The Secret to Stop Trying to Impress God

Long before I committed my life to the Lord, I kept trying to "impress" God.

When I was four, I sat at my grandma's side and she told me about hell. I didn't want to go there, so she prayed for me. But I went home not really understanding the words. Sinner. Salvation. Eternal. 

But I did get the picture she painted of hell. I set out to make God happy with me, because I didn't want to "roast like a marshmallow," as I told a friend.

In Junior High, I walked the aisle at an evangelistic event. By that time, I'd come to understand I am a sinner, and I felt guilty about one sin in particular. It was easy to go forward with others, and I'm sure many people made sincere decisions that night. I said all the right words, but my heart was all wrong. 

I wasn’t about to change. I was still looking for that quick fire-escape from hell. I figured I'd just have to try harder.

Then, before my 21st birthday, I joined a revival team* for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to be on stage and sing. I couldn't afford Bible college any longer and figured I'd just travel a while. I even thought I might find a Christian husband.

Within two weeks, I was repentant, broken and desperately seeking God.

In a message, the revivalist made it clear: even my good works - my very best works - were dirty in comparison to His absolute holiness (Isaiah 64:4). I needed God's mercy, and I needed His righteousness (Titus 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 6:11). I heard the message of salvation as never before. 

I didn't need a pat on the back; I needed rescuing. I needed mercy!

God changed my heart that day and I've never doubted my eternal destiny since that day. 

End of story, right? No.

Somehow, I still didn't grasp the daily freedom of God's grace in Christ. I got caught up in comparisons, judgmentalism, insecurity, and fear as my old habit of trying to impress God and others rose to the surface.

          Sometimes it takes a while for us to realize 
          the shackles of our slavery have fallen away.

I was God's child, but miserable.

  • I memorized scripture and studied the Bible, trying to impress Him with my “spiritual commitment.” 
  • I offered “sacrifices” of compassion and stewardship. 
  • I walked the walk—stumbling over myself at every turn—and talked the talk. I had Christianese down pat.  
  • I served God, but, just like before I became a Christ-follower, it was for all the wrong reasons.  
  • I even counseled people about giving their lives over to Christ, but didn’t find my own spiritual life “satisfying.”
Do you notice one word in all those sentences? "I ... I ... I ... I ...." During those years, I made checklist after checklist, trying to figure out how to "get life right" so I'd win God's favor. I never learned how to live out the process of being "dead to sin and alive in Christ," described in Romans 6

But God continued to work.

      I remember the day I said, “I’m tired of trying to impress You, God.”

I was studying for a message I'd planned to share with a group of women. It included a long list of scriptures about who we are “in Christ.” As I unpacked each scripture, light crept in to push out the devil's lies. 
I didn’t have to figure out how to make God accept me. I was already accepted in The Beloved. God was satisfied, and all I had to do was rest in Jesus' powerful work on my behalf.
Accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6) - accepted in Jesus.

I didn’t have to be “good enough, perfect enough, obedient enough” for God. Only Jesus is good enough, perfect enough, obedient enough. I didn’t have to earn God’s love; I already had it in Christ. I didn’t have to earn God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness was the cornerstone of my relationship with Him.

The Father  saved me, declared me righteous, loved me, healed me, forgave me and so much more … all in Christ. I don’t have to prepare a daily progress report to get the Father's approval. Jesus’ completed "report" is all-sufficient. He got an A+ on my behalf.

Though I don't need to live by legalistic lists, I do want to cultivate a holy lifestyle (1 Peter 1:14-16), and the Holy Spirit continues to teach me how to be more like Jesus. **

When thoughts that I must "impress God" nip at my spiritual heels, I kick them away and walk back to the cross. I come back to the truth.

And I imagine the Father's smile.

What has God taught you about trusting in what Christ has done rather than your own works?

* The revival team was Life Action Ministries, which is still thriving in Niles, Michigan!

** (For more understanding of this, read "Is being holy even possible, since only God is holy?")

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