July 2012 - Vol. 61
Confessions of a Man with a Sick Identity
by Sam Williamson
My wife Carla almost died on our honeymoon. Traveling to Colorado for a two week vacation, we spent Sunday night in Iowa. The next morning Carla vomited, had diarrhea and a fever. We went to a doctor. He gave an antibiotic and told us to remain in town.
We treated Carla’s symptoms. When she felt feverish, she took Tylenol and cold baths to reduce her temperature. But soon she felt worse, so I bought a thermometer. Her temperature was 104.9 degrees. I called the doctor. He said, “Get her to the hospital immediately.”
Carla remained in the hospital five days. If we had waited to bring her in—the doctors said—she would have died. As it was, she barely survived.
(My brother’s response to Carla’s nausea and diarrhea was, “I told her
not to kiss you!” Ah, family!)
I struggle with the deep demands of the Law because I don’t want shame.
But sensing “shame” can actually be useful. Shame reveals an identity that
comes from behavior instead of from God’s love. Shame is a symptom of our
real problem: the love of God is not real enough in our hearts.
Alas, that also means that I’m a legalist. At least occasionally.
A legalist can be proud, ashamed, or fearful. Proud legalists don’t look at the depths of heart change that the Law speaks about; I sometimes say, “I’d never do that.” Ashamed legalists see how they fall short of what the Law demonstrates; I myself can sometimes feel condemned in this way. Fearful legalists don’t look at the Law at all; I have been known sometimes to hide behind biblical truths like, “I’m saved by faith not works,” or “I have a new heart.”
Symptoms vs. disease
My wife Carla had a serious infection but she and I merely treated the feverish symptoms with Tylenol and cold baths. A thermometer finally drove us to treat the disease.
I tend to treat symptoms rather than the disease. If I’m ashamed, I quit reading the finally calibrated moral Law; or I work really hard to do better. But I’m not dealing with the disease.
If we respond to the Law with shame, fear or working really hard, let’s treat those responses as symptoms – symptoms that we are still getting our identity from our behavior (our doing) rather than from resting in Christ’s love (our being).
A good Law thermometer will show us how far we fall short of the Law—but
let’s not stop there!
Knowing the depth of our being forgiven brings love and joy. It creates a rich identity.
Like Carla and me on our honeymoon, let’s let a finely calibrated thermometer drive us to the Doctor for a deep healing of our deepest identity.
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