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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Hard to Say Anything”

In this episode, Big Macintosh ended up following some bad, however well-meant, advice. When trying to show Sugar Belle how much he cared about her, he ended up going with the CMCs who, being little girls, suggested a number of ways that were ultimately derived from fantasy storybooks rather than represented real life. As a result of using them to “compete” with a rival suitor, he ended up offending and angering her more than anything. It wasn’t until he finally relied more on his own talents and used them to build a larger display case for her store, just like she had mentioned she wanted to him, showing himself off rather than an individual he thought she would like, that he finally got her affections.

The lesson from this episode is arguably about “being yourself”. That’s a lesson that everyone teaches, both secular and religious, from when we’re little kids up and to adulthood. Yet as a Christian, I often wonder, and I imagine many others do, if this is advice Christianity actually endorses.

The best way I can phrase it succinctly is from one of those old ’50s videos they used to show children on how to not only do things but pretty much to instruct them in “how to function in our society”. There was one I remember in particular that said: “you should be yourself…just so long as it’s your best self”. That sort of phrase can be taken a lot of ways. On one hand, it can simply be to not show off the worst aspects of your personality. On the other, it could be saying: “here’s what a good individual is, so be like that rather than how you really are”. This is the same message I get from much of Christianity.

I struggled with this for years and I still do a lot sometimes. Much of the core of Christianity is toward self-improvement, no matter how much it might claim contrary. In spite of the emphasis on the Grace of God and the magnitude of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice, as well as the assertion that we do not go to Heaven by our own merits but only by the Blood of Jesus, the Bible nevertheless emphasizes heavily the need to not be our old selves but to make changes, possibly huge ones, to be “more like Christ”. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6: 1-2); “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11-12); “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24); “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”” (Matthew 16:24); ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”” (Matthew 7:21). For all the emphasis on “faith alone”, the New Testament is rife with not only the call to change but what seems to be the actual need to do it.

That caused me, and I’m assuming many young Christians who dug into the Word, no end of grief. It seemed chop-logic to me at points. I interpreted this as I’m supposed to rely totally on Jesus’ Sacrifice to cover my sin and yet, at the same time, if I didn’t lead a morally righteous life it would nullify or “disqualify” my salvation. To me, that, and the weak answers I got in some cases to explain it, didn’t seem to be too far off from making it a matter of “earning” my own salvation again. Yet much worse than that, it got me to start doubting some of what I was hearing. I started to reason…God supposedly loves me just as I am, and yet he wants me to become this perfect individual when the fact of the matter is I’m not like a lot of people in the Bible. If I had to become someone more like Jesus or Paul, I could tell that I would have a lot to change; not just in behavior but more importantly in my personality, mannerisms, and aptitudes. And if I had to become like that to be “acceptable” to God, then how could I go around thinking God truly accepted me just as I was? Not to mention the frustration and irritation of trying to conform to that image was enough to drive a person mad…and it nearly did in my case.

I heard a number of other messages concerning this over the years. I think many of them had part of the answer I was looking for, but they didn’t have the sum answer, and I wasn’t able to come to that until many years later and, at this point, it’s something I have difficulty training myself to accept mentally. The bottom line is that while a new Christian must temper themselves to avoid sin and pursue righteousness, to hold themselves to a higher standard than before (namely God’s standard)…they’re still human. And we will continue to be human until we fully attain to God’s Promise, which won’t happen in this life. It’s not a matter of we will probably get it wrong; we will get it wrong. We’ll keep ending up choosing sin over the will of God, and we’ll keep failing to do good when we should have.

It doesn’t make it “right”, but it reminds us again of Christ’s Sacrifice. When we feel discouraged or hopeless or never able to live up to that standard, the Bible says: “Of course you won’t. You couldn’t before and you can’t now. That’s why Lord Jesus died for you to begin with. Yet Christ’s Sacrifice has covered you, and you remain a Child of God in his sight in spite of this.” While trying to aspire to be sinless and righteous is a noble aspiration, to assign it enough importance to be key for salvation is not only folly but vanity. It’s Christ who makes us perfect, not us. To think that we can become perfectly like Him when still in the flesh is pride and sinful. Instead, what the Blood of Jesus does for us is enables us to never give up and keep on trying; reminding us that no matter how little we feel of ourselves or how far we think we’ve fallen and how much the rest of mankind and the world looks down on us, we are still holy and precious in the eyes of God. We are still beloved as we are.

And that is what ultimately inspires us to be our best selves and to aspire for greater. That is what sets us free, both from sin…and from our own condemnation.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the eternally precious blood of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who by the power of His Sacrifice has conquered all sin, all condemnation, all judgment, and all death. To Him and His Name be glory forever and ever. Please help me to embrace the magnitude of this marvelous free gift, and grant that I may never cheapen His Majesty and Glory by focusing only on improving myself to try to make myself ‘pleasing’ to you. His Sacrifice has already accomplished that. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”