Defining Respect

It’s Narcissist Friday!

For the narcissist, respect comes from power and privilege. In other words, those who have power and privilege deserve respect. That’s why the narcissist seeks control and adoration, to get respect.

Now, as I write that, I also understand that the narcissist doesn’t really respect anyone who doesn’t deserve the power and privilege they have. In other words, anyone but the narcissist.

Does the narcissist respect the boss at work, for example? To his/her face, yes. Behind his/her back, not so much. Because the narcissist sees everyone as either useful or competitive, no one is valued as a person. If he has a boss, the narcissist will quickly discover the failings of the boss. If the boss values the narcissist and helps him advance, that will be positive. If not, the boss is unworthy of respect. But even if the boss is positive in the narcissist’s mind, it will be without respect because the boss’s value is not tied to the person but the usefulness. In other words, the narcissist actually respects no one.

So, there you are waiting and working for the narcissist to respect you. You bend over backwards to do what she wants. You willingly submit to unreasonable requests and harsh criticisms. You smile and nod and agree and hope your integrity isn’t completely lost. But it never happens. Just when you think the narcissist might respect you, he/she does something or says something that puts you down again. Will it ever happen?

Sadly, not in the way you wish. You wish to be respected as a person, the way you respect others. You see someone who does well and you honor their skill and dedication. The narcissist sees that as either luck or deception. The only ones who do well, according to the narcissist, are those who cheat or happen to be in the right place at the right time. So, no matter how hard you try and how sincere you are, you cannot gain the narcissist’s respect as a person.

My suggestion is that you stop trying. Respect yourself as a person. You could wait forever for the narcissist’s respect. Oh, you might get a word of thanks or some minor recognition. Anything more than that the narcissist will use to affirm himself. Your hard work is to his credit. So, you have to respect yourself.

I don’t mean that you should stop doing well in your job or in your life. Be who you are. Be the person you respect. There may be others who will notice, but the person you should work for is you. Do well because you are a person who does well.

If you stop trying to get the narcissist’s attention or appreciation, you might find that he will notice you more. He will be wondering what you are up to. That could result in both good and bad consequences. He might try to charm you into telling him why you aren’t concerned about his respect. At the same time, he might decide that you have become a threat. So, be careful.

Think about it this way. As long as the narcissist doesn’t give you what you want, and you keep trying to get it, he has you where he wants you. He gets your service, your kindness, your submission. But only if he does not respect you as a person. There’s no benefit to him if you begin to think of yourself as someone special.

But you are someone special! You are who God made you to be. The Lord already loves you and respects you. That’s something the narcissist will not understand. When you are with the narcissist without groveling and without anxiety, you will stand in freedom and peace.


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Restoring Fellowship with God

It’s Monday Grace!

Some churches have a hard time staying consistent with their own doctrine. The more they assert one thing, the more they have to fix something else. Twisting the Scriptures and changing the basic message of the gospel are often consequences of this need to have everything fit together.

Take a church that says strongly that once a person is saved that person stays saved forever. That’s a doctrine with a lot of discussion, but there is good Scripture support for it.

But what happens when a person sins? What happens when a believer is exposed for doing something most everyone agrees is sin? What happens when a believer makes the rest of us look bad?

Well, that same church might suggest that the person is either not saved or is “out of fellowship” with the Lord. If they say the person can’t really be saved, even if they accepted that person as saved before, they risk suggesting that salvation is based on continuing to do good works. That means good works after salvation are the way of maintaining salvation. (Already I feel my feet sinking into the mud!) If good works are the criteria after salvation, then what did Jesus really accomplish?

So, they might go back to this idea that a believer can be “out of fellowship” with the Lord. I am never quite sure what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean that the person has lost his or her salvation? Does it mean that God is angry and will punish that person, even though Jesus has washed his or her sins away? You are just supposed to know. Nothing more needs definition.

When two people are in fellowship, it means that they are together. You have a certain fellowship at work because you share responsibilities and goals. There is a certain fellowship in a family that shares life together. It suggests movement or progress in the same direction with the same values. In a church, the people share fellowship because they come together to serve and enjoy their Lord.

If someone leaves a church, particularly in anger or serious disagreement, we might say that person is out of fellowship with the rest of the people. We understand how one person can break fellowship with another.

But how does a Christian become out of fellowship with the Lord? The only way that idea works is to forget what it means to be a Christian. No one is saved by deciding to go to church or think about Jesus. We are not saved by our own decision at all. We are saved when the blood of Jesus is applied to our lives, when we die on that cross with Him and rise from the dead in and with Him. While He does not save us apart from our will, His work is what saves us, not our choice. And, when He saves us, His life becomes ours. The only life in us, the only righteousness in us, the only power in us—is Him.

Now, I understand that this is some challenging theology and that there are people who can and will argue some of these points. That’s okay. As long as we understand that we cannot be separated from the Lord just because we have done something wrong. Christians do things that the Lord calls sin. We know that. We also know that we are not cut off from Him when we do. Why? Because He is our Life.

If we died with Him on the cross and rose with Him in the resurrection, how could we ever lose fellowship with Him? That oneness we share is our life. There is nothing else for us.

So, what happens when we sin after salvation? He might draw our attention to it by speaking to us in our spirits. He might allow us to suffer earthly consequences for our foolish decisions. He might have others come to us to help us realize the pain we are causing ourselves and others. But He does not push us away. We are still one with Him.

It helps me to think of my Christian life as a walk with the Lord. When I walk with Him, I am safe and happy. When I wander from His path, slip off on my own, I often find trouble. But He is right there waiting for us. Sometimes He even comes to get me. Never does He push me away.


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Defining Loyalty

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists believe that loyalty is the same as love. They also believe that loyalty means agreeing with everything they do and say. And they haven’t a clue about what love is.

It is important for the narcissist to know what side you are on. Sides exist everywhere, according to the narcissist. People are either on the narcissist’s side or are against him. Anyone in the middle doesn’t count unless it is to the narcissist’s advantage to have that person on his side. Then the narcissist will woo and charm until he gets a commitment.

If you are against the narcissist, and she knows you, then you are disloyal. You cannot be a friend or a comrade and disagree with the narcissist. It almost doesn’t matter what the topic or issue is. In fact, you may be surprised at what the narcissist thinks is a big deal. If you don’t agree with the choice of food or color, if you speak your mind about politics, if you don’t want to go to an event—the narcissist may see you as disloyal. After all, if you supported her, you would agree with her.

Now, it is hard to overstate this. There are not only sides in the narcissist’s mind, there are clear distinctions between friends and enemies. If you disagree, you risk being seen as an enemy. Narcissists can be ruthless against their enemies. Lying to get someone demoted or fired, stealing possessions and accusing their opponent, even doing strange little things to gaslight the enemy. These are almost normal strategies for narcissists. If you are disloyal to the narcissist, you risk personal destruction.

If you are on the narcissist’s side, you still need to be careful. Narcissists don’t trust anyone. In fact, the most loyal person is suspect of deception. Since deception is such a serious and regular part of how the narcissist acts with others, he/she suspects that everyone is lying or stealing or cheating. You may be the narcissist’s best friend until you beat him at some game or competition. Suddenly, you are disloyal and against him. Suddenly, he can accuse you of cheating, say cruel things about you, and act like he hates you. All because you actually played the game and won. You were supposed to play hard and lose to the narcissist. That’s what a loyal person would do.

If you grew up in the home of a narcissist or have been in a long-term relationship with one, you may have adopted this definition of loyalty in your own life. You may find it easier to get angry at someone than to accept the fact that they think differently. You may see competition as a battle for life and identity. Yes, narcissistic ideas rub off, especially when they are so intense in a relationship.

What is loyalty? Obviously, loyalty is not the mindless agreement the narcissist expects, the boot licking sycophantish toadyism the narcissist requires. (Okay, I’ll stop.) In fact, the loyalty the narcissist wants from the people around him/her has nothing to do with what loyalty is.


Remember that the narcissist has no idea what love is. You see, loyalty is very much like love. Loyalty is connection, heart connection. When a man is loyal to his wife, it means he holds her as precious in his heart. It means he stays with her because he wants to and believes she is best for him. When a person is loyal to a friend, it means she will stand by that friend in times of trouble because she wants to, because she values the person.

The narcissist doesn’t see others as persons. He doesn’t value someone for themselves. Others are to be useful, in the narcissist’s mind. Their value is always connected to how the narcissist feels about himself. So, the narcissist doesn’t know what loyalty even means.

You are not disloyal when you disagree with the narcissist. If she decides that you are now an enemy, it isn’t your fault. Just because the narcissist can’t handle the fact that others are different and separate, that doesn’t mean you have done something wrong.

Narcissists want attention and connection. They long for it. The only problem is that they want it on their terms. Others do not matter to them. Others are good for supplying the warped ideas of love and loyalty the narcissist wants, but little else. The narcissist wants love, but does not trust or welcome the hearts of others. So, these twisted ideas infect every relationship.


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Restoring Assurance

It’s Monday Grace!

There is no such thing as an unpardonable sin.

There. I said it. I meant it. I believe it.

If you have been a part of a legalistic church, you may have an underlying suspicion that all sin is unforgivable. Once you did something, the legalist labels you with that action forever. An adulterer is always an adulterer, in their minds. If you have struggled with an addiction, you are an addict in their minds. If you had premarital sex or have looked at dirty pictures or have stolen money or used drugs, the legalist puts you in a certain category and leaves you there. No matter how often you are told that you have been forgiven, if you are identified by your sin you will feel stuck. When the preacher rails against sin, you feel that he is talking about you.

But there is no such thing as an unpardonable sin.

So you have not committed one, right?

Okay, let’s consider what Jesus said. He said that blasphemy against the Spirit cannot be forgiven. (Matt. 12:31) I don’t have the space here to stretch out my explanation. What He meant was that those who reject the truth that the Spirit brings about Jesus will not be forgiven. Why? Because they will never come to Him for forgiveness. That’s simple. It isn’t a single sin that keeps them from salvation, it is a decision, a mindset. As long as the mind and heart are set against Jesus, the person will not accept the love God offers.

But listen: the moment that changes, the way to Heaven is opened. Anyone who comes to Jesus for salvation will be saved. No one will be rejected, even if they have said bad things about Jesus or the Spirit.

Yes, unbelief will not be forgiven. Forgiveness is found in Jesus.

But you. You came to Jesus in hope and desire. You wanted what He offered. You believed. And for you, there is no unpardonable sin. All has been washed clean.

So, can you have assurance? Can you know for certain that you are saved and will stand righteous before the Lord? Can you know that Heaven is yours? Yes! Yes! Yes!

You can walk in assurance of your salvation because of what Jesus did.

Recently I reminded a group of friends that the question is not whether we can hold on to Jesus, but whether Jesus can hold on to us. You and I are saved not by our own goodness but by His goodness. Everything about our salvation rests on Jesus and His work.

I am thankful that my salvation doesn’t depend on my faithfulness. I am thankful that my salvation has nothing to do with my past. I am thankful that even the sins I do today are already washed by the blood of Jesus.

My assurance is in Him.


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Defining Humility

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Last week I wrote about confidence. I hope you stood a little taller and walked with more strength. I hope you spoke with a little more authority and assurance. I hope you found a little more peace deep in your heart.

Now I want to write about humility.

First, confidence and humility are not opposites. It is quite possible to be confident in who you are and even in the work you do while being humble. When you recognize that your skill came partly from the influence of others, you can acknowledge that as you do well. When you remember that there are others who have greater skill than yours and you can learn from them, you give them honor. Humility is knowing where you stand.

The narcissist chafes under the superior skills of others. Nor does he like to recognize the contributions of others in his success. His confidence is often present, but he hates true humility. He wants everyone to think that he stands higher than he really does.

Second, there is such a thing as false humility. Even the Bible refers to that. Narcissists and legalists love to appear humble. More humble than others, in fact. Uriah Heep (from David Copperfield by Dickens) found his humility to be a source of pride. When the narcissist deprecates herself, telling others that her work isn’t good enough, she expects you to lift her up and tell her that her work is superior. In other words, her humility is a prompt for your statements of adoration and praise.

Third, there is an important distinction between humility and humiliation. We are called to humility, to know that all we have is a gift from the Lord, often through others. Pride is a problem of the flesh that can lead to trouble in our lives and hurt others. Humility will lead us to look to the Lord with our needs and desires because we remember that we need Him. Humility is good.

Humiliation is a tool both narcissists and legalists use to bring others under control. People who have been humiliated have been broken. They have been shamed and exposed. In some churches, the old practice of shunning (treating believers like outcasts) was an attempt at humiliation. Today that practice has been replaced by gossip and public rebukes. People who disagree or who fail to maintain the standard might be singled out to receive harsh discipline by shaming.

God is not in the business of humiliation.

The message of the church, to be consistent with the message of the Lord, should always be one of welcome and reconciliation. Sometimes the struggles of life bring humiliation and brokenness. Sometimes that’s what it takes for people to know they need the Lord. But always the message from us should be restoration and love.

The legalist church appears to believe that humiliation is what keeps people in line. They “inspire” obedience to their standards by humiliating those who do not conform. That’s not of the Lord.

The narcissist believes that he/she maintains superior status when others are brought down. The more the person is brought down and broken—humiliated—the more lasting the narcissist’s superiority will be. A spouse, a parent, a friend, even a boss who continually degrades a victim is trying to lay a burden from which it is hard to escape.

Finally, it is not a precarious line between being humble and being humiliated. I know that some people have never learned the difference. I know that some feel humiliated every time they acknowledge failure or weakness. But knowing who you are is the key. Accepting who you are allows you to stand when someone tries to humiliate you, and it allows you to bow humbly to those who contribute to your life.

This is why I teach so strongly and consistently that you are greatly loved. Those who come to Jesus are welcome and accepted. He has washed away all shame and condemnation. You will never be humiliated by Him, and those who try to humiliate you are doing wrong. Instead, you bow before the One who loves you and who gives you all you need.


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Restoring the Bible

It’s Monday Grace!

In the performance system, the Bible becomes the tool by which leaders hold authority. Through proof-texts and certain interpretations, the people are told they must measure up to the standards of the Bible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should live the way Bible people lived. Most of them had compromises and weaknesses like ours. Instead, we are supposed to live in ways they did not, we are supposed to be righteous and holy in our actions.

In fact, we are supposed to live according to standards the preachers and teachers see in the Bible. If the teacher doesn’t like football, he will have a verse to warn us against it. If the preacher needs people to give more, he may find all kinds of Bible verses to quote to humiliate those who give little or nothing. If the teacher is against something or for something, she will find Bible passages that can be quoted or twisted to give the support she needs.

So, it is not uncommon for people who leave the church or who wish to be free from the performance system to stop reading their Bibles. All they have heard from the Bible is what they are doing wrong. Condemnation and shame shout at them from nearly every page. They have learned not to trust their own simple reading of the Scriptures because the leaders have twisted and reinterpreted so much. How can regular people understand the Bible when it speaks in such riddles?

Manipulative people and organizations gain strength when they cause us to doubt ourselves and separate us from the support we are meant to have. Since they can’t really separate us from the Bible, they twist and complicate the teachings of the Scripture until we have little confidence and less interest in our reading. Why read the Bible when you are probably going to get the meaning wrong and what you do understand is so negative? So, we are supposed to trust the elite who claim to understand and teach truth.

But when we are betrayed or abused by those same people, or just realize that their message brings only bondage without hope, we see the Bible as something that belongs to them. After all, it never really belonged to us.

Yet, the Lord gave us His word to tell us of His love. The one true message of the Bible is the love of God and the ultimate expression of that love in Jesus. We miss a lot when we leave the Bible behind.

So, I often tell people to read the gospel of John. Read it for one purpose—to see the love of Jesus. See how He connects with people. See His compassion and power. Then read the first letter of John. You will find something you may not have found in the church, that the love of Jesus is meant for us to live in and share with others. The whole story is about love. Not condemnation or shame! Jesus came to set us free from those things.

If you need to take a break from the Bible until you can separate your faith from the performance system, I understand. When you are ready, check out the book of John. It may help to read from a translation new to you. I like the New Century Version. The Message is also a nice change from the old language.

From a new foundation, you can begin (as I have) to see the love of God throughout the Scriptures. Once you are convinced that the heart of God is filled with love, you will see it everywhere. You will realize that much of what was used to condemn was actually the heart of God warning His people of danger or explaining the trouble they have found. From Adam to Paul, the message of God’s love runs through the whole Bible. Give yourself some time, but you will find it.

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Defining Confidence

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Shamed people have trouble trusting themselves. Confused people lack confidence. Broken people live in fear and submission.

So, why do narcissists bring shame, confusion, and cruelty? Because they gain power and prestige over others. People who lack confidence are much easier to control. Narcissists need to control.

Think about narcissistic control tactics. Gaslighting. Projection. Lying. Anger. Cheating. These things are used because they work. Narcissists work hard to break people down, undercutting their enthusiasm and courage.

And do you know what narcissists fear? Confident people. People who stand up to their manipulations and cruelty. They’ll hate anyone who can slip out of their control.

It is not a coincidence that many churches seem to work hard to undermine the confidence and assurance of their people. After all, if people actually trust that their sins are forgiven and believe that Jesus has provided everything necessary for their salvation, then those people are much harder to manipulate. Legalist and abusive pastors and church leaders need to control.

Confidence comes out of identity and truth. Confidence allows you and me to hear criticisms and not fall down in shame. Confidence allows us to hold opinions that are unpopular even when others mock us. Confidence allows us to keep moving forward when others remind us of the past or the failures. Confidence makes us hard to control.

So, how do you become more confident? Learn who you are in Christ. Believe that you are forgiven. Believe that Heaven is yours because of what He has given you. Believe that you are greatly loved.

I recently watched an ad for a simple white t-shirt that cannot be stained. They poured ketchup and oil and all kinds of things on it, but all slid off without sticking. The shirt was just as white after as before.

That’s you! Nothing the narcissist says can stick to you. It doesn’t matter whether others believe it. I know it hurts. I know it might close doors. Narcissists lie very effectively. But you should not believe the lies. You should believe the truth about yourself. You should walk in confidence because of the Lord’s love.

The narcissist would take your confidence away. He/she would make you doubt yourself. Whether it’s a spouse or a legalistic teacher, the narcissist wants you to be unsure of your abilities and position.

Listen: confidence does not come from doing well. Success might give people a certain pride, but it does not guarantee confidence for the next project. Many successful and popular people lack confidence. In fact, your contribution to the narcissist is why he/she is with you. You are probably already successful in some way in the narcissist’s eyes.

No, confidence comes from within you. When you can look at yourself without rejection and shame, you can stand up straight and handle criticisms. Stop downgrading yourself! Every time you find yourself saying that you are stupid or lazy or wicked or something else, stop it! Don’t do the narcissist’s work for him. Instead, look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are loved and valuable. Tell yourself that God has given you good gifts and abilities. Tell yourself that others can be blessed through you. Then walk in confidence because those things are true!

Think about this: you are loved and cherished by the King of kings! You will spend eternity in His presence. You are more than accepted, you are desired. He has committed Himself to you. You will never be alone, never be unloved, never be rejected. You are already a success in His eyes.

In that relationship is your confidence!

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Restoring Prayer

It’s Monday Grace!

I was taught to pray by reciting little poems. You may know them. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” “Be present at our table Lord…” “Our Father, which art in Heaven…” Not bad words, but not really mine. Even if I considered what I was saying, the words reflected someone else’s thoughts.

As I grew older, I was expected to pray on my own of course. Someone said I should use the acronym ACTS to guide my prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. In other words, I was to praise God first, then confess my own unworthiness (perhaps even listing my sins), then thank God for everything I have already received from Him. And only then could I ask for what I needed.

Now, that wasn’t bad. It is important to remember who God is. He is not a vending machine or a waiter in a restaurant. We should come with respect and humility. The problem was not the poems or even the acronym. The problem was the formality. Prayer became a kind of formula. And it became a burden.

Years ago I heard someone say that we should stop apologizing to God every time we pray. Now, that’s part of Christian tradition for most folks. We are to confess and repent. One friend talks about how he was at a funeral where the closing prayer was a confession of “our many and grievous sins.” Then the whole congregation walked down the hall of the church to the fellowship room where someone prayed for the meal and ended the prayer by confessing their “many and grievous sins.” My friend wonders how many “grievous sins” the people committed on the short walk down the hallway of the church.

If you feel that you have to confess your sins every time you pray, you aren’t going to want to pray. The experience begins with a negative. It might not be bad for you to acknowledge that something you are doing is wrong. There is room for confession (as long as you don’t think it either hinders or promotes your salvation). But think of it this way. When you have someone to whom you must apologize, is that an easy task? Do you look forward to it? Or do you procrastinate, finding ways to avoid it? Never mind what you should do, how do you feel about it?

You see, prayer is supposed to be a pleasure for us. It is supposed to be such a pleasure that we are in a constant state of prayer all day long (1 Th 5:17). Imagine spending all day confessing one sin after another!

No, prayer is conversation with the Lord, living in communion with Him. That means being aware of His presence and love. That means being quick to speak to Him about your concerns and your joys. That means seeking to see others in the way He sees you. We can pray all day long as we do our work and live our lives.

But not if prayer is so formal that God seems distant and unkind. If we have to start with a formula that makes us ashamed and fearful, we won’t see prayer as a joyful thing.

I have learned to begin my more serious prayer times by thanking the Lord for calling me back to the awareness of His presence and opening a time when I can talk with Him. I talk with Him a great deal through the day, but in those dedicated times, I want to remember His love for me. Then, when I have a request, which I often do, I think of His kindness and grace toward me.

Remember that Jesus already forgave your sin. Remember that the one motivation of the heart of God toward you is love. He initiated your relationship. He paid the price long before you understood the truth. He reached out to you.

Enter into prayer as one who is already forgiven and already fully accepted. You are His child, and He loves you. If you have done something wrong, talk with Him about it. He may reveal why you did it and what you can do about it now. But you are never condemned in His presence. You are always welcome.

If I were the devil and wanted to discourage believers, I would try to take away prayer. I would make it a burden and chore, a duty filled with shame. Then even those who wanted to pray would come defeated and weakened into their time with the Lord. They would hang their heads and wallow in self-disgust. Humility would become humiliation. Deference would become degradation. And the people would lack power and joy.

Sound familiar?

No more condemnation! No more shame! No more weak and discouraging prayer! Now, we come to our Lord with joy and thanks, knowing that He loves us just as much as He ever has and ever will.


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Defining Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Whether it’s a gaslighting spouse, a legalistic preacher, or a manipulative parent, shame seems to be a favorite tool of the narcissist. Shame undercuts our confidence, weakens our self-esteem, and opens our hearts to manipulation. If we understand and deal with shame in our lives, we take away a powerful tool from those who would abuse us.

I have written on shame before, more than once, because it so powerfully intersects with learning about narcissistic abuse and is conquered by an understanding of grace. But shame continues to be a part of our lives. Just this morning I did something foolish that affected someone else. I apologized, but I have been over it many times in my mind, criticizing and shaming myself. Shame is so close to our identity, the idea of who we think we are, that it jumps at almost any chance to come to the surface.

We were taught to condemn ourselves. Our parents and our culture wanted us to own the moral standards in such a way that disobedience would bring its own punishment. In other words, we would feel bad if we did something wrong. But, in the process, we were also taught that we were bad when we did something wrong. We were told that we were bad because of the things we did or didn’t do.

And that was supposed to be Christian teaching. Sin stains us, the Scriptures teach. Sin makes us less than we could be, unworthy and broken. At least that’s what we were taught.

But there is more to the message of the Scriptures. Yes, sin stains us, but the blood of Jesus (His love and obedience) washed us clean. The stain of sin is gone and will never be seen on us again. So, even if we were somehow damaged by our sin, we have been restored in Jesus. Sin is no longer part of our identity.

The message of grace allows us to see ourselves apart from the things we do. Now, that’s big deal. It is a dramatic difference from what we were taught. In fact, many people, even in the church, don’t like that idea at all. Someone who cheats is a cheater, they say. Someone who lies is a liar, they say. Someone who gets angry is an angry person, they say. But the message of God’s grace in Jesus is different.

In Jesus, the person who lies is not a liar, but a child of the King who is not living according to his or her real identity. Who we are is inseparably tied to Who He is. You and I can no longer be labeled by the sins or any other actions of our lives. We are something new and different.

Now, what does that mean in a narcissistic relationship? It means that the power of the label, the power of shame over your thoughts about yourself, is taken away. The only power it has is what you give it. This morning, I gave in to the shame in which I used to live. It was familiar. But now I remember that my action was a mistake, foolish but not defining or fatal. In fact, I apologized appropriately, and now I will move forward.

A narcissist might be able to use that against me, reminding me of my action and choice. Narcissists are accusers because they believe accusations give them an advantage. But I know that none of the labels and accusations will stick because I belong to Jesus. I can only be who He says I am. Washed, forgiven, a new and powerful person loved greatly. That’s who I am.

The legalistic preacher can rail against sin, perhaps even pointing at us as he names certain things we have done, but he can’t make us less saved or less approved by our Lord. No matter how much that preacher might want to shame us, to bring us under the control of his morality and dominance, we are free and forgiven in Jesus. Nothing he says can change that.

The power of shame is in us. We control it. And we can reject it.


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Be Like Jesus

It’s Monday Grace!

(Every so often I feel that it is important to repeat some of the foundational posts of this blog so that people will understand what we talk about. For the next few weeks, you will have an opportunity to read posts from several years ago. I am traveling, and this allows me to focus on family. Thanks for your understanding!)

A while ago I received a question about the goal of the Christian life. The writer said that a pastor had taught that our goal was to be like Christ. Here’s my response…

While being like Christ seems to be a worthy spiritual goal, I would have two problems with it. First, I don’t think the Bible ever tells us that we should be like Christ. It says that we will be like Him when He is finally revealed (1 John 3:2), but not that being like Him should be our goal. In fact, Paul invites us to imitate him (Paul) as he follows Christ.

The trap here is just what you express. How can I be like Christ? For most people that means doing things like Jesus would. Never mind that I don’t necessarily know how He would respond in a certain situation nor that He would necessarily expect me to respond in the way He would respond. He knows so much that I don’t know and He can do so much that I can’t do. For example, when the blind man came to Jesus, Jesus healed him. Would Jesus expect me to do the same thing when I meet a blind man? He might choose to heal the man and He might use me in the process, but I don’t think we are expected to go out and heal on every occasion.

Of course, this isn’t what your pastor and others mean when they tell us we should be like Christ. What they mean is that we should avoid sin like Jesus did and be kind in ways they think He would be kind. So, would Jesus look at porn or cheat on His taxes? Of course not. Would He pass by someone in need or reject a poor person? Of course not. So be like that, they would say. It’s just the old “performance spirituality” again. Except that now it pretends a connection to Jesus.

One of my concerns is that this really has nothing to do with Jesus. The list people use has more to do with what they think Jesus would do. The old question, “What would Jesus do?”, always bothered me because people really don’t know the answer in most situations, nor would they consider asking Him. Instead, they just do what they think is best. So now we have “What would Jesus eat?” and other nonsense. Would Jesus watch football on Sunday? Would He eat that extra dessert? Would He watch TV? On and on and on.

So am I more like Christ when I do these things? Of course not. I am more like I think Christ would be if He were in my situation. Even that will be limited by my honesty and my willingness to do things that challenge me. Most believers are very good at ignoring things they don’t want to change. Gossip, judgmental attitudes, acting superior – these are overlooked when we try to be more spiritual. (Although I suppose you could say that Jesus acted like He thought He was perfect! I have known believers who seem to be imitating that fairly well.)

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the idea that the goal of the Christian life is to be like Jesus is that it belittles Jesus. If my children lived by trying to be like me, rather than being with me, I would be very sad. I can imagine them ignoring me while they try to be like me. Isn’t this just what is done in the church? The gospel of performance overrides a need for true relationship with our Lord. He remains an idea, Something behind our actions, rather than a Person with Whom we walk.

Instead of trying to be like Jesus, we are called to be with Jesus. He doesn’t tell us to imitate Him, but to follow Him. Never did He tell us to do what He did, but He did tell us to do what He says. I think many believers struggle with believing that Jesus is a real Person who interacts with us. They are content to let Him stay a good idea. That way they can do what they want and attribute it to Him.

I guess that sounds a little harsh, but this is what so many believers have learned. Pastors and teachers fail to introduce people to Jesus as a Person. So many teach rules and lists and standards and tell people that living a certain way and doing certain things will make them spiritual. How sad!

When I read your note I thought of the contrast of two old songs. The first one gives the goal of being like Christ.

Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.
Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.
That in heaven He may meet me,
I would be like Jesus;
That His words “Well done” may greet me,
I would be like Jesus.

Notice the works emphasis? At the end, we are to hope for the words, Well Done, and then we will know that we are fully accepted. Contrast that to this song:

Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.
Jesus is all the world to me, I want no better Friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a Friend, beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy, He’s my Friend.

Of course, the second song isn’t perfect, but it certainly has a different emphasis. The first is all about me and what I want to do. The second is about Him. When I have trouble, I don’t have to wonder what He would do; I am able to go to Him. That’s a very different thing. Jesus is real and I can talk with Him and expect Him to lead me. I can watch for His activity. He may change circumstances or He may lead me to act very differently from what I might normally.

This is Jesus who is able to lead, able to work in my world. This is the Lord and King of the Universe. He is not just like me and I am so thankful. He understands me and He knows me, but He is greater than me in so many ways. Wiser, stronger, more faithful, more loving: He is much that I am not. My goal is to let Him be all of those things in and through me, not to try to copy Him. I can never be just like him, but I can occasionally get out of His way and watch Him do something great through me.


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