“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25, 31-32).
Paul tells us how to live our new life as Christians: we start by no longer telling lies, putting aside our sins, and “imitating” Christ. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we can never have the divine qualities of God. Just as children imitate their parents, we are God’s “dearly beloved children”. God sent us a human example in Christ to show us how we need to live.
Like a good parent, God gives us information, shows how to behave, and then He let’s us try it on our own! Like a child who falls many times before he successfully rides a bike, we must continue to strive to be like Jesus, even when we fail repeatedly. After we’ve learned to ride a bike, we develop “muscle memory” that can be recalled after many years. We need to develop the “muscle memory” of being a disciple so that our Christ-like behaviors stick with us and come back to us (after a few wobbles!) when we are tempted or in need.
Our Christian life begins by putting away our old ways of lies and sins to make room for God’s love and forgiveness. But one of the hardest things to learn is that this change in behavior is not based upon our own willpower, like we could just grit our teeth and avoid sin. The danger is that if we succeed by trying harder and overcome sin, we give ourselves all the credit; when we fail, we sink deeper into despair at our shortcomings and move farther away from God in our shame. This repeated cycle of trying harder and failure happens when we focus on our “right behavior” instead of focusing on our belovedness in God’s eyes.
Take a break.
Quit trying to be the perfect Christian. It isn’t possible to be Christ. Instead focus on God and His love for you first and how He has already forgiven you. He’s forgiven you for EVERYTHING. It is only when we accept His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that we truly become children of God.
Believing in our belovedness always comes before our right behavior.
Blessings, my friend,
Excerpts from the sermon by the Rev. Sarah Kerr, August 12, 2012 at The TABLE, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN