When I was a child, I had a pretty prodigious case of asthma. During the days when doctors made house calls, my parents would have to call the doctor occasionally to come and give blue-lipped gasping young me a shot of adrenalin to open up my lungs, so I could breathe again.
So later on in school I had a note from Mom, excusing me from physical activities such as track and the like. Running meant wheezing, and that wasn't good. So that note from Mom meant I didn't have to do what all the other kids had to do. Them, yes. Me, no.
That was a real note, a literal note, for a real reason. I didn't write it; my mother did. Behind her was the doctor. It had oomph. It was legit.
Throughout the 400 or so years of my Christian life, I have been astonished over and over at how many Christians imagine they have "a note from God." Unlike my mother's note, it isn't visible, it isn't readable by others, and it won't stand inspection. The oomph it has is supplied by their own imagination, and a complex series of accompanying diversions and rationalizations.
This phantom note excuses them from having to do what every other Christian in every other age and every other location on the globe (other than their little 2X2 spot) has been morally obliged to do.
Them, perhaps. Me, no. I have this note.
Such notes, and usually for such transparently flimsy reasons!
Here is a representative, non-exhaustive list:
- Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because no church leaders measure up to Biblical standards.
- Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because I haven't found a church that _____ (insert non-essential requirement of perfect adherence to personal demands).
- Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because ______ (insert sad story of bad past experience).
- Scripture calls me to love my wife as Christ loved the church, to nourish and cherish her, to assign her honor and live with her in an understanding way, but I am excused because she _____ (insert non-divorce-warranting litany of complaints here).
- Scripture calls me to subordinate myself to my husband in all respects as the church subordinates itself to Christ, to help him and respect him from my very heart, to win him by godly and respectful behavior and not a barrage of verbal abuse, but I am excused because he _____ (insert non-divorce-warranting litany of complaints here).
- Scripture calls me never ever even to think of abuse, threats, or divorce as marital aids or ways to resolve marital conflict,* but I am excused because _____ (that isn't my calling / I wouldn't be lauded as being nuanced and helpful and thoughtful / the Club will rescind my membership).
- Scripture calls me to honor my father and mother and make them glad I'm their child and not ashamed, but I am excused because they _____ (insert irrelevant personal issue here).
- Scripture calls me to devote myself to giving and serving in a local church that puts the preaching and doing of Christ's Word central, rather than shopping churches as if they were my personal Walmarts, stressing my convenience and my comfort-level and my desire to be served and coddled rather than called to serve and love, but I am excused because ______ (rationalization; or "my wife ___").
- Scripture calls me to study and learn and grow in my understanding of the word of God, but I am excused because it's hard / I can't concentrate / I'm just not a student (which = "I'm just not a Christian").
- Scripture calls me as a pastor to put the Gospel and the preaching of the whole counsel of God, including both the positive ministry of exhortation and the negative ministry of rebuking error, and to do it heartily, boldly, and without compromise wherever I go, but I am excused because _____ (that isn't my calling / I wouldn't be lauded as being nuanced and helpful and thoughtful / the Club will rescind my membership).
- Scripture calls me as a pastor to warn the folks in my congregation against serious sin and error regardless of how they will respond to me, but I am excused because _____ (it'd split the church / I'd lose too many members / that isn't my ministry).
- Scripture calls me to own and repent of the sin isolated and nailed by one or more of the previous bullet-points, no matter what anyone else does or does not do, but ____ (insert rationalization that will not stand up to the Judgment Seat of Christ here).
But such note-holders need to remember: every unrepentant sinner is convinced that his sin is different. (See #15 here.) No exceptions. It's axiomatic.
Every one of us sinners insists that what we're doing is right — until we repent of it. So the person who refuses to get involved in a local church, refuses to treat his/her spouse as Christ commands, commits rape or murder or theft, refuses to love/respect his/her spouse, indulges homosexual desires, gossips, gripes, mopes as if he had no grounds for hope — they're all the same; and they're all the same in that each imagines he's different.
Repentance changes all that. Repentance puts God's finger on me, stops me dead, isolates me from everything, changes the issue to God and His Word and me, shatters all pretenses, and requires death and resurrection.
See, we tend to forget that the Gospel is radical and transformative. We tend to forget: when Jesus calls us to Himself, He calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. To deny myself is radical and transformative. It is to unseat myself as lord. To take up my cross is radical and transformative. It is to die to that life of rationalizations and excuses designed to cushion the pursuit of my own wants, needs and desires. To follow Jesus is radical and transformative. It calls on me to take my internal Canaan, city by city, and subject all of it to the Lordship of Jesus.
And we'll never make headway in any of that until we learn to shred every last one of our imagined "notes from God."
* Note that this is carefully worded. I am not speaking of those areas where God does expressly permit divorce as an option — and, even then, not a requirement.