Ten years ago, I lost my faith. Baptised at 10, my faith had drifted up and down over the years. But then…suddenly…it was gone entirely. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God anymore. It wasn’t shame or guilt. It wasn’t even anger. I just felt numb, and I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know how to get that feeling of being close to God back.
Looking back, I think I was depressed. If I wasn’t then, I certainly would be a few years later, when as my persistently downward drift continued, I hit rock bottom. I lay awake for hours every night, crushed by the weight of my despair. Suicidal, barely able to cope with everyday life, I struggled along and alone. It was impossible to put any of my feelings into words. I kept going to church. I kept reading my Bible. I even taught Sabbath School on occasion.
Slowly, slowly my faith returned, little by little. The first step was to see myself as I really was – that my failures resulted from my strengths. I am nice, naive, and non-confrontational. This resulted in an inability to see people as they really are. But it also helped me emanate non-judgemental love and acceptance to others.
Seeing the positives despite the negatives started my upward spiral. My self-condemnation started to ease, and I began to take some small steps forward. I improved my diet and started to exercise regularly. As my brain fog cleared, my ability to see and know God grew.
Then early in the 2020 Covid pandemic, Arise offered their online course free for three months. I had heard about Arise for years, but I didn’t really have any idea what it was all about. Young people from our church would go to Kingscliff and come back on fire for the Lord. We would get Bible workers figuring out how to put into practice what they had learned. But it seemed to be something for the younger generation, not for someone who had teenage children.
As I listened to Ty Gibson and David Asscherick lecture on the story of the Bible, the incredible story of a promise made and a promise kept, my vision of who God really was, took on a clarity I had never known before. God changed from being just an idea to someone who was real. I saw who I was as a sinful human being, but I also began to see myself how God saw me. He didn’t see me as selfish and sinful. He saw me as the person I could really be if I was willing to give my will over to him. I was a woman beloved by God.
Charlotte Elliott, born in 1798, also knew what it was to struggle with her faith. Her uncle and both her brothers were ministers. Her grandfather was a personal friend of William Wilberforce and had written “The Complete Duty of Man.” Charlotte herself was a talented wordsmith and enjoyed writing poetry, especially of the humorous variety.
She then became unwell in her twenties, and by the time she was thirty, she was frequently bedridden. Suffering from chronic pain, her faith became personal rather than hereditary when at the age of thirty-two, a visiting family friend, noticing her irritability and unhappiness, talked to her about the peace that only a personal relationship with Jesus can bring.
Initially, she was annoyed at his interference, but slowly her heart softened. What did she have to lose? But it was one thing to see her need of God. What was she to do next? How was she to come to God? Dr Malan reassured her that it was not anything that she needed to do that could fill the void between her and God. It is God who fills the gap.
She just had to come to Him, just as she was. It was the only way to begin. Slowly Charlotte’s life began to change. She started to grow in her love for God. She no longer wrote amusing verses for the entertainment of others. Instead, she penned poems about her Christian experience. God’s love replaced her previous feelings of helplessness and condemnation.
More than a decade later, Charlotte Elliott lay awake, sleep evading her despite her tiredness, the weight of her dark thoughts sinking her like a rock sitting on her chest. As the perception of hopelessness pervaded her soul, she began to doubt the validity of her conversion. Was it all just an illusion? How could she know that it was real?
The next day she continued to struggle with an inescapable feeling of uselessness. Everyone around her was busy preparing for an upcoming bazaar, raising money to give higher education to clergymen’s daughters. But what could she do…nothing! Her faith was slipping away from her, her feet caught in a quagmire of depression.
As she sat there, her mind returned to the memory of her initial conversion experience. “Just as I am.” That’s how she first came to God, and that was how she needed to continue. Christ would do the rest. It was not her faith in God that would save her. It was God’s faith in her. Sitting alone in the quiet house that day, she wrote a poem, a poem that would help many other desperate searchers to see their completeness in the love of God.
Just as I am, without one plea,
but that Thy blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
God is calling every one of us. I may hear the voice of God calling me, but what do I do next? I am so far from righteousness that seeing God’s holiness makes me fear that I can never be saved. I may realise the power of God, but I don’t yet realise His goodness. I may know I need Him, but I don’t yet love Him.
I know on my own I can’t change. I can’t do what I want to do. I can’t stop doing what I don’t want to do. Like Paul, I cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) Every day I struggle with the tension between the truth that God has done it all and the lie that Satan bombards us with: Am I good enough? Can I ever be good enough?
But then I see Christ. I see He has done it all. All I have to do is come. He will do the rest. This is not no condemnation for those who finally get their act together. Instead, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Sin condemned me, but God has condemned sin. And because God condemns sin, there is no condemnation left over for me.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 NIV
Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
The law shows me my sin. But the law is unable to change me. It is the love of God that changes me. The consequences of my sins have already been dealt with when Jesus died on the cross. Gone is the struggle to be good enough. It is replaced by the desire to live my life for the one who loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me.
We may fear that we will lose our salvation. We may doubt the validity of our salvation. But our salvation doesn’t depend on our keeping the law. Our salvation depends on our choosing Jesus as our Saviour. He then covers our sins completely. No longer am I being held to account. My body may fail me, but my mind is set on Him. And one day, my body will be made new, but my mind is already His.
We don’t change under the thumb of condemnation. Change occurs when we see that we are unfailing loved, and accepted. I don’t have to earn that acceptance. I already have it. Only then can we grow because we are living out the love we have in our lives.
3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3 NIV
Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
When I sin, my shame consumes me. I am frustrated by my continual failings. Why can’t I be who I want to be? My mind is constantly fighting against my body. My mind wants to do what is right. My body is not yet perfect. This pull between the now and not yet is seen in the whole of creation. I can’t, but God can and will.
When I sin, what is my attitude to God? Do I run to Him for comfort, or do I run away from out of shame? This reaction shows me whether or not I really know God. I can never sin so much that I cannot return. I can never sin so much that forgiveness is impossible. Instead, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Romans 5:20
God has taken the judgements I deserve and placed them on Christ. He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Romans 4:17 God then showers me with blessings. The law that I cannot keep only guarantees me wrath. There is nothing good in me, but God calls me holy. He calls into existence that holiness, out of nothing. The faithfulness of Jesus guarantees me the promise: the promise of adoption, the promise of salvation, and the promise of redemption.
5 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. Romans 8:15 NIV
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
The hymn seems to be about someone starting a walk with God. But in fact, every day, we renew our walk with God for that day. No matter the experiences of the past, each day is a new day. Starting to walk with God is the same as continuing to walk with God.
I still have times when I feel a divide growing between God and me. I now don’t panic as I know that despite my feelings, God loves me, and He is continually drawing me to Him. We are all called, but we don’t all come. Because that is what love is. Love gives a choice. If we had no choice, it wouldn’t be love. God is drawing each of us to Him. He is calling each of us to come home. But it is I who have to make the decision to come to Him.
Every day I need to come to Jesus. Charlotte Elliott’s struggle was one we all know. We can all lose our faith. The trials of life or the riches of life…both can pull us away from our dependence on God. And when that feeling of brokenness, pain or the injustice of an illness that will never leave threatens to pull me away from Him, all I can do is come to Him, just as I am.
The book of Romans has been the most recent step in my continual search for a clearer picture of the grace and goodness of God. As Arise speaker Nathan Renner meticulously decoded Paul’s discourse on sin and salvation, a few more of the murky windows in my soul slowly began to clear in the warmth of the sunshine of God’s love. Yes, I am sinful from the grimy hair on top of my head to the dirty soles of my feet. Yet, amazingly, I am not condemned. Instead, God promises me His glory, a glory which he wants to give to every person on our sin-filled planet. A glory he wants to give to you.
30 And having chosen us, he called us to come to him; and when we came, he declared us “not guilty,” filled us with Christ’s goodness, gave us right standing with himself, and promised us his glory. Romans 8:30 TLB