Tag Archives: condemnation

Guilt and Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

One of the more subtle and unexplored connections between narcissism and legalism is the use of guilt and shame as motivation and control tools. So prevalent are these tools in the message of both legalism and narcissism that the connection can hardly be ignored. From the pulpit and the bedroom, from the family home to the service organization, guilt and shame are readily available and liberally applied.

Guilt and shame are usually found together, especially among Christians. The church has done a poor job of helping believers to release guilt, in spite of a message that proclaims the forgiveness of sins. Instead, the church has used guilt in a mixed message that never quite allows believers to feel forgiven.

The feeling associated with guilt, especially in the church, is shame. Shame moves church members to conformity and obedience; or, at least, compliance. Those who are intimidated by shame find it much more difficult to stand up against injustice, particularly to themselves.

Over the years I have suggested that guilt is a very inefficient motivator. It drains the accused of energy, energy that could benefit the one doing the accusing. In other words, using guilt and shame to motivate your kids to clean their rooms may work, but it costs them in both enthusiasm and creativity. Workers shamed into cooperation are still unwilling and without passion for the work. Employers and leaders who use guilt and shame will receive a lower quality of performance.

However, if you see the people in your care as somehow less than equal and less than valuable, you may be content with mediocre work and reluctant cooperation. If your members or workers are not real people in your mind and their greatest contributions are unworthy in your estimation, you may not care whether they perform with enthusiasm.

Enter the narcissist.

The narcissist has serious difficulty in valuing others or even in seeing others as real. Therefore the contributions of others have no real value to him. Slaves, servants, peons, sycophants, and moochers surround him. He expects them to serve him, but he also expects them to serve him poorly. So he uses whatever motivation will work.

I suspect that one reason a narcissist will attach to a believer is because the believer is often easier to manipulate with guilt and shame. Believers are usually pre-conditioned to accept this type of motivation. We have learned throughout our lives that most things are our fault. We have been told for years that we are inadequate and unworthy. So we accept the narcissist’s judgment as both true and normal.

But there’s more.

Guilt and shame may be very familiar to the narcissist. If we accept the typical version of a narcissist’s childhood, where parents are absent or conflicted and love is withheld except when it serves the parent, then guilt and shame are the primary motivations for the narcissist to hide and project an image. Rejection was his/her fault. He/she was to blame for the difficult childhood. If he/she had been a more worthy son/daughter the parent might have loved more.

The narcissist knows the power of guilt and shame. So it shouldn’t surprise us when narcissists seek victims who are already conditioned to that motivation. Nor should it surprise us when the compromised legalist uses it from the pulpit to control his parishioners or move them to conformity. When the narcissist tells his wife that their marriage problems are her fault, he is probably projecting the guilt and shame he has felt all his life and using it as a primary tool to control. When the legalist preacher condemns his people for the clothes they wear or the television they watch, he may well be projecting the guilt and shame he feels for the compromises of his own life.

So the answer to this control is to know the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Shame makes us feel less as persons. We relinquish our rights and our value when we live in shame. We accept the abuse of others and add to it ourselves, because we own the guilt. But that is not the message God has for us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, according to the Scriptures. No more guilt or shame, because Jesus came to take that away from us. Yes, our actions may cause pain and our attitudes may be wrong, but that does not lessen our value to Him. We should be quick to confess injury to others and seek reconciliation, but from a position that is both secure and strong. We are loved by the greatest Judge of all and that will never change.

In other words, believers are healthy when they accept the acceptance God has toward them. We are strong when we acknowledge that nothing can remove us from His protection. We are confident when we understand that guilt and shame have been completely overcome in us by the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

Neither the narcissist nor the legalist preacher has the right to pronounce guilt on us. They have no power over us to place us under shame. We are free to simply shrug off their condemnation and manipulation. Understanding that is health and peace . . . and victory.

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Filed under Narcissism

Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery

I Belong

Words of Grace  

 

A few years ago the “model” for churches was based on the television show, “Cheers,” where you could come in, sit down, and everyone would know your name.  Church leaders were supposed to try to build a community that allowed people to feel at home, comfortable, like they belonged.  I often wondered how that was possible in churches that preached legalism.  (No, wait, they couldn’t use the model of a bar.  Could they?)

Many people feel like they don’t belong when they are at church.  It isn’t only that the people aren’t friendly.  Sometimes they are friendly, but the feeling of being a hypocrite or an outsider still lingers.  In fact, it’s harder when they are friendly.

Think about what the church is supposed to be.  It is supposed to be the local and present representation of the body of Christ, right?  The gathering of those who have been washed, forgiven, accepted, and filled.  Those who belong to Jesus.  But, when the preacher focuses on the sins of the Christians in the assembly, he causes them to question whether they have truly been forgiven and included.  Some look around at all the rest of the people, pretending to ignore the condemnation, and they feel that they are the only ones who shouldn’t be there.  The preacher just said they are hypocrites, that they have displeased God, and that their salvation hangs by a thread.  He just told them they don’t measure up to the standard.

So they go to church but never really believe they belong.  They miss the joy of the gospel, the acceptance of the Lord, because of the message of condemnation.

Listen: If you have come to Jesus for the washing away of your sins and have trusted in Him alone for salvation, you belong to Him.  Heaven is yours.  The church is yours.  All the promises and hopes are yours.  You are accepted in Him and because of Him.  You belong.

You are not of this world.  You are in Christ.  You are washed and accepted.  You are in the Kingdom of God.  You are in His family.  You are a citizen of Heaven.  Nothing can change that and there is nothing more for you to do.  You belong.

 

I belong.

Jesus has accepted me.

No one can take that away from me.

I am His forever.

I belong.

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I am Clean

Words of Grace  

 

One of the things God has not given us is the ability to forget the things we really want to forget.  There are good reasons for that, I suppose, but most of us have done some things we would love to push out of our thinking forever.  It certainly doesn’t help when other people remind us or when the evil one whispers a reminder in our ears.  But we often don’t need them.  We just remember.  And, when we remember, it hurts.

But does God want us to live every day in the shame of what we have done?  Some preachers seem to think so.  They keep Christians in control and motivate them to obedience by reminding them of what they were before they came to Christ.  Forgiveness means little if our sins are always lifted up to us by others or by ourselves.

No, God does not want us to live in shame.  He says that there is “no condemnation” for those of us who belong to Jesus.  He says that all our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ.  He says we are clean.

One of my favorite passages is from 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul is telling the readers that they are no longer what they were.  He does not deny what they were and what they did, but he explains that they are different now—new creations, as the Lord said.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11

“Such were some of you.”  This is not denial.  This is reality . . . but it is the whole reality.  We are not what we were because we have been washed.  We are now clean because of Jesus.  He washed all our sins away.  Today we are no longer what we were.

“But what about the sins I have done since becoming a Christian?”  Those sins are washed away by the blood as well.  In fact, those sins didn’t stick to us in the first place.  Some people don’t like this teaching.  They think our former sins are gone but not our current sins.  If that’s true, however, then Jesus has to be crucified again for us or some other way of salvation has to be determined.  If sin still separates us from God and remains on our account after we have come to Jesus, then the cross of Christ was not enough.

But the cross was enough.  The love of God is sufficient to cover all our sins: past, present and future.  We are no longer what we were and we will never again be what we were—because we have been washed and made clean.

 

I am clean.

Jesus has cleansed me.

The old has been washed away.

I am not what I was.

I am clean.

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Freedom

Grace 101

 

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Galatians 5:1 NASB

This is the time of year our nation celebrates freedom.  It’s a big word and we use it to mean different things.  Chances are that it means something different to a fourteen year-old than it does to her parents.  It means something different to an employee than to an employer.  It may even mean something different in one country than in another.  But what does it mean in the context of grace?

Freedom is a hinge concept.  Legalists will tell us that freedom is far less than we think.  Liberals will tell us that it is far more than we think.  Grace people often get into trouble when we try to explain what it means.  Some have said that it means we are free to do whatever we want.  Others say that we are free to do what is right.  All of this is confusing and misses the point.

Freedom in Christ means deliverance from bondage.  We were slaves of sin, under condemnation and shame, bound to evil in our hearts.  We belonged to evil.  It was our master and the realm in which we lived.  When Jesus came to us, He reached into that evil and pulled us out.  He paid the price, did the work, lived the life, that was needed—and He set us free.

Sin owned us, but Jesus set us free from sin.  The law held us in condemnation, but Jesus set us free from the law.  Failure defined us, but Jesus delivered us from our failure.  This is what our freedom is about.

You see, you and I could always do what we wanted.  Nothing stopped us from sinning.  When we wanted to disobey our Lord, we found ways.  We have always lived in that “freedom.”  So when someone says, “Well, you aren’t just free to do whatever you want!”  You answer, “I always have been free to do what I want and so have you.”  The point is not that we can do things now that we couldn’t do before.  The point is that we are no longer slaves to sin and citizens of evil.

The moment you received salvation in Jesus, that moment you were set free from evil and all the strings it had attached to your life.  In that amazing gift box, Jesus has given you freedom.  You are no longer under condemnation, no longer in shame, no longer bound to sin.  You are free to make changes in your life and He will guide you and enable you.  You are free to live without fear of rejection, secure in His love.  You are free to love others without expectation.

The ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil are no longer your ways by definition.  You are free.  You are free from your past, from the ways and habits of your family, and from the judgments of others.  You are free from the old life, the old you.

And your freedom in Jesus is not just defined by what you are free from, but also by what you are free to.  You are free to experience joy and creativity and rest.  You are free to feel free.

Fireworks and parties and games and laughter are every bit as appropriate for the believer on any day as they are for our nation on the fourth of July.  We have been set free by the Lord who loves us.  That’s something to celebrate!

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“Grace as a Tool for Hate”

 

Did that title grab you?  The words grabbed me when I first saw them.  Each day WordPress tells me the search phrases people use to get to this blog.  They aren’t necessarily searching for this blog, but they have a topic and Google directs them here, among many other suggestions.  I like to read what people are asking about.

So a couple of days ago I came across these words, “grace as a tool for hate.”  What?  That is so foreign to me that I find it hard to read.  When I learned grace, I learned love.  How can anyone connect grace to hate?  It is hard to find any sense to these words.

But then I stopped to think about it.  Yes, it is certainly possible to use even grace as a pretext for hate.  In fact, I can think of three ways someone might see that happening.

First, there is a sense of elitism when we begin to understand grace.  I have commented on this in a variety of groups, but most find it hard to acknowledge.  Grace people sometimes think of themselves as above those who are “still stuck under the Law.”  They believe they have reached a higher plane and they mock those who don’t understand the truth they have found.  Yes, some pretty nasty things are said about legalists and certain churches—even friends and family.

What we forget, of course, is that we can’t take any credit for discovering the meaning of grace.  If we understand grace at all, we should be able to admit that our understanding is a gift of God’s love.  Our prayer and our mission should be to help others understand the incredible message we have learned.  No matter how much legalists have hurt us, we cannot hate.

There is no hate in grace.

Second, grace is a popular word today.  Legalist churches use it all the time.  I remember one teacher who claimed to have the only right interpretation of grace, one that put his people in bondage to standards and rules and laws.  The most legalist organizations and people use the word, “grace,” because it connects them with the New Testament.  Rejection, shame, condemnation—all in the name of grace.

But that isn’t grace.  There’s no condemnation in grace.

Finally, I have rarely seen more hate in theological discussion than what I see between the Calvinists and the Arminians.  These two groups came from the same movement just a few hundred years ago, but you wouldn’t know it today.  Labeling someone an Arminian seems to allow all kinds of name-calling, rejection, even charges of blasphemy.  And, of course, the reverse happens as well.

But the center of that battle is the meaning of grace.  Both sides use grace as a weapon and charge the other with its misuse.  The Calvinist idea of grace is an abomination to most Arminians; and, again, the reverse is true as well.  So, in the name of grace, one man calls another apostate and seeks to remove him from ministry.  Not that long ago in church history, people were killed for not believing what the other side believed.  All in the name of grace.

But there is no rejection or murder in grace.

Now, I don’t know what the seeker was looking for as he/she wrote those words.  It might have been one of these situations that was in mind.  It might have been something different.  But, I have to say, it breaks my heart to think that anyone could link grace and hate.  If that’s you, please respond to this post or write to me through the blog contact page.

You see, I believe grace is “the activity of God’s love.”  That’s a definition I have used to explain grace.  God has used the message of grace to show me His love and to open my heart to love others in ways I never would have before.

Grace is all about love.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery

Better the devil you know…

 

…than the devil you don’t.

The world is a scary place.  For the unprepared, a simple trip to the grocery store can be an adventure.  For those stuck in the values of the 1950’s, the world is downright evil.

Imagine a young lady out on her own after leaving her legalistic family and church.  Who are the other tenants in her apartment building?  Are they all married?  How many of them are gay?  How does she deal with the advances of the single (or married) men?  What about the music that she has to listen to from the apartment next door?  Or that strange smoke smell?  Or the empty beer bottles left in the trash?

And that’s just her apartment building, the place where she sleeps and finds refuge.  At work or at school she encounters people whose morals and values and language and dress and hair and almost everything else is counter to what she was told was the only right way. 

Even at church, she finds people who have compromised with the world just like her preacher back home talked about.  The men have long hair and the girls have short hair.  The girls dress “inappropriately.”  The music is more like the world’s music she hears from next door than like what she grew up with.  The few people she looks to for support don’t connect with the church at all and she is left thinking that she has to reject everything she believed in order to survive. 

The world is a scary place, filled with devils and sin and compromise.  For all the pain and shame she suffered at her old church, at least the people tried hard to do what is right.  Of course, she isn’t so sure just what is right anymore.  The people who have been most kind to her would never be welcome in her parents’ home. 

We should have great respect and patience for those who are trying to escape legalism. 

And, when a legalist wants to continue in her faith, what message does she hear in church?  More legalism, but disguised as grace.  No one talks about what clothes you should wear, but you better be involved in a small group.  You can enjoy almost any kind of music you want, but the message from the pulpit is still about measuring up and doing what is right.  And those people who are so kind and supportive are still not really welcome.

And when she tries to sort out her feelings about her family and the legalist message, what does she hear?  The laughing of other Christians?  The mockery of the things she once believed were true?  She didn’t expect the people of the world to understand, but she wanted some support from the people who were supposed to be believers.

Who is explaining to her the difference between law and grace and why she suffered pain from a system that was supposed to help her?  Who is telling her that God loves her and wants only the best for her?  Who is helping her understand that God has already dealt with her sin and she doesn’t need to be afraid in His presence?  Who wants her to understand that she is accepted and valued and loved—just as she is?  It will be hard for her to find anyone who understands the real message of grace because there are so few who believe it.  Jesus has done it all and offers it all to you freely just because He loves you.  Who teaches that?

So this poor young lady faces a strange and frightening world.  Her only support comes from people who reject most of what she has believed throughout her life.  The church she finds out there offers both the compromise she expected and a redecorated legalism she finds all too familiar.

Eventually, the temptation comes.  Just go back.  It wasn’t so bad.  You can’t make it out here.  You can’t trust anyone. You were wrong to leave.  Just go back.

Although it breaks our hearts to see it, we can understand why some return to legalism.  It’s the devil they know.

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Back to the Shame?

I recently heard a sad story about a young lady (adult) who escaped a legalist home and tried to set up a life apart from the constant criticism and control.  She went through several difficulties, but eventually ended up returning home.  Back to the legalism, the judgment, the condemnation, the shame.  No doubt the return of the prodigal was cause for celebration, but almost certainly not the celebration of parents to have their beloved daughter home.  Instead, it was the celebration of the system, the affirmation that the daughter needed what the system gave and “did the right thing” by returning.  And I expect that the other system followers consider themselves to be generous and gracious by allowing the shamed one to return. 

Why would someone leave legalism because of the condemnation and then return to it?  This happens often.  People leave a legalistic church, then find their way back with their tails tucked between their legs in repentance.  Or they simply find another legalistic church to attend.  People leave behind a legalistic teacher but continue to read his books with a strange longing in their hearts.  What pulls them back?

Legalism messes with your mind.  It controls by manipulation of emotions and twisting of logic.  The primary tools used by almost all legalistic groups are:

  • Criticism – the constant criticism of any alternative thought, whether it is from the world or from the individual.  Often the legalist system teaches more on what they are against than on what they believe.  To harbor thoughts that are contrary to the established teaching is considered both foolish and evil.  Those who try to leave find that little voice of condemnation goes with them.

 

  • Comparison – Along with the constant criticism is the perpetual state of being compared with others.  Children grow up being compared with others who are “doing it the right way.”   Wives are provided with examples of how they should act.  Men are compared (unfavorably) with the teacher.  To “measure up” becomes the goal.  No one wants to be at the bottom of the pile.  Those who leave know that they will forever be the object of that comparison: “You don’t want to end up like so-and-so, do you?”  Returning holds the promise of being celebrated and of being held a little higher than those who didn’t return.

 

  • Cut-off – Separation has long been a hallmark of legalism.  Because those outside the system, even close relatives, are seen as inferior or evil, there is little or no support structure outside.  The world is a cruel place for those without support and encouragement.  Things have been said and done, even in formerly close relationships, that have burned bridges.  It is difficult to go to someone for help, when unkind and judgmental thoughts and actions have been committed toward that person. 

 

  • Cause and effect – “Bad things happen because of disobedience.”  This false idea is hammered into the minds and hearts of legalistic followers from the earliest ages.  They grow up knowing that anything bad is the result of their own sin.  Once the person gains enough strength to leave the system, he or she will encounter challenges.  The normal response is that the challenges come because of disobedience.  This is communicated directly through any continuing contact with family or friends in the system, but it is also considered axiomatic by the person.  The only way out of the trouble or challenge is to return to the system in repentance.

 

There’s more to say on this, so watch for tomorrow’s post!

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The Twisted Message

Linked to the article in which the question of whether gay Christians can go to Heaven was another article that gave the “Scriptural” explanation of why they cannot.  I confess that this is the kind of thing that gets me riled.  It is one thing to reveal your prejudices.  It is quite another to use Scripture to support them.

The key passage this person used was from 1 Corinthians:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

I find it fascinating that a person could read this passage and come out with a judgment against gay people.  Of course, the passage, shortened to the pertinent words, does say, “…the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God… nor men who practice homosexuality.”  So there it is, right?

There are two things that must be pointed out (which the author of the linked article apparently could not see).  First, whatever applies to gay people in this passage also applies to a lot of others.  Anyone who is sexually immoral.  Anyone who is an idolator (and how do we apply that today?)  Anyone who steals.  Anyone who wants what others have (greedy or covetous).  Anyone who drinks to excess.  Anyone who is a mischief maker (reviler—gossip, dissenter, backtalker, spreader of lies or half-truths, etc.)  Anyone who extorts money from others (perhaps by suggesting that the tithe is still binding on Christians?)  (And, while we are still in this part of the text, any young boy slave used by a wealthy Roman citizen for sexual purposes.  That word is left out of the NIV, which this person quotes, but it is in the original text.)

So, there you go.  Have you met any of these folks in church?  Well, none of them will go to Heaven, according to this interpretation.  I would guess that we could add another whole list of things that Paul forgot also.

But what about the rest of the passage?  This writer seems to completely miss the point.  “Such were some of you.”  That means that they are not that now.  They were thieves, or immoral, or homosexual, or greedy but they are no longer.  Why?  Was it because they stopped doing the things associated with these labels?  Was it because they conquered their sins and lived perfect lives?  Was it because they never again allowed their feelings to dictate their behavior?  What was it that took them from what they were to what they are?

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This passage is not a judgment on gay people!  It is a celebration of what Jesus has done for His people.  He has changed us.  He has taken our sins away.  He has re-created us.  He did it . . . and it had nothing to do with us changing our behavior.

It grieves me to think that this condemnation is the only message many will hear from the church.  Guilt, shame, rejection.  That is not the gospel and it is not the heart of God.  He loves us and He does for us what we could never do for ourselves.  And listen: even if we still can’t seem to change, at least not yet, He still loves us and He still brings us to Himself.

It isn’t about what you do.  It’s about what He did and continues to do.

 

Your thoughts?

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