The Great Exchange - 1

Although I am now in my "second spiritual formation," this account has to do with my "first spiritual formation, which began at age nine. At that time, I set out to follow Jesus and learned much about the Bible and the Christian life. For reasons I will try to explain, though I knew Jesus, the True Foundation, my spiritual foundation was wrapped around a destructive shame-based religious system.

I was not born with emotional dependency. I learned its ugly, manipulative behavior, and taught myself how to use it to my benefit, unknowingly looking for someone I could please, or even sabotage. I lived inside walls of guilt and shame rather than the freedom of gratitude.

As a child and teenage girl in Northern Indiana, my family was very involved in two churches that were dear to me, a larger conservative church in town and a smaller country mission-sponsored church out in the country about two miles from our farm. In the mission church, in addition to our cleaning the church every week, my dad kept the coal heater burning in the winter, my mom was the Sunday school superintendent, and I played piano for church services. I am eternally grateful that through the ministry of these two churches, I embraced the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior, grow in the Word and get God's Word into my heart through memorizing scripture.

Yet, within many conservative, evangelical Gospel-preaching churches there were and still are definite spiritually-abusive situations and dangerous pitfalls, spawned in part, by an excessive emphasis on legalistic living.

Legalism is pursuing good works with the intention of earning God’s favor. The point is, in one way or another, to save one’s self. It is trusting our works to make us more pleasing to God without believing that God justifies us by faith alone. Legalism completely bypasses God's grace toward us, which is so necessary in experiencing the forgiveness of God. Both the churches I attended and most churches today would agree that we should not trust our works, "... all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).

Still, in many of these churches, we heard of grace but lived legalism, actually embracing the falsehood of the Christian experience as life under the Old Covenant, rather than the New. In my first spiritual formation, grace was only a beautiful name for a lady and a nice subject for a song.

As a child, I learned these verses in Sunday school and vacation Bible school. Jesus identified it the first and greatest commandment. Perhaps you memorized it also: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mark 12:30-32 KJV).

Yes, these were the verses we learned and recited. But in real life, something was curiously changed in the translation. The way this scripture was lived out in our church and in my home was this:

“Thou shalt please the Lord thy God with all thy heart, ... and thou shalt please thy neighbor as thyself."

Because I am His child, I already have all of His love and all of His favor that's available. I can't buy, earn, or deserve more, because I already possess it all. The first and greatest commandment is to love. The meaning is clear. Love means love. When we get into trying to please God in exchange for His favor and love, the cycle never ends. Can we ever please Him enough, or is there always something better or something more we could do? To win His heart, is there something we need to stop doing?

Have you discovered that the greatest exchange of all time is the Old Covenant for the New, our unrighteousness for His righteousness, our performance for His passion, and our works for His finished work?

When we understand how much God loves us we want to embrace the "trade in." And the good news is -- it's always a "trade UP"!

Mary LehmanComment