A Guide to Spiritual Formation - Lesson 2

Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation (pt 2)

Parenting by guilt and shame encourages a child to do good to avoid consequences and cover their bad, rather than pursuing a relationship with God in order to let Him change their motives by transforming them from the inside.

John Coe
A Guide to Spiritual Formation
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation (pt 2)

c. Third Question: How did we become Christian moralists?

d. Fourth Question: How can we learn to depend on the Cross and the Spirit?

e. Fifth Question: What will happen to my spiritual life if I cannot resist the moral temptation?

  • We become moralists when we try to do good things in order to please God and relieve our guilt.
  • Parenting by guilt and shame encourages a child to do good to avoid consequences and cover their bad, rather than pursuing a relationship with God in order to let Him change their motives by transforming them from the inside.

  • What is in our heart determines how we act. There is more going on in our heart than what shows on the surface. In our hidden heart, we often have negative beliefs and desires that affect our actions.

  • When we sin, it's often the result of sin in our heart that has deep relational and historical roots. God wants us to pursue Him so he can transform us from the inside.

  • When we choose to become committed followers of Christ, we are one spirit with Him, but we still experience times when God seems distant. Sometimes this is a result of going through a developmental stage in our spiritual growth. God gives us the "bottle" of consolation. At first, we seek God in order to get pleasure. God's goal is to make our heart His home. The next stage is the love of God for love's sake.

  • The point of the dark night is to cure us of wanting God on our terms. It is an intensified movement of the indwelling spirit to fill us, rather than to just give us consoling love. When we experience dry times, God is showing us where our treasure really is and is calling us to a journey of the soul. It will often feel more psychological than spiritual.

  • God wants us to move from the love of God for love's sake to the love of God for God's sake. Our training in virtue and character helps us lead a life that is beneficial to ourselves and others. God wants us to rely on the Spirit, not just patterns of behavior we have learned. God sometimes uses the experience of dark nights to help purge us of our virtues as well as our vices.

  • In a dark night experience, we realize that even though we have good character, we are more filled with ourselves than we are with God. God may be more present to us when he seems absent than when he seems present. It is often helpful to have a mentor to walk with us through dark nights.

  • It is important to do spiritual disciplines from the heart in the Spirit. The Christian life is what you do when you realize you can do nothing. In discussing spiritual disciplines, it is helpful to emphasize the importance of how we hear the commands of God.  It is not in our power to change ourselves, but we can choose to practice spiritual regimens and rhythms that help us open up to what God wants to do. Spiritual intentions are how we respond to the Word of God.

  • How do I listen to God's voice? What do I do when I walk away from reading the Word or hearing a sermon? The prayer of recollection is to remind me of who I am in Christ so when I hear the Word, I am open to Him. It's also to help focus my thoughts by detaching from false identities and attaching to my true identity. Lectio divina brings together the commands to "be filled with the Spirit" and "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."

The Christian life is not fundamentally about being a moral person, obeying a set of principles, or doing spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is about opening our heart to a relationship with the living God. As we depend on the indwelling Spirit and experience abiding in Christ, we will learn an obedience that comes without the burden of guilt and shame.

Before I address the third question I just wanted to put a statement up. I was talking to Doug at the break. This is kind of a stodgy, doctrinal statement, but it says something like this. But it has some real implications. It says that sanctification – that is the process of growth – recapitulates salvation. Well, the word recapitulates means rehearses.

What I’ve been talking about here is that – the same ground, the same psychological turf –  everything that happened at our salvation, that’s only going to deepen in our growth and our sanctification. It’s not as if I’m saved a certain way and then all of a sudden I’m on a different turf. But rather, in salvation I became aware of my sin and my badness. I became aware of my need. I fell in love with the cross. That’s what happened to me at 19. I began to open to the Spirit. I didn’t know what that meant. I just wanted to open to him.

Well, sanctification is not a different ground. It’s not like this was God’s work and now this is my work. And what these old, stodgy, Reformed theologians wanted to say was sanctification only rehearses and more deepens all of this. And so that means that in the process of growth I’m going to be taken more deeply into my sin. At conversion I became aware of this – and I loved God in that. And so I became aware of much of my bad and my need. And, oh, I needed the gospel and I responded to Christ. That was so cool.

And now, what is growth? Growth is I’m going to be taken into whole new places of my neediness. I’m going to be taken into whole new places to see sin to an extent that I could never even imagine it when I was 19. And this will open up my need for the cross. This will open up my need for the Spirit. God, I don’t want to live the Christian life in the power of my self. God, I just want you. I need You. And whatever obedience I do it’s to open up relationally to him, because I want that life now in myself.

Third Question: How did we get this way, how did we become Christian moralists? 

So here’s the third question. Well, you know maybe before I give that let me give you a statement that one of the ancient spiritual writers had said. This is Teresa of Avila. She’s a 16th-century Carmelite nun. She was talking about this kind of idea and she said, “You know what we need to do, then, as believers? We need to learn to sit amongst our weeds.” Well, that’s kind of strange. Sit amongst our weeds. Yeah, you know our weeds, those are our sins and Christ – he’s the gardener. The Father’s the vineyard keeper. And you know my tendency is when I see my weeds? You know what I want to do? I want to pull it. And you know something? It’s just going to grow right back.

And Theresa says, no, what we need to do is we need to learn to open to the cross. I am totally accepted in him. There is no condemnation. I want to learn to just sit there with him. This is I think the beginning of a move to a relational spiritual formation. God, I don’t want to run. I’ve just become aware of something in my life. Yes, God, I’m not the husband I ought to be. God, I don’t want to start pulling weeds. I don’t want to start fixing myself. 

I don’t want to start developing a plan for how to be a better husband. Lord, I want to, like you said, I want to take your yoke and learn from you. In fact, God, I tell you what, I’m open for you to take me on a journey into just how bad a husband I am. I don’t fear your condemnation. I don’t. In fact, I want you to take me on that journey, because here is what I want to learn: that apart from you I can do nothing.

Yes, Aristotle can have an okay relationship. But he can’t have a relationship that is governed and led and filled by the Spirit. That’s our possibility. But that means that my first move is not, “Well, doggone it, let’s get away a good regimen. I’ll start reading some marriage books.” Now, I did that as a young believer. When I got married Greta and I read like 10 marriage books right away. We were good little moralists. And we read marriage books and we worked on it – and that was all wonderful. 

And then the Lord opened up deeper motivations throughout my life. I just wanted to learn from him. I wanted to open to him. And yes, there will be regimens then. And there will be these projects that I can do and reading, but I don’t want to do it without him now. “God, I need You.”

And the Lord may have to take you and me on a journey, as Willard says, to kind of break our heart, so that we’ll really believe in the deep. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. “God, I can’t do this without the Spirit.” That’s the journey where he has now the mature to enter into.

The third question: How did we get this way? How did we become Christian moralists?

Well, the first explanation we’ve already talked about: original sin. And I always tell my psychologists – I’ve taught at Rosemead School of Psychology for 17 years now – I would always tell them, you know, it wasn’t just early caregivers that messed you up. It was most fundamentally original sin. That is at the deep. We are born with inherited guilt and inherited shame. We’re born covering. We’re born hiding. This is the disposition of the heart. Something is going to have to break into that to re-alter that disposition.

And, I’ll tell you. I’ll just hint and we’ll talk about it next time. It will be the love of God. The love of God will have to penetrate places of your bad, experiences of your vices, so that you will finally believe God really loves me in my bad, because we all say that theologically. But then we see something else come out in our lives. And so one Christian psychologist said that God gave us many abilities being created in his image. But there’s one ability he didn’t give us, and that was the ability to deal with our badness. We just don’t know what to do with it. And you know, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t fix that stuff. You can only try to cover it by being a good person or to try to cover it by being a successful person or to be an important person. There are so many different ways to cover. Morality is just a pretty big one used in the history of the human race.

But I want to go to the next one. The next is I think is secondary, but it’s there. I want to add to the problem is that most of us was parented to be moralists. Now I don’t want to dump on my parents. I love my parents. They came to the Lord in their 70s. My dad and I became close friends. He died a few years ago, about 93 years old. He would probably say I was his best friend. But here’s how parents can add to this.

The first one is parenting by guilt. Now I wasn’t parented this way. My wife was. So this is a different kind of parenting. This is what takes place. When the child does bad and the parent can’t endure the child’s badness – ever felt that way? – and if the parent becomes condemning and punitive, something is going to take place in that child if that continues to go on. 

This is the rejecting parent who is teaching this child slowly, slowly, but ever in the deep, that the parent cannot tolerate or love or discipline or correct the child in their bad. Now I’m a supporter of corporal punishment, corporal discipline. But this is when the child becomes aware very acutely, “My parents can’t handle this. They can’t handle my stuff.” And what happens, this is guilt parenting, because it sends the child into hiding. It sends the child into a life of, “I’ve gotta hide this stuff from mom. Mom can’t see this stuff.” 

And either now they’re going to spend their life trying so hard to be good. In fact, the result will be the child – if you were parented this way then you have a little monkey on your back and that is that you could never be good enough to please your parents. And you may come to believe in your deep that no one can love your bad, because your parents couldn’t experience that and love you right into that stuff. 

I think this is really the psychological explanation for a lot of high achievers. They can never do enough. They’re totally driven. They are totally driven. I’m gonna work doggone hard to be accepted and loved. Or these are some children who give up. They act out. They become rebellious. They say “FU” to their parents. And they say, “I’ve had it.” And they leave. These are a lot of our dropouts.

Now I wasn’t parented that way. I was more in the second category. I couldn’t bless my parents. I was parented by shame. What’s this? This could be very gentle, kind parenting. It’s when the child does bad and, of course, if you have children they are bad, as Proverbs says, folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Right? They are little folly machines. When the child does bad, the parents are unable to help the child enter more deeply and, in age-appropriate ways, there’s a whole lot of stuff behind there. You know in my classes we spend a lot of time on this, but in age-appropriate ways the parents were unable to help the child to enter into their badness, to see themselves in the context of parental love. 

And what the parenting merely does and this is the easiest parenting in the world. It doesn’t work, but it’s what we do is we move the child to covering their bad by being good. Right? I mean, it’s the simplest thing I do. I see Krista over here acting up. “Krista. Quit hitting. Stop it. Be kind to her.” Now wouldn’t it be cool if you can say that and she’d go, “Oh my gosh. I’m kind. You spoke reality into my soul.” “I am kind.” So it doesn’t work anyways, but I can shape behavior. I can get a whole set of reinforcements going. And these are okay, but if that’s all there is, here’s what you’re teaching the child: that nobody can cover their bad except them. And only they can cover their bad by being good.

This is shame parenting because you know what it does? It just unconsciously, in the deep of the heart, slowly but surely, puts into the mind of the child, sends them a deep message that I must be good to cover my bad. I’m the one who must deal with my bad. No one else can deal with it. I must deal with it and the only way I can deal with my bad is to be good. And I think in the case of both of these individuals, I think there’s a deep, deep belief that they won’t be loved in their bad. That’s going to have incredible ramifications in our prayer life.

Shame parenting is the way I was parented. I was parented. I was raised in North Dakota in a Norwegian farming community area. I was raised by a pair of moderately healthy, neurotic Norwegian farmers. And so here’s what they would say. They would be very kind. “Johnny.” They all spoke that way. I don’t have that anymore. “Johnny. That’s not, not that’s not THE good. No. Johnny.” “That’s not the way a Coe lives. Do the good. Don’t do the bad, Johnny, do the good.“ And then maybe a little spank. The spank was okay. It was very kind. It was very accepting in many ways. It’s what I call Aristotelian-Roman parenting. It’s parenting little moralists to be good children. It’s not Christian. 

You know what the Gospel says?  “Johnny” – my mom says God is Norwegian, of course –  Here’s what the Gospel says, “Johnny, you’re a failure. Johnny, on your own you need me. Johnny, you can’t do it no more. Would you please give up? Johnny, you must learn to abide in me. Here’s grace, Johnny. Here’s me, Johnny. Don’t you want me? Don’t you want to be filled with me, Johnny? Here’s my yoke. My yoke is easy because it’s me. And Johnny, you have no idea what kind of journey I want to take you on. I want to open your heart, Johnny. I want to search it. I want to split it open. I want to take you on the journey of a lifetime. 

I’m going to take you down, Johnny. I’m going to let you see your crap and it will be all love. And I know Johnny, you don’t believe it now, because we believe in the deep. We believe this from original sin. I’m not going to talk about how we get there, but this is what guilt does to us. In guilt and in the way we’re parented every human being coming to the earth at some point believes this – no one will love me in the deep of my bad. They will only love me. That’s why I hide, that’s why I defend.

So here’s just an interesting question for you and me. Did you feel more loved by your parents when you were being good or when you were being bad? Think about that. When you were being a bad little girl, being a good little girl. Where did you feel more loved? If it was when you were being good, how many would say that you would say you probably felt more love being good? Well, it’s alright. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that this has slipped into your prayer life. That this is the deep belief of the heart. And it’s slipped into your conscience. 

You see, we have a conscience kind of like Jiminy the Cricket. Right? “I’ll do good?” That’s the neurotic conscience. The healthy conscience says, “I can’t do it. And God, I don’t want it. I want you now.” That’s what the gospel has taught me. “I want you.” And if it’s slipped into your prayer life that means you’re trying to be good in prayer, trying to become acceptable. Working hard in prayer. Working hard in the disciplines. Working hard in service. In that case, you’re using obedience and spirituality to cover your bad.

Rather, you know what spirituality does? It opens it up. “I’m coming out.” There’s no condemnation. “I’m coming out.” Now this would lead us into an issue of parenting – and I will talk about this next time of how to, in age-appropriate ways, parent your children, so that you can begin to take them into little dips – little dips of opening up and staying, sitting in the weeds, with some of their badness. Not so that they feel condemnation, but rather so that they’ll experience your deep teaching in love in the middle of their badness. 

Cause here’s what I want my daughters to do. See, I really think this is for people who lead education ministries for children. Why are junior highers and high schoolers who are raised in the church often so bored with Christianity and the cross? By the time they get there – I think part of the answer is because they’ve been spending so much of their time in their Christian life being good little boys and girls that the cross doesn’t have any meaning any more. Yes, Jesus died for my sins and how he died so that I could be good. And they’re spending so much time to be so doggone good, so much time trying to be acceptable to their parents, to everything. That Jesus forgave their sins and pardoned them. Those are just kind of words. I need to take my children, again in an age-appropriate way, so that there’s a lot in that mouthful there, into the journey into that place. 

Here’s what I want them to say at 19. We’ll see. I hope they’ll say this: “You know, Dad, I’m a student at Biola now and I see a lot of crap going on at Biola. I see students just unraveling. You know, Dad, I’m so glad you parented me morally. I’m so glad, Dad, that you really did help structure my life although, you know, at times I hated it, because I’m really reaping some of the benefits of self-control and kindness and some of these other – whether they were just pure moral fruits, natural law, or something of the beginning of the Spirit. Doesn’t matter. 

But then here’s what I’m hoping the other side says. But you know, Dad, I also want to thank you for another thing. I want to thank you that you took me on a slow and steady journey into my heart, so that I’ve seen enough of my bad to know that no amount of my being good could ever cover and deal with that badness. Dad, I thank you for that journey, because I need Jesus. I’ve needed Jesus so much and I still do. We’ll see. Because I know as a parent it’s just easier to do what my parents did. “Anna, stop hitting, Krista. Be kind,”

And now this tells me a lot of what I think about parenting, especially with children. And this is how I think psychology has affected me quite a bit – my interactions with it. Especially with young children, I don’t see parenting as primarily discipleship early on. When I am side by side with a disciple and we’re kind of going to Christ. I see, rather, that – that they’ve internalized me as the big one. “Dada.” And my children always wondered how it is that when there was silence and they were doing something wrong. “Anna. Krista.” I’m sure Dad’s God. He knows. You know, their hands are in the cookie jar. Silence is always the tell-tale sign. Something’s up. And so children are going to internalize this as the big one. And so I see especially early on, but even now when my children are 11 years old.

The most fundamental of parenting is modeling the love of God. Is modeling how I can take them into their bad. You know children don’t want to do that. Children don’t even want to admit it. How can I give them as powerful an experience of love in the context of just seeing themselves – Yes, there will be correction, training, but to give them just a powerful experience in their bad. So you know what I hope that helps them come when they get older? That’s what they’ll want to do in prayer. You know, Dad, he journeyed into me in my heart of what was going on and you know something? That was good. That’s what I want to do in prayer. That’s what I hope. That’s not how I was parented. So in prayer I have a whole other set of habits of the heart that the Lord is now beginning to re-teach me.

Fourth Question: How can we resist this temptation to be a Christian moralist?

The fourth question. How can we resist this temptation to be a Christian moralist? How will we do this? This is what the ancient spiritual writers talked about? They called this the recollected heart. To recollect the heart. The recollected heart. Back into the central truths and realities of the Christian life. The central truths, especially as we see in Paul, is that now I am in Christ and Christ is in me. 

This is the very heart of the gospel. And so I’m just going to do this quickly. And this isn’t in your notes, so you’ll have to write this. But what I want to do by the Spirit is I want to open deeply to what the cross has done. And that’s what Paul meant by being in Christ. And I want to open deeply now to the Spirit – and that’s Christ in me.

And so first, what does it mean to open to the cross? To open to what he did on that cross. Let me just read 2 Corinthians 5:21 to you. This is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made him who knew no sin” – He, this is the Father, made Jesus who knew no sin – “to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God.” Now, in that statement is hid our whole doctrine of what we call justification by faith. Now I want to talk about that just briefly. And I want to bring up something – again this is a little theology here – this is an idea of what is called the double imputation.

The first time I heard that I thought, “That sounds exciting.” The double imputation. Some theologian thought that up at night and he wasn’t thinking of that being very exciting. But here’s what the double imputation doctrine is: to impute means to reckon. To impute means to set to somebody’s account and what we see in 2 Corinthians 5, in this doctrine of justification by faith, there were two imputations. 

There were two where God set something to somebody’s account and the first one is this: When Jesus was on the cross – and you all know this – when Jesus was on the cross all of my sin was imputed to him. All of my sin: past, present, future, everything. In Galatians 3:13 it says while Jesus was on the cross he became a curse, so that we would be redeemed from the curse of the law. And so the first imputation is that here, me, a sinner, God somehow to Christ, who knew no sin, he took all of my sin, all of your sin, so that the Son, the Son of God became sin. He became sin who knew no sin. 

And as a result for me, it’s pardoned. That’s Romans 8:1. There is no condemnation. There is no condemnation on you anymore. You are not guilty anymore, because Christ took all of that. Well, now what I want to do by the Spirit is I want to deeply meditate on that truth that if there’s no condemnation - “God, if that is really true.” If God looks at me and says, “John, everything that you’ve done wrong. Everything that you’ll do wrong. It was on my Son. You are pardoned.”

If that’s the case, then you know what I want to do? Then the spiritual formation implication is this: “Then John, come out of hiding. Then, come out of hiding. Don’t try to hide from seeing your bad, because all of your bad has already been forgiven.” When we experience our badness I cannot help but slip back into my father Adam’s habit. He feels the condemnation, the guilt. When I tell my children about their bad, I see this immediately. Caught. Wouldn’t it be cool if they said, “Oh cool, Dad. Now I can come out of hiding with you. Now I can tell you how really bugged I am with Anna. Now, I hit her. But let me tell you. I wanted to kill her.” 

If my sins are really put on him, then doggone it, John, come out of hiding in prayer. You have the opportunity with someone even more than Greta to share everything, to share absolutely everything and to be taken on a journey with the yoke of Christ to be taught and to learn something deep about what he has to teach me of why I’ve become the way I’ve become and why I still sin when I know so much – that will be next time – we’re going to talk about this journey into the heart. 

I want to recollect my heart continually, God, and these last three days I’ve actually been sick. I’ve had the stomach flu or food poisoning. I don’t know what it was. But during this time in bed it has been so great, because I have spent literally hours just opening my heart, “God, no condemnation. I really am pardoned.” And beginning to see pockets in my heart that don’t believe that and I want to open those to the Father. And I see places of hardness on my daughters where there’s condemnation. You see it’s one thing to convict; it’s another thing to condemn. That’s the issue of guilt.

The other imputation is what I’ve really pondered these last three days in bed. And this was the last part of the verse: “He made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God.” This is so great. The second imputation is where here is Jesus – so here’s our Lord who merited righteousness. Did you ever wonder why He didn’t just come to the earth, die, get it over with? 

This is what theologians call his act of obedience. He was obedient in life because why? He merited before God righteousness. And what God did – this is the incredible act – He imputed to you and me who do not have any – I don’t have my righteousness – He imputed to me, so that now I have the righteousness of Christ. That is the great point of Paul’s being in Christ. That in Christ I have his righteousness, meaning everything he merited is now mine not because I did it, but because the Father just says, “That’s how I’m going to relate to John Coe now, through the acts of my Son.”

You know what that means for me? That means like Ephesians 1:6 says, “I am totally accepted in the Beloved.” I am not accepted just as I am. I am accepted in the Beloved. I am totally accepted. I want to meditate deep on that truth. I want to open my heart to that, that if he totally accepts me then, “Why, John, are you wasting your time trying to be so acceptable to others? And why are you wasting time working so hard even to be acceptable to Him?” And my advice to my own soul is “John, don’t try to cover your bad by being good. You’re already accepted in the Beloved.” Rather this: live in the light of your bad. Obey in the light of your bad. Not to cover the bad. “God, here I am. This is where I am. I come to you. I want you.” 

And then secondly, I want to open to Christ in me now. I’ve been redeemed by the Spirit, Titus 3:5, through the washing of regeneration. And now I want to learn. And this I grew up totally retarded in. How do I walk in the Spirit? How do I open to the Spirit? How do I be filled with the Spirit?

Now this is what I’ll be interested in the next weeks. “But God, I don’t want to live alone anymore.” You know, I’m a grinder. Anybody a grinder here? I’ll sit in the shower and I’ll have to do budgets for institutes and I’ll be thinking about it and I’m just …. You know, I don’t want to do that anymore apart from him. I just want to do that with him. “God, I want to invite you into this. I want to do this with you. I want to learn to open to you.”

And so, the cross has made it possible for three things in my mind on this. The first is to come out of hiding. Let your prayer life be a place of: “God, I want to share everything with you cause that’s where the love is at. That’s where the transforming power is at. That’s where the transformation of the soul in part will be. There’s other things and we’ll talk of this.

Second thing the cross has made possible is I can stop covering myself with my goodness. I can give up on that project to make myself accepted.

And the third thing – and what I want to do now in obedience, because there’s a place for obedience, is to present myself. This is Romans 12:1-2. It’s to present myself to him for his work. It’s to present myself to him relationally, “God, do your work.” And so, I tell my students at ISF when you obey, when you serve, when you do whatever you’re doing, never think that transforms you. That’s not the truth. All that your obedience and spiritual disciplines and prayers do is they are ways of presenting yourself relationally to the Spirit for him to begin a work.

These are just prayers – I wrote these down for you. These are prayers or intentions of the heart. We’ll talk later in week – I think week 4 – about how to maybe do more with these. But right now these are just prayers of intentions. This is what you can do now. You can just pray this. Tonight. Tomorrow. Next day. 

“Lord, I don’t want to deal with my guilt in the power of the self. Lord, I don’t want to deal with my guilt by hiding. I don’t want to be afraid of seeing myself. I don’t want to hide. I just want to come into the open with You because You’re the lover of my soul. Why should I be afraid of seeing it when you see it all and you love me? Then, take me on a journey of love.”

Bottom line in spiritual formation that we’ll talk about next week – is that the Spirit’s loving power, that’s where the power of transformation is. And I want to open these places to experience His love. I can’t just say he loves me. That won’t do it, because there are deep places in my heart that won’t believe that. You know where this will bring you into? This will bring you into deeper weakness. It will bring you into deeper neediness.

This is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 where Paul says I learned the secret that power is perfected in weakness. We don’t believe that. We believe just like the world does that power is perfected in power. That’s why I’m tempted always in fortitude. And yet, the Lord is so kind to us. He does so many things to bring us always to, “God, I need you.” That’s where His power is perfected. “God, I need You.” 

I don’t want to minister out of my strength. Some people say we minister out of the abundance. I think that’s wrong. We minister out of weakness. We minister, as Nouwen said, as wounded healers, “Oh my God I need you. I need you.” Otherwise, if we minister out of our strength, you’re going to spend your whole life trying to get strong. Boy, that’s tough, because I know that. I’m tempted daily to do that.

The second prayer of intention. Lord, I no longer want to deal with my shame with the power of myself.  I don’t want to be good as a way to cover. I don’t want to try to fix myself, grow myself by myself. “Lord, I want to open to your righteousness to be my covering. I am accepted in you. And I want to obey in the light of my badness. God, this is what I am. I come to you.”

Relational Christianity. This is where Paul says in Philippians 3:7 that he doesn’t want a righteousness of his own based on obedience to the Law, but he wants a righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. That’s what his life is about. Being good is a way to deal with your badness that takes so much energy. What a waste of a life. What a waste of a ministry. To work to be accepted when you’re already accepted. But that’s going to be a journey into the heart to experience the acceptance.

Third prayer of intention. “God, I no longer want to live the Christian life alone with the power of the self. God, I  want to learn to depend upon you. I want to learn to abide in the Vine.” This is a prayer of intention. “God, I don’t even know what I’m talking about. This is what I want. Today as I go out, God, I want to learn this process. Take me on a long journey that I don’t just live in the power of my good efforts.” 

You know, those of you who have good character, that has served you well up to now. But as I am going to look more deeply in the next weeks that can become the thing that you trust. You trust in your good character to carry you through where the Spirit now we want to call you to, “Oh God, may I trust in you.” But we’ll talk about that more.

A fourth prayer of intention. Just to add at this point is this. Is to say, “God when I obey, let it be just a way of presenting myself to you. God, don’t let my obedience think that that’s transformative. But let my obedience just be a way of watching for you. Opening to you.” Obedience is supposed to be a given. But obedience is presenting the body. Opening of our self to what he’s doing.

Fifth Question: What will happen to me and my spiritual life if I cannot resist moral temptation?

Now, the last question. What will happen to me? What will happen to me and my spiritual life if I cannot resist the moral temptation? The first is pretty harsh. Christ will be of no benefit to you in the spiritual life. Christ will be of no benefit to you in the spiritual life of growth. 

Listen to this text in Galatians 5:1ff, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Don’t go back to the Law. “Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you do go back to the Law. If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.”  

What he means is if you go back to a life of this moralism, there will be no power of Christ in your Christian life. You’ll be on your own. This is just obvious. You’re doing all the work. Christ will be of no benefit to you because you’re doing it all. In that case the Christian life will come to a place where it’ll feel like just work. No power and no love. And you know when that occurs? You know what you should be saying to yourself? Yum. Mmm. Because God wants to take me on another journey now. Now I’m ready. I wasn’t ready before. I was very satisfied with my life. God is ready to take me on another journey.

A second is we will become more like a Martha than a Mary. Remember Martha, wonderful woman, a woman of faith?  Remember in the Luke text? In the Luke text this is when Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha is out in the kitchen. This is what I would call a morally distracted woman. It’s very interesting in the Greek here, it says that Martha was distracted in her many preparations. You know the word preparations there? It’s the word diakonion. This is the book of Luke. It’s written post-Pentecost. By the time the people are reading the book of Luke when they read that word she’s distracted in her diakonion. Diakonion by this time has become a technical word for deaconessing. She was distracted in her deaconessing, in her serving. 

And now notice what Martha says. “Lord, I want to be out there sitting at your feet. Would you just get Mary in the kitchen?” Is that what she says? No. She says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me. What I’m doing is more important. Tell her to come out here.” Wow. And Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things. Martha, a few are necessary one.” In the Greek, it’s just one. “For Mary has chosen the good part and that cannot be taken away from her.” You see, at that point, Martha, a very good woman of faith, has slipped into her moralism. And Jesus just wants to say, you know Mary has - She is relationally attached to me. She’s sitting here. That’s what this Christian life is going to be about.

I just end by saying here that the life of hiding and of covering, of using spirituality to avoid painful self-awareness – that’s an awful burden to carry. You and I trying to do the Christian life is an incredible burden. I want to encourage us, don’t be afraid of your sin. Don’t be afraid of sitting in your weeds with your Lord. Opening to your need for the cross daily. And on that ground, on that ground, in the openness of what I am, “God, I love you. I need you. Here I am.” And when I stumble and fall, “Yup. There it is again. God, that’s so good to know. Here I am. I want to stay connected.”

I want to pray for us. And then I’ll want to just give you some thoughts about some of the things that are in your binder. And, unfortunately, I don’t want to keep us longer so I was going to have time for questions and answers, but I guess, we’ll, you know, just stay with us. But next time I’ll be totally open to any questions about this. But let’s pray.

Our Lord, we come. And God we are from our parents. Little moralists. I don’t like seeing my bad. I like others to see goodness. I like seeing goodness. But you know, Lord, that doesn’t lead me to deeper dependence on you. Lord, sometimes I want to be perfect because then I can be self-sufficient. I just want you to ask in your own heart, “Lord, is there a little moralist in me? Is there someone who – when I hear conviction – my abiding response is, ‘God, I’ll do better. I’ll work harder.’” Just open to that a moment. Is that true? Just open that to the Lord right now. Just say, “God, I can’t do that apart from you. I want you to live within and through me. Take me on that journey, Lord.” Father, we need you so much. Watch over our hearts and souls. We bless you in Jesus’ name, Our Savior. Amen.

If you would, just look at the – the next pages. I think on the next page is there the handout that says The Temptation of Moral Formation? Now I’m a professor. I’m a nerd. So I’m always going to have an assignment. What I do at the Institute is I can’t tell my students, Go write a 15-page paper on this. That would be crazy. I want to say go pray about this. Just go bring this to the Lord. And so I’d give them a prayer project. And that’s what some of our classes are just riddled with. I just want them to take this into prayer. 

And so, if this is something that might be good for you. Do it even with a partner and so you then come to talk about it together or just doing it on your own. You might just do this and, number one, just take counsel in your soul and with the Lord regarding the degree to which you’re tempted by moral formation, to use obedience and spirituality to cover.

Enter this deeply with the Lord to experience the truth of how this permeates your life. Don’t run from this stuff. What I suggest is you don’t confess things too quickly. We’ll talk about confession of sin. Be not afraid. He knows you. Just open this to him. And as you do this, again you are accepted in the Beloved. This is an opportunity to come out of hiding. While you do this – and it happens to me all the time – when I’m convicted of sin, I often feel condemnation in that. You know why? Because that’s my own internal stuff saying, “Aha. Aha. Aha. You’re not so good, Johnny. Johnny.” That’s when I have to come back to the cross. “Oh, God.”

You know, I teach this all the time. Three days ago I was praying in my office and I was thinking about something with Greta. And I immediately started going into these places and was like, “Oh my God. God, God, just help me to come out. God, just show me more deeply in these next few minutes of how true that is in my life. God, you’re my lover. Right there. I was three or four minutes into the cranking, condemning. My first response was, “God, I really need to work on that with Greta, because that isn’t good.” Right there, man. Right there.

You can read the rest of these. You might think about taking some time to take counsel in your soul. And, basically, I just took our notes and worked it through a way that you can pray and think and take this into the heart and just open it to him. I really want to encourage you to do it because, you know something, it’s one thing to listen to me. It’s another thing now to open it to prayer. With God and your soul all kinds other stuff go on. I want you to say while you pray, watch, because watch to see what happens in your soul. All the little voices come up.  You’ll feel frustrated. “Oh, why am I like this?”

The last thing is there’s an article there, where I took some of those ideas and I’ve written it for our Talbot Journal and you can read that as well. If you would like for next week to kind of get ahead, since we don’t have anything to do in our lives, of course. Professors always think that. On the next week I wrote an article for a theological society. It’s called, “The Hidden Heart: Why we sin when we know so much.” You can go ahead and read that, too. And that’s what I’ll be speaking on for next week. And next week I’ll also have time for questions about what we did tonight as well as next time. Okay? So God be with you. Peace. And I’ll stay around if you want to come and talk. Thank you.

Log in to take this quiz.