Preoccupation with ourselves makes us miserable! I first read this statement from Bob George in his book Classic Christianity. This is such a true statement. For many years, as a believer in Jesus, I was preoccupied with myself, my failures, my sins, my weaknesses, my shortcomings, my imperfections, my faults, etc...this list goes on and on and on... As a result, I felt guilt, shame, inadequate, unhappy, depressed, inferior, etc...and this list goes on and on and on, too! As you can imagine, I was one miserable person. Bob George was right, preoccupation with ourselves does make us miserable!
In my early days as a believer in Jesus, I spent much time analyzing my flesh, meaning analyzing why I had certain thoughts, desires,and feelings. I analyzed why I did some of the things I did. I was trying to figure me out. The more I tried to figure me out, the more frustrated I became. Each time I analyzed myself, I continued to realize I was one messed up and miserable person!
I thought journaling would help set me free the messed up and miserable person that I was. So what did I do? I journaled about myself. I journaled about how miserable and messed up I was. So what happened to me? I became more miserable because as I journaled, I discovered I was more messed up than I thought I was before I started journaling!
Since journaling didn't work, I tried another approach. I thought maybe I should talk with others about how messed up and miserable I was. Maybe they could figure me out! So I did. As I talked with people, they just confirmed that I had analyzed myself correctly...I am one messed up person! Some of those I talked with helped me see things about myself that I didn't see before. They helped me see that I was more messed up than I thought! I became even more miserable.
Then I was taught I needed to constantly confess to God all my sins, flaws, and failures so I could stay forgiven by him and in fellowship with him. I was taught if I did not consistently confess my sins, flaws, and failures to God that I would be separated from him. Well, I certainly wanted to stay forgiven by God, and didn't want to be out of fellowship with him and separated from him. So I did just that. Everyday...every moment, I tried to make sure all my sins, flaws, and failures were confessed. That even made me more miserable! Surely, I thought, God is tired of me confessing all these sins to him. I thought I was probably making God miserable, too!
I have discovered that I am not alone in my misery in focusing on myself. In the counseling and teaching opportunities the Lord has given me over the years, I have come to realize all of us are miserably preoccupied with ourselves. We all fall short of who we think we should be. Secretly, we live in shame, guilt, condemnation, and discouragement because we fall so short of who we think we ought to be, and definitely, we are aware we fall short of who we think God wants us to be.
There was a person in the Bible who was messed up and miserable, like all of us. He is unnamed. But he can be found in Romans 7:14-25. In these verses, we find a man who fell totally short of living up to who he wanted to be and who God wanted him to be. He was doing this through the Ten Commandments. In seeking to live up to the Ten Commandments, he discovered just how sinful he was. Yet, he tried harder and harder to improve his flesh. But no matter how hard he tried, he failed. He eventually realized he was one messed up and miserable person! In analyzing his flesh, he finally acknowledged that nothing good lived in it and there was nothing he could do to change it.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature [flesh].
So he cried out to God, "What a wretched [confused and frustrated] man that I am? Who will rescue me from this body of death?" God's answer to him...grace through Jesus would rescue him from his messed up and miserable condition. Upon this man's discovery of grace, he rejoiced and replied, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." What he is saying is this, "God thank you so much for the grace you have given me through Jesus. Your grace has set this messed up and miserable person free!"
The word "Thanks" in this verse (Romans 7:25) is the Greek word Charis. Charis is the Greek word used for grace in the book of Romans. The book of Romans was written to help us see our need for grace. Romans chapter 1 explains that all non-religious people are sinful. Romans chapter 2 explains that all religious people are sinful. And Romans chapter 3 explains that all people are sinful, non-religious and religious people alike (Romans 3:23). There is no difference at all. We are all messed-up! We all fall completely short of who we think we should be and who we think God wants us to be.
But God is not the God who angrily waits to "zap" us for falling short. Rather, he is the God who gave us the Ten Commandments so we would see how sinful we are and how far short, which is totally, of him we fall. Through the Ten Commandments, we see how utterly sinful and messed up we are (Romans 7:13). We see that nothing good lives in our flesh. In seeing how sinful we are, just how messed up we are, we become miserable. We say along with the person in Romans 7, "What a wretched person I am? Who will rescue me from this body of death?" In becoming miserable, we see our need for God's grace. In seeing our need for God's grace, we receive his grace by faith. Then, just as the unnamed man in Romans 7:14-25 proclaimed, we proclaim, "God thank you so much for the grace you have given me through Jesus. Your grace has set this messed up and miserable person free!"
That is what happened in my life. In all my efforts to improve my flesh, I failed. We each failure, I became more convinced of how messed up I was and the more miserable I became. So I tried harder to improve my messed up flesh, surely I could make it better. But I couldn't.
I was very familiar with the Ten Commandments. They showed how messed up I was, too! I could not obey them!
I had fallen short of who I wanted to be, who I thought God wanted me to be, and I cried out, "What a confused and frustrated person I am! Who will deliver me from this miserable condition? Then the good news came. The news I had waited to hear all my life. The news about God's grace given freely to messed up, miserable people. People just like me! Because of God's grace, I no longer have to concentrate on how messed up I am. I no longer have to analyze why I am so messed up. I know why. Nothing good lives in my flesh. It is because of my sinfulness that grace exists. If we have no sin, then we have no need for grace. But because we have sin, we need grace. So now, rather than focusing on how messed up I am because of sin, I focus on how God good is because of grace. God has freely given me grace.
I admit my flesh is messed up. I accept that. No need to analyze "me" anymore. I no longer have to live in shame, guilt, or condemnation because of how messed up I am. By faith, I have accepted God's grace. So now I spend my days preoccupied with God's great grace, rather than the greatness of my sin (Ephesians 1:6-8).
I no longer live in fear of not being forgiven by God, out of fellowship with him, or separated from him. Now I live in the joy and peace of knowing all my sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus. His blood has eternally cleansed me from all sin. I live everyday knowing I am fully forgiven by God forever, in fellowship with God continually, and can never be separated from God because of his great grace. I now stand before God forgiven and flawless, without stain or wrinkle!
Grace is God's unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness freely given to messed up, miserable people. People who have failed. People who have done things they never thought they would do and gone places they never thought they would go. People who have thoughts they never thought they would have and who say words they never thought they would say. To these people, which is all us, grace comes through Jesus. Grace comes through the cross. Grace comes though his blood kindly and freely shed for us all. Through this grace, God holds out total forgiveness for all the messed up, miserable people in this world, which is all of us. And by faith, we receive it and say, "God thank you so much for the grace you have given me through Jesus. Your grace has set this messed up and miserable person free!"
When I met Stan, he was very aware of how messed up he was. He was miserable. Not only was he aware of how messed up he was, but he was aware of how messed up his whole family tree was. After listening to Stan share his heart about how messed up he and his entire family was, I replied, "Stan, you are right. You and your entire family are messed up. But I have good news for you, I am messed up, too. My family is messed up. We are all messed up. There are no perfect people or families. But I have better news, there is grace for you and your family. God's desire is to lavish his grace upon you. He wants to lavish upon you his unconditional love, unmerited kindness, unearned blessings, and unlimited forgiveness. You no longer have to focus on how messed up you and your family are. You can now spend your days focusing on how great God's grace is."
Another person I met was Sarah. Like Stan, she was very preoccupied with how messed up she was. She, too, was miserable. She was certain God was against her and angry at her. But as I shared with her about God's grace, his unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness toward those who are messed up and miserable, her heart began to be healed and her mind set free. And along with Stan, she now says, "God thank you so much for the grace you have given me through Jesus. Your grace has set this messed up and miserable person free!"
One more person I met was Allen. Allen was constantly analyzing himself. The more he analyzed himself, the more shame, condemnation, and guilt he felt. Needless to say, the more miserable he became. He was constantly asking himself and me, "What is wrong with me?" He would tell himself, "I must not be a Christian?"
Every time we got together, he was depressed, since he continued to analyze his failures, shortcomings, and flaws. I showed him Romans 7:18 about nothing good living in his flesh. I explained to him that as long as he examines his flesh he will live in depression, guilt, shame, and condemnation. He will continue to be miserable. I shared my story with him about how I had lived as he did for a number of years; yet, I had come to accept that my flesh was messed up and there was no improving it. I shared with him about my discovery of grace in God's word through the Spirit of God opening the eyes of my heart to see the riches of God's grace [Ephesians 2:18]. And since this discovery of grace, I had been set free from preoccupation with myself and was now preoccupied with the grace God had freely given me in Christ [Ephesians 1:6-8]. As this revelation of grace came increasingly to Allen, he, too, was set free. Today, he admits nothing good lives in his flesh. No need to examine it anymore! He is now enjoying the riches of God's grace given to him through Jesus. He knows he is loved, forgiven, and accepted by God through Christ. Depression, guilt, shame, and condemnation has been replaced with grace, peace, and joy. He is now free to grow in grace!
2 Peter 3:18 says for us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This verse does not say for us to continue to analyze our flesh. There is no way for us to grow if we continue to analyze our flesh. Rather, we are to concentrate on God's grace, and as we do, we will grow!
Philippians 1:6 says that we can be confident because the work of grace God has started within us, he will complete. The work of grace starts in us the day we realize nothing good lives in our flesh. Our flesh, or sinful nature, is messed up! Once we accept this truth, then believe in God's grace freely given to us in Jesus, we will start to grow, and this growth will continue until Jesus returns.
Stan, Sarah, and Allen all admit they are messed up, and they accept it. But rather than being preoccupied with how messed up they are, that is their flesh, they now are preoccupied with how great God's grace is.
Maybe you can relate to the man in Romans 7. Maybe you can relate to me, Stan, Sarah, and Allen. You know you are messed up. You feel miserable. You have been trying to analyze yourself. You have been trying to figure yourself out. You have tried journaling and counseling, and promising to do better. Yet, you just continue to see how messed up you are.
I have good news for you...we are all messed up! You are not alone. There is no difference. The sin that lives in you lives in me, Stan, Sarah, and Allen...and the man in Romans 7. We all need grace. God's grace is available to you right now. His unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness has been freely provided for you in Jesus. By faith you can receive his grace. Believe it. It is true, you are loved, forgiven, and accepted through the kindness of God poured out for you through the blood of Jesus who died for all your sins. And you, too, can say, "God thank you so much for the grace you have given me through Jesus. Your grace has set this messed up and miserable person free!"
Once we accept that we are messed up people, and then accept God's grace, we are free from being preoccupied with ourselves. Now we can be preoccupied with the greatness of God's grace freely given to us in Jesus. We will begin to grow in God's grace. We can be confident his grace will continue to work in us until Jesus returns. Then, until he does return, rather than focusing on ourselves and feeling miserable about ourselves, we can experience the joy and peace that flows from his grace!