Tell me the truth.
“You will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free.” – John 8:31-33
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:5-7
I’ve been experiencing two of the most radically transformative months of my life. I’ve journaled over 60 single-spaced pages (in my signature itty-bitty handwriting) recently, and I’ve been attempting to figure out how to compress so many layers of revelation and liberty into a concise blog.
I haven’t yet figured out how.
So here’s the not-so-concise verson:
Much of the past 4 years of my life I’ve spent in a cyclical effort to “get myself free” from the residual un-health, disorder, failures, standards and expectations of the previous 9 years. Those 9 years from 12 to 21 were my years of buying wholesale into the slavery of an eating disorder and rigid perfectionism. That’s a well-established (and published) part of my history.
But the nearly four years that followed my “bottoming-out” experience and my time in treatment (I consider 2008 to be the major turning point), have largely felt jumbled, confusing, and — like I said — cyclical. I went through cycle after cycle of trying to “really feel free.” That usually meant finding some new deliverance ministry, prayer time, schedule, habit, friendship, etc, and attempting to get it to be my ultimate bridge to really feeling liberated from all of my “issues.” Inevitably, these avenues always failed (or I failed in my attempts at them), and I was left disappointed and thoroughly convinced that underneath it all, I’d simply never be completely free from my deep internal struggles — that every avenue would fail me, and I’d always be enslaved in some measure to weird eating habits (remnant of my eating disorder days), shame, guilt, self-contempt, powerlessness, and insecurity.
God still loves me, I’d think to myself. But I’m just a messed up sinner, whom He calls His own anyway.
There were good days, weeks, and sometimes months in that span, to be sure. But rather than contentment/peace/joy being my “base-line,” they were (to my mind) the aberrations that upsetted the “usual course” of my life — that usual course being sub-standard living, failure, disappointment, and unworthiness.
If you can’t tell already: this is a serious identity issue. And I had some major set-in-stone beliefs about who I was (a failure and disappointment), and what made me who I was (my failures and mistakes).
And as I scavenged for answers to my internal chaos, I slowly began to understand something:
No 12-step program, treatment facility, world-class counselor, self-help book, Holy Spirit ministry, hard-core accountability, or great amount of determination can set a person free.
That’s a bold statement, I know. But trust me, I’ve tried them all. Nothing removed my self-hatred. Nothing touched the layers of shame and insecurity that shrouded my heart and mind.
So I’ll say it again: No 12-step program, treatment facility, world-class counselor, self-help book, Holy Spirit ministry, hard-core accountability, or great amount of determination can set a person free.
Now you might beg to differ with me and say, “But Emily, I know the success rates of Alcoholics Anonymous… They can take the worst alcoholic and keep him sober and abstinent for the rest of his life.” Or, “I know a girl who had an eating disorder, and who recovered fully after undergoing treatment and staying with her team of psychiatrists and counselors.”
Aha. I think we are speaking of two separate things. An abstinent and recovered alcoholic does not, by any means, equal a free man. I attended dozens of twelve-step meetings (not just for alcoholics), and spoke with numerous individuals who’ve lived “abstinent” from their particular addiction for years. And sadly, I must say that very few of these individuals are free. Likewise, I myself entered a treatment facility for an eating disorder, and have watched as various women move on from their eating disorder behaviors, but live with un-liberated hearts.
Freedom is not the cessation of destructive or addictive behaviors. Freedom is not success and productivity. Freedom isn’t even effectively serving others who struggle with what was once your struggle.
No. When I say “free” I mean free. I mean a heart that has been liberated from the burden of any and all failures: past, present and future. I mean a spirit that knows deeply and passionately that nothing can ever again defeat or condemn it. I mean a soul entirely liberated from the chains of insecurity, fear, and self-hatred — loosed forever from the cords of worthlessness and loneliness. I mean a man or woman who can stand in confidence and say, “I know who I am: I am loved, absolutely spotless, whole, and a victorious saint in every single area of my life. And my performance can never change that. No failure can make it untrue. No mistake can lessen its reality. No shortcoming can diminish its impact.” I mean an individual who is not just abstinent from behaviors, but rather a person who — in every recess and hidden corner of their heart, mind and spirit — is dead forever to sin.
You might say, “Fine, Em. You just described Jesus.”
To which I’d readily reply, “No, I just described the life and the identity He has given you and me.” Which is in fact His very life.
This was my turning point. This was the startling and shocking revelation that exploded before my eyes. God revealed to me that what I described in the paragraph above is. my. present. life.
Notice that the following verses are past tense (in bold) for the believer:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life… knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” – Romans 6:2-7
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” – Galatians 2:20
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…” – Romans 8:1-3
Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, I have been freed from sin. Entirely. Totally. Forever. Regardless of how I “feel” about it, this truth has become my fact, my reality, my entire and brand new identity. It’s not merely positive thinking, or the power of believing nice things. No. If I am Christ’s, this is fact for me, whether I feel free from sin, act free from sin, think free from sin, or not.
The reason I had been stuck in a cycle of effort and failure, performance and disappointment, self-hatred and despair for four years was because I was trying slavishly to do something Jesus Christ has already done for me and in me.
Talk about a futile effort!
I was trying to kill what was already dead. I was trying to bring to life what was already alive. I was trying to accomplish what the cross had already accomplished: putting to death my sinful self, and raising up a new me that is forever free from sin.
And this whole time that I was attempting to do what has already been done for me, I was fundamentally clinging to lies that stand in direct opposition to the reality of the cross: that my identity is “messy sinner,” that my struggles are insurmountable, that my failures mark me, that my ongoing sin habits condemn me as unclean.
Lies, all of them.
You might raise a concern at this point: “Emily, you said it doesn’t depend on my acting/feeling/performing, but if you’re telling me this is my present reality of freedom in Christ, then why don’t I feel free? Why don’t I act like a person who’s been free from sin?” You might quickly point out your ongoing struggle with certain sins — the unforgiveness and bitterness you hold onto with white knuckles, the sexual thoughts that prey on your mind, the money-spending problem you have, the porn you lust at occasionally, your quick temper, or the obsession with losing weight that sucks the life out of you. I can relate! I have sin issues of my own.
But those sin issues were nailed to the cross and put to death forever when Jesus died. And up from the grave, when He rose, came a new me that is completely unblemished by sin, and will remain so forever.
Friend, we’re not dealing with performance, feelings, or behavior. If you want to start the conversation at the level of behavior modificiation, I’d suggest a 12-step program, treatment facility, world-class counselor, self-help book, or hard-core accountability. I went through those cycles until I was desperate. Remember, those avenues will never set you free.
Rather, we are dealing with our deepest strongholds of identity, our beliefs about who we are and why we are who we are. Neil Anderson speaks the truth when he says: “It is not what we do that determines who we are; is is who we are and what we believe that determines what we do.”
We can modify, abstain from, and change our behaviors and performance until we’re exhausted, but it won’t loose our bonds of slavery. Only the Truth that pierces straight through to the heart of who we are can set us free.
We can manipulate and massage our emotions attempting to “feel” free for years on end, but it won’t do anything real or lasting. Only the Truth of who we are in Christ can liberate us from slavery to sin. Neil Anderson says: “If you only believe what you feel, you will never live a victorious life in Chist.”
Why is that? It’s because our emotions are not Truth. They are subject to every dip in our performance, to every lie that comes our way, to every mistake we make. Our emotions cannot be trusted to authoritatively tell us what is True.
But Jesus can be trusted to do that.
So here is the answer that I searched in all the wrong places to find, and that you just might be searching for too… Do you want to live a victorious Christian life? Then: BELIEVE THE TRUTH THAT IS ALREADY TRUE FOR YOU IN CHRIST.
I’m not trying to be simplistic or cliched. This really is earth-shattering. When I say “believe the Truth,” what that means for me is a thorough repentance and renouncing of the lies I had believed about who I am, who God is, and what will satisfy me. It means a thoughtful and complete repentence of searching for answers, freedom, and life anywhere outside of God. It means replacing those lies with the Truth of what Christ’s cross has irreversibly accomplished for me and in me (I am dead to sin and alive to God!)… and then walking forward in that Truth, refusing to believe that my performance makes it any more or less true. It means believing the Truth, rather than my feelings when my feelings disagree.
Nothing on earth can liberate you. No method. No place. No thing. No idea. No teaching. No program. No structure. No schedule. No person.
But, “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” – John 8:36.
The question is, will you believe what He says of Himself and of you because of His cross. The believing must precede everything. The believing is the only thing that truly counts. The believing liberates our hearts. The believing unlocks the life of victory God has for us — because we are aligning ourselves with reality, with everything He has accomplished and will continue to accomplish for and in us.
Once more Neil Anderson says it so well:
“Many people fail in their Christian experience, so they begin to incorrectly reason: “What experience must I have for this to be true?” They will never get there! The only experience that has to happen for you to be dead to sin and alive to God happened over 2,000 years ago on the Cross! The only way we can enter into that experience today is by faith.”
Whether we feel it right now or not, if we are Christ’s, then we are free — dead to sin, alive to God, un-condemnable, un-accusable, un-defeatable, un-blemished, and eternally victorious through our Savior. Indeed, we have His very identity as our own!
Will we believe what the enemy, the world, our emotions, and our performance tell us (lies)? Or will we believe what our Savior tells us (Truth)?
In that question hangs our liberty.