When I was in my 20s, I was obsessed with the fear that I was not actually saved — that my so-called “faith” was nothing but an elaborate web of self-deception that would end in eternal damnation.
I wasn’t sure what to do to rescue myself, but leaders and fellow church members kept reminding everyone to strive for holiness and “press into” God, which I interpreted to mean “try harder.”
So I did.
I eliminated magazines, movies, TV shows and dates from my life. I read my Bible, prayed, volunteered at a local nursing facility, invited hundreds of people to church, led a small group, sang in the praise band and shared the Gospel with almost everyone I met.
While I grew more confident in my personal holiness, I grew more insecure about my ability to keep “pressing into” God. This insecurity was fed by the fact that all of the external changes I was making weren’t fixing me on the inside. I knew I was still proud, angry, narcissistic, vain and lustful. But not only did I know it, Jesus knew it. And I felt pretty sure He was ticked off.
Then something amazing happened: The Holy Spirit staged a years-long intervention to set me free from my fear-based attempt to follow Jesus. He used countless conversations, books, articles, and even the stress of legalism to push me into the arms of grace. But most importantly, He used His Word.
A major breakthrough happened when He spoke to me through Isaiah 53, which describes the violent death of Jesus. The chapter is riddled with passive verbs that describe Christ’s treatment without revealing who actually carried out the violence.
The verses say He “was stricken … was smitten … was afflicted … was wounded … was crushed … was oppressed … was cut off.” But by whom? It wasn’t clear. And then I came to verse ten, which revealed, “[T]he Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10, NASB) (emphasis added).
What in the world could be pleasing to the Lord about the horrific and brutal execution of His Son? God provided the answer to this question through another verse: “For our sake He made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus didn’t merely “take the blame for our sins” or “carry our sins,” as I had so often heard. He became the full embodiment of our sins, the full concentration of them in one historical moment. That was the reason why it pleased the Lord to crush Him. In crushing Jesus, He crushed — once and for all — every act of rebellion that separated us from fellowship with Him. When Jesus died, our sins died; and they could no longer serve as a basis for our damnation. All that was left to do was simply receive the free gift.
As I meditated on the awful price that Jesus paid so that He and I could be in relationship, I found that I didn’t want to work harder or “press in” or prove anything to the Lord. I just wanted to love Him back.
What a relief to find motivation in faith, rather than fear — in the desire to love God, rather than control Him. And what gratitude I still feel today that God spoke so clearly through His Word and set me free to love Him for who He really is.