Continuing my slow processing of my time in Orlando…
One of the workshops I attended was regarding Gospel-centered counseling by Elyse Fitzpatrick. I’ll be honest, my choices were limited by the time I registered so I might not have selected it on my own, but by the time the conference rolled around I was excited for the potential of learning how to show compassion and disciple women in a way that points them to Christ. Little did I know I would actually be counseled.
She started out by talking about what is true, quoting B.B. Warfield:
“There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we will never be accepted at all…This is not true of us only when we believe…Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on his ‘blood and righteousness’ alone that we can rest.”
As I mentioned earlier, despite this sweet reality that is the gospel, we so often read Scripture and distill it down to commands. Rather than allowing both the declarations (statements about who God is and who we are in Christ) and the commands (what we are to do) flow hand-in-hand as they are intended, the gospel becomes “white noise,” while the commands shout out a check-list of rules to follow. She gave the following example, shouting the bold statements, while whispering the rest:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2)
I, sadly, resonated with that reading. How often do I jump to a to-do list so I can walk away from my time in the Word with something achievable? Yet this is clinging to the law to make me good instead of resting in the goodness I have before God in Christ. (And how silly to think that even this list could be attainable! It leads only to the constant despair of failure at the realization that I’m a sucky Savior.)
So Elyse Fitzpatrick argues for reclaiming the white noise. To offer each other the good news of the gospel, every. single. time. She points out that people never change by looking to the law, or to a list of their sins, or even by looking at others. The only source of hope and healing is found in looking to Christ. Just rest in the beauty of that passage! Every. command. is rooted in what Christ has done for us and who are are in him (beloved children!).
In his book, You Can Change, Tim Chester points out that this legalism is appealing because it makes holiness manageable and an achievement on our part. But then he points to the beauty of grace:
“Run, John, and work, the law commands –
Yet finds me neither feet nor hands;
But sweeter news the gospel brings,
It bids me fly and lends me wings.”
Oh that I would fly instead of insisting on climbing the mountain in chains.
(I should add that the workshop went on into some practical counseling suggestions, but it was one of the few sessions I had to step out of with Adrienne. I’m sure more good stuff followed, and it will be available on The Gospel Coalition’s website soon.)