It’s easy to get discouraged. The days keep coming, and the demands always seem to outnumber our resources. Some of us face insurmountable obstacles. It’s hard to find good news anywhere.
And then there’s us. We’re weak, limited, and we fail often. Even when we do well for a few days, we eventually come to a day in which we make poor choices. We give into bad habits and sin when we know we should do better.
Cynicism and despair appear reasonable. Life is hard.
Good News: No Condemnation
In the middle of our despair, Romans 8 brings us very good news: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
No condemnation. None. As an old song says:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
In Romans 8:2-4, Paul explains why we’re no longer condemned: Jesus became human. Through his death, he paid the full penalty for our sin. The penalty has been fully paid, and we’re now free from all condemnation.
On your worst day, remember this. If you are in Jesus, you bear no condemnation. You are blameless before God not just on your good days but on your bad ones too, all because of Jesus. Nothing can change that fact for those who are in Jesus.
More Good News: Everything We Need to Live
God doesn’t just free us from condemnation. He also gives us everything we need to live. In the rest of Romans 8, Paul describes some of what God gives us when we trust Jesus.
Here’s a sample:
He gives us a new mindset (Romans 8:5-8). God begins to rewire our thinking so that we think differently from before.
He gives us the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead begins to live within us. God doesn’t leave us to figure life out ourselves. He moves in and helps us. Even better, he promises that he will one day finish the work by raising our bodies after we die. He will complete the work of transformation in our lives.
He adopts us as his children (Romans 8:12-17). Adoption means that we’re now part of his family. We’re now in relationship with our Father. And we also receive the privilege of inheriting all of his riches because we’re his children.
That’s just a sample. God frees us from condemnation, and then he gives us everything we need to live.
True on Your Worst Day
This good news is true on your worst day.
Don’t get me wrong. This good news won’t solve all your problems. We will still go through ups and downs, and we’ll often feel like we’re muddling through life.
But here’s what’s true in the middle of your struggles: You are free from all condemnation, and God has given you everything you need to live.
Take comfort in this good news, even on your worst days.
When my wife came home and told me she'd taken on a new client — an online nutrition coaching company — I was surprised. Nothing sounded shadier than an online nutrition company! I pictured shifty hucksters promoting fad programs. I felt skeptical. I wasn't expecting a respectable approach to building healthy habits.
I soon found out that the company was legitimate. Many of the staff had advanced degrees in nutrition science. They'd coached thousands of clients, and consulted with professional sports teams. They'd delivered results. I began to see the change that their approach had on my wife's life as her health improved.
The approach of this company succeeded for a couple of reasons:
They translated theory into simple habits that anyone could follow.
They helped people implement those habits with an effective approach to coaching.
Every week, they would give you a simple habit to practice. It was simple and not very overwhelming. For two weeks, they would send lessons about that habit. For two weeks, the only thing you were supposed to do is to practice that habit and to understand why.
That's it. They had done the hard work of figuring out what behaviors would lead to growth based on all of their research. Our job was simple: to practice that habit for two weeks until it became part of our lives.
The Power of Stacked Habits
Over the course of the year, we stacked 26 habits. Together, these habits made a significant difference in our lives. We learned that if we practiced these habits for the rest of our lives, they would positively impact our health.
Of course, we never practice these habits perfectly. And we often needed coaching support to help us implement these habits. But even done imperfectly, our lives changed for the better.
Stacking Gospel Habits
Throughout the centuries, Christians have discovered certain practices that help to form and shape us as we follow Jesus. These practices include things like reading and listening to Scripture, praying, participating in the life of a local church, observing Sabbath, and more.
The problem: many of us feel overwhelmed with all the things we know we should be doing. When we feel overwhelmed, we're likely to quit.
The solution is simple: to take the rich theology we have available to us through the gospel, to break these down into the key practices that will make a simple difference in our lives, and then to make them dead simple so we can begin to practice them.
Avoid overwhelm. Pick one key practice — like reading and listening to the Bible — and turn it into a habit. Shrink the challenge so that you're 80 percent sure you can pull it off regularly. And then focus on that habit until it's embedded in your life.
When you're done, stack another habit. You'll be amazed how much of a change you'll experience over the course of a year in your life.
Here’s the truth about all of us: we fail regularly. Our growth is slower than we’d like, and our failures are more frequent than they should be. It’s easy to get discouraged. We don’t serve Jesus as we should.
There’s a lot of debate about whether Paul wrote these words referring to his Christian or pre-Christian life, but there’s no question that most of us can relate:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:22-23)
What can we do about this problem?
Thanks to God for Jesus
Paul’s answer to this problem is clear:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
The answer to our problems is not to try harder or to change ourselves. The answer to our problems is to look to Jesus. Jesus provides the solution that we could never provide for ourselves. He rescues us from both the penalty and the power of sin. Through Jesus we are given new life and a fresh beginning. Once we begin our new lives in Jesus, it becomes possible to obey God like never before.
Jesus makes a fundamental change in us. Don’t look to yourself to change. Look to Jesus. All obedience flows from the new life that he gives us.
Don’t just look at Jesus one time. Look to him regularly for the help that you need to live the Christian life.
James reminds us: “He gives more grace” (James 4:6). James offers this truth in the context of telling us that God demands a lot from us. God is jealous; he won’t put up with our unfaithfulness. He demands our allegiance. That sounds scary, and it’s why James reminds us: God gives us all the grace we need to meet his demands. As Augustine said, “God gives what he demands.”
The power we need to change comes from God himself. Keep looking at Jesus. He will give you all the grace you need to grow and serve him.
What to Do When You’re Discouraged
What should you do when you fail and you’re feeling discouraged?
Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”
In the same letter he said:
He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms … Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.
Look to Jesus so you’re not as discouraged about yourself. Look to Jesus because you will find everything you need there to fight sin and to grow.
Do you want to grow? Are you frustrated by your lack of growth? Don’t look at yourself. Take ten looks at Jesus.
Here at Gospel for Life, we believe that the gospel changes everything. We aren’t meant to just become more spiritual versions of ourselves. Jesus aims to change us in every part of our lives. He means for us to flourish and grow in every part of our lives.
So often we think the Christian life is just about forgiveness of our sins, losing sight of God’s plan to completely transform us. We settle for an impoverished vision of growth in one or two areas of life, when God’s desire is to reign over every part. We believe growth is up to us, forgetting that the Spirit dwells within us. We think of sanctification in lofty, abstract terms, neglecting to translate it into the rhythms of our moments and days.
We want to change our view of growth. It’s not just about changing one area of life. It’s about growing in every part: in our relationships, emotions, work, bodies, and more.
Take the “Where Do You Need to Grow?” Assessment
That’s why we’ve prepared an assessment for you to take. By answering just a few questions, you’ll be able to determine the areas where you need to pursue growth.
After you take the quiz, you’ll find out the results. We’ll also send you an email based on the area where you need to focus.
Here are some steps to take as you consider what to do next.
Be honest. Take stock of where you would need to grow: in Sabbath and rest, intellectually, in your health, relationships, or spiritually. Be as honest as possible.
Ask for God’s help. Focus on one area at a time. Bring that area before God and ask for his help.
Choose good habits. We live most of our lives by habit. If we are going to make positive changes, then it will likely be by cultivating habits that help us grow. Find one or two habits in the area you choose, and choose habits that will help you grow in that area. (See chapter 6 of How to Grow for more on building habits.)
Practice the basics. The three core habits — reading or listening to Scripture, praying, and seeking worship and fellowship within a church community — help us grow in every part of life. We never grow beyond these core habits. Look for wisdom in God’s Word about every area of your life. Pray to God about where you need to grow. Ask others in your church community for their help and support.
More on Growth
How to Grow is written as a guide to growing in every part of your life. It includes reflection questions and action steps at the end of each chapter. Read it on your own or with others.
If you want to go deeper, we offer Gospel for Life Coaching. Sign up to be notified when we open registration for our next session. We aim to help you grow by building gospel habits with support from a coach.
God cares about every part of our lives. Ask God for his help. Pursue growth in all of your life.