It was 2 nights before our son was getting married. The original 5 of us were out to dinner together before we became (much to our delight) a family of 6. We would be welcoming our daughter-in-law into the family in 48 hours and were beyond excited to do so. But as we sat there as a family of 5 for the last time I was curious (and apparently so was our daughter Samantha, because she asked aloud a similar question to the one I was pondering in my head) what would Joel – as he was about to start his own family with Carolyn – and for that matter, his sisters, remember being the mantra(s) of our home? What catch phrases would they always attribute to Jim and me? The answers were not surprising but were enlightening. They repeated back several of the statements we routinely said to them as they grew up.
“Be the hands and feet of Jesus today.”
“Put a speed bump between your brain and your mouth.”
“Make wise choices.”
And a personal favorite of mine (although it came from their Dad), “Not everything that is true needs to be said.”
When I think back to my childhood, every Sunday it was “Tracey, wake up. It is time to go to church.” I did, and I went. With that heritage, one would think that I would have a faith foundation that would lead me to understanding the Gospel in its fullness. It did not. Much like the Jews described in Romans 3, I falsely assumed that God was pleased with my religious behavior. That I could earn his favor. That my church membership or adherence to the sacraments or doing good works on a Super Saturday undid anything that I may have done that was not honoring to God. He was, after all, required to forgive me – it was his job as God. I had a complete lack of understanding of what it meant to sin and need forgiveness. Andy Stanley, in his “Twisting the Truth” series, points out the difference between understanding I am a sinner in need of a Savior rather than a mistake maker who needs the rest of you to get it over it … it was just a mistake. We, if we are not careful, will say the same to God. I am not a sinner – I merely made a mistake, and mistakes do not have eternal consequences. What a self-serving way to view the world and God. And perhaps one of the most deceiving lies of the evil one. According to the word of God, we all are sinners in need of a savior. (Romans 3:23)
Verse 18 of Romans 3 says “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” The “their” in this verse is every human who has ever made a “mistake” and refuses to acknowledge it is a sin before a holy and righteous God. (Verses 10-17.) If I diminish sin to a simple mistake, I run the risk of living a life that will cause an eternal rift between me and God. Or if I do not let Jesus be my Savior, I will be caught in an endless cycle of trying to earn my favor with God, insisting he give it to me based on what I do and not on what Jesus has done. When I fully acknowledge my sin, I can come to him as a sinner in need of his saving grace and have freedom. Freedom from shame, freedom from fear, freedom from the exhaustive effort to do and be perfect.
Without the cross, verse 19 is a very scary verse – the world will be held accountable to God. I grew up thinking I was above such accountability. I did what I was supposed to do. I prayed, I went to church, I went to Sunday School. God and I were good. Until we weren’t. Without my mom waking me up every Sunday, church became hit or miss in college. I paid my dues as a kid, and I was better behaved than most around me. All those hours in church and Sunday School surely bought me all kinds of passes with God. New mantras filled my head. “Give to get.” “People cannot be trusted.” “Look out for number one.” “God and faith are not relevant.” Another personal favorite: “you can do this on your own.”
I could not have been more wrong. I soon felt the repercussions of this thinking. I was a hot mess! These lies of the evil one were taking a toll on me. Only looking back do I see and understand God put some people in my life to help me to learn to look at life with a new lens. To hear and learn what He has to say. Good friends gave me a new voice to listen to.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
You can do all things through Christ.
He will never leave nor forsake you.
He can be trusted.
So often we deceive ourselves into thinking that somehow our life and how we live it does not matter to God. The reality is that all of us will see him one day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “all men are destined to die once and face judgment.” God is all in, totally committed to mankind. He is not aloof and ignoring us. In the next several weeks, we will hear and study the good news of the gospel. God’s new covenant with us. It takes away all the fear of that judgement. It is life-changing.
I was re-phrasing the question Sam asked that night recently – as a daughter of the most high King, if He were to ask me what is the family mantra, my answer would be:
I am precious and honored in your sight, and You love me.
You, Abba, are my source of rest and peace.
You, Abba, give me my value.
You should be my all in all.
I will live with You forever.
I am a gifted member of Your body and You have work for me to do, not to earn your favor, but because I already have it.
Truer words have never been said because they were said by my heavenly Father, and He never lies.
Tracey Paradis and her husband Jim live in King of Prussia. Tracey serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at Hope Community Church and does her best to fill her days with people, ministry, and at least one bout of uncontrollable laughter.