Confessions of a Man with a Sick Identity

My wife Carla almost died on our honeymoon. Traveling to Colorado for a two week vacation, we spent Sunday night in Iowa. The next morning Carla vomited, had diarrhea and a fever. We went to a doctor. He gave an antibiotic and told us to remain in town.

We treated Carla’s symptoms. When she felt feverish, she took Tylenol and cold baths to reduce her temperature. But soon she felt worse, so I bought a thermometer. Her temperature was 104.9 degrees. I called the doctor. He said, “Get her to the hospital immediately.”

Carla remained in the hospital five days. If we had waited to bring her in—the doctors said—she would have died. As it was, she barely survived.

(My brother’s response to Carla’s nausea and diarrhea was, “I told her not to kiss you!” Ah, family!)

My wife’s life was saved by a finely calibrated thermometer. It drove us to the hospital. Letting a finely calibrated understanding of the Law can drive us to God.

The Law?

I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). In it, Jesus finely calibrates the demands of the Law (like, “You’ve heard it said don’t murder; … but I say to you … whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”).

Yikes!

I struggle with the deep demands of the Law because I don’t want shame. But sensing “shame” can actually be useful. Shame reveals an identity that comes from behavior instead of God’s love. Shame is a symptom of our real problem: the love of God is not real enough in our hearts.

A legalist is not someone who keeps a bunch of petty rules (though many think so), nor is it someone who makes a bunch of petty rules (though many think so). A legalist is someone who gets an identity from the rules (whether they keep them or not).

Alas; that also means that I’m a legalist. At least occasionally.

A legalist can be proud, ashamed, or fearful.  Proud legalists don’t look at the depths of heart change that the Law demonstrates; I sometimes say, “I’d never do that.” Ashamed legalists see how they fall short of what the Law demonstrates; I sometimes feel condemned. Fearful legalists don’t look at the Law at all; I sometimes hide behind biblical truths like, “I’m saved by faith not works,” or “I have a new heart.”

Symptoms vs. disease

The Law is a painting of how a Christ changed heart will look when we let his word reach maturity in our heart. Think of how beautiful the world would be if everyone lived according to the Golden Rule (“Act toward others as you wish they’d act toward you,” Matt. 7:12).

My wife Carla had a serious infection but she and I merely treated the feverish symptoms with Tylenol and cold baths. A thermometer finally drove us to treat the disease.

I tend to treat symptoms rather than the disease. If I’m ashamed, I quit reading the finally calibrated moral Law; or I work really hard to do better. But I’m not dealing with the disease.

If we respond to the Law with shame, fear or working really hard, let’s treat those responses as symptoms. We’re still getting our identity from our behavior (our doing) rather than from resting in Christ’s love (our being).

Joy

Jesus and Simon (a Pharisee) discussed a prostitute who was washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus said that “she loves much because she’s been forgiven much, while Simon loves little because he’s been forgiven little” (Luke 7:47 paraphrased).

A good Law thermometer will show us how far we fall short of the Law—but let’s not stop there!

It also shows how much we are loved and forgiven. We can say, “Wow, I’ve never murdered, but I often think others are morons…and I’ve been forgiven for all those times! I’m much more loved and forgiven than I ever imagined.

Knowing the depth of being forgiven brings love and joy. It creates a rich identity.

Like Carla and me on our honeymoon, let’s let a finely calibrated thermometer drive us to the Doctor for a deep healing of our deepest identity.

Sam

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart. All rights reserved.

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6 Responses to Confessions of a Man with a Sick Identity

  1. Mark Wilby says:

    Deeper healing of our deepest identity — the inner man. It seems there is always something deeper. The deeper we go the more love we need: the love of God poured in imparting more of the divine life.

    • Mark,

      Great comment. There is a great synergy here: “the deeper we go the more love we need” (as you say) AND … the more love we have the deeper we are willing to go.

      Thanks. It is great to journey together again (after 30 years!) in discovering the inner man, the diving life.

      Sam

  2. Jeff Andrechyn says:

    Sam

    First of all really enjoyed this post and your great sense of the dramatic because you “have to” open the main body of the email to “hear the rest of the story.”

    You rightly captured the essence of the Sermon on the Mount by saying Jesus “finely calibrates” the demands of the law. There still remains in this feeling like “I can do this,” but Jesus finely calibrates me out of such thinking. I need another life to live by!

    That brings truth and understanding to me, so thank-you.

    For me the christian life is shutting down my inner Pharisee and learning the “law of the spirit of life” that now operates in me.

    Your brother
    Jeff

    • Jeff,

      You have too many good lines here. First, “There still remains in this feeling like “I can do this,” but Jesus finely calibrates me out of such thinking.” EXACTLY!

      Then, your line, “The Christian life is shutting down my inner Pharisee.” Oh, I hope me too!

      Yes, we are learning the “law of the spirit of life.” When I fee shame or fear or pride, come Father and free my heart to know your love and you life.

      Thanks.

  3. Bill says:

    Great insight. Especially on shame. I find that shame can make me feel quilt and worthless among people and God. But the truth is inspite of what I have done Jesus has forgiven me and loves me, and I am of much value and worth. Yes shame can be good when I allow it to see how much God loves me and not cause me to withdraw into despair.

    Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comment. You get it when you say, “shame can be good when I allow it to see how much God loves me and not cause me to withdraw into despair.”

      We normally let shame lead us to despair. Instead, let’s see it as a symptom of something deeper: WE NEED TO KNOW HIS LOVE– and (even better!) GOD WANTS US TO KNOW HIS LOVE.

      Thanks so much for a great comment.

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