Like many Christians, I wasn’t exactly living for God in high school. Sure, I showed up to pray around the flagpole with other students during See You at the Pole, and I attended youth group every week. But for the most part I did what I wanted as long as it wasn’t drinking, doing drugs, smoking, or having sex. That all turned around in college — but in some ways, it was far worse.
I found a strong group of Christian friends at a charismatic church in town, and I very much wanted to be like them: set apart, unashamed, on fire for Jesus. So I focused on changing the externals that would make me look more like them and distinguish me from the guy I was in high school. But these superficial changes lacked a change of heart, so I became bound by rules and regulations without experiencing freedom that comes from actually wanting to follow Christ. Naturally, my life then became a list of dos and don’ts. It was exhausting.
At the heart of my legalism was (1) an unshakable fear that I might actually be going to hell, despite my Herculean efforts to please God and (2) a belief that I could manipulate Him with my obedience.
When Ruled by Doubt
Over the years the Lord used people and circumstances to reveal His unconditional love for me, but the thing that made the largest difference was the Word of God. The scriptures that dismantled my fear of God’s rejection became life to me, helping me approach God as a Father rather than an exacting employer. Here are the five of the verses that God used to shape my view of Him and correct my faulty theology:
- “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLT). This sounds crazy, but at the apex of my self-righteousness, I looked down on Apostle Paul for his admission of wrestling with sin. After repeated failures, I finally realized what a loser I was, and then I experienced great relief in knowing that Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, had trouble getting it together sometimes too.
- “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NKJV). This declaration comes from Jesus after a series of hard sayings like, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NKJV). The call for perfection always left me feeling defeated until one day, out of desperation, I thought, But I can’t be perfect. And I sensed the Holy Spirit respond to my heart, “You sure can’t — not without Jesus — that’s My whole point!”
- “For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14, NIV). I love the grammar in this verse. We’ve been made perfect — that part is finished — but we’re still in the process of “being made holy.” Therefore, on this side of heaven, I shouldn’t expect to see my perfection, but the promise of it has already been secured by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
- “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). What a revolutionary thought: Jesus literally became our sin. If He became our sin, then when He died, our sin died forever. It can’t stand between us and God anymore, and we can confidently say that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
- “I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29, NKJV). The security of our salvation does not rest in what we can do in God — it rests in the awesome strength of Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. Or as Tim Keller puts it, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”
Hopefully, these particular verses have encouraged you in the security of your salvation — but don’t just take my word for it and treat these verses like inspirational quotes. Be like the Bereans, who listened to the teaching of Paul and Silas, “received the word [of the Gospel] with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NKJV). Then do the world a favor and share what God reveals to you.