This year, GYC Europe held its first FOCUS event. FOCUS is a local conference and the idea is to have three installations in each place. The first one is called “Coming to Christ” and has five workshops. In this article series, the presenters share a part of their workshop with us in the form of an article.—Editor.
“So, what are you going to do now?” the question sounded in my mind.
Earlier that morning, I had gone a step too far. All of my friends had this exciting new toy, but I didn’t. I was too scared to ask my parents for it. “They wouldn’t buy it” I thought, “so how can I get this toy?” I knew that my friend had said that if I gave him the money, his mum would buy it. That sounded like a plan. The problem was I didn’t have the money. “How am I going to get this money then?” I asked myself. An answer developed quickly: “Dad keeps his money by the stained glass window.” I knew what the thought implied. “But Adam, you shouldn’t steal” another thought came. “Yes, but I want the toy! How else can I get it?” I replied. It was settled. As I left for school I took £30 from dad’s storing place, stuffed it in my bag, and went to school. I gave “my” money to my friend, and the act was done.
Evening came, and there I was, ten years old, standing at the bottom of my stairs with a face full of worry. The question came again: “So what are you going to now?”
What do you think I should have done?
Okay, let me ask you another question.
What would you have done?
Were your answers different? I know mine were. I knew that I should go and apologize to my dad, it would be the best thing to do, but… I couldn’t.
Have you been in a similar situation before? Have you tried to hide something that you knew you shouldn’t have done? Maybe all of us have. However, have you ever considered why we try to hide it? Why do we pretend as if nothing ever happened? For me, I began to think how angry my dad would be. I feared feeling rejected. I thought that I would be unloved. In other words, my decision to hide my wrong deed was based on this thought:
“If I pretend, I will be more accepted than if I were to be real and upfront with my mistakes.”
Generally, I think this is why we pretend. For example, I thought that if I pretended to have a girlfriend, I would be more accepted to my social peers than if I admitted I actually didn’t have one. I hope you get my point. Many times, the act of pretending is our attempt to alter our identity to secure a sense of acceptance which we think we would not receive if we were being honest and real.
Allow me to share another story.
I remember when I was really battling with pornography. To cut a longer story short, I was addicted. The thing was this, I knew that I shouldn’t do it. However, I couldn’t stop, and this was very frustrating. There came a time when, in total disgust with myself, I said to God something like this:
“I promise… I will never watch this again.”
Well, in the process of time, it turned out that my promise wasn’t strong enough, and, soon enough, I watched what I shouldn’t have watched… again. To combat this tide of evil, guess what I did? I made another promise.
“God, I promise… I will never watch this again.”
My words made no difference. Over and over again, I promised, and then failed. Promised, and then failed. Promised, and then failed. Ellen White gives a very striking commentary on this experience:
“You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you.”—Ellen White, Steps to Christ, 47 (emphasis supplied).
That’s exactly how I felt. How can God accept me now? I have promised Him many times before and I still can’t do it; God cannot accept me. God cannot love me. Can you empathize with my experience?
There’s another thought that comes along with the feeling that God cannot accept us because of our failures, and I think it is seen in the words of that son we often call “the prodigal son”. Maybe you know the story. The son asks his father for his share of the goods, goes away and basically makes a ruin of his life. As he was contemplating and desiring to partake of some pigs’ food, he finally comes to his mind and says:
“How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” Luke 15:17–19.
There is this son, sitting in the fields, maybe dirty clothes, uncombed hair, grubby fingernails, homeless, hungry, unworthy, and all of this because of his stupid choices. He makes a resolution to say to his father: “Make me as one of thy hired servants.” He thought that he could work to be in his father’s house. He thought that his future actions could somehow remedy his dire situation, making it more likely that he would be accepted back at his father’s house. Do you see the point? He thought he could earn, by his actions, some kind of favour, some kind of acceptance that he felt he could not have if he just came as a very messed up son. Just as I tried to pretend that I hadn’t stolen from my dad because I feared my father’s rejection, this son wanted to assume a different identity, anticipating he too would be rejected, “unworthy to be called . . . son” by his father.
Don’t we do the same thing?
Remember those promises that we make? “I promise that I will never…” Why do we promise that? Is it because we don’t want to do it again? Most likely, yes. However, deeper down, I think we often promise these things because we feel that God won’t accept us unless we show Him that we are not so filthy, not so sinful, not so unworthy. That’s why we often feel more confident to come to God when we have done something “good” even though our heart is just full of sin. We think that by “pretending”, by trying to be something that we are actually not, by trying to be seen as good when we are actually very evil, God would accept us more than if we came to Him as we really were.
That’s where we are gravely mistaken.
The Bible describes Jesus’ dying for us as a purchase, a kind of financial transaction, like buying something. 1 Peter 1:18–19. Now, imagine you were to buy a Nokia 3210. You may not remember it, but for the sake of the illustration, let’s just say it’s a phone without a camera. After buying it, knowing full well that this phone doesn’t have a camera, would you be surprised that it doesn’t have a camera? Of course not! Why not? You knew what you were buying. With that in mind, look at what Jesus “bought” through His death?
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8.
Christ bought you when you were still a sinner! So would He be surprised when all you can bring to Him is sin? No! Jesus knows what He bought. Ellen White makes it clear:
“Jesus loves to have us come to Him just as we are, sinful, helpless, dependent. We may come with all our weakness, our folly, our sinfulness, and fall at His feet in penitence. It is His glory to encircle us in the arms of His love and to bind up our wounds, to cleanse us from all impurity.”—Ellen White, Steps to Christ, 52 (emphasis supplied).
Take some time to think about that. When we were worrying about coming to Jesus with our messed up lives, trying to figure out how we could pretend to be something else, Jesus was waiting all along to receive us because He just “loves” to have us come to Him “just as we are, sinful, helpless, dependent.”
You cannot convince God to accept you more by pretending to be something else. He knows what He bought, and He wants what He bought, and He can make a difference in the lives of those He bought. Come to Christ now. Why pretend?
Adam Hazel is the director of Matteson Mission School.