The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Chapter 19: Recovering Right Focus
We continue our Thursday series blogging through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.” The first post in the series is here.
Chapter 19 is about resetting our focus. The last part of the chapter has a discussion about sin that I found thought-provoking.
First, what is our standard? Paul does an interesting thing in Philippians 3:16 – he calls people up to what we have already attained. We meet the standard because we are in Christ, not due to working hard to measure up. In another letter, Paul pronounced mercy and peace upon those who “walk by this rule.” What rule or standard was he referring to? Not law-keeping, but being a new creation: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.” (Galatians 6:15) We are being instructed as new creations, to live like new creations. We don’t earn “new creation” by working hard; we *are* new creations in Christ.
Second, if it is true that there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ, and if it is true that we are already accepted and complete in Christ, there is no need for us to use good behaviors to try to erase our shame or build a positive idea about who we are. We are free to have new motives for our behaviors in Christ. “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Tim Keller has been quoted as saying that being accepted in Christ frees us up to run ‘for the joy that is before us’ rather than for ‘the fear that comes behind us.’
Many of us have had a mental image about the Christian life as if it were governed by two lists: a “good list” and a “bad list.” Doing things on the “good list” is important, doing things on the “bad list” is sin. But –
“If I use drugs, steal, or commit adultery in an attempt to meet my needs it is sin. What makes it sin is not that I performed a behavior on the ‘bad list’ – although I did do that. The sin is that I tried to draw life or significance from something that could not give it. Instead of trusting God I trusted a false god. That is missing the mark.” (p. 210)
Here’s the kicker: I can do things such as teach Sunday School or donate money to a good cause (the “good list”) as an attempt to validate myself or earn approval; this is still sin! It is sin because I am attempting to draw from something else what only the one true God can give. My behaviors look a lot more positive on the outside but inside I’m missing the mark just the same.
About guilt: if I realize that I am committing this sin of looking to myself instead to Jesus, there is no point in being weighed down with shame or scrambling to try harder to get it right. Guilt is like a spiritual nerve-ending that sounds the alarm that I am headed toward death instead toward God and life. If we confess, he forgives – over and done, move on. We can and do experience natural consequences of our sin but our standing with God remains secure in Christ. The extremes of shame and of self-righteousness are about focusing on self; the point of Colossians 3 is that our focus belongs on Christ. If I miss the mark, I am not weighed down with shame; conversely, if I live consistent with who I am in Christ and my behavior mirrors this, there is no room for self-righteousness. I respond to God with gratitude and keep my focus on him.
“…As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” (Colossians 2:6). How did we receive Christ? As a reward for hard effort? Or as a gift? As you received Christ, continue to live your life in him. Continue to re-orient your focus onto him, the source of Life.
Question for discussion: What do you think of their definition of sin? Can you think of any passages in the New Testament that support your opinion?
This chapter has raised the issue of idolatry of the heart. A number of authors have written more in-depth about that subject. Ken Sande has a set of “x-ray questions” in his book “The Peacemaker” (p. 265):
- What am I preoccupied with? What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?
- How would I complete this statement: “If only _____________, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure”?
- What do I want to preserve or avoid?
- Where do I put my trust?
- What do I fear?
- When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression?
- Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?
In view of this chapter about our focus, I see these x-ray questions as possible indicators of where our focus has begun to turn toward self, away from Christ. “…As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,” and, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” Spiritual health for all of us, survivor of spiritual abuse or not, requires consciously orienting our focus to Christ.
Click here to go on to Chapter 20