Feelings of Inadequacy and Grace

There are moments I feel completely inadequate as a Christian. I get done with a conversation and think, “It was right there, I could have said something, and I didn’t.” Or someone rams into my leg with a shopping cart and I let the wrong look pop up on my face. I lose my patience with my kids. I make one too many jokes at someone’s expense.

The list could go on.

I blow it. I feel guilty. I feel like a complete waste of space. Worse yet, one false move may turn someone away from the Gospel for eternity.

Good Lord, how do we even breathe with this pressure?

I know two camps in Christianity that attempt to deal with this inadequacy:

Thrive on Inadequacy
These tend to be what we call “legalistic” people. Inadequacy is what drives their entire Christian faith. If you aren’t feeling inadequate, you aren’t doing it right. Feel the pain! Beat yourself up. And, of course, don’t forget to make sure everyone else feels horrible about themselves too. This has at least two unfortunate results: A) This wears people out and they quit Christianity or B) it makes people insensitive to others, entirely consumed on their own performance, and often leads to a hardened conscience, no longer dealing with reality but revels in their own perceived perfections. Pharisees are the poster children of this view.

Ignore Inadequacy
This view goes to the opposite extreme and pretends there is no such thing as inadequacy, guilt, or responsibility. They emphasize grace and love so much, it’s as if there are no expectations at all, no commands, no judgment, no obligation, no nothing except license and living it up. Although people describe coming to this view as “liberating,” I have rarely seen this way of thinking lead to anything approaching Christlikeness, nor does it appear as though they truly are free. This view also leads to an arrogance: everything is about them. They can hurt you, it doesn’t matter, you have to forgive them because Christ already has. They honestly believe they are free to be jerks, the more jerkish they are, the more this proves their dependence on grace. It’s as if the existence of grace nullifies any need for the Bible at all.

Obviously you can see I have problems with both views. I’ve tried both. Neither works.

The bottom line is this:
1) The New Testament is filled with commands. In all honesty, there are more commands given in the NT than in the OT. We are also told that everyone will give an account for the deeds done in the body, for every word that comes out of the mouth. We are told to be salt and light, which is very hard to do if you are darkness. We are to come out and be separate and touch not the unclean thing. The Bible is there for our reproof, correction, and training, which sure seems to imply we will blow it and need discipline.

2) At the same time, true believers are accepted in the beloved, we have been declared righteous. There is grace, there is mercy, there is love, and these are real, honest-to-goodness ways that God deals with His people. We are in Christ and have been made the righteousness of God. There is freedom in Christ and ALL THINGS are lawful for me. We are no longer under law, and where there is no law there is no transgression. Christ has made us free. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

The first paragraph touches on a number of NT passages held up by those who thrive on inadequacy. The second paragraph refers to a number of NT passages upheld by those who ignore inadequacy. They both have a point. They both have verses. They both use the same NT.

I’ve heard the attempts by both groups justifying why it’s OK to ignore the passages that disagree with their extreme positions. I don’t buy the arguments from either camp.

As is the case with many Biblical subjects: there are two sides that must both be held. This is the place where faith thrives.

I do not live up to the high standard of perfection in Christ Jesus. I don’t. Yet this is the standard we are called to.

The fact that I haven’t met it, doesn’t mean the standard should be lowered or ignored. It’s still the standard. I must also acknowledge my failure to meet it and rely upon the mercy and grace available in the Gospel to meet my needs of forgiveness, and also for the edification needed to equip me to every good work.

Grace doesn’t just make past sins OK; grace teaches us to avoid sin in the future and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. In one sense, sin is necessary for grace to do its work. That’s why Paul asked several times, “Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way!”

Without sin, I’d have no idea I needed a Savior. I’d have no idea I needed grace. But now that I know grace is real, I can depend on Christ (the giver of this grace) to equip me to overcome sin in the future.

Inadequacy is a perfectly healthy thing to feel. If you never feel inadequate, trust me, you’re not hearing the word of God, or you at least have a very poor sense of what you are doing. You are no Christ, you continually fall short of the glory of God.

But God knows this. He’s worked that truth into His plan. He knows our frame, He understands that we are dust. But when we see our inadequacy along with the supremely Adequate Christ, this is where growth occurs. This is where faith becomes real. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the Christian life happens.

Hold both sides of the issue because they are both legitimate. This is a battle. Fight the fight.

One thought on “Feelings of Inadequacy and Grace”

  1. Heh! You explained it so well.

    I was particularly struck by the B) under “thrive on inadequacy”: “it makes people insensitive to others.” This is something I think about quite often.

    Jesus was absolutely firm with himself to resist sin, yet he wasn’t hardened by this. On the other hand, he was amazingly sensitive. He could read people from the way they looked, from the few words they spoke, even from a touch.

    I find it remarkable.

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