Me, Myself, and I

I wonder what they think of me.

I wish I had some time for myself, some self-care, maybe some pizza and a good movie. 

I’m so sick of the same sins that I battle all the time. I can’t seem to just fully get free of my struggles. 

If I could only eat better, be organized, be more fit, then I could really make a difference. I just need to improve my life. 

My upbringing was the worst, the job I recently left was so hard on me, none of the circumstances of my life have been fair at all. 

Have you ever had any of these thoughts? If we’re being honest, some of these go through our minds, right? In our day-to-day lives, we are focused on ourselves. That first one is the worst for me. I over-analyze every conversation, text message, or e-mail to make sure that I was perfectly articulate and kind in all that I said. I’m so introspective. To a fault. My wife regularly has to remind me to shut up and let things go.

Some of us live our lives focused entirely on self-indulgence and self-care. We focus so much on making it to the weekend, getting away from responsibilities, filling our own souls up with what we need to keep going. As naturally selfish people, we can consistently put ourselves before others.

Self-improvement Christianity runs rampant in our current church culture. Sermons, books, articles, blogs, and podcasts all fill our minds with the idea that we can go to Jesus and His Word with a focus on improving ourselves. We learn of habits to help us overcome anger, pride, fear, anxiety, lust, doubt. We learn of habits to help us be better servants, friends, church members, neighbors, parents, spouses.

We listen to messages that tell us that God wants to help us achieve our dreams, God wants us to loosen up and accept grace, God wants to help us be better versions of ourselves. At first glance, this seems all good and right. The gospel and the Bible both impact how we live. We are called to get rid of that which hinders our faith and replace it with that which cultivates our love for God and neighbor.

But, the gospel is not about self-improvement. The gospel is not about God sprinkling a little bit of magic pixie dust on our problems and difficulties. The gospel is not a supplement we can take to help us be better. The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is about God taking us from death to life.

One vein of self-improvement Christianity that has become supremely popular is the brokenness obsession. You can read and listen to a lot of Christian media that encourages the reader or listener to lighten up, to accept the sins you struggle with, to be your ‘authentic’ self.

All of what I’ve written about so far is focused entirely inward.

There’s a better way for me to live.

There’s a better way for you to live.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can find the freedom that Jesus intended for us.

In her book, Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self Focus, Lydia Brownback unpacks in detail much of what I just described. It was such a good book, I devoured it in two days. I would encourage you to get it and give it a read.

There are a litany of quotes I would love to share from this book, I’ll focus on just one though.

Christ is our identity too, if we’ve been united to him by faith. Sometimes we forget that. Some of us have never understood it. And it gets obscured by our naturally self-oriented hearts. 

That’s some good stuff right there.

That’s some good stuff based off of Galatians 2.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

When we fully grasp the message of the gospel, we look outside of ourselves, and we are set free to flourish in good works towards others.

If I spent as much time out in our community as I did inwardly over-analyzing how people perceived me, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time serving others as I did striving to create a better version of myself through self-improvement, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time diving into God’s Word and prayer as I did unwinding through entertainment, I guarantee you that I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life.

If I took my eyes off myself, believing that the truth of Galatians 2:20 applies to every facet of my life, I guarantee you that I would become more aware of how God is at work in the community around me.

So my encouragement for you is to immerse yourself in Scripture. Not self-help books that tell you to accept yourself and be your best self. Not podcasts that teach you that God can help you achieve all of your dreams. Get into Scripture. Remind yourself of what the overarching story of the Bible teaches us about who we are. We have been hidden with Christ. Our identity is in Him.

That means I don’t have to devote time to wondering what people think of me.

That means you don’t have to endlessly pursue the next self-improvement plan.

That means we don’t have to endlessly pursue the next activity that will help us feel better about ourselves.

That means we don’t have to parade our accomplishments before others in order to be praised by men.

It means we can focus on others.

It means we can live out the gospel.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Grace Isn’t For Me

Yesterday, I forgot the gospel.

The day before, I forgot the gospel.

Tuesday, I forgot the gospel.

Now, I obviously don’t have a memory loss problem. (I mean not that I know of.) What I do have is a heart that is fleshly, a heart that is sinful, a heart that is forgetful.

As a pastor, I preach and teach the good news of Jesus multiple times a week. I do so in large groups, I do so in small groups, I do so one on one. Constantly the message of the gospel is being spoken by me. I hope and pray and hope some more that it is bearing fruit in the hearts of those I proclaim it to.

What has become frustrating to me though is the fact that I could speak all day about the gospel and believe that it applies to others, but in my heart and mindset at home, I don’t allow it to be applied to me.

Here’s a clear example of what I mean. I distinctly remember one day in May 2016, not long after I graduated, when my inability to accept the gospel was probably the most stark. It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting with my church community as we partook of the Lord’s Supper together.  

I remember it clear as day. We were passing out the elements, and as I sat there, I told myself “grace doesn’t apply to you.”

The Lord’s Supper, in my church tradition, is simply a pointing back to the work of Christ on the cross. We don’t receive grace when we take it each time, rather it is a reminder of the total and complete grace we received by putting our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

My heart and mind refused to allow me to rest in grace.

Even though I took the bread and the cup, my mind kept saying, “You can’t accept this grace. You’re a pastor who sins. You’re garbage. This grace isn’t for you. You are supposed to lead people but you yourself are trash.” This went through my head on repeat.

This was only a few weeks after being ordained to be a pastor. To me, the fact that people saw God’s call on my life to be a pastor and my own inability to overcome all sinful desires in my heart didn’t compute. I was a fraud.

On that immensely painful day, I had forgotten the message of the gospel.

I wish I could say that was the last time I forgot the message of the gospel. To be transparent, that’s one of the harder parts of my job as a pastor. I absolutely know and believe that Scripture says I’m held to a higher standard. But way too often I hold myself to a higher standard than the message of the gospel. I refuse to accept grace and walk in forgiveness. Instead, I try and punish myself emotionally and mentally in penance.

Maybe, you’re like me.

Maybe, you doubt grace.

Maybe, your sin seems greater than God’s love for you.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7

That’s the message of the gospel. God is rich in mercy. He loves us. He loved us. Even when we were dead as a result of our sins against Him. He made us alive with Christ, He saved us BY GRACE. Now we are seated with Him in glory (even if we’ve still got work to do here on earth). This is the gospel.

What we modern Christians forget sometimes is that Paul wrote Ephesians to followers of Jesus. This book (like many if not all of Paul’s letters) was not an evangelistic piece. Rather, it was a letter written to those who were already following Jesus. Yet, Paul reminds the people of the message of the gospel. Why?

Because we’re all prone to forget what the gospel tells us about ourselves. We all forget how we’re viewed by God. We all forget that we’ve already been made perfect in the eyes of God. Just look at the books of Galatians and Hebrews. These were people who were forgetting that they were perfect in God’s eyes, and so they fell back into legalistic and religious tendencies in order to give themselves assurance of their salvation.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel is not something you move on from. The gospel is the beauty of the Biblical story, it is the message of our freedom.

I’ll be honest, I still forget what the gospel says about me. I still allow myself to be defined by my sins and shortcomings. That’s why I need to remind myself of the gospel every single day. That’s why I need people in my life reminding myself of the gospel every single day.

But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. – Hebrews 3:13

We fall into sin, we fall into the lies of the enemy when we are not being encouraged by one another daily. The individualism of our day and age in churches drives me insane. How arrogant of us to think we can do it alone.

I need to preach the gospel to myself every single day.

I need you to remind me of it too.

If you see in me a falling back towards earning the grace of God, call me lovingly into repentance and back under the never-ending, unceasing grace and mercy of God.

Preaching the gospel to yourself daily means saturating your heart and mind in the truths of the good news of Jesus found in Scripture.

In His Name,

Nate Roach