and that excuses you from trying harder to live a holy life. You think you can simply fall back on God’s mercy and grace, and get away scot-free. What about your responsibility to resist temptation and sin? Aren’t you testing God’s patience? Aren’t you devaluing grace?
I nod, remorseful. “Guilty! I know I’m guilty!”
I’ll be honest and confess: Sometimes (far more often than that, in fact), I do think that I can get away with sin because God will forgive me. I take His mercy for granted. I quote Jesus’ instructions to His disciples to forgive 490 times, and cite the Bible’s description of God’s endless mercies. And so, at the back of my mind, I excuse my behavior and proceed with my sin, thinking, “I’ll repent sincerely later, and it’ll be okay.”
I’m also guilty of not putting a lot of effort into being holy and living the new life that Jesus has given me through His death and resurrection. That’s because I hold on to the idea that I shouldn’t try to change on my own strength. After all, isn’t God the one who will transform me? And so I proceed as usual, doing what I normally do. Of course, I do take precautions to avoid I what think are “worse” sins, but I’ll readily admit that deep inside, I leave it to God to help me overcome the “small” ones. That makes me guilty of forgetting that my walk with God is not just one of faith, but a journey of discipline too.
And finally, I tend to forget that things like my life, my relationship with God, the open access I have to Him, and my salvation are privileges. Oh yes, I’m well aware that I don’t deserve them and that God has given them to me out of His grace. But like I do with most gifts, I’ve come to see them as mine to keep forever—no matter what I do. I forget that they remain a privilege and they didn’t come cheap—it cost Jesus His life, and God, His Son. I fail to treasure these gifts and make the most out of them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”—Matthew 7:21
Not guilty! I’m doing all right—really . . .
But then the little defense lawyer inside me stands up and responds:
God’s grace and mercy are boundless. Don’t make the mistake of being legalistic about your faith. Yes, you must seek to live a holy life. But you shouldn’t doubt your salvation whenever you fail (for you will, inevitably). If you keep going back to the fundamentals, you’ll never be able to step forward in your faith. You’ll end up hobbling your spiritual growth. You need to accept God’s forgiveness, and forgive yourself. You need to move on.
I raise my head, hoping that he’s right. “Really? Am I not guilty after all?”
Isn’t it true? If I were to doubt God’s forgiveness even after confessing and repenting, then I would be doubting His character as a merciful and forgiving God, His promise to forgive, and the effectiveness of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross. Of course, I need to ensure that I am sincere in my confession and repentance. But if I keep holding on to my shame and guilt, wouldn’t I be belittling Jesus’ sacrifice and the power of the cross? Don’t I need to move on, relying on the fact of God’s unconditional love and mercy?
Besides, if I focus too much on trying to be holy and being a “good” Christian, I may fall into the trap of legalism. Now, that would be cheapening grace. I may forget that I am saved by grace, not by any works I can do. Oh yes, I am called to put aside my old self and my old sinful habits. But I shouldn’t confuse that with trying to win God’s favor by being good. Only He can make me holy and righteous in His sight. What I need to do is to submit to His transformation.
And, finally, my favorite defense: There’s no doubt that I’m flawed and far from perfect. And I still struggle with sin and holiness. But the very fact that I still battle with guilt and feelings of inadequacy shows that I don’t take God for granted; it shows that my conscience is still very much alive—kept alive by the Holy Spirit in me. If I was really guilty of taking God for granted, then I wouldn’t even think twice about going ahead with my sins, nor about whether I need to live in a more holy manner, right? In fact, I won’t even wonder whether I’m taking Him for granted. So the very fact that I’m worried about taking God for granted . . . shows that I’m not. You know what I mean!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.—Romans 8:1-2
And the verdict is . . .
I hate to leave it hanging, but the answer is . . . I can’t tell you for sure. Only the judge can decide, and in this court, God is the judge. Only He can determine whether or not I’m guilty of taking Him for granted.
To be honest, I haven’t heard a clear voice telling me the final judgment. But I personally believe that it is . . . BOTH. Guilty—because I have taken God for granted. And not guilty—because He is always ready to forgive me, and Christ’s death has paid for my sin. It’s almost as if God is saying:
Yes, sometimes you ARE guilty of taking Me for granted. That’s why I send you reminders and warnings, and My Spirit fills your heart with remorse. But I don’t want you to just feel guilty; I want you to do something about it. And I want you to repent and move on, so that you become NOT guilty. And that’s why I send you comfort and assurance, too. I want you to know that when you truly confess and repent, it puts you on the right track.
So what does that mean for me, the accused? It means that I’m going to have a constant struggle with guilt. And it means that I’m going to be coming back to this court, again and again, to hear the same accusations and defenses.
But maybe that’s the whole point. A friend once told me something that has stuck in my mind, and it is simply this: Christianity is a struggle.
If we stop struggling, then something’s wrong. Yes, we shouldn’t allow doubt to whittle away at our faith until nothing’s left. But we also need to keep checking ourselves to make sure we’re not becoming complacent in our walk with God. The constant questioning, reviewing, and wrestling with spiritual issues—all these show our faith is alive.
Perhaps that’s why Paul urged believers to present themselves to God as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1)—the thing about a living sacrifice, you see, is that it can crawl away. Every day and every moment, we face the temptation to crawl away from the altar and to seek our own desires and ways; it takes a conscious effort to stay there. But it’s a struggle that I believe God appreciates.
So now I’m out of court. I’m guilty, but because of Jesus, I’m not guilty. Guess I’ll be back again soon.
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.—2 Corinthians 13:5