Times of suffering and struggle–at least in my life–tend to try my faith and show me where I am keeping my focus. Where are my eyes directed on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis? The answer reveals much about the state of my heart, and can help me understand why I am floundering, rather than flourishing, in my walk with Christ.
Honestly, I find is all too easy to turn inward and fix my eyes, not on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but on (you guessed it!) Me, Myself, and I. Maybe you can relate?
Lydia Brownback’s newest book, Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self-Focus, is simultaneously very convicting, and very edifying–a hard balance to find these days. Using Scripture at every turn, she helps us recognize where we’ve grown preoccupied with ourselves and encourages us to turn our focus back to Christ–the One who gives us abundant life in Him.
OUR IDENTITY IS IN CHRIST
In this age, when heresies abound and there’s no shortage of falsehoods being taught to Christian woman, it is refreshing to see an author consistently reminding her readers of their true identity–found only in Christ, and our union with Him by faith.
In fact, union with Christ itself is a topic of vital importance, yet so rare to see discussed in today’s Christian bookstores. Just as branches must be connected to the vine (John 15), so we must abide in Christ by true faith and then bear much fruit. Every benefit of our salvation flows from our union with Him.
And that’s why Lydia constantly turns our focus back to Christ and who we are in Him. If we want to grow spiritually–repenting of sin, forsaking it, and increasing in holiness and good works–we can’t attempt to do so by looking to our own goodness or strength. We need Christ, living in us (and we in Him), transforming and renewing us into His image.
JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION–FRIENDS, NOT ENEMIES
The road to life is truly narrow, and there are ditches on either side of the path that tempt us to go astray. Two of these ditches are antinomianism–neglecting God’s law and making obedience to Christ optional–and legalism, where our good works are the grounds for our salvation. Though in reality neither have a proper view of the gospel nor soteriology, the former appears to overemphasize justification at the expense of sanctification, and the latter does just the opposite.
It is popular nowadays to err on one side or the other. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read Flourish, where Lydia presents a truly biblical gospel. Justification and sanctification should not be enemies! They are friends–both works of God’s free grace, flowing out of our union with Christ by faith.
She shows us Christ our righteousness, who justified us and saved us from God’s wrath. His merit is the only grounds for our salvation. Yet (it should really be “therefore”), she also emphasizes our need to obey Christ and serve Him with a heart of love and gratitude.
Likewise, Lydia continually focuses on the Spirit’s role in our sanctification, but she also reminds us of our duty to pursue holiness rather than idly waiting for God to magically change us. She provides helpful instruction on how to grow in godliness–through meditation on the Word, encouraging one another in the church, and fixing our eyes on Christ.
As just one example, here in chapter 2 we see Lydia’s biblically balanced view demonstrated:
“Discipleship is not first about doing, but about becoming. Yes, of course we are to do, but in Christ, what we do flows out of what we’ve already become. In other words, we don’t do to become. We become in order to do. Discipleship is simply the Spirit-enabled process of turning away from sin in all its outworking and coming more and more to resemble the Savior. You can ditch self-improvement and pursue the fruit of salvation, because ‘it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13)” (41).
Another benefit of Flourish is the examples of godly discernment that it offers.
First, Lydia helps us discern ourselves–reminding us of our need to “consider our ways”, to examine our hearts, repent of sin, and seek to love the Lord and serve His kingdom.
Second, she points out how our culture, and its beliefs and practices, differs from the Word of God, so that we can avoid what is evil and hold fast to what is good. For instance, she brings up the mainstream view of “self-care” (a topic I also addressed recently) which is self-indulgence thinly-veiled, and corrects that view with what God teaches us about self-denial and following Christ.
And lastly, Lydia quotes from various popular authors (good and bad) and uses Scripture to analyze their teachings and compare them to God’s truth. This would be a relatively easy task if she only chose excerpts that were obviously false or heretical, but instead, she dissects quotes that are subtle or not wholly unbiblical. In a respectful and charitable tone, Lydia shows us how to discern which statements are true and which are misleading, wrong, or even dangerous in their implications.
We as Christian women need to be well-trained in distinguishing good and evil, true and false. Particularly on the topic of self-focus, Flourish shows us how to keep from going astray.
BIBLICAL HELP AND HOPE
Perhaps best of all, Flourish provides balanced, compassionate hope and help for those of us who struggle with self-focus. We can so easily get bogged down by our sin, and feel hopeless against our inner battles. It’s hard to find a book like this, that manages to provide both wise instruction, and gentle encouragement to keep us persevering.
Are you bearing the weight of self-consciousness and self-condemnation? Flourish will help you get to the roots of these struggles, and point you to Christ for freedom.
This is not a brow-beating book. It’s not about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps when we fight against sin. Lydia writes humbly, as someone who understands from her own experience, and highlights the grace that we’re given so abundantly in Christ.
One of the most impressive aspects of this book is its nuance. Rather than going too far in one direction or another, it achieves a biblical balance that reflects the entire counsel of God. In the chapter on self-indulgence, for instance, Lydia does not entirely condemn taking care of ourselves and our needs. She acknowledges God’s good gifts and the freedom we have to enjoy them. But she also reveals our sinful tendencies to become demanding and to miss what God is doing in our hardest, busiest moments.
If I could summarize the main gist of the book, it’d be something like this: Christ is our Lord, our righteousness, our identity, our hope. He loves us, and when our focus is on Him, rather than ourselves, we find true freedom.
So if we are in Christ, we can stop focusing first on what we want to change about ourselves and consider instead how God has already changed us. Given that our eternal destiny is set and that the Lord is on our side in every battle, there is no need for chronic frustration, anger, or discouragement when we lose a particular battle. In fact, there’s actually much of God’s mercy in our ongoing struggle, and yes, even in our failures. God works through struggle and failure to drive us out of ourselves to depend on him so that we can really live (37-38).
Fix your eyes upon Jesus…
This book could not have come at a better time for me and my current struggles in life. I was personally edified by it, and I believe you will be too! That is why I happily rate it as: WHEAT.