Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” As a pastoral therapist over the last 25+ years, I have had the enormous and humbling privilege to mentor, disciple, minister and restore well over 100 hurting Christian men and couples. I've seen firsthand how dozens of Christians that I have personally ministered to are not at peace. I will go so far as to say it's the number 1 problem that Christians experience is they are not at peace. Be it anxiety, depression, overwhelming despair or resignation, Christians are not at peace, and they do not feel safe.
After 25+ years of ministering to Christians, I have become convinced that many Christians simply believe the wrong things about a true relationship with Jesus. Christians are not at peace for many of the following reasons:
LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRUE IDENTITY IN CHRIST:
Many Christians do not see themselves as new creations in Christ. Indeed, they do not see themselves according to their true spiritual identity. Here at GTM, we teach that they are:
“…Spiritual creatures living a spiritual existence placed in the natural according to God's purpose plan and will to bear lasting fruit for the Kingdom”
Unfortunately, many Christians do not understand what it means to be a new creation. Without that understanding, it is virtually impossible to appreciate the “peace that passes all understanding”. In the Walk Applied series, we explain and elaborate on what the new creation is…
A LACK OF AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE 4 LINES OF AUTHORITY AND SUBMISSION
The New Testament gives 4 “lines” of authority and submission:
A fundamental appreciation how we are to participate in these 4 institutions is vital to understanding how the new creation operates in the Natural realm. We are called to honor and submit to God given authority. We are also called to handle authority in a Godly fashion. Indeed, we are to be lights in the darkness in both cases. We are also commanded to always bless and never curse – the Bible is very forthright about our speech. Either way, when we do not respond biblically, we can easily foment chaos.
FALSE EXPECTATIONS OF FAIR TREATMENT IN A VERY SINFUL WORLD
We typically expect non-sinful behavior from sinners. By and large in our modern world we do get fair treatment from most people under most circumstances. No one doubts that fair treatment is certainly desirable. The fact that we take as many precautions as we do in our sinful world is a testimony to the idea that we do understand it is a sinful and evil world, and that we might be subject to harm or great difficulties. Without question, it is rightly maddening when we become the target of “evildoers” of various kinds. When we are harmed to one degree or another, there can be understandable violation, betrayal, trauma, anger, disappointment, and sadness amidst our emotions. No one wants to be harmed, and no one expects us to be heroically stoic in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Jesus was clear in his admonition that we “will have trouble in this world”. Indeed, we live in a world where we read about harm being inflicted on those in our society every day. In spite of that, Jesus tells us to “take heart” because “He has overcome the world”.
Again, no one is saying we should be “heroically stoic” in the face of adversity. We all need time to grieve and emotionally heal depending on the severity of the harm done to us.
The appropriate Biblical response is to repent and forgive and bless. To refuse to take these 3 steps is to put yourself in judgement over those you are not allowed to judge. Another way to look at this notion is that we take “spiritual authority” over those we are not authorized to do so. The Bible is very clear about the 4 lines of authority and submission regarding Family, Employer, Church, and Government and how we are to operate within them in our natural realm.
Romans 2 cautions us severely against judgement and self-seeking. When we self-seek, we “reject the truth and … follow evil” which brings on “…wrath, anger … trouble and distress”. Romans 2 is a profoundly significant yet largely misunderstood passage that many Christians tend to gloss over. What judgement and self-seeking address is when we do not forgive those who hurt us we are sitting in judgement over them, and we become “self-seekers”. Indeed, the Greek word for self-seeking is “eritheia” which actually means “chaos”.
In the Walk Applied, we at GTM address the proper ways to repent and forgive and bless in a process we call “proactive forgiveness”. That’s the topic of our next blog. Contact us if you’d like to read about it sooner!
A FALSE PERSONAL THEOLOGY OF IDOLATRY
We love to think of ourselves as decent people who try and do the right thing the vast majority of the time. After all, we're “basically ok” because we don’t do “really dreadful things”. We don’t like to acknowledge the sobering truth that we are really sinful idolaters who are only saved by God’s majestic grace. Rip away the paper-thin façade that virtually all of us maintain, and we’ll almost certainly find a lack of peace.
A FALSE PERSONAL THEOLOGY OF PERFORMANCE
A common misconception among Christians is that the more we “avoid sin” or “do more good things”, the better off we are. Galatians 5 tells us that if we keep in step with the Spirit (who leads us into all truth) than He will develop our character. 2nd Peter does teach that we are to “make every effort” – so there is intentionality, to be sure, but the passage tells us to add to our faith, primarily, and the good stuff will follow. The point is, your sins have been forgiven and taken care of. Jesus wants you to follow Him, and the rest will happen. Avoiding sin and sidestepping temptations are desirable, but they are not the object. A living, breathing, vibrant faith filled relationship with Jesus is the object. Trying to be as good as you can is a theology of works, and can easily lead to anxiety and a general lack of peace.
A FALSE PERSONAL THEOLOGY OF SECURITY AND ENTITLEMENT
Many seem to believe that God should protect us from really “bad” things, despite Jesus himself telling us that we will have difficulties in this life. Grieving, anger and great emotional trauma are normal, but many Christians invite chaos and anxiety into their lives by blaming God and how dare He allow THAT to happen? While we are not saying that we should expect great tragedy any second, railing against God is not the answer, either.
THE CHURCH HAS IN MANY CASES NOT BEEN A SAFE PLACE
Tragically, many local churches have not been the safest of places. When this happens – that you truly believe there is no one in your local church who you can confide in - shame and guilt easily become the emotional prison cell that enslaves many Christians. “I’m the only one” or “I’ll be humiliated” or “no one will understand” or any one of dozens of “fearsome” statements leads to a significant lack of peace.
THEY HAVE NEVER TRULY RECONCILED PAST EMOTIONAL TRAUMA
Many who have been traumatized or victimized carry the emotional devastation for years – sometimes even to their grave. These truly sad cases, for assorted reasons, simply cannot get past “it”. Obviously, life can be truly chaotic.
THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THEIR CALLING
Jer 6:16 tells us: “This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”
We contend that this ponderous passage is telling us that God has a path he wants us to walk. In other words, each and every one of us has a specific call on their life. in the sanctification process, we believe that God wants us to seek Him and via the Holy Spirit, He will guide us into the calling he has set aside for us. Your individual call may be as simple as to be a prayer warrior – much like Anna at the Temple in the New Testament. Or perhaps you have been called to be a mighty evangelist – ala Billy Graham. There are many types of callings in God’s economy. One fellow I am familiar with expresses it this way: “My call: that’s easy – I have been called to be the Godliest husband and father I possibly can! How do I know this? God has clued me in that He has set aside 1 of our children for something out of the ordinary, and it’s my responsibility to make sure they are discipled properly!” Whatever your personal call, God assures us that He will give us rest and peace for our soul.
A FUNDAMENTAL MISUNDERSTANDING OF REPENTANCE AND FORGVINESS.
Many Christians are confused when it comes to repentance and forgiveness. Some think they are essentially the same; others, not quite sure which is which or what either really mean. In any case, a clear understanding of both concepts is required for a Christian to have peace. The difference is fairly straightforward.
Forgiveness applies to a person’s sin or a sinful action. We ask or seek forgiveness regarding something we did or how we may have offended someone.
Repentance means to cast off a wrongful belief. Thus, I might repent of my pride belief or my façade belief. To repent means to turn the other way, but it does not mean that we will necessarily cease doing what we have been doing that reflects our sinful belief. Repentance means to cast away an idolatrous belief and ask God to work in us to grow a Godly belief to replace the idolatry. It is most unfortunate when we hear admonitions like this: “You didn’t repent properly!” or “You must not have meant it, or you would not have done it again”. Statements like this – and others that are similar - indicate a very flawed and judgmental view of repentance. That said, repentance does imply intentional action on your part to replace the flawed belief system that may underlie the external sin issue. 2nd Peter tells us that we are to “make every effort” to increase our faith.
N. Patrick Marica contributes incisive Christian commentary on this blog on a regular basis. He has been the Director of Godly Training Ministries since 1993. He has his MA from Liberty University in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is the author of the forthcoming book: The Walk Applied". He has been married to Kathy since 1985. They have 2 adult daughters and an extraordinary son-in-law.