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Freedom From the Future

As I read the Psalms, one of the things I notice is how aware the writers were of their enemies. It used to make me feel uncomfortable to read prayers to God asking for their enemies utter destruction. By Psalms 3, David is saying, “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Is this the same David who was a man after God’s own heart? He didn’t only know that he had an enemy, he prayed and believed that God would bust them right in the mouth. I’m much more gentle with my enemies.

Jesus does not simply call us to be a lovely community together, but he sends us out to our neighborhoods, towns, and cities to declare and demonstrate the gospel.

Even though I’m not contested by enemies in the way David was, I do face opposition. Every day I fight with one who lies in wait for me. Around every turn, he reminds me that I do not measure up to where I thought I’d be at this stage of life. He was further along when he was here. I sin much more than he does. He uproots every gospel seed that’s sown in my heart and tells me God isn’t pleased with me. Whenever I ease into contentment with where God has me, he reminds me I haven’t arrived and at this pace I probably never will. He is the chief discourager and thief of every good gift I receive. The measuring stick is always growing with him, and it always lies just beyond my reach.

My Future Self

You probably think I have a horrible friend that I need to drop. No, he’s not a friend. He’s my future self that I’ve spent years envisioning, crafting into a likeness that I think God will approve of. I have created a monster that lives inside my head, and the monster is me. I’ve spent years dreaming of what I’d become, jobs I could have, and things I could do. I forget that things are always easier to accomplish in the future than they are in the present. My future self dangles the carrot of what could be in front of me as I tell myself I’m running the race with endurance and selfishly quote Hebrews 12:1. The carrot is always moving, though. I never get to taste the joy of being because I’m consumed with becoming.

Becoming isn’t all bad. We’re called to become more like Christ, more obedient, and more faithful. But when my becoming is fueled by a desire to get God’s approval instead of being conformed to the image God has already declared me to be in, becoming turns destructive. I’m driven to become who I wish I was and believe the lie that God will love me more. I begin to believe that God doesn’t love me as I am, but he will love who I’ll become. So, my life is spent trying to become someone God can love. The question at the end of every day is, “Have I become more lovable to God today?” The answer is always no because tomorrow brings unending opportunities for change. The potential of what I could then reminds me that who I am now is not enough.

The false gospel is that God only loves some future version of myself. I often live in the hope that God would one day be pleased with who I will become. He would surely love married Jonny more than single Jonny, working Jonny more than student Jonny, or pastor Jonny more than intern Jonny. It doesn’t take a long look at who I am now to see there are still some major flaws and a lot potential for growth. If I can change for the better, my reasoning goes, then God must love that better, more improved version of me much more than he loves this me that is still struggling with such petty sins.

God Loves Me Now

The gospel, however, brings a world-shattering truth to this present moment: God loves me now. His grace that’s been lavished upon me isn’t contingent on some changes that I have to make in the future, or else I’ll run the risk of getting his blessings revoked. No, his grace is sufficient for my weaknesses today. He looks upon all of my present weakness as opportunities to show himself strong. The gospel of Jesus is one of in-the-moment grace. And there’s no other kind of grace.

Living in the shadow of the idol of my future self is a life of always wondering if I’ve managed to measure up. The joy of the gospel, though, is that I’m more accepted than I could ever hope. I’m more loved than I could ever imagine. I have more access to God than I could ever dream of. All this is true in spite of me being wildly undeserving. The problem is that I was looking in the wrong place for this acceptance and love. Looking in the mirror, I found myself to be utterly displeasing to God. But some days I’ll still wake up, take a long look at myself, and be assured that God can’t be pleased with me yet.

The breakthrough comes as my gaze turns to Jesus. My standing with God is not based on how much I have accomplished in the past or on how much I will do in the future. God now looks at me and says the same thing he says of Jesus: “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.” I’m not right in his eyes because of anything I’ve done. I’m loved, accepted, justified, and accepted because of who Jesus is.

The gospel frees me to be present. Guilt and shame don’t have to fill my head at the end of every day as I run through all the things I could have done better. I can lay my head on my pillow at night and know that God’s love for me was meant for this very moment. There’s hope for joy at this moment. God loves me in spite of me. His ever-present love is the freedom from the bondage of always trying to measure up.

Jonny Day (@jonnysday) loves living in Woodstock, GA with his wife, Kerri. He works as a contractor with the North American Mission Board to help pastors lead their churches to be on mission. He’s working on his Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.