“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” - Job 13.15
Fulfilling Law with Grace
Alisa Hope Wagner
Back in 1982 when I was in college, one of my classes was on the book of Job. Actually, we spent the entire semester studying this particular book. I wish it would have been possible for this book, Slaying Job, to have been included in my class. I am sure had I read the truths Alisa shares within these pages, I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary and self-inflicted pain.
Throughout this book, Alisa expertly breaks down God’s work of redemption of humankind within four ages: the age of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses and of Paul. Jesus tells us in John 16:13 that it is the Spirit that will lead us into all truth. Jesus also said it’s the truth we experience that we discover our true freedom in Him.
Pastor Mike Fehlauer leads New Life Church in Corpus Christi. He's authored four books. He's been a featured contributor to Charisma Magazine, Charisma Leaders, CBN, and has appeared on TBN, Daystar Television and Christian Television Network.
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him” (Job 13.15 NKJV).
When we get in an argument with God, we are the ones who will lose, and our flesh will be slain. But in our losing, we become more like Christ. He is perfect and holy. We are created in His image, but sin corrupted our perfect form. So as we try to defend ourselves to God, we fail; but in actuality, we triumph because we step into a greater understanding of our need for Him.
Job contended with God. He lost, but in his losing, he won the jackpot of faith. Job found himself in a predicament. He believed he understood God and righteousness. In fact, all the surrounding people saw him as “blameless” (Job 1:1). However, after being stripped of everything, Job finally admitted the truth: “…Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3 NIV). The reality of his imperfections compared to a holy, perfect God caused him to cry out for a Mediator—a valuable glimpse of humans wanting and needing a Messiah—an Intercessor to pull the hands of God into our own, reconciling us to righteousness by faith (Job 9:33).
I too experienced this very long season of contending with God according to my self-perceived, earned righteousness. God had given me promises, and every morning I would go over everything I did wrong and determined to do better. I had to sacrifice more. Work harder. Write more. Stay fit. Be a perfect wife and mother. Otherwise, God would not bless me. I became so fearful of making mistakes that the enemy easily stole my peace and joy. I even dreaded vacations because I knew I would be on the plane headed back home making a list of everything I needed to do to get back into God’s good favor (not that I ever left it), so He would not have a reason to withhold His promises.
Then, I became so sin-focused, trying to earn the promises of God, that I came to a crashing point. I realized after fifteen years of striving to be righteous that I could never live out the holiness and perfection of God. I could not earn a single promise in my own strength, and all my struggling and work through the years were worthless. I lost hope. I wore a heavy cloak of discouragement. I became demoralized to the point that I succumbed to multiple demonic attacks. Demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can feast on the areas not submitted to Christ. And my habit of condemning every little thing I did wrong because I thought they were suppressing God’s promises created a large, dark platform for the demon of condemnation, accusation, lies and eventually death to torment me.
Striving to be righteous in my own effort to earn God’s promises almost killed me as a mother and a writer. I incorrectly believed that because I was so flawed, God’s promises were taking too long to come to fruition. However, all God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ, and we should rest in our “Amen” by faith—no matter how many years pass by as we wait in hope (2 Corinthians 1.20). God’s timing for our promises has already been set in eternity and will make their appearance on earth when the time is right. God chooses His timing based on His divine plan alone, and we can’t speed it up with our striving.
“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT).
I finally began to allow the Holy Spirit to rewire my brain (thoughts and imaginings), my heart (emotions and feelings) and my will (actions and choices). I wish I could say the Holy Spirit instantly revamped my thoughts and emotions, but it was a long process of deconstructing thought patterns based on ignorance and lies and constructing new thought patterns based on truth and grace. I had to learn how to steward my mind and heart in faith, not fear; and according to grace, not law. I believe if God would have instantly given me the peace and joy I daily pleaded for that I wouldn’t have been able to contain them for long. This truth reminds me of the Tent of Meeting that Moses constructed as God’s people wandered the wilderness. It wasn’t until every detail of this portable Tabernacle and all the furnishings were complete and set in place that God’s glory filled it. I needed to go through the process of revamping my inward life for God’s glory to fully fill it with His Presence.
“…So at last Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Exodus 40:33b-34 NLT).
I asked God for a new heart. Not one of stone (law) but one of flesh (grace) (Ezekiel 36.26). And I asked for a renewed mind, one focused on grace, not sin (Romans 12.2). The account of Slaying Job tells a powerful story of the process of deconstructing a life of striving in order to build it back with rest and a double blessing, and we each have our personal Job stories. Our stories may have different settings, characters, plots and themes; but they are all about us finally learning to stop striving and enter into the rest of Jesus that He achieved for us on the cross.
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NIV).
One of the most painful moments of my life can be read in the following poem. I had it all: a wonderful husband, amazing children, beautiful home, time to write – yet I was so depressed, anxious and fearful because of my decades of striving to be perfect. I will never be perfect, but Jesus, in His great love for me, has given me His perfection. He has given it to my husband and to my children. We are holy and righteous in the eyes of all heaven and earth, and no condemnation can fall upon us unless we allow it.
“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT).
Here is my award-winning poem about the end of striving.
Breaking the Religious Spirit
By Alisa Hope Wagner
Promises too lofty for me to reach.
Underserving. Lacking. Never enough.
What can I fix?
What can I change?
What can I learn?
What can I erase?
Joy vanishes behind false righteousness.
Peace dissolves behind discouragement.
The enemy creeps in.
Makes a home in my pain.
And a bed in my fear.
Builds a system of torment in my mind.
Promises too lofty for me to reach.
Damnation punctures my heart.
My soul bleeds out.
And death replaces hope.
Demons laugh and lie.
I listen. I examine. Nothing computes.
The racket rages around me.
My inner screams can’t compete.
“Quiet yourself,” God gently whispers.
No! No! The lies slice!
“Quiet yourself,” He repeats.
It hurts! Make them stop!
God, Where is Your Peace?
Where is Your Joy?
Where are Your Promises?
“Trust me. And quiet yourself.”
The lies blare on as I sit silently.
Each like an old record, spinning an evil noise. Louder and louder until the clashing becomes a single static whine.
“What do you hear?” He asks.
I sense it now, as God sits with me in the shadows.
The lies create distractions,
Desperately disguising a singular truth:
Satan’s seething, supernatural aversion for me.
he hates my design by God.
he hates my destiny from God.
he hates my dependency on God.
Discouragement begets condemnation.
Condemnation begets lies.
And lies beget death.
I’m dismantling the system of torment.
Piece by putrid piece.
Lie by vile lie.
Until joy overcomes with His righteousness.
And peace overshadows discouragement.
Promises are too lofty.
But they are gifts for me.
I can’t earn them.
I can only believe.
Finally, my striving dies in the arms of faith.
Jesus is enough.
The Repent of Righteousness
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1 NIV).
The Book of Job is a true story with a lot of mystery. It may be the oldest book of the Bible. It may have been written by Moses. It may have occurred during the time of Abraham. But no one truly knows. Very little is known about Job’s ancestry, as well. What we know about him comes from his poetic, heart-wrenching tale of loss and restoration. What we can confirm, however, is that Job was a real man. He was mentioned by name in Ezekiel 14:14 and James 5:11. Also, the Apostle Paul referenced the Book of Job twice in Romans 11:35 and 1 Corinthians 3:19. Moreover, the Book of Job is referenced in multiple Old Testament books, including Jeremiah, Psalms, Proverbs and Isaiah. Needless to say, the Book of Job had and still has a powerful influence over Bible readers. But why?
The Book of Job was written in three parts: Introduction, controversy and conclusion. Some stories are plot-driven and some stories are character-driven. The Book of Job is a character-driven poetic story with a massive character arc of its main character, Job. A character arc happens when a character goes through something difficult and transforms from beginning to end—becoming wiser, stronger, merciful, grateful, loving, etc. This is what happened to Job.
The interesting, and rather beautiful, aspect of his character arc is that he went from “blameless” to “despised,” which may seem counterproductive but is actually the most precious conversion that can take place.
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:5 -6 NIV).
Because no human righteousness, no matter how many weeds of sin we see and pull daily, will ever match the righteousness of the Messiah given to us freely, pulling out every weed of sin all at once by faith. No matter how “good” we think we are, we are despised without Jesus’ righteousness, and Job was about to learn this imperative lesson. His righteousness could not even come close to the righteousness of God. Job had to transform from being a sin-focused man to a grace-focused man.
Introduction: A Righteous Spirit
Job was known as a rich and righteous man from the East with seven sons, three daughters and a great wealth of livestock. He was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1 NIV). After his children would have feasted on their birthdays, Job would make sacrifices for them just in case they sinned (Job 1:5).
At first, Job’s sacrifices for his children seem righteous and good, but the motive behind his sacrifices makes a bold statement: Job was sin-focused. He had created a custom in his heart to fear even the “perhaps” of sin. He didn’t attend the parties with his family. He had no idea what they were doing, so he sacrificed based on what-ifs. That is one sign of a sin-focused person. They fear sin so much that they shut out relationships and celebrations because people are messy and in need of love, acceptance and, most importantly, a Savior. Being around imperfect people may get our “righteous” feet a little dirty. But as Jesus rightly said: “Those who have had a bath [salvation] need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean…” (John 13:10 NIV).
Yes, walking with Jesus and loving His people will get our feet dirty, but He is always there with His towel around His waist ready to clean our grimy feet as we follow His heart of love. Fear of sin will stop us from loving people, so we can stay clean in our own eyes. But if our eyes are full of Jesus, we will see that we have already been made clean by His Finished Work on the Cross.
“Our sins are washed away and we are made clean because Christ gave His own body as a gift to God. He did this once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10 NLV)
Why did Job make sacrifices to purify the what-if sins of his children? The precedent of sacrificing to atone for sin occurred in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned against God.
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 NIV).
God sacrificed an animal, so He could cover the shame of Adam and Eve. They were given only one command at that time (unlike the 613 commands given to Moses many generations later). I can imagine that Adam and Eve weren’t perfect. I bet they got angry at each other or complained sometimes. But there were no laws or commands against those things because the Lord walked with them daily. He had a relationship with them, and He could teach and guide them like a good mother and father would with young children. However, He did establish one single commandment:
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17 NKJV).
They could have everything in the garden except that one tree. In essence, that tree became a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolized our free will to choose. God truly created us in His image as sons and daughters with an independent ability and will to decide. But it’s a curse because Adam and Eve both ate from the tree and sin entered the world.
Thankfully, God already had a two-part plan in place to redeem the mistakes we make with our free will and to perfect what we create with our free will. This two-part plan included an added day (the Seventh Day) and an added tree (Tree of Life). After God created all six days, He claimed that they were good: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31 NKJV). However, He knew He would be giving His children free will, so He created an extra day where He rested, and Jesus (The Tree of Life and Lord of the Sabbath) would make His sacrifice to restore all six days back to God (Matthew 12:8, Revelation 2:7 & 2 Corinthians 5:19).
Once Adam and Eve sinned, they saw their shame. Now they knew the difference between good and evil. They tried to cover up their shame in their human effort with fig leaves, but God covered them with the skins of animals—thereby making the first sacrifice to atone for sin. But this sacrifice would only be a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would make to atone for all sin (once and for all) on the Seventh Day of Sabbath. And that is the single most profound truth that Job discovered during his ordeal. As he was stripped of all his human righteousness (fig leaves), he realized finally that he needed a Mediator between God and him—not a sacrifice from animals where he constantly had to focus on the what-ifs of sin, but a once-and-for-all sacrifice that would bring him and his family back into relationship with God no matter how often they messed up.
“For He is not a man, as I am, That I may answer Him, And that we should go to court together. Nor is there any mediator between us, Who may lay his hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, And do not let dread of Him terrify me (Job 9:32-34 NKJV).
Job finally realized—after chapters and chapters of defending his righteousness—that he could not contend with God, and he finally repented of his incorrect belief system. He had to lose everything to gain a deeper understanding of God and His great grace. But once he clung to this new awareness, God was able to fill his life with even more of His blessings and glory.