“I’m so disappointed,” the young man said to me. “I came here wanting to experience God’s love. But I have felt nothing new. This has been a waste of my time.”
I was interviewing one of our discipleship students as the program was winding down. It is always discouraging to hear our students give negative reports and to hear of it only at the end of the program. Frustrated and unsure how to respond, I quickly asked God for guidance. Typically I would try to come up with some kind of encouragement in an interview like this to redirect to a more positive outcome.
But, in response to my prayer, a scripture came to my mind.
Nothing to forgive?
A woman came to Jesus and anointed his feet with expensive perfume. When she was criticized for doing this, Jesus made a very interesting comment about her and the nature of love: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47 ESV).
This story had always been a bit of an uncomfortable mystery to me. For so many years I interpreted it to mean that one can give and receive love deeply only if one has been dreadfully sinful before receiving forgiveness. I (like many people) have never considered myself a terribly scandalous sinner. I always wondered, was Jesus telling me that I could never experience the depths of loving and receiving His love because I had not sinned enough?
That afternoon, however, as I sat listening to the young man’s complaint, the mystery of this passage began to clear up for me. The issue at hand was self righteousness. It is only as a person is willing to look at and acknowledge the depths of his or her need for a Savior does one experience this love relationship with Jesus.
A Respectable Sinner?
A Savior is not required merely for the ghastly, unmentionable sin of the past. I need a Savior today. And I will need one tomorrow too. In fact, the biblical concept of salvation tells me that through faith in Jesus, I was saved. I am being saved. And I will need to be saved in the future. Being rescued from the effects of sin is not just for those who have committed heinous crimes. Many of us more “respectable” sinners still carry around loads of pride and self-centeredness that we remain blind to. This might be one of the reasons we don’t experience a deeper sense of love for or from God: we are still blind to the things in our lives that keep Him at arms’ length.
This is what I ended up sharing with this young man. I asked him what he needed to be saved from. He couldn’t answer me. He had been brought up in a Christian home and felt good about his life. He had asked Jesus to forgive a few sundry sins here and there, but he had never wrestled with his heart motivations of arrogance and self righteousness that tend to plague us who have lived “good lives.” He had managed to be “good” all on his own and did not feel the need for a Rescuer.
Why do I still need a Savior?
But he wanted to experience the love of God. And the experience and all the wonder feelings were not coming. That interview ended with me praying for him. I asked God to show him WHY he needed a Savior so that his love for God could be more than merely something he tacked on as another cool spiritual experience.
Upon finishing that interview, I too was convicted of my tendency toward self righteousness. When we become experienced at doing good things, it is easy to feel that all we really need is to keep on doing good stuff, and then we and Jesus will be good with each other. When I let Him, He gently shows me those attitudes, blind spots, and behaviors from which I still need to be rescued.
By choosing to continue to learn humility, I can be assured that loving God and receiving His love will not be relegated merely to spiritual experiences. Our love relationship and all the good feelings that may come with it will be genuine byproducts of recognizing my need for forgiveness and help.
This is meant to be the lifestyle of a disciple.
I will never not need Him.